West River offers opportunities that gathering in person brings for Howard University Wesley Foundation
By Neal Christie
College has been a radically different experience for students. Distance learning and social distancing, adjustments in where to worship and students advocating became the new normal on campuses. Campus Ministries responded by standing with students and creating space for them to be in community before final exams begin.
“I find West River to be a great asset that offers great space for youth in the UMC and beyond to find unity and serenity,” said Lauren Jackson, a senior marketing major at Howard University.
Students of the Wesley Foundation at Howard University gathered for a retreat at West River Camping Center in late March. It had been over three years since their last retreat, as social distancing, mask-wearing, and zoom gatherings have remained the norm. Several students who attended the retreat in 2019 were freshmen, and now they are gearing up to say goodbye to Howard University and The Wesley Foundation as graduating seniors.
“Gathering here at West River is bittersweet. It feels like it has been a lifetime since we were able to have time to build connections,” said the Rev. Alexis Brown, Campus Minister at The Wesley Foundation at Howard. “The pandemic robbed our campus ministry of those unique elements of gathering together which help us create a sacred community.” The Wesley Foundation at Howard is known for its gatherings and connecting United Methodist Agencies to its students. Students have attended the LIT (Leadership in Transformation) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia; Global Ministries mission trips to Tegucigalpa, Honduras; worship with local churches, and more.
“I loved the opportunity to gather at West River. It was an amazing opportunity to get away from the hectic routine of college life and to build connections with great people. Personally, my favorite part was getting stuck in the mud and losing my shoes! It was fun, enjoyable, and much-needed rest. It’s always great when we can gather to seek God together in community,” said DaShawn Jones, a sophomore mathematics major at Howard University. The students were given the opportunity to experience skill-building exercises on the Corinthian Trail, eat lunch and dinner, and build deeper connections.
“It was great, it was just enough time to bond with the group.” Said Octavia Allen Witfield, a graduating senior.
To learn more about how you can support the Wesley Foundation at Howard University go to https://wesleyfoundationhu.org/
The University of Maryland TERP HUB (Here You Belong) offers expansive view of God
In September, the Terp HUB held a table fair called “First Look Fair” (the University’s involvement fair) and at “Quelcome” an LGBTQ+ involvement fair. At both of these tabling events, there was a rainbow flag on the table. Terp HUBer Victory Pannullo shared, “Many students came up to the Terp HUB table at these events and said, ‘I’m not Christian, but I love what you’re doing’. In these brief interactions the interns shared who the Terp HUB is and offered swag to students, regardless of if they wanted to join the ministry. Some students opened up and shared stories of how they were hurt by their church because of their gender or sexual orientation.
During these interactions, the Terp HUBers held space and validated the feelings of these students. Another student approached them and said, “You’re a Christian group?” Then started to tear up as they shared that they had never seen a rainbow flag in a Christian setting before. The student openly shared more of their story with the intern, then apologized for “Trauma dumping”, and the intern validated that student’s experience telling them that they didn’t deserve to go through that. The University took a picture of the table and posted it on the University Instagram. The Equity Center on campus has been a huge supporter of the Terp HUB as well.
Jamal Oakman, also a Terp HUBer, shares, “Here things open students up to explore an understanding of who God is to us. If campus ministry is about exploring a different faith from what you may have accepted from your parents or youth group it is also about expanding your faith so that more people come in. This semester we talked about challenges to a binary way of seeing God, race, and LGBTQI identity. We are trying to make a safe space for students not to be harmed by toxic policies and beliefs.”
The Terp HUB surprised an international student of Asian ancestry who grew up Catholic in his home country and every week participates in the Terp HUB book studies and dinner church. He has experienced a more expansive vision of God. A student who identifies as Trans grew up in a Lutheran church and loves to discuss theology, women in the bible, and classical Greek philosophy and when they found out about the dinner church they were hooked on the campus ministry. Jamal added, “It’s important to be a church that takes down power structures and the liturgy reflects this from the ground up. We don’t have to experience God in the pew. We can experience God over a meal. We don’t feel small here and God is not irrelevant.”
To learn more about the Terp HUB go to https://www.instagram.com/theterphub/?hl=en or https://www.bwcumc.org/ministries/young-peoples-ministries/campus-ministry/