Fusion: A story of pioneer spirit

Thursday, January 16, 2014

DWU campus pastor announces Fusion services to become separate church, will become full-time Fusion pastor

They came by horse, wagon and train – early missionaries set out west to bring a sense of the familiar to the prairie – planting churches and creating universities to foster their ideals.

Nearly 130 years later, that same pioneer spirit still thrives – just with a modern twist.

Brandon Vetter, campus pastor for Dakota Wesleyan University, announced Thursday that a church has been planted on the 129-year-old United Methodist campus. The weekly Fusion services, held on campus on Sundays in cooperation with the First United Methodist Church (FUMC) and The Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church, will become its own entity, separate from both university and the FUMC. This development is largely due to Vetter’s spiritual leadership on campus and his innovative approach to reaching out to the community, according to DWU President Amy Novak.

Dakota Wesleyan University’s campus ministry, knowingly or not, created a paradigm shift when the university – affiliated with the United Methodist Church and The Dakotas Conference – recommitted to the innovative spirit of the early Methodists by founding a new church community on the university campus.

“When I think of the early Methodist circuit riders who founded Dakota Wesleyan University with nothing but faith to guide and sustain them, I look at what Brandon and the FUMC have done here on campus, and I see that same pioneer spirit, reaching out to young people in an innovative way,” Novak said. “Fusion’s creation, and now its establishment as its own church, speaks to the ethos that founded us: ‘How do we bring the church to those who are unchurched?  And more importantly, how do we help others reconnect with Church?’  When we successfully do this, we begin to truly change our world.”

Vetter said that about 140 people attend Fusion services weekly, with only about 10-20 worshipers who cross over from the campus Thursday service – mostly students who assist with music. The majority are young families.

“Fusion is an opportunity for the United Methodist Church to reach a group of people who prefer a less traditional approach,” Vetter said. “We use pop culture, video clips, new music and a casual atmosphere to deliver the Gospel – those things won’t appeal to everyone, but they appeal to our congregation.”

Vetter also believes Fusion’s success is due to its location, Dakota Wesleyan’s campus being viewed as an approachable space to those who have never been to church before.

“Our philosophy is 100 percent in the teachings of the United Methodist Church and with a very open atmosphere – we want this to be a place where people are comfortable having questions – where faith and doubt can come together,” Vetter said. “If we have a niche, it’s that we appeal to those who are curious but uncertain, but we still minister to those strong in faith who prefer a less traditional approach. That less traditional approach is possibly what helps newcomers feel comfortable. It’s a synergy that works well for us.”

The concept of a university’s campus ministry planting a church is unique nationwide, Vetter said.

“To my knowledge, it’s never been done before,” he said. “The idea came a few years ago and just grew from there. Dakota Wesleyan and the FUMC and the Bishop of the Dakotas Conference have all been so supportive of this idea – the amount of freedom I have been given to experiment and just try it has been extraordinary. I’m not sure if there is another campus that would have let me do this.”

When beginning Fusion, Vetter wasn’t going in blind – he had been the campus minister at DWU for six years at the time and applied what he learned working with college students toward Fusion, which was created to reach the ever-growing population of teenagers through thirty-somethings who do not belong to a church. 

The official number of “unchurched” in America today – defined as someone who has not attended a church service in the past year – isn’t known. Warren Bird, Ph.D., research director at Leadership Network, with background as pastor and seminary professor and co-author of “Missing in America,” reported the number to be 33 percent in 2007 and in a blog post last year, estimated that number to be around 40 percent.

Dakota Wesleyan University has a nonmandatory weekly campus worship that attracts about 140 attendees, ironically the same number as Fusion. The worship service has grown by more than 100 worshipers in the eight years Vetter has been campus pastor.

Vetter graduated from Dakota Wesleyan in 2003 and Asbury Seminary in Kentucky in 2006, after which he put in a request of appointment for DWU’s opening for a campus minister. His first order of business was to move campus worship – of about 25-30 people – from the small Wagner Chapel, with a maximum capacity at about 50, to the Sherman Center, a venue that can hold up to 700.

“There was no room for the service to grow. They were maxing out at about 30 in a room that could never hold more than 50, so I requested a move and service has grown by at least 10 every year,” he said.

Patience is a virtue, and it certainly paid off; weekly worship has grown, as well as participation on the worship team and on mission trips. Just last spring, DWU took 49 staff and students to Peru and raised $80,000 to do it. In the eight years Vetter has been pastor, campus ministry has traveled to five different locations, taken 200 people on mission trips and raised more than $300,000 for mission work. A trip to Puerto Vallarta’s most desperate areas is scheduled for spring break of this year.

“Our students make this program a success,” Vetter said. “They are extraordinary in their enthusiasm and fundraising efforts. Their families are supportive, the community is supportive, and their experiences are memorable enough that they come back from these trips and get their friends involved. These are not vacations – these students work hard, for sometimes 12-hour days, but you don’t hear them complaining. Mission work puts life into perspective and everyone comes back appreciating that.”

The growth of the Fusion community is one of many initiatives on the DWU campus to inspire spiritual growth and development of its students.  In 2011, DWU launch a Christian Leadership major with emphasis in missions, church planting, and ministry. 

“DWU remains committed to encouraging young people to discern how God is calling them to serve, regardless of their academic interest or career aspiration,” Novak said. “By encouraging the dialogue of mind and soul, DWU hopes to encourage students to examine how their talents be used to transform our communities and our world.”

Valerie Hummel, of Yankton, is a senior at DWU double-majoring in religion and philosophy and psychology, with plans to join seminary following graduation. She has been on three mission trips through the college and helped organize the trip to New Orleans in 2012.

“Each mission trip that I have been involved with has taught me something different, and I appreciate each experience in different ways,” she said. “I have grown spiritually and personally through each trip, and I wouldn't trade those moments for the world. Learning more about the world and about yourself really changes your outlook on life.”

This year’s student ministry council chairman is Andrew DeVaney, of Sioux Falls. DeVaney came to campus and got involved with many activities on campus, including DWU football, and is the co-founder of the nonprofit Win/Give, which provides backpacks of school supplies to children in Third World countries.

“Campus ministry is an awesome group full of regular people who are allowing God to shape their lives to do awesome and extraordinary things,” DeVaney said. “Everyone on the team has a desire to make a difference at DWU in regard to helping grow in their faith and helping people come to know the loving and gracious Savior we have in Christ. Chapel is a great time to reflect, think and lay down worries and burdens that we have.”

Vetter will continue to be Dakota Wesleyan’s campus pastor and Fusion pastor through June and the university will begin a search for a new campus pastor within the next month.

“Brandon is and will always be a part of the Dakota Wesleyan family, and this transition will be hard for some of our students who have formed such a close relationship with him and his family, but I’m sure Brandon and Vicky will encourage a continuation of those relationships as they begin this new adventure,” Novak said. “Creating a church on campus makes history for DWU and it’s exciting for all of us. We’re going to make sure that our next campus pastor is equally as motivated, innovative and moved to reach out to the community. We will hire someone who relates to our student body and will continue to encourage the spiritual growth on this campus.  DWU is passionate about building the future church and we will continue to seek bold and innovative ways to reach people and honor the legacy of those who founded this institution.”

*For more information, please contact the DWU University Relations office at (605) 995-2613 or Mari Olson at maolson1@dwu.edu

Click here for a link to an article by The Daily Republic in Mitchell, published Friday, Jan. 17, 2014.

Categories: News
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