by REBECCA WALLACE
Rev. Blair Tolbert says she starts many sermons with, “I have a different story to tell you about young people today.” As Dean of Chapel and Campus Ministry at United Methodist-related Young Harris College, she says she has seen an overwhelming increase of students wanting to be connected, in one way or another, to religion.
Serving 1,100 students as well as faculty and staff, Blair engages young people from a variety of denominations and other religions as well. Among the college’s many programs, group studies, and activities organized under the Office of Religious Life, the weekly chapel service is special. Planned and run by a student volunteer chapel ministry team, each week’s service gets “boosted” by another student group who publicizes the service, greets attendees, and rings the bell from 6:45 pm to 7 pm every five minutes leading up to the service.
“Boosting groups organize themselves,” explains Blair. “They may be from a Greek organization, a sports team, or maybe they’re just friends.”
With news headlines and social media making society worry over today’s young adults and their values, it is a breath of fresh air to hear a different story such as Blair’s.
North Georgia United Methodists shouldn't be surprised, though. United Methodist campus ministry in Georgia has more college student participation than ever before. More than 5,000 college students are attending worship through UMC campus ministries each week, in fact.
In addition to the nine United Methodist-related colleges and universities like Young Harris, theire are 15 Wesley Foundation ministries at state schools, such as the University of West Georgia Wesley Foundation. Also featuring a mix of student-run activities throughout the week, the West Georgia ministry has a vital relationship with New Church West Georgia, with its senior pastor Rev. Sam Dawkins overseeing the foundation. Church members were involved in the Wesley re-launch there and got to know the students, and in turn, many of the students attend the church’s Sunday service, creating a true intergenerational opportunity.
“It’s a new endeavor here,” said Sam. “We are trying to pioneer a different way to do ministry as a church in partnership with a college. The students engage with folks who not only have gone before them, but also want to invest in them and their growth.”
Similarly, several Augusta UMCs have rallied around the Wesley Foundation at Augusta University. Nicole Muns says the ministry, with the support of surrounding churches, just opened the second location of The Foundry Coffee Shop. (The first Foundry Coffee Shop ministry is in Savannah and part of the Wesley Foundation at SCAD.)
“We are so excited to be able to find a home in renovated United Methodist Children’s Home space in downtown Augusta that they no longer need,” said Nicole. “Kyle Jones from Trinity on the Hill and a team of students lead our worship music, followed by a message and discussion. We give the opportunity to hang out and really connect, as opposed to a weekly sermon and service scenario. Young people like to have many different ways to connect religiously,” she concluded.
Clearly these ministries -- and many more -- are working, helping to make young disciples of Christ, and future leaders of the North Georgia Conference, for the transformation of the world.
Learn more about United Methodist campus ministry in Georgia at the Georgia UM Commission site www.umcommission.org.
Rebecca Wallace is a communications consultant (and United Methodist!) in Atlanta.