Exploration 2019

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Exploration is a conference put on by the General Board of Higher Education every two years to help young adults discern their call into ordained ministry.  This year, it is November 1-3 in Orlando, Florida.  In the past, young adults have found it helpful in connecting with others in the denomination, understanding the difference between ordained elder and deacon, and meeting with representatives from seminaries. Students from our conference will join hundreds of other young adults for worship, prayer, and workshops to help them discern their call.  The IGRC Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry offer grants to cover part of the cost to attend and explore their call to ordained ministry. 

Learn more and register here: https://www.explorecalling.org

Contact Amy Shreve, ashreve@igrc.org, for grant applications, questions, or connect with other young adults going from our area to coordinate hotel or transportation.

Fifteen young adults received grants to attend in 2017. Below are their reflections at the time. Now, several of them are ministry leaders at their Wesley Foundations, pursing Masters’s degrees at seminary, serving as a local license pastor, and serving the community through education and nonprofit work.

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Reflections from Exploration 2017

Portland, OR

Making Sense of the United Methodist Church

After attending Exploration, I now know that becoming a pastor or minister in the Methodist church is not a simple path. There are a lot of confusing, complicated steps, as well as a lot of things I am still unsure of. I learned that there are many paths and routes consisting of different certification, training, and requirements.
— Rachel Johnson, 2017, Merge at Illinois State University Wesley

Now, Rachel Gustafson works as an on-site supervisor to support people with developmental disabilities.

I learned about the types of ordination that one can pursue and some of the positions that one could have within the Methodist Church. I learned a little more about Methodist theology, though this was more from conversations with my small group leader, who is the Wesley Foundation leader at Illinois State, than from anything else.
— Linsdey Ballard, 2017, Merge at Illinois State University Wesley

Struggling With God’s Call

The sermon that spoke to me the most centered around the process of a call story. The speaker laid out biblical examples of the common steps in a call. I was in the denial phase. I had a plan for my life and being in ministry was not part of it. It was comforting in a way to see that even famous biblical figures struggled with their calls. Exploration opened my eyes to an abundance of avenues through which I can serve God.
— Noel Hudson, 2017, Merge at Illinois State University Wesley

Now, Noel is pursuing a Master's of Special Education at Eastern Illinois University.

When I arrived at the Exploration conference, I told myself that I had to be all in, and that this weekend was it: I was either going to quit pushing back against God and answer my call to ordained ministry, or I was going to truly find out that ordained ministry was not for me.
During a workshop, I learned about hospital chaplaincy and everything made sense all of a sudden. The workshop leader described her job as having the values and practice of social work, while bringing and being the healing presence of God to people and families in hard times. It was as if that workshop was the final puzzle piece and I felt a weight lifted off of my shoulders.
— Maggie Thomas, 2017, Wesley Student Center at University of Illinois

Now, Maggie is pursuing a degree at Duke Divinity School.

What’s a Deacon?

After hearing the stories of deacons throughout the weekend, I know that this is where I may find my place as an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. Getting a perspective on where I should continue towards ordination is very exciting! I left Portland with a new excitement for God’s work in my life. I also left with increasing enthusiasm for the UMC and for my faith communities that I am blessed to be a part of. This conference reinforced with me that wherever God sends me or whatever God calls me to do, He will make a way. Knowing this, it sticks with me what John Wesley said: “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”
— Kenny Smallhorn, 2017, Wesley Student Center at University of Illinois
I thought that to do that I would have to go to seminary and be a preacher like them, but after going to Exploration I got to see that there are so many different ways to spread God’s word than just being a preacher. I didn’t have to uproot my entire life and change everything to be able to talk to people about God. I could continue to work towards my dreams and do what I love and still have genuine conversations with people about their faith. Since I had such an amazing experience at Exploration I can’t wait to tell others about the United Methodist church and how many different options there are when it comes to how someone gets involved with ministry.
— Hope Rutgens, 2017, Merge at Illinois State University Wesley

That Path Gets Clearer

The most important thing that I was able to get out of Exploration was where all I should be applying for seminary. Before this weekend, I had my mind made up that I was going to apply to Iliff and Wesley, and choose between those two schools. However, after being able to meet with representatives of many different United Methodist seminaries, I realized that there were other options for me as well. It put me at ease when it came to deciding where I might end up for the next few years.
— Mark Crawford, 2017, Intern, Merge at Illinois State University Wesley

Now, Mark is a licensed local pastor.

