since 1913…

sacred collective began in 1913 as a ministry to Methodist students at the State University of Iowa. In its earliest days, it was led by Rev. Lewis F. Townsend, Assistant Pastor at First Methodist Church. It grew through the support of the Wesley Foundation of Iowa and in 1951, Wesley House was dedicated as a “home away from home” for over 1,600 students.  

Rev. Dave Schuldt, Director from 1970 to 2000, reflected on his experience, “I believe the single most important aspect of campus ministry is the development of Christian leaders.  Leaders for the campus, leaders for the church, leaders for the society. Over the years I have served as campus minister there have been 147 peer ministry positions at our place. These students serving under senior staff supervision made a big difference as peer ministers and are now involved in church and community leadership all over the world.”

Rev. Schuldt also noted the way the campus spiritual community engaged social movements, “the civil rights movement, the anti Vietnam War movement, Abortion Rights movement, the Ecological movement, the feminist movement, the war on poverty movement and the gay/lesbian rights movement.” Student leaders engaged each of these, hosting groups and events such as Citizens for Peace and the 1974 Midwest Gay Pride Conference.  

Rev. Marsha Acord, Associate Director from 1997 to 2014 wrote on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the organization, “UI Wesley Foundation moves into the next 100 years continuing this important work in new ways, always seeking to meet young adults where they are. That means moving away from the traditional institution-focused ministries of the past and focusing efforts outward. This year saw a Pizza and The Bible group gathering weekly at The Sanctuary Restaurant and many conversations with students at coffee shops. Interfaith dialogue and service work also takes a prominent role in Christian spiritual formation. Wesley staff acts as an advisor to the UI Interfaith Service Group with monthly community meals and dialogues. This year Wesley and Interfaith students regularly volunteered with the Free Lunch Program. They also focused on water health and will participate in a river clean-up project in April. Wesley staff acts as a community partner with a UI Living Learning Community in the residence halls. Wesley has continued to act as safe space for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allies to explore spirituality with a weekly conversation group.”

Wesley Center, now sacred collective, draws on this vibrant history to invite and partner with students to seek justice, encounter community, and linger in Divine truths.  Each era brings new forms of engagement as social movements and the lives of students give shape to this place of belonging for spiritual misfits.

read our full coming out letter about disaffiliating from The United Methodist Church in 2022

For over 100 years, the Wesley Center has partnered with students at the University of Iowa to create a spiritual home on campus, nurture justice-seeking leaders, and pattern our lives in rhythms of grace, solidarity, and deep connection with each other, the Divine, and the Earth.  We have stood by our commitments to peace with justice, anti-racism, and the sacred worth of queer and trans people in the face of opposition from our government and religious denomination.  We are proud to be a place to creatively explore spirituality in an anti-racist, queer-led, intersectional justice seeking community. 

For many years, it was through The United Methodist Church (the UMC) that we were able to do our best work and be our best selves. With time, however, our commitment to beloved community, particularly with queer and trans students, has resulted in direct attacks from the church body that once supported us. These attacks have resulted in loss of funding, lengthy church disciplinary processes against our chaplain, and denominational distrust among students, whose tolerance for religious hypocrisy and discrimination is blessedly low.  In light of the denomination’s entrenched commitments to policies and practices of dominance and destruction, what was once a source of connection and life has become a burden and barrier to our community’s purpose. Our values no longer align with those of the UMC. In order to free the Wesley Center to show up authentically, wholeheartedly, and without reservation for all our students, we will not renew our association as a covenant organization with The United Methodist Church. 

In the spirit of Pentecost as witnessed in Acts of the Christian scriptures, we celebrate this opportunity to be made new. Just as the Holy Spirit breathed new life into an ancient community constrained by grief, we too welcome the Divine winds of change. Pentecost celebrates a turning point – consistent with prior events, but embodied in new ways.  With imagination, creativity, and joy, we are fashioning ancient rhythms into a new song.

