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UMC campus ministries: A place to belong

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As a freshman at the University of Memphis, Kyla Smith was shy and introverted when she joined her college’s Wesley Foundation chapter. Two years later, Kyla has been transformed into a leader who now believes she can take on anything, as evidenced by her role of traveling to United Methodist churches throughout the state to speak about the importance of campus ministries, a message she wants the entire denomination to hear.

Kyla Smith

  • Learn about the University of Memphis' Wesley Foundation.  
  • Discover resources provided by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
  • Listen to what Kyla Smith shared when she spoke at the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference's annual meeting on June 16, 2022.

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This episode posted on September 16, 2022.



Crystal Caviness, host: As a freshman at Memphis State University Kyla Smith was shy and introverted when she joined her college’s Wesley Foundation chapter. Two years later Kyla has been transformed into a leader who now believes she can take on anything as evidenced by her role of traveling to United Methodist Churches throughout the state to speak about the importance of campus ministries, a message Kyla wants the entire denomination to hear.


Crystal: Kyla, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape. We’re so happy that you’re here with us.

Kyla: Thank you.

Crystal: You spoke a couple of months ago at the Tennessee/Western Kentucky Annual Conference, and you talked about campus ministry. You’re a college student at the University of Memphis. And what you said that day really resonated with a lot of people about why campus ministry is important and why that really is the future of the church. So, we wanted to have you on as a guest and have that conversation with you again, just to kind of let our audience hear what you had to say and, I think, be encouraged by what you had to say because I certainly was when I heard you at the annual conference. So, before we get started, tell me a little bit about what you’re doing at the University of Memphis.

Kyla: All right. So, like she said, I attend the University of Memphis. I am a Junior. I’m a biology major. My campus ministry is the Wesley Foundation here. So, right now my primary position is a faith community coordinators. So, on different Sundays I go out to different churches where I just tell ‘em how Wesley has changed me as a person, you know, made me into a leader now because before I joined the Wesley, I didn’t see myself as a leader. But as of right now I go to different churches on Sunday, talk about my experience and just tell ‘em what we are doing here at Memphis Wesley at the campus ministry.

Crystal: And so, Wesley Foundations are on college campuses all across the United States, and they’re there to meant to be just a faith community.

Kyla: Right.

Crystal: But it isn’t…. I mean, it’s a United Methodist organization but you were saying it isn’t just United Methodists who are part of it. Correct? So, tell us a little bit about what’s happening at your Memphis Wesley.

Kyla: So, at our Memphis Wesley we are, ?? a faith community. We welcome all denominations and also, we have 4 different campuses. So, it’s not just the University of Memphis. We have 4 different campuses, which is Christian Brothers University, Lemoyne Owens. We also have Rhodes College and the University of Memphis being the 4th one. So, what I meant about we welcome different denominations, well, here we have the interns who are Hispanic interns who are Islamic, and I just love how we all get to bond over, you know, even though we come from different religions and different backgrounds, here at Memphis Wesley we all…we are all seen as, you know, one. You know.

Crystal: How has that experience of being there together, how has that impacted your faith and what it feels like, you know, your faith in the world looks like?

Kyla: Friendly. When I first came into Wesley I didn’t…I knew what it was, but I didn’t know why…how impactful it was going to be. So, me entering it I was a little reserved. I just sat back and watched. And as time progressed and I got comfortable with the people here, if I’m being completely honest, I think that meeting all of those new people, it made me feel like that, you know, even though I’m a shy person these people still make the effort to make me feel welcome. And then, since we’re so…so much diversity here, I think that makes a lot of difference to just because we’re able to bond and do things outside of campus, like, the interns. We do stuff outside of campus with each other. And even though we have all these different backgrounds we still worship the same God and each is…. It’s just a different experience ‘cause I’d never experienced it before.

Crystal: It sounds like it’s really opened up your impression of what church could be and what church can look like. Tell me about how does being a part of Memphis Wesley give you hope for the future of the United Methodist Church.