When I learned of the life an Elder leads and the responsibilities that they have, I was even more determined to become an Elder. Hearing what different pastors have been through, what they love the most about their call and career and what opportunities lie ahead, I became increasingly excited for the journey that I am on.
— Ian Barbee, 2017, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville- St. John’s UMC and Salem Grace UMC

Encouragement for the Road Ahead

As a college student in a university that does not support my call to ministry, I often feel doubt. Doubt that God is actually calling me to serve the church, or that I can be a minister as a female. When I was invited to go with the U of I’s Wesley Foundation to Exploration, I was very excited. I knew it would be a trip where I felt accepted and encouraged in my calling.
My weekend in Portland wiped away so much doubt. Hanging out with college students who have so much hope and motivation for the future of the church made me realize how proud I am to be a part of this amazing body of believers I was supported by my fellow United Methodist from around the country while I also got to support my brother and sisters in Christ. Exploration gave me confidence to stand firm in doubt and opposition.
— Skyler James, 2017, Concordia University, Chicago

Now, Skyler Przygoda is pursing Master’s degree at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

I would like to believe our group was the church personified. We had different races present, different political views, and different sexual orientations. Then, after even more exploration and thought, I realized that God was with us the whole time. God made that small group a vision of the future by being together and being in fellowship, no matter the differences. He gave us a small glimpse, a taste, of what the future church will look like – what we will look like.
That’s what I was looking for, a picture of what the church will be like in the future, a community of people who say that things need to change and that its time for reform. And we, the next generation of church, not just church leaders, but of church in general, are on the same page. Maybe different paragraphs, but on the same page.
— Ave Rivera, 2017, Wesley Student Center at University of Illinois

Preparing to Share Christ on Campus

By Amy Shreve, Coordinator for Higher Education, Campus & Young Adult Ministry

The students coming to college are a more diverse and a less Christian group than ever before, but they are curious about spirituality.  Will you pray that we meet students where they are and have deep conversations about Christ as they explore spiritual practices?  According to Barna research, Gen Z, one name given the incoming college freshman, views church as unimportant and they are prioritizing education, profession, and financial independence.   13-18 years old are twice as likely as adults to say they are atheist.  As a result, campus ministry continues to look very different from local church ministry. First, campus ministries are building relationships with students who have never been in church and believe church is unimportant.. This is time intensive, slow, transformative work.  


Chris, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, was excited about welcome week activities at the Wesley Student Center, especially the ice cream give-away.  When she invited her friends to join her and they realized it was a Christian organization, they turned down Chris’s invitation.  Luckily, the relationship and opportunity doesn’t begin and end there. Chris has the opportunity to invite her friends each Friday to the Wesley Student Center for coffee and a meal. Here, they may experience the radical hospitality and love of Christ that will open student-initiated conversations about faith.

The director and campus minister at the Wesley Student Center understand the skepticism, reluctance, and distrust students have for religious institutions and seek to slowly build relationship with students by making safe, welcoming space for students to gather and study as well as meeting physical needs through a student-only food pantry and distributing reclaimed meals from the dining halls.  

Campus ministries crack open the door for students to explore faith and trust God.  And sometimes the door is flung wide open as students grow in faith and leadership.  Check out the hero-making videos from Annual Conference to hear from Gretchen Long, a student who went from participating in an hour of prayer to planning ISU Merge’s 24/7 prayer vigil and Kenny Smallhorn, who engages students across University of Illinois’ campus to relieve community and campus hunger through Illini Fighting Hunger. 


Resources to check out:

Barna Gen Z Research

“The Awakened Life: An 8-Week Guide to Student Well-Being” by Sarah E. Boolinger & Andela R. Olsen available at Cokesbury .

A great resource for students and young adults to counter rising anxiety with mindfulness practices rooted in Christian tradition.   

