Own Your Progressive!

9 Feb

There’s no such thing as a magic penny, there’s no one right theology, and nor is there one right approach to campus ministry. However, one way seems to be working for us — the way of progressive Christianity.

The Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder was founded in 1917. At that time it was one of only 4 campus ministries. C.U. now has 30,000 students and 38 officially recognized campus ministries. The overwhelming majority of those ministries are non-denominational, evangelical groups and they may as well be clones of each other. The heyday of our Wesley Foundation was the late 1970’s. Since then, our numbers of decreased as the rise of the nondenoms increased – along with the rise in secularism and the decline in Christianity in general (especially obvious in Boulder).

However, as a mainline Protestant campus ministry what has really helped us to maintain vigor and relevance is an intentional choice to emphasize, own, and “work” what’s unique about us; i.e., our liberal-minded, social-justice oriented, egalitarianism and inclusiveness. Unlike certain groups, we celebrate women’s role in church leadership and we aren’t afraid to take counter-cultural stands based upon our convictions. During the 1960’s and ‘70’s, our ministry served as a place for young adults to freely discuss and share about their values and identities. Young men who sought to avoid registering for the draft were supported and counseled. We’ve had female and African American directors and have modeled inclusivity.
I’ve been serving as the director for the past 7 years and 4 years ago we made the decision to officially become a Reconciling congregation that is fully open and welcoming to LGBTQI persons. To help such folks truly feel comfortable we changed the signs on our restrooms. One restroom now says “Private” and has a door that locks. And the other has two stalls and says “Gender Neutral” – meaning that folks who use that one are comfortable sharing it with whoever else may be in there.

We also take a progressive — and yet thoroughly Wesleyan — approach to ministry in that we seek to provide wholeness (salvation) to the whole person and we minister to people’s heads, hearts, and bodies. We offer free yoga classes, salsa dance lessons, centering prayer, Bible studies, movie and game nights, community service projects, retreats, Sunday night worship – with free supper after, and an annual alternative spring break work trip. This year we’ll be helping build a school in Haiti.

We also offer two choirs that are open to the entire campus and surrounding community. One choir is a Gospel choir (only 50% of whom identify as Christian) and the other is a “Glee” Club choir for fans of the TV show.  Seriously good times!

We also are making a point to reach out to the performing artists in our community and we offer a monthly Open Mic Night, and rent our chapel to various theater, dance, and musical groups. The progressive ethos of our space is largely responsible for why so many in the artistic community (and their fans) enjoy using our space.
Indeed, because of these “side” projects, I’ve had numerous conversations with people who haven’t darkened the door of a church in years and have been serving as an unofficial chaplain to the performing arts community in Boulder. The Lord works in mysterious – and creative ways.

Moreover, we seek to follow Wesley’s adage that “the world is [our] parish” and to “meet the people where they are.” Hence, we do a lot of online ministry – seeking to be there for each other as we notice Facebook and Twitter updates that suggest that someone might need a hug and/or a listening ear.

We know that we aren’t likely to become the largest campus ministry, but we know that God is working mightily through our slice of the Kingdom; i.e., via our intentionally owning, claiming, and celebrating being a progressive, gay-friendly campus ministry.

Here are two links to blogs I’ve written that help convey what I mean by progressive Christianity – and my passion for it.  Huffington Post: “Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity” (ßhyperlink http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-roger-wolsey/progressive-christianity_b_892727.html)  & Elephant Journal “Ann Rice Quits Christianity and Wolsey Comes Out” (ß hyperlink: www.elephantjournal.com/2010/07/70799)

May God bless us as we each seek to carve out our niches and to make a difference in Jesus’ name.

Rev. Roger Wolsey

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Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He serves as the Director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
He is the author of “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity” and he blogs for Huffington Post, Patheos, and Elephant Journal. He plays trumpet and loves trail running, riding his motorcycle, yoga, and blues dancing.

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2 Responses to “Own Your Progressive!”

  1. Roger Wolsey February 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    On a related note, according to this article, inclusive churches grow!
    http://www.rmnblog.org/2012/02/want-more-people-in-your-church.html

    To learn more about my take on progressive Christianity, see, Kissing Fish, http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com

  2. Rob Kirby February 15, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    When we added two new accessible restrooms, we simply made them private with an inclusive sign. It made it easy for transgendered persons. Little things can mean a lot. Keep up the great ministry.

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