Wesley Foundations Offer Student Housing

November 04, 2010

A UMNS Feature
By Erin Edgemon*

Cara Coleman's faith is a fundamental part of her life.
Her closest friends at Arizona State University, where she is attending classes as a sophomore, are Christian students, mostly members of the Wesley Foundation, the campus ministry of The United Methodist Church.
The mutual understanding that they can talk about their faith with each other is what makes Coleman and her friends close.
"To me, (faith) is something that is essential in my life. Other Christians understand that."
Understandably then, Coleman, 19, is looking forward to the August 2011 opening of Wesley Hall, a residence hall operated by the Wesley Foundation on the ASU campus.
The Rev. Rob Rynders, campus minister for the ASU Wesley Foundation, got the idea for a Christian living community when he first came to ASU four years ago.
He had noticed students who became friends through Wesley would end up living with each other.
"They came together because of the bond they developed in the campus ministry."
Rynders is making this happen on a large scale with the plan for an 88-bed, faith-based residence hall complete with lounge and Wesley Foundation offices. The facility will be open to all ASU students. (At right, a drawing illustrates plans for Wesley Hall, a residence hall on the campus of Arizona State University. A web-only photo courtesy of Wesley Hall. )
"I think the benefit is being able to add and strengthen that faith-based component to a student's college life. We see that students will be more connected to their spiritual life. They would be with other students where they can talk about their faith."
Residence halls, in general, are becoming interest- or major-based because educators have found that these living situations make for better students, Rynders said. Wesley Hall, in turn, will allow students to strengthen and discuss their faith and focus on their studies.
"This will be a place where students are welcome to have honest discussions and dialogue about faith and ask questions about what that means," he said.
Coleman is looking forward to making lifelong connections with the residents of the Christian community that she wasn’t able to make while living in a dormitory her freshman year of college.
Demand for Christian communities
The Wesley Foundation at the University of California, Berkeley just opened its residence hall this fall. The building was funded through tax-exempt bonds.
The Rev. Tarah Trueblood, campus minister for the group, said her Wesley Foundation couldn't rely on students coming to them anymore. They had to go to them.
Funding for the Wesley Foundation also has steadily declined over the years, and they were in need of more money in which to operate.
"The university provides intellectual and academic modes of education and we fill in the rest that makes students whole as individuals," Trueblood said. "Also, we want to provide leadership opportunities for students."
Wesley Hall at ASU is being developed in partnership with Tempe First United Methodist Church, on whose property the residence hall will be built, and Newchapter, an organization that arranges funding for campus organization's residence halls.
Newchapter started in business by working with fraternities and sororities, but now they have focused their attention on campus ministries.
The company sees faith-based residence halls as a growing trend across the country, said Ian Clark, director of business developments for Newchapter.
"What we found out is that we grossly underestimated the demand for intentional Christian communities," he said.
Newchapter currently has partnership agreements with three Wesley Foundations and are in discussions with a dozen other campus ministries.
'This place gives the church hope'
A faith-based community certainly isn't new at the University of Kentucky. The Wesley Foundation there has operated a 50-bed residence hall since 1986. The Kentucky conference of the United Methodist Church bought a former sorority house and turned it into a Christian residence hall.
"This place gives the church hope," said the Rev. Bill Hughes, campus minister of UK's Wesley Foundation. "Young people who love Jesus are very exciting to be around."
Hughes is seeing interest in faith-based residence halls increase. He gets a few calls a month from campus ministers wanting to know more about Wesley's community.
He said students who live in the residence hall are working to be true disciples of Jesus.
"When you live together you cannot fake your Christianity. People know you. It is true disciplining. It is everyday."
Public universities don't offer classes on how to be a better Christian, how to be a Christian husband or wife and how to be a Christian father or mother, Hughes said, but by asking questions and having dialogue with fellow Christians and their campus minister, a student's walk with Christ can become clearer.
"Having a faith-based residence hall also helps with student retention," he said, adding for that reason UK loves the Wesley Foundation residence hall.
"The students who live here tend to stay in college. They love being in a community. It gives them a place to belong."
Hughes said parents love the residence hall. They feel their children are living in a safe place and the church is helping the community produce leaders.
Most of the faith-based residence halls have organized Bible studies and worship service, even weekly meals and speakers to keep residents engaged with each other.
UK senior Nathanael Reis said the Wesley Foundation residence hall is a great place to live.
He said there is a real camaraderie between residents, who often take time to pray together.
"It is really encouraging to have that type of brotherhood," Reis said.
*Edgemon is a freelance writer in Bell Buckle, Tenn.
Photo above, left: Wesley House resident Alejandro Rameriz and resident advisor Brittany Anderson celebrate the new house on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. A UMNS photo by the Rev. John Trueblood.
Photo above, right: Architect Esther Tse and Mrs. Dolores Trueblood visit the fourth floor Kirk E. Peterson Study in the new Wesley House at UC Berkeley, along with student musicians. A UMNS photo by Matthew Shimizu.