On the first Tuesday night of the spring semester, 50 students gathered at the Wesley House for dinner and worship. The room was just one student shy of matching our largest night the previous semester. The night was focused on missions, with four different students sharing testimonies about what they learned and where they saw God at work on a recent Winter Break mission trip, where thirty students from our ministry joined 60 other students from Wesley Foundations all over Arkansas to do flood relief work in Baton Rouge, LA.
Hearing students’ stories, feeling the energy in the room and seeing the faces of so many new students, it is hard to imagine that just five years ago, our ministry was in a very different position. While in the 1990’s and early 2000’s the Wesley ministry had been one of the largest campus ministries at the university, with several hundred students involved in its weekly program, a failed building project in 2004 had strapped the ministry with crippling debt and left Wesley with grossly inadequate facilities. Staff struggled to do effective outreach with very limited space for ministry gatherings and an acute and ongoing funding challenge. As the ministry floundered, Wesley’s leadership spent months discerning what to do and praying for a new chapter. That prayer was answered in 2013 when Wesley swapped its Maple Street property with the University of Arkansas for a new tract of land and a nest egg of cash. Wesley’s debt was paid off and planning began in earnest to construct and open the new Wesley House.
But, opening a new place for ministry was only one of many layers in the effort to revitalize and rebuild a United Methodist campus ministry presence at the University of Arkansas. When Central UMC entered into a partnership with the Arkansas Annual Conference around the Wesley ministry in 2014, aimed at breathing new life into this vital work, there were only a handful of donors helping keep the ministry afloat. Central’s generous adoption of the project meant a steady infusion of funding into the ministry’s Operating Fund, a gift of one million dollars for Wesley’s building program and a guaranteed salary for the ministry’s Director – gifts which put the ministry on firm financial footing for the first time in a decade and gave its leadership a chance to dream. Part of that dream was to cast again a compelling vision for ministry at the university and to invite other partners – alumni, friends and churches – to join Central UMC and the Conference in making Wesley’s mission of helping students CONNECT, GROW and BEAR FRUIT in their life in Christ during their college years possible.
Since the formation of the partnership, Wesley has added more than 300 new donors to its donor base and grown its Operating budget from $135,000 to $248,000. Four full-time and four part-time and seasonal staff have been added, numerous ministries have been launched and our new building is buzzing with student activity at all hours of the day and night. It has been one of the greatest joys of my journey to see so many different people from so many places come together, driven by a heart for young people and the future of the United Methodist Church, to bring an additional wave of resources up behind our calling to reach this campus. And, of course, you are among that faithful throng. We want to thank you and to share with you some of the stories of what your investment in us has made possible. Your generosity is bearing fruit, and there is much to celebrate.
We hope you will join us on Sunday, February 19th, at the Wesley House at 1 pm for a Donor Appreciation Lunch and time of storytelling and celebration. All at Central are invited and encouraged to join us. Your RSVP by Friday, February 3rd will enable us to plan for the day.
For more information or to RSVP, please contact our Alumni & Development Coordinator at email@example.com. Hope to see you at the Wesley House on February 19th!
-Rev. Emily Burch
Central’s College Pastor