The New Chapel of The Wesley Foundation United Campus Ministry of FSU & TCC
By Jack Ross Brittain, Spring 2016
The United Methodist Church was founded when Bishop Reuben H. Mueller and Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke of the Evangelical and Methodist Brethren joined hands at the General Conference in Dallas, Texas on April 23, 1968. The uniting of branches comes from a long line of Protestant Reformation and Wesleyanism that began to converge more than two hundred years ago. The roots are set in the lives of John Wesley and his brother Charles in the early 1700’s, and they aimed to unite the religious experience through a renewal movement in the Church of England. As this movement grew, it would eventually spread and become and impactful force of the American colonies as the Methodists made the dangerous voyage across the Atlantic in seeking the New World. Methodism in America became organized as early leaders like Robert Strawbridge laid the groundwork for Methodism in New York and Philadelphia in 1767. After many years of an evolving church, the hands of Reuben H. Mueller and Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke finalized a united movement and provide the roots of the Wesley United Methodist Church on Florida State University’s campus today.
The messages of Methodist Global Church are based on keeping an open heart, open mind, and open door to anyone in need of their values. Methodism is currently a 12.3-million-strong global community. Their values revolve around the original teachings of John Wesley and the early ministries; as they hope to put love and faith in to action everyday in the world that surrounds us. Wesley’s primary emphasis was on, “Practical divinity,” and has remained a hallmark of the practice today. The mission of all of the churches there after has been to make disciples of Jesus Christ available to transform the world.
The United Methodist Campus ministry that stands today has a rich history, and has taken on many forms since the 1950’s. The Florida State University used to be an all women’s school, The Florida State University College for Women. As such, the original plaque of the Methodist Student House can still be found outside of The Wesley Foundation building on Jefferson street, and reads, “Woman’s Society of Christian Service, Erected A.D. 1950.” The United ministry has come a long way since then, as Pastor Toluba of the Wesley Foundation says they are, “One of the largest United Methodist Church campus ministry in Florida, as well as one of the largest in the country.” The ministry of United Methodism has now grown to have nine campus ministries in Florida and stretches to campuses across the entire country. The ministry on Florida State Universities’ campus today now serves over 300 students from FSU, Tallahassee Community College, and Florida A&M University.
Toluba spoke highly of the groundbreaking work the ministry has done throughout its history, particularly the breaking through of race barriers through their famous integrated choir in the 1960’s. I had the chance to ask Pastor Toluba about this, and the image of the integrated ministry displays the “barriers” Rebecca Steele, the director of chorale activities at FAMU, says the church broke through. She recalls stories Pastor Toluba refers to in the interview of choir’s tour of the southeast in 1969, when the choir had to all sleep on the bus because the stigma associated with the mixing of blacks and whites was still prevalent in many areas due to segregation. With this rich history of groundbreaking converging work, the church is now undergoing another monumental event with the demolition of the original, odd shaped church, which has stood for over forty years since its completion in the early 70s. The chapel was also a great place of community convergence for the sisters of Chi Omega house in 1978 following the brutal attacks of Ted Bundy.
Pastor Toluba says the practices of the student ministry does not differ much from many other United Methodist churches’ around the world. He says their community has always been defined by including people of various backgrounds and orientations. They are racially and religiously diverse, as they are open to anyone who seeks their support. The community has stressed the openness to all sexual orientations, and has always been open to the LGBT+ community. This can be heard in the interview with Pastor Toluba, as he stresses the communities’ “radical hospitality”. He says they focus on being a community center to the entire university and the easiest way to become absorbed into the community is just going to a Sunday service for the first time at 11:00 AM. The outreach programs and mission trips are also quite moving as well, as they have had a relationship with the Hope Community at the Big Bend Homeless correlation to throw birthday parties for kids that are in a situation of experiencing homelessness. Pastor Toluba says that if he could convey one message to the entire Florida State community, it would be that, “God is real, and he really does love the people in our community.” He says, “The pattern has historically been to check out of religion when students are in college, and unfortunately today, many of them are not checking back in.”
The once fashionable “brutalist” architecture that described the old building has since phased out; as pastor Toluba says it resembled something more of a hurricane or bomb shelter, rather than a chapel. Talks of changing the building have actually taken place since the mid 1980s, as the roof has been quite susceptible to leaks and has a very outdated air and heating system. Due to the structure being built on clay and soil, there have been several cracks and shifting of the foundation. This was the reason the original organ had to be removed many years ago. Many members of the community are sad to see it go, as it has housed student worship since its dedication in 1973; and former graduates came back on the weekend of September 26 for the final service in the concrete chapel. Pastor Toluba says he has seen figure for the original building totaling nearly $2 million dollars, a close figure to the $2.5 million the Florida United Methodist foundation has provided for the project. The Florida State University Wesley Foundation community now has the task of raising an additional $500,000.
The new building will soon include a great central hall to be used for worship in the sanctuary. While the old building was cramped and lacked a great deal of space, the new chapel will house a great deal more offices, a larger prayer room, a conference room, a larger kitchen space, and even a coffee shop. Toluba says one of the main hopes of the new chapel will be that it, “Blends in with the architecture of the Florida State University campus,” which can be seen in the sketch of the future building with the focus on brick structure.
In the meantime, tight spaces will best describe the Wesley Foundation’s 300 strong student ministry. Services are now held in the Fellowship Hall, which is next to where the old chapel stood. This building too will eventually be demolished and replaced with a more functional building, as it has a rustic, 1930s based architecture is just as outdated as the “brutalist” architecture. The focus of the ministry will now be raising the $500,000 from alumni, supporters, and donors for the completion of the new building. Donating is easy and can be found from a tab on the Wesley Foundation of FSU and TCC’s website, and Pastor Toluba says the new church, “Will be a great Christmas gift in 2016.”
The United Methodist Church." The United Methodist Church. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
Dobson, Byron. "Chapel of the Upper Room at FSU to Be Demolished." Editorial. Tallahassee Democrat. USA Today, Dec. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.