Response: June 2014 Issue

A Spiritual Home at UCLA

A Spiritual Home at UCLA
The Rev. Janet Cromwell of West Los Angeles United Methodist Church delivers food and snacks donated by the church to the 580 Café.

Campus minister Deaconess Jeanne Roe Smith engages students at UCLA in ministries of love, justice and service.

Upon arriving at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), students embark on an experience of urban college life with all its complications and complexities. Nestled in one of the more affluent neighborhoods of Los Angeles, UCLA is one of the top public research institutions in the United States and home to more than 40,000 students. Life here is overwhelming for many, fraught with many social issues like violence, substance abuse and health concerns.

Wesley Foundation

Amid the chaos and stress of undergraduate and graduate student life, there is a refuge here, a sanctuary: the Wesley Foundation Serving UCLA. The ministries of the Wesley Foundation create an environment that is welcoming, warm and supportive. In its community space students are invited to explore faith and engage in dialogue about belief while sharing food and fellowship.

Deaconess Jeanne Roe Smith is campus minister at Wesley Foundation, living out her call in connecting the university to both the church and the world. She first became campus minister in 2009 and since that time has seen the cost of higher education rise nearly 60 percent. Students come to UCLA and struggle with the impersonal nature of such a large campus, which may lead to interpersonal and communal problems such as violence, racism, sexism and homophobia.

“The Wesley Foundation provides a place for students to explore their faith, identity, ideas and concerns with respect and intelligence,” Ms. Smith said. “It is truly a ministry of love, justice and service. Love is the preeminent focus: love God, love all, recognize the sacred worth of all and act to create systemic change to build the beloved community.”

Wesley Foundation hosts numerous events and activities, all rooted in the spiritual practices of hospitality and breaking bread together. Open Table is a weekly gathering for students of various faith backgrounds and traditions to share a meal and worship together, feeding their bodies and souls through good food and thoughtful dialogue on the Scriptures read and heard.

580 Café

The foundation hosts the 580 Café, a welcoming space for students to gather and share a meal while exchanging stories. One student reflected, “It is a place that has become a home away from home, because no matter who you are and what your beliefs are you are always welcomed with open arms and a smile. The 580 Café is where friendships and community are formed.”

Students also have opportunities to explore the world beyond the university through community service projects. The Meals With Hope program carries food and meals to the homeless and transient population near the university and the Veteran’s Administration West Los Angeles Medical Center. These ministries connect students with community concerns such as food, hunger, homelessness and living wage, offering a chance to partner with local faith-based and community action groups and provide hands-on experience with those in need.

A long tradition

In April, the Wesley Foundation celebrated 86 years of campus ministry. It is the longest full-time continuous campus ministry in the California-Pacific Annual Conference and has a long tradition of progressive thought and action. It held racial dialogues in the 1940s, empowered women in leadership in the 1950s, held a pacifist position during both World War II and the Vietnam War, and became the first reconciling community outside of a local congregation in the 1970s.

This tradition continues today with radical hospitality and ministry with immigrant students. UCLA has a high percentage of immigrant students, including first-generation Americans born of immigrant parents and young adults from undocumented and mixed-documented families. These students are on the margins of the UCLA community with needs that range from basic school necessities like textbooks and technology to food, transportation and legal counsel for immigration/naturalization. In her role as campus minister, called to welcome and connect with all students, Ms. Smith offers resources, support and encouragement to these immigrant students in the hope that connecting with Wesley Foundation can help normalize their college experience.

Myka Kennedy Stephens is a deaconess and independent information professional serving in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. Her current projects include public communications consulting for the United Methodist Women Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner and developing the field of information ministries through


Posted or updated: 5/31/2014 11:00:00 PM