The hopes and prayers from the past few months of planning and preparation have come together: it’s the beginning of a new school year. The first few weeks of a fall semester are very full in campus ministry. We worship together. We eat together (a LOT). We stand at tables, offering a smile, a donut hole, a cup of cold homemade iced tea on a hot day, and some information. We play games. We welcome new friends, and reconnect with old ones we haven’t seen since May.
In the past few weeks, we have connected with 88 students. Yes, we count them. Not just for statistical reasons, but because each student matters. Each student is a beloved child of God we’ve had the privilege to spend time with. Some will return each week. Some will come out for events occasionally. Some will find another space, and others will become too busy for any spiritual group.
Recently, our campus ministry had the first gathering of our Prism LGBTQ+ small group. At 7:30, there were about six people there, which seemed like an okay start for the semester. But people kept trickling in until there were 18 of them at about 8:05. It was the biggest Prism meeting we’ve ever had! Half of them are freshmen. Most of them are completely new to our space. Most are refugees from conservative evangelical churches where they were dedicated and committed youth group participants…until they came out.
Some of their stories were heartbreaking – sharing about how they were publicly rebuked, removed from leadership positions, or banned from working with children. Their Christian discipleship, gifts, and vocation were tossed aside because they don’t fit into a binary complementary understanding of gender. But despite of all of this, what amazed and inspired me was their refusal to leave the church. They hoped against hope that Jesus still had something to offer them.
The hope that was in that room made my heart leap for joy. It also reminded me of the importance of making sure that our ministry is financially sustainable so that we can continue to provide an inclusive and diverse community. NOLA Wesley is unlike any other Christian ministry at Tulane or Loyola, the two campuses where we serve, or really anywhere in the state of Louisiana.
United Methodism’s funding for campus ministry is being cut across the board. There is a distinct possibility that our denomination will split over LGBT inclusion within the next four years, which means that United Methodist campus ministries who have not transitioned to private funding could disappear. It’s not impossible to fund a campus ministry from private sources. It’s actually way more common than a centralized denominational funding model. Most conservative evangelical parachurch ministries are funded entirely by individual donors who know that college is a decisive time for young Christian believers and want to support student ministries.
The key question is whether Christians who value inclusion are willing to invest their resources at the same level. All I can do is share the vision that God has given us for our ministry at NOLA Wesley and trust that God will move the hearts of anyone whom he has called to support us.
Inclusive Christian ministry is about so much more than queer identity. It’s a way of understanding why we are called to a life of holiness. We do not take discipleship, sin, spiritual practices, or theological orthodoxy any less seriously than other Christians. We simply understand that the point of our pursuit of holiness is to become God’s solidarity with the world, especially its most marginalized people. Holiness that does not lead to solidarity is not the way of Jesus. He tells us in Matthew 25 that whatever we have done for the marginalized in our world we have done for him. Christian holiness is supposed to create radical hospitality for the world’s outsiders rather than self-validation for the world’s insiders.As a paradigm for inclusive Christian ministry, we have identified four core values that we hold in tension to guide our thinking about the space we are creating at NOLA Wesley: open table, safe space, changed lives, and transformed world.
1. Open Table
Each Sunday evening, we share in a meal, sing praise songs, read a scripture passage, have a conversation about Jesus, and share in holy communion. Each week, we expect to hear the Holy Spirit speak through everyone present at the meal regardless of where they are in their faith journey. Though Jesus is the host of our meal, our table is open to people of all faiths and spiritual inclinations. The majority of the students at our table did not grow up United Methodist. Hospitality to all is one of our most important values.
2. Safe Space
The students within our fellowship have different spiritual needs. We seek to create safe spaces where they can share their struggles, questions, and doubts without fear of condemnation. Some spaces are characterized by rigorous Bible study; others stick to friendship and community building. We ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in creating the spaces that will be most beneficial to our students where they are. We don’t believe that spiritual growth is accomplished through shame and pressure, but only in the context of unconditional grace.
3. Changed Lives
Though we seek to be completely gracious with everyone who comes to us, we also expect to have our lives changed by the Holy Spirit. We enter into this journey as sinners who want God to heal us of our flaws. We want for all of our lives to reflect our commitment to Jesus as his disciples. With this in mind, we invite our students when they’re ready to enter into deeper levels of intentionality and covenant regarding their spiritual practices and lifestyles.
4. Transformed World
We share the United Methodist vision of creating disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We cannot satisfy ourselves with personal piety when we live in a community where there is so much need and injustice. NOLA Wesley is involved in supporting the local community through acts of service like Habitat projects, homeless meals, and tutoring as well as supporting social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign.
We have so many talented new students who are just starting out in our ministry. They need full-time pastors to shepherd them so that they can be the future leaders of our church. Tulane and Loyola are two campuses with very different student cultures that both need inclusive Christian ministry.
My wife and I are so blessed and thankful to be able to journey with these students during their college years! You can participate, too! We are excited to offer you an opportunity to participate with us by providing financial support so that we can continue to offer an open table and safe space for the transformation of ourselves, the students, and the world. Please consider partnering with NOLA Wesley; no gift is too small – even $10/month can help! We also welcome one-time donations to support the creation of an endowment fund.