Wesley Foundations launch a faith based approach to student housing
|Wesley Foundation Directors were on hand for the dedication of the Intentional Living Center on the WMU campus on August 16. L-r: Bruce Felker, Lisa Batten (current), and Jeff Williams.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WMC) -- Several hundred miles separate the Wesley Foundations on the campuses of WMU and CMU. However, both have a shared vision of student housing that is a far cry from traditional dorm living. Intentional Christian community and shared values were at the center of building programs completed over the past year in Kalamazoo and Mt. Pleasant.
There are five Wesley Foundations in the West Michigan Conference located on these campuses: Central Michigan University, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State, Michigan State, and Western Michigan y. According to the director at WMU, the Rev. Lisa Batten, each Wesley Foundation in the Conference is doing a residential piece. “In our campus pastor conversations,” she explains, “we talk about our campuses and how they are very different culturally.” She goes on to say that “We want there to be some similarity in our ministries through covenant building.”
CMU Marks great first year
In the fall of 2011 the Wesley Foundation at CMU had an open house of a new residence, adjacent to the Wesley Center. The Leadership House was built to accommodate eight students, four of whom would work for Wesley. The goal was for the students to form an intentional Christian community with regular practice of spiritual disciplines and planned activities. The students eat together, worship together, and have grown in faith together.
The eight students brought varying ideas, backgrounds and personalities. They also brought a new life to Wesley. The long-term goal—once the mortgage is paid off—is for all eight students to spend at least ten hours a week in Wesley leadership, thus increasing the amount of programming offered.
Chelsea Baker is one of the graduate students living in the Leadership Residence. She says, “We quickly learned that living with several other individuals takes work. I think each of us developed our communication skills.” Chelsea serves as the Supervising Resident (like an RA). She admits, “There was tension at times that first year, but we always worked it out. The best part of uniting many people under one roof is the new perspectives each person can gain.”
Abbie Parker is now entering her junior year at CMU. She is a resident and an employee at Wesley. “The residents living in the house have a covenant that they’ve created among themselves and Charlie. This is a spiritual covenant as well as a house rules covenant.” Abbie goes one to outline some covenant points: fast at least one meal a week, participate in devotions every night, sit down for a community meal once a week, and attend a church service at Wesley once a week.
The Rev. Charlie Farnum has served as the Wesley Foundation Director since 2006. He is the only elder serving full-time in this capacity in the West Michigan Conference. He entered this ministry knowing that fund-raising would take a large share of his time. “It is sort of like being a professor again,” Charlie notes. “At least it is for about eight hours a week and that’s my favorite part, the one-on-one with students.” Charlie sees leadership development as the future of campus ministry. “I see Wesley creating people ready to do ministry right now. People like Michelle Fitzgerald working with Spanish-speaking people in Grand Rapids.” Charlie emphasizes that Wesley students are serious about their faith. “We sometimes have people say Wesley is like youth group in college,” he reflects. “It’s not. These students are more theologically and socially engaged than that.”
Besides the routines of day to day living, life in the Leadership Residence provides opportunities for such faith building. “No two individuals are the same,” Chelsea observes. “It is a good to have a safe place to explore other opinions and worldviews.” Abbie adds, “Getting to know people who live here and focusing more on God on a daily basis are just a few changes that the Residence has brought to my life.”
Charlie explains that the idea for the Leadership Residence was first raised during fund-raising discussions several years ago. While other Wesley Foundations across the country have gone residential on a large scale, Charlie says the realization came that, “My, gosh! We could do this with just a few students!”
There was room on the existing property for the Leadership Residence. Construction was made possible by the creative efforts of the Wesley@CMU Board and $61,500 in gifts by private donors. The Heartland District also promised approximately $30,000 of funding in 2012. A Buy-a-Brick project is in place to pay down the balance on the mortgage. Visit Wesley's website to order a brick that will be placed in a patio outside the residence. A 4” x 8” brick is $100; an 8” x 8” brick is $250.
Welcome Campaign at WMU
On August 16 over 100 people came out to celebrate the opening of a new residential ministry on Western Michigan’s campus. The 12-person facility houses nine students—six undergrads, two grad students, and a ministry intern/resident advisor. The other three rooms, which have been secured from the residence, will house the Kalamazoo District Office. This is a temporary location for the District Superintendent, awaiting the completion of a Student Ministry Center.
Being active at Wesley is not a requirement for residence. In fact, only three of the new residents were active at Wesley prior to moving into the Intentional Living Center. Students living in the residence have covenanted to be in community through prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. They are required to meet weekly as a community in order to be intentional in their faith development.
“Beginning each academic year,” says Lisa Batten, “is similar to a new church start as mature leaders have graduated and Wesley reaches out to welcome new students who are away from home for the first time.” A new church start each fall with an 18-30 year old population that is often non-existent in many local churches. That’s a 21st century challenge.
“Some say, ‘You’ve opened a dorm,’” Lisa comments. “No, we have nine people living in intentional Christian community! These are not just people thrown together.” New residents participated in an all-day retreat. They looked at the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church. They studied conflict resolution and developed a covenant. “They created a prayer board for themselves and the campus community and meet for prayer once a week,” Lisa notes. “Their chosen Christian witness is service at the Free Store at Sunnyside UMC.”
Student residents offer these reflections about life in the Wesley Intentional Living Center. The common theme is mutual support. “I would like to live among others who share my morals and my faith.” (a freshman) “I am looking forward to being involved in a friendly, Christ-loving environment to expand my spiritual growth.” (a sophomore) “I want to meet, make friends and live with people who believe and have the same core values. I want to live in a place where I will grow in faith with my peers.” (a sophomore) “It is difficult to live alone as a Christian. Living closely with many Christians is helpful.” (a graduate student)
Katie Fahey has been hired as the Ministry Intern for Residential Ministry. She reflects: “As I finished my graduate degree, I began to explore my call to ministry. As soon as I read the job description, I knew this was what I needed to be doing. Engaging students with ministry to the poor? Living in an intentional Christian community? Getting groups to work together? Sounds like what the church should be doing!”
Wesley has had an on-campus presence at Western since 1964. Lisa has been the Wesley Director since 2007. Soon after she arrived the board started talking about revamping the building. That’s when the University said, “Wait! Let’s have a conversation.” They then approached Wesley with an offer to purchase the present student center for redevelopment. The university agreed to purchase the building, deed a 2.1-acres parcel at the west edge of campus, and allow rent-free occupancy of the current facility for up to five years as a new ministry home is prepared. The new Ministry Center will be just 1,250 feet from the present location.
The Widening the Welcome Campaign involves a comprehensive ministry facility that includes four buildings. The intentional living center opening this fall is the first of three such 12-person facilities. The Wesley Student Center is the fourth building; the anticipated cost is $1.3 million. Funds are being raised from foundations, individuals, congregations on the Kalamazoo and Albion districts and covenant churches. Lisa is confident about funding thanks to a group of “solid, experienced fund developers volunteering their time.” Those wishing to consider a financial gift to this effort should contact campaign co-chair, Larry Oppliger, 269-599-3889.
~reported by Kay DeMoss, Weekly News Senior Writer