Students Finding Ways To Amplify Leadership Abilities

Katelynn Messerlie

Katelynn Messerlie helps prepare food for one of PJC Wesley Center's free weekly lunches. Messerlie is one of four interns at PJC Wesley. 

New intern program at Paris JC funded in part by CMO grant

Directly across the street from Paris Junior College sits an unassuming white building that has become a hub of connection and transformation. The Wesley Center at Paris Junior College offers students an opportunity to grow in leadership, in faith and in community during their time in school.

The Wesley Center at PJC was awarded a Ministry With grant from the NTC's Center for Missional Outreach in the summer of 2021 to launch an intern program called Students Connecting Students.

Michelle WoodCampus Minister Michelle Wood identified four areas where concerted student leadership would make the biggest impact. With this funding they have expanded their paid student internships to four positions: a recreational intern, a missional intern, a pastoral intern and a connectional intern.

Two primary goals for Students Connecting Students are to help the Wesley at PJC integrate with campus student organizations in an intentional way and to increase its missional impact in the world.

“For the Grants Team, Students Connecting Students showed great promise because it is focused on multiplying their relationship-building capacity through equipping students,” said Rev. Andrew Fiser, Associate Director of the CMO.  “Michelle Wood and her leadership team have really put in the work to adapt their ministry to be effective at connecting through existing networks around the school and community.”

The student leaders have seen great success in building relationships and expanding their reach in the student community this year.

“This semester has been all about planting seeds,” said pastoral intern Hunter Anderson, “Just doing and maintaining the little things that keep us connected to those who come here.”

Wood has also seen tremendous growth in her students’ leadership capacity and confidence.

“I’m inspired by the growth that I see in the students each semester,” she said. “I see them grow more confident in their roles as well as who they are as people. I see the students increasingly be able to start conversations and build community with the people around them.”

A free weekly lunch is offered at the Wesley, and the student interns have taken note of the effort it takes to transition folks from visitors to connected members of the community.

“It’s a lot harder to connect with people than it seems,” said recreational intern Katelynn Messerlie. “I love it whenever people are actually connecting and talking, and it makes me feel so good and happy.”

Missional Intern Jordan White sought to bring in a different cross-section of students to the Wesley by planning a volleyball tournament fundraiser.

“It attracted new people to the Wesley because we usually cater to the artistic side of things, but with our charities I’ve been trying to keep it more sports related,” White said.

Each of the interns credits the Wesley with being a place of welcome where people can grow in faith and community without judgment. Messerlie grew up without any significant connection to church, and she is now singing in the music group at First UMC Paris and was recently baptized. White is now discerning a call to ministry.

“I get inspired because the students will be going out to all different places after graduation and they will have the skillset to cultivate a community of love around them wherever they are,” Wood said.

“My prayer is that God will grant these young adults courage and wisdom as they discern how God can use them today to bring forth God’s love in our surrounding community,” Wood said. “They each have their own unique God-given gifts to reach their peers in powerful ways and it’s exciting to see them embrace and lean into those strengths to make an impact in the world.”

The Ministry With grant program is rooted in six key values:

  • Come alongside neighbors in a spirit of friendship and mutuality. Listen to and learn from them.
  • Build long-term relationships with neighbors.
  • Uncover the often-undervalued gifts, talents, dreams, desires and connections of neighbors.
  • Adopt the iron rule: never do for others what they can do for themselves.
  • Address the systems that perpetuate suffering and inequity rather than only deal with the symptoms of our broken world.
  • Use a strengths-based approach that leverages the gifts and relationships of local partners.

“The Ministry With Grant program looks for efforts that focus on coming alongside neighbors and collaborating with them,” Rev. Fiser said. “Students Connecting Students does exactly that. Campus Ministries continue to be a key space for the church to learn from, and empower for leadership, new generations of young people – especially those who are disassociated from faith. Students Helping Students helps the Church take a listening posture alongside students from diverse backgrounds.”

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Published: Tuesday, December 14, 2021