ALCOA, Tenn. (July 4, 2016) -- Know any college students attending state schools in Holston? Do something to show your love. Send their names to the Wesley Foundation.
Soon, students will begin arriving at colleges in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia where these United Methodist ministries exist:
> Radford University
> University of Virginia College at Wise
> East Tennessee State University
> University of Tennessee (Knoxville)
> University of Tennessee (Chattanooga).
The Wesley Foundation directors at those five colleges (as well as Chattanooga State) need contact information for students with United Methodist memberships or connections.
Martee Buchanan, director for Radford’s campus ministry, said the need for referrals is “urgent” because campus ministers have limited ways of identifying students’ religious affiliations.
“The Wesley Foundation is the connectional system at its best,” Buchanan said. “You’re sending your college students out there, and there is a United Methodist presence for them. It’s an instant Christian community.”
About 8 percent of students at state colleges in the Holston area self-identify as United Methodist, said the Rev. Tim Kobler, Wesley Foundation director at UT Knoxville.
Last year, Kobler had 120 students on the mailing list, “but we see about 80 of them with some regularity,” he said.
Buchanan estimates that 600 to 800 students somehow encounter the United Methodist presence on Radford’s campus, “because our students minister to others.” However, Buchanan actually interacts with about 60 to 75 students each year out of Radford’s enrollment of 10,000.
Each Wesley Foundation offers a variety of activities and opportunities, including worship, free meals, study breaks, mission projects, and mission trips. UVA College at Wise offers an annual “Buffalo Bash” cookout to get the school year started. Radford has an annual spring benefit dinner theater.
The groups attend “Divine Rhythm” winter retreat each year in Gatlinburg and participate in missions such as after-school tutoring for elementary students or Habitat for Humanity house builds. The UVA and UTC groups combined in May for a mission trip to Brunswick, Ga. ETSU students worked on greenhouses and homes in Detroit in May.
"It's important because we help students own their faith," said the Rev. Beth Tipton, Wesley Foundation director at UVA College at Wise. "We meet them in a critical time and allow them space to wrestle with God and what they believe. Then they can call their faith their own instead of the faith of their family or community."
Tipton's ministry met an average of 25 students last year through weekly activities. "We served about 80 students, faculty, and staff per week through different outreach and opportunities," she said.
“It is important to have people give us the contact information of specific incoming students for UTC and Chattanooga State, because we can't welcome them if we don't know they are coming,” said the Rev. Keith Moore, Wesley Foundation director at UT in Chattanooga.
At Radford, Buchanan asks regular Wesley Foundation students to extend invitations to new students who might not realize they’re welcome and wanted.
“We’ll take them whenever we can get them, but my experience is that the best time is before the school year starts,” Buchanan says. “The students have to make a decision about whether they will join this group or that group, and we want to be there for them.”
Even if students don’t accept the initial invitations to check out the Wesley Foundation, parents and students often later discover the value of having a United Methodist ministry on campus.
“If there is a family emergency, for example, parents can call on us and we’ll be there to help,” Buchanan said.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.