North Georgia UM churches partnering in new ways with new campus ministries
By Sybil Davidson
As college students begin a new school year, United Methodist churches are partnering in new ways with the Georgia UMCommission to launch and champion new campus ministries. Three notable new ministries are in the works thanks to our United Methodist connection: Georgia Gwinnett Wesley, West Georgia Wesley, and Augusta Wesley.
Georgia Gwinnett Wesley
Most people don't think of Lawrenceville as a "college town," but when Lawrenceville First UMC went through a congregation-wide visioning process recently, one of the initiatives that arose was to develop a ministry presence at Georgia Gwinnett College.
Not knowing exactly what that might look like, church leaders reached out to Rev. Michael McCord, director of the UMCommission, and discovered he had an interest in seeing a ministry launched at GGC.
"Realizing the shared vision, we asked Michael if Lawrenceville First could be a primary sponsor of the ministry," said Rev. Zach Fitzpatrick, associate pastor.
Since that time, Fitzpatrick and Ryan Shostak, Lawrenceville First's Director of Student Ministries, have recruited Dacula First UMC, McKendree UMC, Mount Calvary UMC, Bethlehem First UMC, and Cannon UMC as partners. They then organized a launch team of GGC students currently affiliated with these congregations, and have already planned outreach events on campus to get the word out.
Lawrenceville First has allowed these staff members to devote a few hours each week to serve as Co-Directors of the GGC Wesley Foundation.
"All too often, churches have a noticeable gap of ministry offerings that reach and serve college-age students and young adults," said Fitzpatrick. "Helping launch the GGC Wesley Foundation is Lawrenceville First’s attempt to help bridge that gap. Further, college students find themselves in an incredibly formative time in their lives. We believe that a student’s involvement in a campus ministry that helps nurture their relationship with Jesus Christ and offers them ways to develop their leadership abilities will have an eternally positive impact on their lives, their communities, and the world."
Church members have already volunteered to help support outreach efforts such as helping students move in to their dorms.
"It really excites me to dream and pray about the possibility of students prayerfully asking questions and discovering answers that help them to grow into a more meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ," said Fitzpatrick.
University of West Georgia Wesley
In early 2017, an exciting new thing happened in Carrollton. The congregation of St. Andrew UMC closed its doors so that it could be re-established as part of a Vital Merger between the church and the Wesley Foundation of the University of West Georgia.
Six months later, they are getting to see the fruits of their decision. The Wesley Foundation is gearing up for its first on-campus worship service!
"We have several students who have already committed to being a part of UWG Wesley and they're really excited about leading the launch of this ministry," said Rev. Sam Dawkins. "We're also beginning our launch team meetings for our new church plant, New Church West Georgia, this Sunday. It's busy but it's really fun!"
While the plans have long been underway, it wasn't until the start of the school year that the new campus ministry officially launched.
"I'm incredibly excited about the enthusiasm of our college students for this ministry," said Dawkins. "Every student that I've met so far and had an opportunity to talk about UWG Wesley has expressed a need for the ministry and a desire to be actively involved. It's so good to see and I can't wait to see this enthusiasm turn into transformational leadership on campus and in the community."
Dawkins has seen first-hand the importance of the support and insight of local church partners for a successful campus ministry.
"The biggest thing any local church can do for a campus ministry is provide support," he said. "While I do mean financial support here, I don't want to limit it to that. Supporting campus ministries through prayer, service, and connecting students you already have a relationship with to the ministry on campus is so important."
Rev. Heather Jallad at Douglasville First UMC organized a lunch for some of their college students at West Georgia with members connected to the university. They met Dawkins and talked about the ministry together.
"I can't tell you how helpful that meeting and others like it have been in getting this ministry off to a good start," he said. "There is so much going on the first few weeks of college and there are so many things trying to capture the attention of new students. Making that connection early is vitally important to getting students plugged into a campus ministry."
University life in Augusta has been transitioning in recent years. Augusta College merged with the Medical College of Georgia to become Georgia Regents University. Recently the school, which has more than 8,500 students, three campuses and multiple satellite locations, has officially become Augusta University.
"It's a large downtown school and growing," said Nicole Muns, youth director at Wesley UMC in Augusta.
Last year Muns met an Augusta University staff member at church who shared that she had a heart for campus ministry. She wondered if the church would be interested in offering a ministry to students. It was something the president of the university, Dr. Brooks Keel, would welcome as well.
"If the school is wanting this, let's go!" Muns thought.
Wesley's senior pastor Rev. Greg Porterfield was enthusiastic about the idea and encouraged Muns to run with it. That led to meetings with McCord at the UMCommission and District Superintendent Rev. Terry Fleming. Other United Methodist pastors in the Augusta area, including the clergy from Trinity on the Hill UMC, met to discuss what the ministry may look like.
From there, Muns began wearing an additional hat as the unofficial director of the campus ministry. The ministry began with a soft launch last year having monthly meet-ups in the freshman dorm. They had a pizza night, a Waffle House night, a "See You at the Polls" event and a Christmas tree lighting. In the spring they started a monthly worship service led by Trinity on the Hill's worship director Rev. Kyle Jones. Other clergy, including Wesley’s Rev. Adam Hilderbrand, have spoken at the gatherings.
Seeing the United Methodist connection at work has been one of the most exciting parts of the new ministry venture.
The United Methodist Children's Home owns property in downtown Augusta near the university that is unused. They arranged an affordable lease agreement so the space could be converted into a student Wesley House. The churches are at work renovating the space. There are seats for about 70 in worship and space for a coffee bar and study room.
The Augusta Wesley ministry is meeting this year at the undergrad student center and is capturing the attention of commuter students in addition to students who live on campus. Once the renovated space is finished, they'll transition worship to their new building.
Wesley UMC members attending Augusta University are proving to be important to the ministry.
"They're commuters, but they helped with new student move-in," said Muns. "They had the idea and arranged to volunteer on their own."
With strong partners and students with a heart to serve, there is a lot of potential here, said Muns.
"We are in the midst of an unbelievable history in the life of campus ministry in Georgia with the launch of West Georgia, Augusta and Georgia Gwinnett Wesleys," said McCord. "The really cool thing about these new ministries is the wide support they are receiving from churches across our conferences."
To learn more about our higher education ministries in Georgia and to support their growth go to umcommission.org.