At This Texas Campus Ministry, ‘Inclusive Love’ Is the Mission

When Sydney Cox, 21, arrived on the University of Texas’s Austin campus in fall 2021, she was eager to find her people. During the worst of the pandemic, she had spent her freshman year attending classes over Zoom. So when she returned for her sophomore year, she was craving connection.

That fall, she ticked all the typical college boxes. She joined a sorority. She went to parties. She talked to people in her classes. But none of it was quite the right fit. Sydney, who describes herself as shy, was overwhelmed — one small fish in a sea of more than 41,000 undergraduates. Then, at the beginning of the second semester, she attended a kickoff event for the Texas Wesley Foundation, a Methodist campus ministry group founded at the school in 1923.

Sydney had grown up Methodist and thought she knew what to expect from a Christian student organization. But she was surprised by just how welcoming the Wesley was. The students and adult leaders seemed genuinely invested in drawing her out of her shell and getting to know her, with no agenda. “It’s really not about getting people into this religion,” she said. “It’s just about being a community who supports others and loves others. And that was huge to me.”

It was the community Sydney had been looking for. In fact, she is now on the group’s executive leadership team. The Wesley, she said, “is a home for me.”

Many of the 80 or so current members of the Wesley were, like Sydney, involved in churches or youth groups growing up and were seeking that same kind of community during their college years. Other students simply followed their nose.

Ethan’s parents are Buddhist and were surprised when their son started spending so much time with a Methodist organization. For his part, Ethan describes himself as agnostic and says he hasn’t felt any pressure from the Wesley to change that, but he appreciates the camaraderie the group offers.

“There was this one worship where, when there was a swell in the music, someone burst into tears, and then they hugged one of their friends. I am not sure what was going on there, but it was definitely a very profound experience,” he said.

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