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‘De-Churched’ are Allies for Change

By Elisabeth Stagg

Within six months after his bishop sent him to the Wesley Foundation at Oklahoma State University’s Stillwater campus, Michael Bartley D’94 asked to leave. When his request was denied, he asked again. And again.

Michael R. Bartley and campers.

“There were 15 kids and an embarrassingly large budget,” remembers Bartley. “It was a campus ministry that functioned as a youth group.”

When he realized that Bishop Dan Solomon intended to leave him at OSU, Bartley told the bishop that he intended to change things—not minor things, but to orchestrate a wholesale transformation. Solomon was undeterred. “Maybe we put you there for that reason,” he replied.

During the decade since, the Wesley Foundation has undergone a radical shift from a “members-only group” to a space for worship — for the calling and empowerment of disciples — and for mission. The change reflects Bartley’s ordination vows of “Word, Sacrament, Order and Service.” He grew up in the Nazarene Church but became United Methodist at Duke Divinity School, where he credits Professors Frederick Herzog and Stanley Hauerwas as crucial to his formation.

“The reality is that the church is about making disciples and bearing witness to the Gospel’s Good News,” he says.

On campus, Bartley discovered allies for change among students he describes as “de-churched.”

“When they got baptized and confirmed, they thought it meant something,” says Bartley. “These are kids who look at the church and think it’s dead.

Much of his success has come from reaching out to these students, says Bartley. He and his wife, Ronda, have three daughters. The oldest attended Duke’s Youth Academy for Christian Formation last summer.

While the Wesley Ministry at OSU can’t be replicated on every campus, “every campus minister can abandon the idea that he or she is the ‘local counselor and youth minister,’” says Bartley.

“We started out asking, ‘Who are our neighbors?’ Theologically, this ministry is a combination of what Fred Herzog taught me about the poor and what Stan Hauerwas taught me about ecclesiology.”

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DIVINITY Online Edition :: Winter 2006 Volume 5 Number 2 Duke Divinity School