By: Ashton Brock
The great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once had a dream. In that dream, there was forward progress. There was a desire for love, equality and freedom. That dream was both hope and a wish to see a better life for everyone, no matter the color of their skin.
“The end is reconciliation,” said King, in a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court Decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery’s buses. “The end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
This dream of becoming a community, where racism and any and all forms of discrimination and prejudice are replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood, is the ultimate goal.
Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail.
Today, these aren't just ideas. People all over the world are working to help move toward that reality. There are people in each state working tirelessly to become the Beloved Community. There are people in Auburn, Alabama, that make an effort, day in and day out, to help the surrounding area become the community it can be.
Auburn Wesley Foundation
A burst of light explodes through the stained-glass window on the east side of the building. Nothing can be heard except the whisper of a prayer coming from the front right pew. Heads down. Eyes closed. Hands clasped.
Right around the corner in the adjacent building, buzzing can be heard through the neutral gray colored doors. Laughter - light, airy and free from worry, carries into the crisp spring air. The doors open inward, and college students can be seen mingling in the lounge area off to the right from the entrance. Prayer, laughter and mega-watt smiles fill the room.
Situated on the corner of Gay Street and Magnolia Avenue, the Auburn Wesley Foundation, around since 2002, today is a place where people from all backgrounds can live, love and laugh.
“It’s all because of our student leadership,” said Patricia Stevenson, director of administration and alumni and development. “The growth of the organization comes from those who want to be here, want to see it become more than it is now.”
Although sponsored by the United Methodist Church, Wesley welcomes all students, from any denomination, with the sole goal of helping them become situated into a place of community and family.
Stevenson said, “We want to cultivate each individual, regardless of where they came from, into what they want to become and have God at the center of it all.”
The Auburn Wesley Foundation doesn't just focus on those within the confines of their walls. They aim to reach far beyond and into the surrounding communities.
The Auburn Wesley Cooperative Parish is a group of three churches around Auburn that are being pastored by the Rev. Dr. Anna Crews Camphouse. These include: Armstrong United Methodist Church, Lochapoaka United Methodist Church and Notasulga United Methodist Church. In coordination with the Rev. Camphouse, a team of student pastors from the surrounding areas team up to spread the word and build bridges between the communities.
“I am the lead pastor of three small United Methodist congregations--Loachapoka UMC, Armstrong UMC, and Notasulga UMC,” said Camphouse. “In these congregations, I work with student pastors to teach them how to preach, teach, and pastor while still in school.”
The three churches and the Wesley Foundation also run the Loachapoka UMC food pantry and Notasulga UMC community garden. The aim is to work on growing the ministry to be able to connect more effectively with others in the area to be able to get more food, especially locally grown food, to assist those in need in Macon County and west Lee County.
“We work with these churches to bridge communities,” said Stevenson. “It builds our numbers and helps us reach others, especially through the work with the Food Bank and providing what we can to help others.”
The Parish isn't the only thing that the Wesley Foundation is doing to build bridges in the community surrounding it.
The Auburn group teamed up with the Wesley Foundation in Tuskegee in the spring of 2018, with both groups aiming to help bridge the gap between races by focusing on a growing faith and focus on Jesus in their combined Bible study.
Tuskegee Wesley Foundation
Midnight black, wrought-iron fences surround the red-brick buildings 25 minutes north of the Auburn Wesley base. Students mill around, some walking from building to building with heads stuck into books and some with ear phones in, completely oblivious to the world around them.
Tuskegee University was established by Booker T. Washington and is the designated as the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site by the National Park Service.
For some 150 years, the Tuskegee Wesley Foundation has focused on creating a safe place where college students can gather to cultivate love, faith and community.
“We want to continue to serve others and mankind in general,” said the Rev. Audrey Rodgers of Tuskegee Wesley. “We want to help people build relationships with God and have opportunities to explore that relationship with Him, and with that, we want to equip students to go out and help others through service every day.”
These services reach far beyond the walls of their Foundation, spreading into the community through things like their Community Garden outreach each week along with the weekly Bible study.
“Community Garden is something where people can come to the Bible study and get food,” said Rodgers. “They don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. We bring them in and try to help build relationships with them where they feel safe and comfortable here.”
The Community Garden is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talking about community outreach and building bridges across the community.
Joining up with the predominantly white Auburn Wesley group, the two ministries did a Bible study, focusing on religion and faith and how Jesus bridges gaps between all members of society, especially in the hearts of the disinherited.
Building Bridges Between Race Through Faith
For one to build a bridge, there doesn't have to be stone and rock and cement. There need not be paperwork and decades of planning or countless tests of materials. There need not be a literal, physical structure for someone to build a bridge between two things.
This spring, the Tuskegee Wesley Foundation and the Auburn Wesley Foundation created that bridge and teamed up to do a month-long Bible study, using the book, Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman.
The book, written in 1949, focuses on God associating more with members of the lower class. It illustrated that God partnered with them, putting himself on the same level as those who were seen as “less” by a society where class was everything.
Using the idea that the New Testament gospels laid the foundation for a nonviolent civil rights movement, the study explored how that idea can relate to today’s society.
Josh Ellis, a member of that Bible study, said, “God isn't just for the middle class. He is for everyone, and the book showed a new side of religion we don't really talk about.”
Split by doing two weeks in Tuskegee and two weeks in Auburn, the Bible study was comprised of students from each foundation, creating a different environment than the “typical” Bible study.
“I was the only white male in the group, and that’s typically not normal, so it was interesting to see a different dynamic,” said Ellis. “I’m so glad I did it though. It really did give me a new perspective. I learned, on a more personal level, that discrimination is real and happening, and I wouldn't have seen that had I not jumped on the chance to take part in the Bible study.”
The Bible study wasn't only about looking into a book that shows race as a major topic in religion, it was about bridging a community that desperately needed it.
“Truly, we are in a season in our country where schism and fear threaten to control and divide us,” said Camphouse. “We are in a season where hope and trust are needed more now than ever. And we are in a season where all the darkness that may have been hidden for these many years is now further out in the light than it has been in my lifetime.”
“Jesus and the Disinherited” isn't just about laying a foundation, it’s about showing a love that is so deeply rooted in a river of faith that it can help people overcome obstacles holding them back, she suggested.
“Both campus ministers and the students all said they wanted to continue to have opportunities for joint studies and projects in the future,” said Camphouse. “We look forward to finding ways to nurture the connection.”