Chaplain Greg West will be departing from Virginia Wesleyan as part of his reassignment within the United Methodist Church. This move comes after a decade of leadership and service to the community. News Editor Alex Powers reached out to West for an interview. Here, West reflected on his time at VWU, difficult issues of today and new opportunities on the horizon.
Alex Powers: When did you arrive at Virginia Wesleyan? How did you come to find this position?
Greg West: I began serving as the Chaplain at VW in the summer of 2010. I was transitioning from starting a new church (8 years), Grace Harbor, in Suffolk, Virginia. I felt a clear calling from God to step outside of serving as a pastor of a local church. I moved into a ‘missionary evangelist’ role in the Church part time & found that VWC was looking for a part-time Chaplain. So for two years I served in both of those rules part time. In 2012 I went full-time at VW. George Scott was serving as the Worship Leader at that time. He is also finishing this year after 15 years of service to VWU.
AP: What was your time here like in the beginning?
GW: When I arrived there were only four groups on campus and there was a feeling of competition between the groups. so some of the student leaders and I worked hard to unify the groups and break that spirit of competition and change it into a spirit of cooperation. We talked a lot about Jesus is prayer in John chapter 17 where he prays for the unity of all future believers.
““My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
John 17:20-21 NIV
One of the students and I designed the Marlin Ministry cross in the early days. It had the names of all the groups written into it to be a visible example of our unity in Christ.
George and I sometimes only had six or seven students in worship on a Sunday. However, we built it up and tried to create an atmosphere of welcome, love and truth.
AP: How have Marlin Ministries and other faith-based groups grown in your time here?
GW: One of the clear roles in scripture for a pastor or a chaplain is to equip God’s people for the work of the ministry. So I’ve spent a lot of time training and equipping students to lead ministries and groups. For many years we have had between 15 and 19 groups meeting each week. This brings me a ton of joy as I see students stepping into leadership and reaching other students with God’s love & truth.
AP: What has been your favorite memory from your time at Wesleyan?
GW: I have so many great memories. Traveling with students always brings special memories. I’ve taken students on seven different mission trips. Six to Nicaragua and one to Puerto Rico. Serving with the church in Latin America is eye-opening and a great adventure. I have seen numerous students launch out from here had to seminary and now they’re serving as pastors even in our community. That’s been a joy to watch. The trips to England and Scotland studying the Wesleyan Revival and the Scottish Reformation as well as J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis have been amazing. Then in 2018, I was able to travel with Craig Wansink and Kelly Jackson and students to Israel. It’s been a dream of mine for a couple decades! And it did not disappoint, phenomenal!
AP: How have Marlin Ministries and your online meetings fared during the coronavirus pandemic?
GW: Marlin Ministries has quite a few groups meeting online. We have numerous soul groups which are usually 4 to 6 people and then we have groups like Alpha with 18 at our first online gathering. It’s challenging, but we’re trying to make the most of the situation.
I’m also teaching online this semester. I have co-taught the course on Methodism with Dr. Terry Lindvall three times and have gone solo this semester. Many people don’t know that the Methodist Church is the only church to have started on a college campus, Oxford University, as a renewal movement within the church (Anglican) requiring weekly small group participation. I have 11 students and we have a lot of fun learning together. Our Zoom platform has really worked for us, including their sermon PowerPoint presentations.
AP: What would you say to students during these times?
GW: I try to say something to students every Friday in my emails. A quote I’ve shared a lot since the beginning of this pandemic is from Corrie Ten Boom, who survived the Holocaust. She said, “There is no panic in heaven.” God is in control and in spite of the situation his love for us is still the greatest thing. I believe that Jesus Christ is the human face of God and so his life, teachings, healings, miracles, his death and resurrection are all evidence of God‘s amazing love for us!
AP: Getting back to your reassignment, there have been many other changes in VWU faculty and staff made recently. Was your reassignment a decision made by the University, the Church, or both? How were you notified about this change in your position?
GW: After a season of prayer and discernment, I asked for the reassignment. 10 years is a really good run! I believe God is calling me to something new, and I want to be obedient to that calling.
AP: The United Methodist Church has seen some recent controversy for its relationship with individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. Where do you see the future of the United Methodist Church with regards to this issue? Does the Church’s possible divide play a part in reassignment or is this an unrelated, typical process?
GW: The majority of us within the United Methodist Church believe there will be a split. Our General Conference has been delayed until 2021 because of the coronavirus outbreak. It’s a probability that the split will take place there. It is needed. In this way both sides can free each other to be in ministry and move on from this disagreement. The United Methodist Church has been in dialogue about this issue since 1972. There are people of goodwill on both sides, it’s a real difference in our views of the authority of Scripture and in some cases our interpretation of Scripture. Again, I see the split as a necessary and positive, though painful thing, to free each other for ministry. My departure is not related to this issue.
AP: Where are you being relocated?
GW: I am moving back into the role of missionary evangelist full-time. I promise, no big hair, no Cadillac and no TV show demanding people send in their money. So my family is not moving, we will be here in Virginia Beach. I have an amazing wife, Eileen and three teenagers, Josiah, Evie and Luke. I’m looking forward to more time with them.
It’s sad how the word ‘evangelist’ kind of has a negative connotation because of some of the examples. There are some really good ones out there, I promise. The story of Philip the evangelist is found in chapter 8 of the book of Acts (he is referred to as ‘evangelist’ in Acts 21:8). In addition, the role of evangelist as an equipper is listed with four other ministry roles in the Bible passage below.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13
AP: What are your plans for the future?
GW: My role will involve mission work overseas in addition to working with local churches in outreach, preaching, teaching and training. I’ve always found it fascinating that Jesus didn’t start a mega-church, rather, he started a mini-church. So small groups are part of the method of Jesus. I want to help the church recover small group ministry for both people coming to faith in Christ and for those who are going deeper in the faith. I’ve been working with Ashley Kline ’19, to get my new website up and going. This will best describe my new ministry. I do have a 501(c) (3) Ministry Non-Profit. The name is Life in His Name Ministries. This comes from a passage at the end of John’s Gospel:
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31
The website is: www.lifeinhisname.net (it hasn’t launched yet, but in less than a week it will be up.)
AP: What message do you have for the Wesleyan community as you move onto new opportunities?
GW: As far as a message to leave with the University. . . I think about the challenge of living out Christian faith in an academic setting. I’ve tried always to be respectful of people who have different beliefs and different world views than mine. I’ve made a serious effort not to ‘twist arms’ or be pushy about my faith. I think this is the right approach. However, at each graduation ceremony, I watch the graduates walk by after receiving their diplomas and see so many that I do not know, that I don’t recognize and I wonder. I wonder if they heard the story of Jesus while they were at Virginia Wesleyan University. And I fear too many haven’t. I don’t think anyone could argue that the life of Jesus has shaped the world more than any other in all of human history. And yet, it seems his life and teachings are neglected, ignored or dismissed; and I see it as tragic because I believe they hold so many of the answers to the problems and divisions we’re facing. So I say with a bold humility, “God loves you. Consider Christ.”
AP: If you have any last thoughts that you’d like to share, please feel free.
GW: I want to express my gratitude for my current and past student leaders, they have been and are amazing people who love God and serve in so many ways. I have so many friends within the staff and faculty here at VWU. I’m deeply grateful for these friendships and for the opportunities we’ve had to work together over the years.
I’ll be here through June 30 – so I’d love to see everyone face to face, but I would be ok even if it is from 6 feet away or on Zoom!