In 1969-70 I shifted from the rural United Methodist Church in mid-state North Carolina to try my hand for one year at the Wesley Foundation, the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. After a successful year there, I moved to Appalachian State University for 5 years, then to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for 23 years, finishing my career as the Conference Executive for Higher Education and Campus Ministry in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, appointed by Bishop Charlene Kammerer, a campus minister, former assistant and later acting Minister to the University at Duke [a position that the then President of Duke offered her fulltime, but she chose to return to the local church, and was soon elected Bishop.]
For the sake of history, here are some of my most salient memories. In 1969 when I entered campus ministry, we sixties folks remember the horrors of 1968, which may have been the most difficult year in my memory. Though it had been nearly five years, it seemed only the month before that John Kennedy had been shot, then Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were both killed in 1968! The world of downtown larger cities felt like they were in flames nightly. Spock and Coffin were indicted for violation of the draft law. The TET Offensive became a killing field; a Vietnamese security officer executed a Vet Cong prisoner with a pistol to his head. And a military politician was saying that it might be necessary to “destroy a Vietnamese village in order to save it.” At the time of the “Prague Spring”, the Republicans nominated Richard Nixon for their candidate, the Democratic Convention in Chicago erupted, George Wallace ran his own Independent campaign, NOW protested the Miss American Beauty contest, Eugene McCarthy washed out, more that ½ million US soldiers in remained posted in Vietnam, and Arlo Guthrie sang about “Alice’s Restaurant.” And it did not cease; at Kent State in 1970, Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds into anti-war student demonstrators, killing 4, injuring 9.
What a time to enter campus ministry! How could we ever forget? Or forgive?! In Greensboro, NC, where rude memories of sit-ins at Woolworths lingered, the Wesley Foundation with the Quakers and others entered into anti-war and civil rights activities. I was asked to do a weekend workshop on social change for the Presbyterian students. The UNCG group was exclusively white; we were to meet students from a historically black university, Fayetteville State, for a weekend at the beach. Though the Presbyterian ministry had informed the motel that we were a mixed racial group and had been assured that was not a problem, it turned out otherwise when we arrived. The African American students were told they could go to the next beach [a “colored beach”] for their sleeping quarters. All students voted loudly and unanimously, “NO!!” We awakened the local Presbyterian minister, and students of all colors slept in every nook and cranny of the Myrtle Beach Presbyterian Church for the two nights we were there—and the next morning we had social change in the color of our faces!
From that charged environment, I moved to a quieter, mountain campus in Boone, NC for five years of new but creative activity. Wesley students and I, with the help of a friendly faculty, succeeded in introducing a Peace Studies minor into the curriculum. We founded a Student Volunteer Service Corp and sent 150 students to work– mostly with children in the mountain coves. At that time, we were only beginning to work with un-planned pregnancies among our students. I can never forget that I counseled 18 students about abortion in one month. The gay and lesbian students found Wesley to be the safest place on campus. Carlyle Marney, that great Southern preacher of the time, said of that ministry to gay and lesbian students: “best damn thing he had heard about the church in a long time.”
In 1975 I moved into the legacy of Bob Johnson, Banks Godfrey, and the activism on UNC’s campus, with a residual remembrance of Wesley’s coffeehouse where James and Livingstone Taylor had played during their high school years. Though his imprint was branded on the campus, Bob Johnson moved on. He and Mike Bloy, Nancy Malone, and Bernard Lafayette laid out our academic world with the NICM Journal and regular conferences. The retired chaplain from Northwestern, Ralph Dunlop, living 6 months per year in Chapel Hill, became a fortress for us emotionally and politically. But the times, indeed, they were a’ changing. After the death of Kent State students, there seemed to be a shift. As the students said: “There ain’t no peace without, so we will look for peace within.” Variations of Eastern Religions began to be studied and practiced, which, in turn, led the more religiously conservative students toward evangelical groups. (Intervarsity may have had the largest chapter in the US at Chapel Hill.) We at Wesley continued our activist legacy and worked, when possible, with minorities, providing the space and some support for the first African American student newspaper on campus entitled,” Black Ink.” And Wesley helped form inclusive residency living communities at Wesley and on campus. But the newest things for students became forms of volunteerism and more traditional student ministry styles. We even had a singing group of 50 or so students. One student, the son of a missionary, pushed us to do work mission teams. These trips were so successful and had such strong impact on students, that we did an annual mission for the next 16 years: to Mexico, the Caribbean, NYC, Atlanta, and Miami, alternating every third year working with the mountain poor in NC. Students’ lives were changed. More than 50 students from this one Wesley Center entered professional ministry in the next 18 or so years.
At the national Section on Campus Ministry for the United Methodist Church, we tried national and regional conferences again with considerable success, but any notions that we could revive a Methodist or an ecumenical student movement soon went by the way.
It was years of hard work and remarkable memories. When the nights were cold and things seemed not to be going well for me personally, I developed a rhythm of remembering the “saints of Wesley,” and my uncertainties about my vocation and career disappeared into the realities of the real movement of God’s presence in ways I could never have imagined.
But not all was well. I moved into an administrative post and spent 5 years trying to help my younger colleagues prepare for the hard times when funds would diminish in large portions. It has been difficult to watch.
We pray that Campus Ministry, the “best kept secret in the Church,” will not only survive but continue with vigor.