By Susan Graham, Chair of TWK Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry

It has been suggested that campus ministry could be called the birthplace of the Methodist Church, and perhaps the first campus minister was John Wesley. Afterall, when John Wesley returned to Oxford as a fellow, he joined, then began leading his brother Charles and other students on campus in meetings of the “Holy Club.” This group became known as the Methodists for the way they methodically studied, prayed, and served. 

Today, many of their practices are reflected in our campus ministries, and in honor of John Wesley, we call our campus ministries the Wesley or the Wesley Foundation. Currently, there are fifteen Wesleys, connecting with twenty-five universities, colleges, and institutions of higher education and learning within our TWK conference.

APSU Wesley student, Terra, shares her faith story at a worship service. Photo submitted by Susan Graham.

In the summer of 2023, the congregation-based model for campus ministry was initiated in the TWK. In the congregation-based model, the campus ministry is intentionally connected with a local (host) church, and the campus minister serves on the staff of that church. These host churches and college campuses see one another as neighbors and are most often within walking distance or perhaps just across the street from one another. This connection is an opportunity for both the Wesley and the congregation to support and to learn from one another, to connect and build relationships, to strengthen their ministries, and to serve their communities. 

This model is currently used by six of our Wesleys and their host church: the Wesley Foundation at Austin Peay State University and Hilldale UMC; Belmont Wesley Foundation and Belmont UMC; Cumberland Wesley Fellowship and Lebanon FUMC; Fisk Wesley and Meharry Wesley and Clark Memorial UMC; Wesley in Pulaski (University of Tennessee Southern) and Pulaski FUMC; and Vanderbilt Wesley Foundation and West End UMC. The University of Tennessee Martin Wesley Foundation is currently transitioning to the congregation-based model with Martin FUMC as their host church.  

Our campus ministers have shared numerous stories of how connecting, belonging, developing relationships, and being in ministry together has impacted both the campus Wesley and the congregation. We celebrate these relationships and are grateful for these new partnerships! 

Mary Kate Myers, Campus Minister for Austin Peay State University, shared that APSU recently began the arduous process of becoming “unfrozen” as a campus organization for the first time since 2020. The support of their host church, Hilldale UMC, has been invaluable in this new season of APSU Wesley’s existence. Allison Harris, a senior at APSU and member of Hilldale UMC, serves as the President of the APSU Wesley Foundation and has made reintegration into campus life as successful as they could have ever hoped.

Cumberland Wesley students enjoy pizza and fellowship on Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day. Photo submitted by Susan Graham.


Their Wesley is meeting together multiple times a week for different activities, studies, offerings of service, as well as fellowship. Mary Kate writes, “The coolest thing that’s happened recently was one of our students agreeing to share her faith story as part of a collaborative worship service hosted by campus ministries who are affiliated with APSU. Terra hasn’t been part of Wesley long and was incredibly nervous to stand up and share with her peers. But the Spirit encouraged her that what she had to say was exactly what the students in that room needed to hear. Sure enough, as Terra spoke with confidence and courageousness that could only be Spirit-driven, voices could be heard from the crowd saying things like “Amen!” and “Yes!” Afterward, Terra was shining even more brilliantly than her beautiful yellow dress, and her typically contagious smile was somehow even bigger than normal. “That was a spiritual experience!” she said, hugging me and settling back into her seat. “Yes, it was,” I affirmed for her. “Yes, it was.” Figuring out connection, ministry, and life with students in this season of The Wesley Foundation at APSU can be summed up in exactly that way: It is a spiritual experience. And we can’t wait to see where the Spirit will lead us next!”

UT Southern Wesley students gather for snacks and fellowship. Photo submitted by Susan Graham.

Hunter Wade is the Campus Minister at Belmont Wesley and reported that many Belmont students are engaged in both Belmont Wesley and a young women’s bible study at Belmont UMC, and eight Belmont students who are part of the Belmont small group joined Belmont UMC last fall semester. Belmont Wesley students are intentionally reaching out to the Belmont University campus, so others may become familiar with and know they are welcome at Belmont Wesley. They participated in the Spring Homecoming Weekend and invited their community to assist them in creating a Mario Kart-themed float, then proudly joined other Belmont student groups in the Homecoming Parade.

Hunter shares, “We were able to connect with other student organizations and student leaders from across campus and join in on this day of school spirit. I am so proud of how the Belmont Wesley leaders took this opportunity to reach out and be involved in the greater Belmont community and rallied our group to join in on the fun. This is a fun example of how these leaders are showing up to create the welcoming and inclusive spiritual space that we believe is so needed on campus.” 

Belmont Wesley students participated in the Spring Homecoming Weekend and invited their community to assist them in creating a Mario Kart-themed float, then proudly joined other Belmont student groups in the Homecoming Parade. Photo submitted by Susan Graham.

On Ash Wednesday, the Wesley Fellowship at Cumberland University offered a Pop-Up Ash Station on campus where students and staff could stop by for a blessing and receive a prayer rock. Later that day, which also happened to be Valentine’s Day, the Wesley students celebrated this day of love and the Lenten season with a field trip to CiCi’s Pizza. After a little relaxation time in their Wesley space, several students attended their first Ash Wednesday service at Lebanon FUMC. Their Campus Minister, Whitney Simpson, shares, “Our Wesley students are grateful for the partnership with Lebanon First UMC and the many ways we are building community together – inside and outside the walls of the church and campus community.”

Fisk University, Meharry Medical College and Clark Memorial welcomed Tatayana Richardson as their new Campus Minister in January. They are living into their mission of building, believing, and becoming through relationships with God and one another in their weekly Dining and Bible Study. This semester they have studied topics ranging from Sodom and Gomorrah to unearthing stories of women in the Bible for Women’s History Month. They are growing in their covenant with Clark Memorial UMC with Fisk students serving in worship on Maundy Thursday for the first time!  Students are also seeking opportunities to serve alongside church members and build relationships with people they may not otherwise have a chance to meet.  Fisk Wesley students are especially excited about their upcoming Spring Retreat, which will be the first college ministry retreat as well as the first Christian ministry retreat for some students! Tatayana said, “As Fisk Wesley endeavors into this new chapter, we are excited about seeing what God is doing in our student’s lives, and the ways in which the Ministry will continue to grow!”

Laura McMasters, Campus Minister at Wesley in Pulaski (UT Southern) shares that as the school has changed from a United Methodist-related institution to a state university, the student population has also changed.  “Students currently engaged in Wesley in Pulaski are young people who are nones or no longer choose to relate to the denomination they grew up in. Three students are frequently attending Sunday morning worship at Pulaski FUMC, and two of these students have experienced communion for the first time ever.”

Vanderbilt Wesley students participate in the TWK’s “Day on the Hill for Gun Reform.” Photo submitted by Susan Graham.

Vanderbilt Wesley recently hosted Room in the Inn, and Aimee Baxter, Campus Minister, reports, “This night was so fun and meaningful.”  She also shared that on Ash Wednesday, students participated in Ashes to Go on the Vanderbilt campus. Along with instituting ashes for students, they handed out Valentines.  A couple of Vandy Wesley students joined other TWK Conference members for the UMC “Day on the Hill for Gun Reform, ” where they were able to advocate for policy changes around gun reform and increased gun safety.

Each Wesley is tremendously grateful for the relationship with their host church as together they continue to build community, grow in their faith, and serve together. While these congregation-based Wesleys are connected to a host church, this does not limit the love and support they continue to need from other congregations. Successful and thriving campus ministries require connection, commitment, relationships, and resources from all our TWK congregations.  It truly takes a Conference!