Hungry Huskies, Inclusive Collective Unite

2019 Spring Break Experience

2019 Spring Break Experience

Starting this fall, the Wesley Foundation at Northern Illinois University will become the Inclusive Collective at NIU. In partnership with the NIC’s growing campus ministry at the University of Illinois at Chicago (the Inclusive Collective), Pastor Kaitlyn Frantz is leading the next chapter of this vital ministry at NIU. The leaders of the Wesley Foundation at NIU and the Inclusive Collective at UIC have discerned God's call to connectionism and partnership that makes them stronger together. Kaitlyn is a Master of Divinity student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She has spent her last year interning with the Inclusive Collective at UIC and will bring her skills and experiences from that context to NIU.

The ministry celebrates Pastor Rosa Lee's work at NIU and her dedication to students. Under Lee’s leadership, the ministry launched Hungry Huskies, which offers a substantial and healthy meal to one hundred students on Sunday nights in an effort to create community and combat student hunger. 

The Inclusive Collective - NIU will continue the ministry of the Hungry Huskies, and looks forward to continually hosting students for this dinner party! Building on the success of Hungry Huskies, we will launch and experiment with several new ministries this year, including small groups, retreats, and worship. Many of these ministries will partner with the Inclusive Collective at UIC, allowing our students to broaden their network and experience God's movement with new friends.

This ministry is about offering the good news of a God who likes you; it is about hearing the stories of young adults in DeKalb; it is about offering spaces of rest and dialogue that can grow and stretch students through the radical work of the Holy Spirit. We are so excited to see what this new expression of Methodist ministry at NIU will look like! 

How can you get involved?

  1. If you know a student or faculty/staff at NIU, reach out to Kaitlyn (pastorkaitlynfrantz@gmail.com)

  2. If you are a student, join a community group, attend Hungry Huskies, and/or simply have coffee with Kaitlyn! See more at our website (letsgetinclusiveniu.org)

  3. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram! @letsgetinclusiveniu

  4. Give financially by writing a check to the Northern Illinois Conference and put “IC at NIU” in the memo line and send to 77 W Washington, Suite 1820, Chicago, IL 60602.

2019 Scholarships

The Illinois Great Rivers Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry is once again excited to be able to award scholarships to undergraduate students who are members of United Methodist Churches within our conference. It is a competitive process and our prayers are with all of the students who are balancing school, work, family, and finances.

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Wesley Foundation at Western Illinois University Announces New Director

by Pastor Bennett Woods, President of the Board of Directors

The Wesley foundation at Western Illinois University is happy to announce that the Board of Directors has hired a new campus Minister/ Director, Rev. Janice Serafinca. Rev. Serafinca is an ordained Elder who has served in the Philippians for more than 20 years in both church and school contexts.  She brings a wealth of experience recently serving as faculty at Harris Memorial College teaching both biology and Old Testament courses.  With the help of the Conference, Rev. Serafinca is in the process of obtaining a visa to move to Macomb to fill her new ministry here.

To begin this 2019-2020 school year, the Board hired Rev. Carrie Carnes to serve as an Interim Campus Minister/Director of the Foundation. Rev. Carnes is an ordained Elder of the IGRC where she has served multiple churches and currently lives in Abington, Il.  

Rev. Carnes will serve until Rev. Serafinca can relocate to the United States. The Board and interim, with consultation with Rev. Janice, will continue strengthening and building new relationship on campus at WIU and in the Conference. The Board is pleased to welcome both well qualified and Christ filled individuals to guide and lead the Foundation. It is the board’s prayer that they may being Christ’s love and welcome to the WIU Wesley Foundation and the surrounding campus and community. 

A Summer in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Compiled Facebook posts from Kenny Smallhorn, peer minister at Wesley Student Center, University of Illinois

After several days of travel, including 4 days of bike riding, we are safely in Kamina. We have received excellent hospitality along the way! Throughout the travels, we have heard from many church members about their unique challenges, as well as what makes their congregations so joyous. This includes much of the hard work that United Methodist women are doing to support their communities. Personally, I am very tired, but also very excited for these opportunities to connect.

