Dear Wesley friends,
As you may have heard by now, this is my final semester serving as Wesley’s campus minister. What an absolute gift and joy it has been to serve here in ministry with you. Thank you for the opportunity and the support!
This is my 21st year serving in campus ministry, the last 18 as clergy under appointment, and the last 17 as Wesley’s director. Wow! During my time at Wesley, we experienced the September 11th attacks and the wars that followed; hurricane Katrina (and a spring break service trip there to help); an earthquake on the first day of classes; the rise of social media; an attempted removal from office of UVA’s president; white supremacists marching here in 2017; re-naming of multiple buildings on Grounds and the installation of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers; the removal of the Honor Code’s “single sanction,” and, of course, the ongoing pandemic. We have also experienced becoming the first Reconciling campus ministry in the Virginia Conference; winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in 2019; handing out hundreds of #LoveYourNeighbor stickers to new students at the annual Activities Fair; interfaith service trips and gatherings with our friends from Hillel; hosting McDonald Lecture guests like Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jan Richardson, James Lawson, and Michael Twitty; Wesley’s first-ever capital campaign raising over $1 million and completing two phases and a pandemic-era patio addition debt-free; and well over 20 “Wesley weddings.” And we have sent students to seminary, Peace Corps work, teaching, family life, government service, and every corner of the world.
Context matters, especially in campus ministry. We have four lightning-quick years to meet and befriend students as they pass through. World events, personal upheavals and accomplishments, and developing relationships with God, unfold in unique ways for each student. As I prepare to leave and as you prepare to welcome a new campus minister for Wesley’s next stages in ministry, I am appreciating all that has happened here, in the world, and in our students’ lives during these years.
And I am thankful for the vision our conference once had, to build places like Wesley—outposts of the church at universities around our state—which make the bold statement that college is fertile, holy ground for faith development and that the Church takes students seriously. I am thankful to those who came before me in this position: John Patton, Emmett Wilkerson, Gerry Vaiden, Jim McDonald, Barry Penn Hollar, Brooke Willson, Jan Rivero, and Alex Joyner, who called me 21 years ago and said, “I know you just started a job, but…”
At my ordination, my hands rested on the bible, opened to the book of Esther. You remember the story of the “replacement queen” who ended up being ideally situated “for such a time as this,” and who helped to save the Jewish people (Esther 4:14). Esther’s story has resonated with mine as I wound my way back to Charlottesville and Wesley, ending up in just the right place at the right time. And now it’s time for someone else to lead.
I am thankful for what has been and for what’s to come, for Wesley and for me.
As of July 1, I will be appointed to attend school in the York River District. I have been admitted into William & Mary’s graduate program in mental health counseling, after which I anticipate serving as a pastoral counselor. This move also enables us to be with my mom, a particular blessing after losing my dad so unexpectedly in 2020.
It has been a blessing to visit district churches and to welcome you bringing meals to students each week (and helping us pay for restaurant meals in the pandemic). It’s been a joy to connect and re-connect with so many alumni and friends over my years in campus ministry. I look forward to seeing you around the Conference and to sharing in your good news and life updates from time to time. Feel free to reach me at: deborahlewis AT vaumc.org.
Stay tuned for more news coming soon, announcing Wesley’s new Director & Campus Minister. And thanks in advance for your warm welcome and support for the Director and for Wesley in the next stages of this wonderful ministry.
The peace of Christ be ever with you,
The Rev. Deborah E. Lewis
Director & Campus Minister