So here's the basic run-down on this place. The Wesley Center is part of the United Methodist Church's campus ministry. The Wesley Center at the University of Oregon is located right off campus near the UO bookstore and serves a group of university students from both Lane Community College and the University of Oregon (both undergraduate and graduate students), as well as some friends of students. The Wesley Center is a Methodist group, but the students who attend come from a variety of faith backgrounds. There are those who were raised in the Methodist church (like I was), others from other Christian back grounds looking for a new interpretation of their faith, and those who have never before had good experiences in a Christian setting.
The Wesley Center does not ask us to be anything we are not. We do not have to attend church, we don't have to take communion, we do not even have to be Christians to participate. We have space for a variety of perspectives, and our discussions are student-led and directed, with topics selected by the group at the beginning of each term. This means we have, in the last year, had discussions on topics ranging from United Methodist Social Justice Principles to International Day of the Disabled to Immigration to the Greek Orthodox Church. Future topics include Issues in the Criminal Justice System, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stewardship and Creation Care, and a traditional Ash Wednesday service.
We meet every week on Wednesday nights. We eat a meal together, and in the last year our food been increasingly focused on Fair Trade and locally grown foods, reflecting our interest in food justice. During the meal we talk about whatever there is to talk about: weather, music, food, classes, politics, and what have you. And for those participants who, like me, are reluctant cooks living on their own, the chance for a good meal that requires no preparation on my part is always a small miracle. Then we clean up after dinner and have our group discussion, led by students or by Warren (our campus minister), and often featuring group participation as well.
So that's it. That is the Wesley Center at it's most basic and most essential. It's a place to meet, to get fed, to talk about applicable and interesting things. So why does something that simple bring fifteen or so students back week after week?
Part of it is Warren. He's our pastor, and is why I continue to attend Wednesday night dinners. Aside from being incredibly intelligent and versed in Methodist theology, he is also a fun and wonderfully compassionate individual who cares deeply about the students, encouraging us in our interests and helping us through our trials. And that kind of concern and support from a non-parental adult can make a huge difference in the life a college student.
Then there is the format of the evenings, which allows each of us to bring in our interests and perspectives in whatever way we choose. This is also quite the opportunity for college students: to be the ones to choose what to discuss is a chance seldom offered us. And to be able to teach what we know is, at least for me, something to get truly excited about. Beside this, Warren has been very supportive of other interests, including taking the group to volunteer at Food for Lane County and letting me rip out most of the backyard to put in a vegetable garden. We've also started a Writer's Group for those of us who consider ourselves to be writers of one kind or another and want the support of a writer's community to encourage their creative efforts. Other members use the building on other days for club meetings, like People of the Pacific (POP), that meets there weekly. We will be starting a Bible study soon as well, which will be taking place at First United Methodist Church after the service on Sunday mornings.
But the food. It always does come back to that. Because we are busy. Every one of us is busy with school, some of us with work or sports or other activities. We all have dozens of reasons not to be on campus at 6:30 on Wednesday nights. And yet we keep showing up, keep participating. All the reasons I listed above are an important part of the equation, but to be honest, the promise of a good meal and easy conversation once a week is a comfort and a high point for me.
So there it is: the Wesley Center. For me, it is a faith home, a center for creativity and friendship and relaxation. I have led several discussions and plan to continue over the next few terms. I have the garden and the writer's group. And now I have a blog here at the Wesley Center as well.
Something this good is worth sticking around for, worth committing time and energy to.
Please pass the Fair Trade chocolate bar.