Wesley Foundations, campus ministries stand in the gap

11/16/2015


Rev. Michael McCord brings passion and expertise to his new position as Executive Director of the Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education and Campus Ministry. Photo credit: Joseph McBrayer

By Kara Witherow, Editor

The time between high school and adulthood can be tough, fraught with anxiety, indecision, and uncertainty.

It’s a phase of life when young adults often question themselves and their faith and look to peers and friends for support and guidance.

And when churches have children’s ministries, youth ministries, and adult Sunday school classes but not much in between, there sometimes feels like a void for 18- to 35-year-olds, especially those who aren’t married or don’t have children.

That’s why Wesley Foundations and chaplaincy ministries play such vital roles on college campuses, says Rev. Michael McCord, Executive Director of the Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education and Campus Ministry.

“We stand in the gap between those life events and hopefully help to fill it and bridge it,” he said. “Collegiate ministry offers an opportunity to start to fill that gap and prepare students to be leaders in their faith and community.”

Rev. McCord, appointed to the Commission in June upon Rev. Cindy Autry’s retirement, brings with him passion and expertise. Prior to his appointment he served as Director of Campus Ministry Resources and Training for the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), as the founder and director of the Wesley Foundation of Macon from 2001 to 2010, and as associate pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon. He is an ordained elder in the South Georgia Conference.

He and the Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education and Campus Ministry’s board of directors have a clear vision and strategy to reach students during this formative and critical time.

Reconnect and reclaim

Of the 72 college campuses in the state of Georgia, The United Methodist Church serves 28. Georgia is among the very best in the world when it comes to campus ministry and higher education within The United Methodist Church, Rev. McCord said, but there’s opportunity for growth.

One of the Commission’s main goals, he said, is to expand the number of campuses on which they serve. The only way that can be accomplished is through strategic partnerships with local churches and congregations. 

The Commission is currently evaluating all 72 campuses, their student bodies, and the surrounding communities to gain an understanding of whether ministries can and should be launched in those areas.

“I really want to help reconnect the work of Higher Education and Campus Ministry to the local churches as a mission of the Church and Conference,” Rev. McCord said. 

Doing that will require recruiting more members, lay members especially, to the commission so more local congregations and communities can be reached and become advocates for the mission of higher education and campus ministry.

Developing a leadership structure to involve more people and be more connected at the local level of congregations is vitally important to the future, he said.

“I think we are the premier leaders in (campus ministry),” Rev. McCord said, “but I think there’s an opportunity for the churches, for our clergy, and for lay leaders to feel a stronger connection, a more tangible, relational connection to those ministries, and that’s what I hope we can do over the next few years as we implement some changes and look toward the future.”

Radical transformation, real growth

Another part of the Commission’s strategy focuses on communications and sharing how God is working in and through Wesley Foundations and chaplaincy ministries to change lives and draw people into relationship with Him. 

“I just can’t even begin to tell you the countless stories of radical transformation I’ve heard,” Rev. McCord said. “Stories of coming to Christian faith for the first time in their lives, reclaiming their identity as Christians, becoming Methodist from another tradition, recognizing a call to ordained ministry or a life of service, or just discerning their vocational profession and taking with it the realization that they are a leader in their community.”

Just as important, he says, is that Wesley Foundations give students a safe environment in which to observe, learn, and practice servant leadership.

“Probably the most valuable thing that Wesley Foundations and chaplaincy ministries do is that they give students a chance to experiment with being a leader,” he said. “Sometimes our world isn’t very forgiving when it comes to experimenting with leadership … and Wesley Foundations and chaplaincy ministries really have a way about them that encourages taking a risk and … the ministries allow students to experiment with what it’s like to be a leader and discern their calling.”

Growing up in Dublin, Georgia Southern senior Geoffrey Harrison, 22, was very involved in his church’s youth group. He knew the importance of surrounding himself with a faith-based community, so he immediately sought out a ministry when he arrived at GSU.

Raised Baptist, Harrison is an active member of the Georgia Southern Wesley Foundation and serves on its leadership team. He also served as head counselor on the Conference’s Camp Connect summer leadership team.

Wesleyan theology and the opportunity to dig deep into his faith resonate with Harrison.

“(The Wesley Foundation) has kept me growing and continuing to pursue what faith means to me,” he said. “Having that good influence of a Christian community around me has really helped to push me to continue that process. I don’t want to just ‘do church’ occasionally or wait to take my faith seriously until I have a family. I know the importance of it now.”

Being a part of the ministry’s outreach team has given him an opportunity to hone his leadership skills.

“It has really forced me to step up and pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me realize that I have a bit of a knack for starting conversations and for being able to carry on a conversation with a person I had just met,” Harrison said. “It’s been really cool to develop that.”

Georgia Southern University’s Wesley Foundation is just one of the nine United Methodist colleges and universities, two United Methodist seminaries, and 16 Wesley Foundations served by the Commission in the South and North Georgia Conferences.

As demographics in society continue to shift and change, Rev. McCord said it’s more important now than ever to support these ministries.

“Whether they’re in college or not, the early 20s is a time when you come  to realize who you are, and we as Methodists don’t want them to come to know who they are all by themselves; we want to support them in doing that,” he said. “We are a missional outpost for the church.”

United Methodist Student Day is Nov. 29. The United Methodist Student Day Special Sunday Offering helps provide funds for scholarships and loans for United Methodist students. Student Day gifts make a real difference for those who hope to attend college. Ninety percent (90%) of the offering goes toward funding the many scholarships and loans administered by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (www.gbhem.org) and ten percent (10%) stays within our state and goes to Georgia UM-related schools for merit scholarships.  Contact the Georgia Commission on Higher Education and Campus Ministry (770-854-7283 or www.gahied.com) or click here for more information and promotional materials.  

Listed below are South Georgia Conference students who are General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) scholarship recipients. We celebrate that the Office of Loans and Scholarships will be awarding more than 2,200 students a total of $4.5 million in financial assistance for 2015! Thank you for your support in recognizing United Methodist Student Day, World Communion Sunday, and Native American Sunday which help fund a portion of our loans and scholarships. The remaining funds for these awards come from gifts, annuities and endowments GBHEM has invested and administered for decades.  

Students who are members of The United Methodist Church may apply for a Fall 2016 GBHEM scholarship online between Jan. 4, 2016 – March 1, 2016 at www.gbhem.org/scholarshipapplication.

Olivia Brock        The Ridge UMC        Columbus    Young Harris College
Maya Hardrick    Asbury UMC             Savannah    Vanderbilt University
Megan Simone    Wilmington Is. UMC        Savannah    Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
Eric Rodgers        Harvest Church        Warner Robins Mercer University
Julia Nazerian        Dublin First UMC        Dublin        Mercer University
Melissa Tincher    Wynnton UMC         Columbus    University of Georgia
Micah Culbreth    Speedwell UMC        Savannah    Presbyterian College
Thomas Hanson    Martha Bowman UMC    Macon        Reinhardt University
Narada Hamilton    Speedwell UMC        Savannah    South Carolina State Univ.
Ashlyn Avera        Pembroke UMC        Pembroke    Georgia Southern University
Adrienne James    Ebenezer UMC        Reidsville    Wesleyan College
Ansley Avera        Pembroke UMC        Pembroke    Reinhardt University
Anna Gonzalez    Cordele First UMC        Cordele    Toccoa Falls College
Elizabeth Holmes    Cordele First UMC        Cordele    Emory University, Candler School of Theology