All the best laid plans may have been disrupted by a pandemic, but the NC Central University Wesley Campus Ministry Fellowship has continued mission and ministry in the past year thanks to a remarkable grant of $90,000 from The Duke Endowment (TDE).
“This was a powerful opportunity to showcase who we are and what God is doing and also how God is making a way… We were really excited to know that as one of the first Wesley Campus at an historically-black college, in this conference, they [TDE] felt this was a good investment. They really wanted to hear our story and hear how these funds would impact leadership among the campus, but also the leadership within The United Methodist Church because currently in our (NC) conference, there is no other Wesley Campus Ministry at an historically-black college or university. So we’re the first and this funding really helps to make sure our students get the training and support, but also organizationally, we are able to do a lot,” said the Rev. Gloria Winston, campus minister at NCCU.
Rev. Winston said that actually the COVID-19 pandemic has led to deeper discussions with students about how faith might affect these new and uncharted experiences in their lives – voting, social justice, racism, isolation, and grief. While in-person worship was not available, Rev. Winston says the students were struggling with where to go to find spiritual answers to situations they were experiencing and found a refuge in the Wesley Campus Ministry Fellowship.
In applying for the grant, the program knew they had a good number of participants and good programs, but were lacking in leadership development so a huge focus of the grant is training and equipping six Wesley Fellows to be ambassadors of hope. The intent is for Wesley Fellows to also train others on campus in different areas – not to just receive training but to pass it on to others. Wesley Fellows began study in summer 2020 so they would be prepared when classes began. The Wesley Fellows, using a program from the General Board of Higher Education Ministries and Discipleship Ministries titled “The Awakened Life,” delved into their own spiritual practices and did a deep evaluation of themselves in self-discovery including their call and social justice.
NCCU Voices of Faith in Action on Election Day
Although opportunities to travel and participate in summer learning and service projects had to be canceled because of pandemic restrictions, the Wesley Fellows were prepared at the beginning of the academic year to lead worship services, prayer groups, and Bible studies – all through Zoom, thanks to the offering of Zoom accounts from the NC Conference. One large part of the Fellowship’s ministry is Voices of Faith in Action Initiative which helps students stand on their faith and address issues in the world with action steps. 2020 brought many issues and experiences that the ministry would focus on – the election, racial trauma, domestic violence, suicide prevention, breast cancer, and grief. There have also been opportunities for Christian service including doing public service announcements about why students should vote, being at the campus polling location to share bottled water, masks, and snacks to those in line, and collecting over 500 food and personal care items which were delivered to Honduras in response to Hurricane Eta.
The ministry has seen a great number of students needing to find a spiritual connection as they have had to adjust to pandemic restrictions, online learning, and many incidences of grief including the deaths of George Floyd, Beonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and even two of their NCCU classmates. Since students were not allowed to go home or attend face-to-face church, they migrated to the Fellowship for a connection with people who were struggling with the same issues and questions. They needed a place to talk about their grief and trauma, their stress and fear, and their interest in trying to be instruments of change. The daily prayer times of 6:30 a.m. and noon extended longer as more people came online for prayer and to offer prayers. The Fellowship has also seen parents joining some of the online worship offerings to be spiritually closer to their children who were not traveling home.
There are plans for the spring semester, including opportunities to engage in ministry with other Wesley Campus Ministries at NC State University, Duke University, and the UNC in socially-safe ways.
“The pause we had to take this year [because of COVID] made us be a better campus ministry, made us be better leaders, thoughtful leaders, generous leaders with our whole heart,” Winston said.
All the campus Wesley Fellowships, including NC Central University are conference Advance specials and welcome your financial support. The list with Advance numbers can be found in the 2021 Mission & Service book, page 22.
NCCU Wesley Fellows preparing donations to be sent to Honduras