Kyla: Like I said in my speech from annual conference, I feel like we as the youth are the future of the church. It gives me hope for the church that’s seeing what we’re doing here in Memphis Wesley I hope that one day that, you know, we can put some of our missions and what we strive for into involving that into the United Methodist Church, like how we’re so open to any body and welcoming hope…my hope for the church would be that the church would be opening to anyone. You know, let’s not discriminate, you know, ‘cause it’s not gonna get us anywhere, you know. So, I feel as though what we’re doing here at Wesley builds a foundation. I mean, we’re college students, so, we want to, you know, have a message, a connection, why do people lose their faith in college. Right? So, what we do here at Wesley is just how we still are able to spiritually connect with God in our own way. I think that is a big thing. And I think that’s gonna help with the future of the church. You know.

Crystal: It sounds like…. You’re right. In college sometimes people do move away. People who’ve been raised in the church like you were raised. You know, you’re from a United Methodist Church. But sometimes people move away from that. But what I’m hearing you say is through the connection with Memphis Wesley it’s really made your faith stronger.

Kyla: Yes.

Crystal: And do you see that…? Well, one of the things I heard you say was that sometimes college students don’t feel they have a voice in the church. Can you talk a little bit about why you think that’s true?

Kyla: I wouldn’t say it’s just for college students, but here at Memphis Wesley we have these things called Tuesday Nights and Monday Nights. And then with those nights we have different guest speakers and different topics that we talk about and discuss. Sometimes we have like our own little…like a panelist basically. So, I know for some nights we’ve had different panelists speak and just speak about, like, one was about the LGBTQ+ community. And another one we spoke about…on the topic of college students or just young adults not feeling part of the church and the response is…was not that we don’t feel heard. It’s that we feel as though we’re gonna be judged for certain things we do because the church does consist of a lot of older people and you know, with older people some people are still stuck in the traditional way. And you know, change is bound to happen, in my opinion. And from hearing some of the people who spoke, they basically said that they lose the connection ‘cause in college I feel like that’s who you find…you’re finding who you are. You’re developing into that person. And I feel as though the church, for some people, it develops you into a person of God. And then, you know, a lot of times we don’t feel good, just simply because fear judgment or we fear we’re not being good enough.

Crystal: Kyla, how can those of us who, you know, it’s been a while since we’ve been in college and we are in those places where we kind of feel like maybe that we … we know who we are, we know what we believe. But how can we open our minds? Because what I hear you saying is that you feel, as a college person, that you might be judged, and you might be…there might be expectations for you that others put those on you. What would it look like to come into a space where that’s not happening? How would that feel? Like, you came into a church and that wasn’t happening, what would that feel like?

Kyla: To not come to a place where… I mean, I feel as though Memphis…Memphis Wesley embodies that. Right? So many students here, they have their own, you know, thing going on. And I just feel like we’re all…we’re so welcoming. And we make everybody feel included and we don’t judge anybody for who they are. And you get a sense of…you connect more with people like that and I feel like you…there’s a sense of hope and there’s a sense of like you feel like you belong. You know? And I think, if I were to enter a church like that it’ll make me feel like I belong here, almost like home, in a sense.

Crystal: That’s really beautifully and very well said. The United Methodist Church like the Wesley Foundations, they’re all over the United States, all over the world. And so, there is this sense of connection that we are all connected to one another through the United Methodist Church. How has Memphis Wesley shown that connection to you? How have you seen that in action?

Kyla: So, my freshman year a lot of the stuff we did at Memphis Wesley was online. So as far as getting connections with people, I didn’t really get there just because I’m like an introverted person. And I just feel like it was hard to connect with people online. So, it really wasn’t until my sophomore year that I kind of, thanks to the people here, like the director and the assistant director who was here at the time, they molded me and pushed me beyond my limits, to do more, to speak out. And then, like, during certain volunteer and just listening to the different speakers that we had speak kind of molded my perspective. And like, Memphis Wesley, this is what I’m doing. And I’m doing it because I want to do it. You know? So, I think that kind of molded, and then growing the connection with the United Methodist Church I would say this semester, my junior year, me getting into my role as faith community coordinator, I think going to the different, not just United Methodist Churches, but primarily mostly United Methodist Churches, I think that going out to those churches and letting them know that, hey, we appreciate you for supporting us because without the church it wouldn’t be. So, I think that connection has really shown me like, hey, the United Methodist Church, but being different churches that I’ve been to and spoke at, like, hey, the change is coming. We are evolving. We are becoming more accepted. You know? And the churches do want more youth. You know. And a lot of the people that I’ve spoken to, they’re excited. Hey, we’re excited that you really this and that. So, I think that’s how I’ve shown the connection with United Methodist Church. I think it is growing stronger.