This turning is especially important in a religious and social environment that continues to attempt to close off possibility and prescribe thought and behavior. The Wesley Center invites all students to be, belong, breathe, and be nourished—without qualification or reservation. We do that best at Table, sharing our stories and finding connections, whether over coffee, homemade meals, or chocolate.  We let our questions lead us, expectant to discover Divine possibility in our midst.  In the face of state legislation and church doctrines that attempt to control and condemn, this invitation into authentic, brave belonging is of vital importance.  

Students regularly bear witness to how life-giving it is to have an affirming spiritual community.  They say, “Good conversation just hadn’t been part of my college experience thus far, and I think that I felt safe discussing the concepts and the ideas that we do discuss.” And, “Friendships and connections developed organically and a true family was built around seeking hard truths and opening ourselves up to each other and the wider world around us.”

Today, the Wesley Center is a spiritual community for students with diverse experiences and backgrounds.  By letting go of our covenant organization status with the UMC, we make room for interfaith, campus, and local partners who share our vision to creatively explore spirituality in community.  We sing the new song of the Spirit, on the themes of hospitality and justice that have long sustained us.  We do this knowing that our labor is not only for the good of the immeasurably valuable students we encounter, but for the communities they will shape now and in years to come. 

becoming ‘sacred collective

The Wesley Center has a long history of being a place of welcome and refuge for those who felt like “spiritual misfits” in the world – a place of belonging and growth, a place to explore beliefs, identity, and meaning.  We have partnered with students at the University of Iowa to create a spiritual home on campus, nurture justice-seeking leaders, and pattern our lives in rhythms of grace, solidarity, and deep connection with each other, the Divine, and the Earth. We have carried out our ministry in several downtown locations, but always holding hospitality, courage, and community as core values.  

It is with immense joy and a profound sense of purpose that we announce a transformative milestone in our history. After much reflection and discernment, our beloved Wesley Center will now be known as “sacred collective: a place of belonging for spiritual misfits.” This new name truly conveys who we are and our dream for those we are in community with.

Several years ago our members of our board of directors named a need to better convey our organizational identity in our work with students.  Students no longer carried a sense of denominational identity in the same way as the early 20th century when we began our ministry.  Especially in recent years, we too had grown beyond a singular denominational presence on campus.  These days we connect with students from various Christian traditions, as well as students of other faiths, and atheists and agnostics.  

Our process for coming to a new name was itself a sacred practice.  We dug into our history, and engaged our imaginations, seeking to name as best we could who we have been and who we are becoming.  We maintain the spirit of growth in knowledge and faith captured in John Wesley’s Holy Club at Oxford, and we see in our current collectivity a broad variety of traditions represented.  We know how important relationship has been and will remain in campus spiritual community – how deep a connection can be made over a bowl of soup, or how bitter coffee or sweet chocolate make space for sharing our life’s questions and challenges.  

Most of all we named the vital importance of each person being embraced, welcomed as a whole person exactly as they are.  We see this in life-affirming and life-saving interactions with queer and trans students.  We practice it in our ongoing commitments to dismantling white supremacy.  Affirmation of each person’s sacred worth and our collective interdependence upon one another forms the foundation of everything we do.

In addition to a new name, we are overjoyed to announce a new location for our ministry.  We are now located at 213 N Linn St., just around the corner from our original location.  Here we will continue to gather with students for nourishment in body and spirit, host student groups, and provide a haven near campus to belong, be, and breathe.In the years ahead, sacred collective will continue the ministry that we began in 1913 at the University of Iowa.  We will invite and partner with students to seek justice, to encounter community, and to linger in Divine truths.  We will be real with one another, asking real questions, doing real work, sharing real food.  Centering students, our whole collective will hold space for one another – especially attentive to experiences of marginalization.  Together we will be sacred collective: a place of belonging for spiritual misfits.

prior logo & location

You can now find us at 213 N. Linn St. Iowa City, IA. We were formerly located at 120 N. Dubuque St.

You also might see our old logo floating around here or there – that’s us!