Farewell to the Austin Peay Wesley Foundation Building, hello to a continuing ministry!

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On May 20, 2018, current students, alumni, parents, and staff past and present gathered at the Austin Peay Wesley Foundation building in Clarksville to celebrate the launch of a new era of ministry. While some might view that day as the closing of a building, in reality, it was so much more. Throughout the history of the Austin Peay Wesley, a strong vision for reaching young people has always led the way. Today, the ministry of Austin Peay Wesley is going strong, growing in impact and in number, growing in diversity of person and calling. The celebration on May 20th generated a new opportunity for the ministry to be more deeply engaged on the Austin Peay campus while also partnering with area churches, especially Madison Street United Methodist Church where the director’s office is now located.

Rev. Katie Woodard, Executive Director and Campus Minister of Austin Peay Wesley said

“As Matthew 28 says, We wanted to “GO” to students and not sit in a building and wait for students to come to us. We have already been meeting on campus for several years because we wanted to reach students who may not feel comfortable walking into a building with a cross and flame on it.

We thank Madison Street UMC as well as other churches for their hospitality of space and support. Their donation of space is helping us want to continue to use our resources well. Every dollar that is donated, through apportionments or outside donations, is no longer spent on a building, but on building relationships with students and the students building their relationship with God and their campus community.”

During the celebration, Rev. Mark Forrester was awarded the Francis Asbury Award from the General Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry. Mark was the campus minister at both Austin Peay and Vanderbilt. Currently, he is the University Chaplain and Director of Religious Life at Vanderbilt University. The Francis Asbury Award recognizes and encourages the support of higher education and collegiate ministries in The United Methodist Church. The award recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to fostering the church’s ministries in higher education at the local, district, or annual conference level of the church. The award is named for Bishop Asbury and is based on his admonition to the people called Methodist to erect a school in the vicinity of every church. “We must,” he said, “…give the key of knowledge to your children, and those of the poor in the vicinity of your small towns and villages.”

Rev. Vin Walkup provided a reflection on the history of the Austin Peay Wesley Foundation. The text of his message makes up the remainder of this article.

“There are so many stories that can be told about the 45 years in this building, that we could be here past this time tomorrow and not all of them would have been told. However, I choose not to share stories of moments in the building but some history and the context in which this building was erected, dedicated and utilized to touch lives with the love of Christ.

In the late 1950’s a student ministry at Austin Peay State College was officially begun by the Clarksville District and the Tennessee Conference.  Funding from the conference for the ministry in 1958 was $500 and that rose to $1200 in 1962.

The first campus minister named in the journals of the conference was Chan Hie Kim, in 1963.  Prior to and following that time, until 1968, the campus ministry was led by clergy and/or laity.  (one of those was Martha Jo Potts, wife of the Rev. Bill Potts.)

The location of the first building for the Wesley Foundation at Austin Peay was on Castle Heights.  During the tenure and under the leadership of Dr. Joe Morgan, as president of the college, the school decided that they wanted campus ministries to be located across the street from the front of the school. President Morgan wanted to show students and their parents the important relationship between education and faith, and to reassure parents that there was a close connection between the school and churches.

Dr. Morgan, being a member of the Church of Christ, made sure that they got the corner lot at College and what is now University Avenue.  The Baptists had recently built a new facility on Drane Street; the Catholic Church and Christian Church were offered property on the east side of University Avenue but never built.  We ultimately swapped the property on Castle Heights for two houses on College Street – directly across from the entrance to the College.  We became the recognized campus home for Methodists, (and even partially funded by) Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Catholics in those first years on College Street (and at other times as well).

In 1968, the Tennessee Conference commitment to the Austin Peay Wesley Foundation rose to $10,000 and Gerald Noffsinger was appointed as the first full-time campus minister.  Gerald was here for 3 years and saw a tremendous growth in the ministry.  In 1971, he left to become pastor of Westland and Bethlehem United Methodist Churches in Wilson County, and I was appointed as the new campus minister.

That summer of 1971, the city and state widened and raised College Street, which is why there are steps down beside the bridge and into the parking lot.  We had 2 houses with students in both, a coffee house in the basement of one of the sites, offices and a large gathering room in the house where the parking lot is.

In the fall of 1971, in a meeting of the Board of Directors, Charles Waters (father of Melanie Gardner and Valerie Lavery) made the following motion: “I move that we build a new Wesley Foundation come hell or high water.”  There was a second and discussion followed.  In the discussion, someone asked, “What if the Bishop is not supportive of this idea?”  Professor Waters, who had been a member of the Board since its inception in the later 1950’s, said, “I have taken care of him in the former part of my motion.”  The Board laughed and then approved the motion.

An architect (Rufus Johnson) and a contractor (Crow Construction) were hired and progress toward a new building began.  In the summer of 1972, the Clarksville Fire Department practiced by setting the old building that was on this site afire and putting it out.

A picture of their practice made the front page of the Leaf Chronicle and the Want Ads page of the Tennessean.  (When the remains of the second building on the lot where the parking lot it today were burned by some students and me, one of the students [I won’t name him] burned a water hose in half.  The fire department had done a much better job, but we got it accomplished none the less.)

We moved into this building in March of 1973, 45 years ago and I still refer to it as the new Wesley Foundation. In addition to growing the programs, ministries, meals, and the Wesley Singers, we almost immediately began to host United Methodist clergy of the area every Monday morning. The Kitchen Cabinet – that’s what they were called by others and by themselves. They made the best appointments ever, and none of them failed.  T. W. Mayhew was the first “resident bishop” and he was followed by Elbert Walkup. Folks who were part of that were strengthened by the sharing of ministries, joys and concerns.

Across the years many lives have been touched by God’s love in Christ in and through the ministries of the Wesley Foundation, and many of you are among that number. The passage from Proverbs has been a guide for campus ministry. We have sought to combine vital faith and higher education, because:

  Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,
14 for she [wisdom] is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.

We have encouraged you and others to live life with wisdom and understanding – based on faith in the One who is, who was, and who lives forever.

Therefore, “do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
    preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you,
    an ornament to grace your neck.”

As we bid farewell to this building, we do so with a deep appreciation for all who have served here, and those who have walked these floors.

In appreciation for the gifts each one brought to this ministry, allow me to list campus ministers from 1979 to the present:

L-R: Mark Forrester, Bettye Lewis, Katie Woodard, Jodi McCullah, Vin Walkup

Fairy Caroland      

Danny Garrett

James (Jim) Duke

Bob Coleman

Mark Forrester

Anthony Anderson

Bettye P. Lewis

John Young

Charles Welchance

Jodi McCullah

Katie Woodard

The ministry continues, even as the building and property go to the state of Tennessee and Austin Peay State University.

One of the Wesley Singers tours in the 70’s took us to Missouri, where we heard and I adapted for our use what has become a sending forth. Bishop Bill McAlilly saw an abbreviated version of it in the early 80’s and has used it, so the campus ministry has spread much further than we might have expected.

Remember it?

“Christ was born into the world with a song of love; he lived, he taught, he preached, he healed, always with a song of love.  He died an agonizing death on a horrible and ugly cross, but as he died he died with a song of love.  On the first day of the week, he arose, but when he arose he arose in silence; for if his song of love is to go on we are among the ones who must do its singing.”

May God continue to bless all who continue to be involved in campus ministry – students, appointed clergy, and laity – with grace, love, and peace, as they strive to live fully and love wastefully in the way of Christ.”

Contact Rev. Katie Woodard, Executive Director of APSU Wesley – here.