By Kara Witherow, Editor
Wesleyan College and its Wesleyan Disciples ministry are helping shape the Church’s next generation of young leaders.
In the past five years, eight Wesleyan Disciples graduates have gone on to seminary at such prestigious schools as the Methodist Theological School of Ohio, Illiff School of Theology in Denver, Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, and Divinity School at Duke University.
Formed in 2005 with six students, the Wesleyan Disciples is an interdenominational, inter-racial, and international group of students who are committed to spiritual formation, intentional Bible study, servant leadership, and the practice of healthy lifestyles. Students from eight denominations – United Methodists, Baptists, Catholics and more – serve, worship and fellowship together.
Developed under the leadership of college chaplain Rev. Bill Hurdle, the Wesleyan Disciples program was designed to create a broad Christian witness on campus. And increasingly, these women are taking their witness off campus and considering careers in full-time ministry.
“Along the way, the girls began to express an interest in ministry,” Rev. Hurdle said. “Some in children’s ministry, some in Christian counseling or campus ministry. About five years ago the first one went to seminary. Now eight students from the group of Wesleyan Disciples have gone on to seminary.”
Being involved in the ministry helps students respond to God’s call on their lives, says Rev. Hurdle.
“I think they have had a great influence on each other.”
A calling confirmed
Six words from a beloved and trusted mentor helped confirm Alaina Avera Harrison’s calling into ministry.
Hearing, “You should go into college ministry,” from Rev. Hurdle was “such great confirmation,” says the Wesleyan graduate, now a first-year student at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.
Harrison, who graduated from Wesleyan College in May, entered college a little more than four years ago with plans of becoming a graphic designer. But the summer of her freshman year, as a camp counselor at Epworth By The Sea on St. Simons Island, Harrison felt God calling her into full-time ministry. Back at school at Wesleyan, the calling became more focused and specific to college and campus ministry, and Rev. Hurdle’s encouragement was confirmation of that calling.
While at Wesleyan, things began falling into place for a future in ministry, said Harrison, the daughter of Pembroke United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Matt and Stacy Avera, and confirmation and affirmation of her calling came from multiple people. Wesleyan was also where Harrison honed her leadership skills.
“Wesleyan grew me as a leader tremendously,” Harrison said. “I already considered myself a leader before coming to Wesleyan, but it grew greatly over those four years.”
Involved with Wesleyan College’s Wesleyan Disciples ministry and the Wesley Foundation of Macon, Harrison grew in her faith and developed strong friendships and accountability partners through the two ministries.
In addition to her seminary classes, Harrison is also a full-time intern at the Wesley Foundation of Macon. Her responsibilities include ministering to the Wesleyan College, Mercer and Macon State students. She also helps lead worship each week, disciples three students, and eats lunch with students weekly.
“Wesleyan has helped shape and prepare me for my future in ministry with the amount of leadership that I was able to be involved with,” she said. “Leadership is key in ministry, even with something as small and simple as one-on-one discipleship.”
A subtle calling strengthened
Faith Richardson’s involvement with the Wesleyan Disciples ministry helped her recognize her call to ministry and helped prepare her for a lifetime of ministering to others.
Being a part of Wesleyan’s Wesleyan Disciples also showed Richardson the importance of not just knowing ministry, but doing ministry.
Each Wesleyan Disciple commits to 12 hours of community service work during the semester and is responsible for leading the Sunday afternoon chapel service.
“It (volunteering) was a wonderful experience because we had the opportunity to meet people in great need of love and care,” said Richardson, now a second year graduate student at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.
And it was during one of the weekly chapel services that she realized God was calling her into full-time ministry.
“I was transformed during one of those chapel services when one of my classmates taught that, when we pray, we should ask God for what it is that we are called to do,” Richardson said. “That night I prayed about my calling and God responded quickly. I then knew that all my work and time at Wesleyan was preparing me for ministry. I was called to deliver the Gospel of Jesus Christ by serving others.”
Richardson is working on her masters in Divinity and Clinical Mental Health Counseling degrees. Upon graduation she plans to serve and minister to others by focusing on pastoral counseling within the church setting.
“Wesleyan pushed me to be open to others and the possibilities of God,” she said. “This is how ministry should be, open and receptive to all.”
Opening doors to dreams
In January, Missy Ward’s dreams will become reality.
The 25-year-old Wesleyan College graduate and McAfee School of Theology student will graduate in December with a master’s of Divinity degree with a concentration in social ethics, and just a few short weeks later will move to Uganda and serve as the refugee women’s advocacy coordinator for Refuge and Hope International, A Christian ministry organization that focuses on ministering to people affected by war and conflict in East Africa.
Ward has had a passion for missions since she was young and felt called to missions and ministry as a high school senior. But growing up in a denomination that didn’t encourage women to pursue vocational ministry, it was at Wesleyan that she was encouraged and nurtured in her calling.
“When I came to Wesleyan I grew a lot as a leader,” she said. “I grew enormously in terms of understanding myself and leadership skills, and I learned so much about other people and other faith backgrounds. It instilled in me a much greater confidence. Wesleyan Disciples, specifically, helped me grow and … really, really encouraged me and created a community for me and allowed me to explore in a safe place my gifts and my calling to ministry.”
At Wesleyan Ward met other women who were also interested in service and seminary and called to be pastors and in full-time ministry.
“Wesleyan has profoundly impacted my life in various ways,” Ward said. “It allowed me to be myself. It allowed me to be a part of a community of people who saw in me things that I didn’t see in myself. They encouraged me and were a community to me and were a safe place to explore and further understand myself.”
She remembers seeing a Wesleyan College ad in a movie theater that read something along the lines of, “Wesleyan is a place where you can do anything.”
For Ward, that was true.
“No dream was too big at Wesleyan,” she said. “When I felt this calling at Wesleyan to serve in ministry … Wesleyan gave me a safe place to really believe that I could do that, as crazy as it sounded to want to move to Africa. But the community and support I had made me believe that it was possible. It was my calling that God had instilled in me, and Wesleyan gave me the community and support that affirmed it.”
Wesleyan Sunday is November 11, 2012. Each local United Methodist Church in South Georgia is encouraged to take up a special offering to support the ministry of Wesleyan College in Macon. To learn more about Wesleyan College, visit www.wesleyancollege.edu. Local church credit for Conference Advance Special gifts may be received by sending gifts through the conference treasurer #6611.