This summer, we spent a lot of time in the garden. The work that goes into simply keeping the garden watered is incredible. It takes people to pump from the well, fill jugs with water, carry the jugs through the garden, and then actually watering. Access to water is precious, and often the well that they were using would break. Even with those challenges though, there was always time for a dance break. 🕺

During my time in Africa, I took note each day how hard the women around me were working. Every morning they were the first people awake. They start at 6 am with sweeping the ground around the house so that it all looks nice. Then, they move on to watering the garden (which takes almost two hours of difficult work). After that, they begin cooking for lunch. This is no easy task. I know, because I tried. Mixing bhukari and crushing cassava tired me out way before the ladies! In their free time, instead of resting, the girls would all work on braiding each other’s hair. And, when it was my turn for laundry day, they argued with me that they should be helping me. These girls never stopped! 

This is possibly my favorite picture that I took all summer. It feels like a representation of women, young and old, that literally keep the world running. Without them, I would certainly have gone hungry because I wasn’t strong enough to stir the bhukari on my own!


My time in Congo is coming to an end soon, so I am trying to appreciate the moments that I have left. Marcel and Ruben made that easy today! Watching them goof around and mess with people literally made me forget that I was in Congo. They made me laugh so hard, and reminded me so much of my friends and family in the US. Thank you for the fun times guys!

Now that I’ve been home for a week, I want to post some pictures from my time in DRC. These are some of the guys (and girl) that I was fortunate to get to spend time with. We played soccer, practiced English-French, and learned the rules to Uno (with some arguing, of course). We also spent a lot of time watering the garden together- more pictures on that later.
*pictured from left to right: Landry, Kadogol, Alpho, Gloire, Michel, and Me!*



By Hope Rutgens, IGRC Summer Intern

Summer Merge, or SumMerge as we’ve been calling it, started out as a way to keep students connected to one another over the summer. A handful of students stay in town every summer, and we wanted to give them a chance to get together a couple of times a month to have a worship service together. When Lauren Knicl and I started thinking of things to do a worship series on, Roxy (our Mentor/Pastor/Boss at Merge) told us that whatever we did, it had to be something we were passionate about, because if we didn’t care about it, nobody would. 

We ultimately decided to talk about passages in the bible that are highly debated/argued over. I know, it was a little ambitious of us, wasn’t it? But it was something we’re passionate about, and Merge is always working hard to have conversations about faith surrounding things we care about. So our first service was about the Clobber Passages (Verses used to harm LGBTQ+ people).

Lauren and I did extensive research, or as much research as you can do in two weeks. We looked at both sides of the argument, but ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what we decided at the end of our research. Doing the research itself was what mattered. No matter where we started or where we ended on the sides of the argument, the knowledge we gained along the way was what was most important. And so when we got to Wednesday for the SumMerge service, we had an honest conversation with the people in attendance, and we gave them all of the passages that people used to hurt LGBTQ+ people. And then we let them decide what they wanted to believe. And that’s all we can really do, is give them the information and then have conversations surrounding the scripture.

That night, I was actually really surprised to hear from everyone in the group about the different ways they’ve been affected by the Clobber Passages. One person started sharing about how they had done their own research when they first came out because they had to argue against their parents, and then it was a free-for-all with everyone sharing their own experiences. I won’t list their stories here, because they were personal to those individual people and to our group. But it was amazing to see people that I never expected to talk in a small group, share such intimate details about their struggles and their journey in discovering what they actually believe. People talked about having to undo all of the damage and bad theology they had been taught growing up, not always by the Church, but by family and friends, and people who said that they “loved them” but hated their sins.

We talked as a group for a long time about struggling with having a faith, when so many people have tried to use their faith to hurt us. Reconciling the God we know and love, with the one whose name people throw around like a weapon, is a hard thing to cope with, and it's hard to go through everything you were taught as a kid and decide for yourself what exactly you believe. But gaining that knowledge, making those decisions, and taking that journey are all things we’re trying to do here at SumMerge. 

What started out as a small worship service meant to bring us all together for some light conversation has quickly turned into a deeper discussion about shared trauma, different traditions, faith, and how God is calling us to spread knowledge, love, and acceptance to all people.

