Twenty college students mentor 2nd through 7th graders in an eight-week program that meets four days each week. The children study cooking and nutrition, relationships and dating, health and fitness, art and drama, and first aid. New Foundations expanded recently to a seven-week summer experience called Camp Exploration.
At Southern Heights UMC, students serve as youth workers and Sunday School teachers. They also lead worship, Bible studies, and accountability groups. They eat together, pray together, and in some cases, live together in intentional communities. The Wesley Center welcomes people of all ages and means: children, students, the elderly, the homeless, the poor. “We have insisted that this is not a homogeneous group,” says Bartley.
During the past year, 250 OSU students logged an impressive 125,000 hours. These experiences of practical ministry, says Bartley, are grounded not in the virtue of their labor, but in the ministry sacramentally understood. Students are formed to understand that the church’s action is an outgrowth of the Eucharist. On any given week during the academic year, Eucharist is offered no less than six times. In the main lobby, students and visitors pass a wall of icons depicting saints and scholars from throughout the church’s history. Mission, ministry, identity, justice, faith: all are sacramentally understood.
“College students are driven by many things, mostly cultural desires for success and wealth,” says Bartley. “The church calls them out of their individual lives to be a community of Christ-formed people. We see the Eucharist as the means of that formation.”
Bible study, worship, covenant-discipleship groups, community meals and celebrations, service to the world, and immersion in the lives of others form a small portrait of daily life. A guiding model is the Inward Journey/Outward Journey/Community Life triumvirate. “It’s a trinity of sorts,” says Bartley. “Our inward journey of Bible study, reflection, worship, and covenant-discipleship becomes an outward journey of love of neighbor, embodied in the community that serves. It becomes sacramental—an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”
A common line of questioning to new students is: “Are you baptized?” followed quickly by “So what are you going to do about it?”
Baptism begins the journey, Eucharist sustains it. In a daily reflection with student workers at Camp Exploration, Bartley encourages, “Never forget that the church is a sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s work of transforming the world.” Students learn to care for the world and for each other, to love God, and to love neighbor.
A sign on the front lawn reads “The Mission Training Station at the Wesley Foundation.” “Until I came here,” says Brooke Phillips, a junior majoring in Spanish, “I didn’t know the Church had a mission.”
Bartley is relentlessly on the move, taking calls, leading meetings, fundraising, and taking time to work with his students. “They are the leaders of the church. They have the gifts and the grace to go into the world and make disciples. We form them for that, to be disciple-makers.”
The Wesley Foundation’s motto—“Making Disciples, Creating Leaders, Transforming Lives”—keeps the mission clear: United Methodist students at Oklahoma State are laboring for the life of the world in the name of Jesus Christ.
Barry Bennett D’06, worked as an intern at the Wesley Foundation while an undergraduate at OSU. He graduated in 2003 with a B.A. in history. This article was written following his field education placement there during the summer of 2005.
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