A handsome new Berkeley building was formally dedicated Sunday, September 26, 2010. The event represented the culmination of a several year effort by the Wesley Foundation—the United Methodist Church student center in Berkeley—to provide not only a new home and income for its program facilities but residential quarters for Cal students.
The four story Wesley House and Campus Center rises at the southwest corner of the intersection of Bancroft Way and Dana Street, immediately across from the University of California, Berkeley, campus and continues an 85-year tradition of the Wesley Center presence in the University community.
“It’s been a dream of Wesley to have a self-supporting campus ministry program”, Wesley Foundation Board President Vincent Wong told about 75 people gathered for the building ribbon cutting and dedication.
“It’s just now hit me. We’re done!” said the Reverend Tarah Trueblood, the Executive Director and Campus Pastor said, to applause. “Today we gather in deep gratitude for the miracle of this new building.”
“Let us seal this dedication together”, she said, inviting the audience to join her in a multicultural invocation of “Shalom, Salaam, Namaste, Amen.”
Several of the speakers emphasized how changing times and student interests required a rethinking of the campus ministry approach. “The 1950s model of doing campus ministry is ineffective in this Post-Modern world” said Trueblood.
“We could no longer expect that the students would walk across the street to us”, said Asca Welker. “We had to take our ministry to the students.”
“By providing student housing Wesley has entered into a new way of relating to students”, Trueblood added. “When students walk through our doors they bring all aspects of their identity.” They are coming from different backgrounds—financial, cultural, racial, sexual.
“Come as you are”, is the message of Wesley, said Trueblood. “The mission of the new Wesley Center is to create a place of ‘radical hospitality’.”
The Reverend Gary Putnam, a former member of the Wesley Board, echoed her theme. University life, he said, presents individuals with four fundamental questions. “Who am I? What should I do with my life? With whom shall I do it? Is there any meaning in it?”
“If the Christian Faith is to be relevant in this life it has to be immersed in those questions.” He emphasized engagement of the Wesley Center with student life, saying, “The miracles of today are not to be found in burning bushes but in burning issues.”
His theme was recalled by Amanda Mohammed, the student speaker at the dedication, who talked about working for Sudan humanitarian relief, and by the Reverend Jeffrey Kaun of the Oakland Chinese Community Church who said “we are not preparing our younger generation for the Church of tomorrow. We are preparing them for the Church of today. The work of this building may be done. But the work of campus ministry will continue.”
Several of the speakers recalled daunting financial, planning, and procedural challenges that faced the project. It verged on financial collapse and cancellation at some stages but at each turning point organizers and supporters were able to find a way to continue.
“It was a testament to the fact that God gives us just enough to get to the next level”, said Derek Lang, the chair of the Wesley Development Committee.
Speakers praised project architect Kirk Peterson for helping them persevere. “Kirk Peterson was the one who said this project was a series of small miracles which got us through each day”, said Lang.
Trueblood said, at one point in the process she was deeply discouraged and told Peterson that the project needed a big miracle to survive, and he encouraged her to go on. “Those were the words of an architect to the pastor. Have faith.”
The Reverend Bridgette Young, from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, traveled to bring national congratulations to the project. “You can tell we’re from Nashville and the South. We’re wearing suits”, she led off, to laughter.
“John Wesley (one of the founders of the Methodist denomination) was a campus minister, he started his ministry on the Oxford campus,” she said. She noted that the movement was active across the country, and she had recently been to a dedication of a Methodist student facility in Florida.
“This is a place of hope, a place of miracles”, she added. “God tells the Children of Israel never to neglect to show hospitality to strangers. What this Wesley House does is it says those who are not like us are welcome among us.”
Deborah Matthews, a member of the City of Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board, was the next speaker at the podium after Putnam and Young. “It’s hard to follow the clergy”, she said. But “it’s wonderful to be here today for the completion of this building.” Matthews is now a member of the Wesley Center Board.
She said that since the building had been supported by the Zoning Board, City staff, and the City’s Design Review Commission, “I feel really comfortable saying the City of Berkeley is so happy to have this building here.”
“We do not remove the old, we embrace it” is a Berkeley philosophy she endorses, Matthews said. The new building, she added, is appropriately located on a major corridor. “It sets a precedent for the type of development we’d like to see here. With this particular facility, the bar is set really high.”
The four-story building combines program facilities for the Wesley Center ministry and residential space for 90 Cal students in several suites. Students do not need to be Methodists or Christian to live there.
The building, completed in time for the fall semester, is not yet full, and the Wesley Center temporarily dropped starting rents to $650 per month according to flyers posted on the building in recent weeks.
The challenge of reaching full occupancy is shared with numerous other private residential facilities around campus. In the past year, particularly on the edge of campus, I’ve seen many flyers advertising apartments for rent, hawkers trying to get students to look at their buildings, and semi-permanent “Apartment Available” signs at numerous buildings.
Despite the current shortage of student renters, the Wesley facility is probably positioned for long-term success. It’s right across from campus and the Recreational Sports Facility / Haas Pavilion athletic complex.
The furnished units look comfortable and spacious, with plenty of light and air. The building is large enough to have a community feel and there are several excellent common spaces for the residents to use.
Steven Finacom wrote about the groundbreaking for the Wesley Center in the July 9, 2009, Planet.