After we finished on Wednesday, we all travelled up to Chicago for the Pride Parade on the 30th. We danced, sang, and cried together as the different floats and groups marched by. One person from our group told me afterwards that the thing that affected them the most was seeing how much support there was from other people. There were parents going by constantly with signs saying things as simple as “I love my gay son,” or “I love my Trans daughter,” and they all made us cry with happiness. But the best part, in my opinion, was the group of churches. Not on the side of the parade like a lot of churches have been doing, yelling and cursing about a love that they don’t understand. There were churches in the Parade. At least 50 of them, all carrying signs stating their name and denomination, and with other people dispersed throughout holding signs saying “God Loves You.”

Intersection of Campus Ministry and Academics

Nurses tend to the physical needs of people dealing with common and complex problems. Those needs often lead patients to turn to religious and spiritual support and consequently, nurses need to have an understanding of spiritual practices and language to fully meet the needs of their patients.  At Illinois Wesleyan University, nursing students In Dr. Wendy Kooken’s class must first grapple with their values and beliefs about what happens to themselves when they die.   They learn about worldview diversity to understand how spiritual beliefs and needs can affect patient care.  Often, University Chaplain, Elyse Nelson-Winger guest lectures during these fundamental nursing classes, to further prepare students to care for patients’ body and soul.  As an example, a student who was a self-proclaimed atheist never contemplated a philosophy of death or thought about the impact of religion on her patients.  At the end of the course, the student reflected on how powerful it was to understand spirituality to meet others’ needs. 

As central to patient care as religious and spiritual needs are, there is almost nothing known about nurses’ religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. Dr. Kooken, Chaplain Nelson-Winger, and 6 rising junior nursing students, just received a grant from Interfaith Youth Core, to study the religious and spiritual beliefs and practices of nursing students from 3 area schools. Additionally, they will have a workshop where student nurses who attend will increase their knowledge and skills when working with religiously and spiritually diverse patients. 


As a more diverse student population arrives on campus each year, the nursing program empowers these students to learn about, provide care, and advocate for their patients regardless of their race or religion. Dr. Kooken and her colleague, Dr. Amanda Hopkins seek to provide all students with the same ability to learn and work, even if those students wear a hijab.  Through experience and research, Drs. Kooken and Hopkins noticed that not all teaching environments or hospitals were allowing nurses with hijabs to practice, especially in the operating rooms,  citing dress code policies.  However, with a few simple practices, that include the availability of hospital laundered hijabs, Muslim nurses can fully learn, work, and care for patients.  Last March, Illinois Wesleyan University’s nursing professors, Hopkins and Kooken published a paper in partnership with Chaplain Nelson-Winger titled “Inclusive Clinical Practice and Policy for Muslim Nursing Students”  in the Journal of Transcultural Nursing. This research and awareness could change the teaching practices and inclusion of nurses around the country.  They continue with their research on developing a survey to measure knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of nurses who work with Muslim healthcare providers. 

2018 Undergraduate Scholarship Recipients Announced in June Current

The Illinois Great Rivers Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2018 Undergraduate Scholarship.  Recipients showed academic achievements while maintaining leadership roles in their church and community and desire to continue serving God through their studies.  The recipients are: Samuel Kauerauf, Emma Wieringa, Dawn Beaven, Anna Fender, Ellie Tutewiler, Haven King-Nobles, Grant Oxford, Audra Bell, and Matthew Roark, Avery Meade, and Emma White.  

A New Way to Connect with the United Methodist Collegiate Ministries in Illinois

The Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference made the decision at their March 2017 board meeting to create a dedicated website for the collegiate ministries in Illinois in order to better connect youth, young adults, laity, clergy, and congregations to our various campus ministries and United Methodist-related colleges and universities.

It's important for students, parents, pastors, and church members to be informed about the exciting ministries available at our UM-related schools and state campuses, and we invite youth and congregations to be a part of what we're doing!  Our ministries with college students and campuses provide opportunities for dynamic worship, supportive small groups, meaningful service projects, life-changing mission trips, engaging programs, incredible fellowship events, and more!  Our hope is that this website will offer new paths for us to connect these ministries with young adults and local churches as we seek to inspire students, make disciples, and transform the world with Christ's love!