Crystal: That’s a very encouraging message, to be…. You’re out there in the churches and you’re talking to people, you’re seeing that, and you’re feeling very hopeful about the future. So, you’re a junior. Congratulations. You’re just a couple of years away from graduating with your degree. So, what happens…? How do you take what you’ve been learning? You said you’ve become a leader through the Wesley Foundation. How do you hope to take these really practical skills and this level of faith out into the world?

Kyla: I would say I hope to take my skills ‘cause my ultimate career goal would be to be a doctor. But I just think when it comes to like doctoring, like, you have to be able to connect with people. And I think here as Wesley has shown me how to connect with people ‘cause I used to be…. Like, when I tell you I didn’t talk to nobody, but now here at Memphis Wesley I’m going…I’m the one going up to people initiating conversations. Like, hey, how are you? How was your day? How’s your classes going? Trying to mingle with new people. And I think that’s how you grow connections. So you know, once I’m done with college I see myself hopefully going to med school and then bonding with different students, making those connections and, you know, hopefully showing some type of leadership ‘cause Memphis Wesley has molded me into a leader to where I can say, like, Hey, you don’t know how to do it; I know how to do it, and I can lead you and I can help you. You know. So, I think that’s pretty good and that’s how Memphis Wesley has shown me and helped me and molded me into this person that I am today, ‘cause never in a million years would I have thought this. Hey, I’ll be speaking ‘cause I’m not a speaker at all. Like, I used to think that. But now I think the more and more that I’m doing good and getting outside of my comfort zone, the more that I’m realizing that, hey, I can take on anything.

Crystal: That’s really amazing, the impact that this chapter of Wesley Foundation has had on you. Kyla, what would you say to someone who just doesn’t understand the importance of campus ministry like this? What message would you want them to know?

Kyla: The message that I would like someone to know would just be come as you are, be true to yourself, don’t let anyone change you. And then I think the main thing would be: Be the best you you can be, would be the message I would send.

Crystal: That’s great. And that’s a message that’s now just true for Wesley Foundation chapters, but for the church as well. As we finish up, Kyla, is there anything that you wanted to share or anything you wanted to tell us more about what’s going on there with Memphis Wesley?

Kyla: I do have one story that I’d like to share. So we just kicked off…I guess you would say, like, our fall ?? So I’m kicked off my fall internship. And for the past few nights we’ve had like our open house, and we’ve had like a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream theme. And the amount of people interested to attain and supporting us consistently has been amazing. Like, the amount of numbers, like, I’m seeing a hundred plus people have came out and supported us. And then even yesterday was our first communion night of the semester, the amount of people who came out and just supported us, and you know, bobbed with us and everything. I would say that has been the thing…it’s making me so strong for this semester. So, creating those connections with different people, they felt the need to like, hey, I want to back here. I love this community. I love the vibe here. So, I think that’s a really great thing. I feel like this semester is gonna go strong ‘cause we’ve had pretty strong numbers. Some of the largest numbers we’ve had since I’ve been here.

Crystal: Well, there’s clearly a need for what you’re doing, through the Memphis Wesley. And what a great witness and a great space for the United Methodist Church to be there and say, come and belong here. You can be a part of this.

Myla: Right.

Crystal: Well, the last question is something we ask all of our guests on Get Your Spirit in Shape. And, Kyla, how do you keep your own spirit in shape?

Myla: Well, for me, something that I’ve been working on lately is rest. I think that without rest the rest of your day can’t flow. So, a lot of the stuff, trying to take a step back. And I don’t mean rest as like in sleeping. But just taking a moment to step back and just reason and just have a safe space to think about life in general. And another thing, I’m…I’m going to start doing ‘cause I have a prayer journal that I plan on writing in just to keep my spiritual connection with God. And those are my two things for right now.

Crystal: That’s awesome. I understand why being around people like yourself, why that’s such an encouragement. So, thank you so much for being with us today.

Myla: Thank you for having me.


Crystal: That was Kyla Smith, a student at the University of Memphis and a member of the campus Wesley Foundation. To learn more about campus ministries of the United Methodist Church go to and look for this episode. In addition to the helpful links and a transcript of our conversation you’ll find my email address so you can talk with me about Get Your Spirit in Shape. Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape. I look forward to the next time that we’re together. I’m Crystal Caviness.