Tom Wall retiring from MSN after 33 years

By Rev. Elizabeth Murray

It is truly the end of an era. This school year marks the 33rd and final year of Dr. Tom Wall’s ministry as the United Methodist campus minister at the University of South Carolina.

To say that his retirement is significant is an understatement. It is not because 33 years has encompassed the majority of his career as a United Methodist pastor, even though it has. Rather, it is because the impact of Tom’s ministry on USC’s campus, in the city of Columbia, in the Annual Conference and, most importantly, in the lives of students is immeasurable.

The Methodist Student Network at USC is one of nine Wesley Foundations in the state of South Carolina, yet it is the only one that does not go by the “Wesley” name because, well, of course it doesn’t. If you know Tom Wall, you know that he beats to his own drum in the best kind of way, and that is part of the charm of MSN.

MSN is the land of misfit toys. It is the place where I learned true hospitality and simple living. It is where you dance in the aisles during worship, have read at least one Henry Nouwen book, travel to Lake Junaluska and call MSN your second home and safe space. A student doesn’t graduate from MSN without serving on a mission trip and never wanting to eat Stouffer’s lasagna again. And yet, many MSN alumni graduate with a deeper sense of God’s love and grace in their lives and a sense of justice and liberation for God’s people.

My relationship with MSN evolved over the years. As a business economics major turned pastor, MSN played a vital role in my relationship with God and my sense of call to ordained ministry. From student to active alumni, I maintained a strong relationship to MSN in seminary and then in my first appointment in Columbia. Believing so strongly in its mission at USC, I sent students from my youth group to MSN during their first year at Carolina. I served on the MSN Board of Directors, the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry for the South Carolina Annual Conference and then as the chair of the MSN board. While ministry has taken me to France, I was still able to host MSN in Paris on the way to their trip to Taize.

In the 13 years that I have known and loved MSN, I have found this trend to be true: students graduate to become either United Methodist pastors or struggle to find their place in a local church upon graduation. I have thought extensively about why former students struggle to find refuge, community, in a local church when they enter the real world. I think it is this: MSN is a foretaste of heaven.

No, I am not speaking in hyperbole.

While I attended MSN, it was particularly diverse with international students who were studying overseas, a plethora of graduate students, diversity in worship (from Taize songs, breath prayers, Angolan dances, Brazilian songs), acceptance and understanding of all God’s children, and learning more about God and outreach by traveling the state, country and world together. Students talk openly and vulnerably with each other. They ask hard questions about life, about their beliefs, and about God. MSN cultivates a deep sense of community and purpose on a campus that can be very lonely. When students leave MSN, they crave the same sense of community, outreach and purpose in a local church. I have not seen many find the same environment in a local church like the one MSN provided.

Tom has sent and continues to send young people into the world who are on fire for God into a denomination (for both clergy and laity) that is not quite ready to receive them, unfortunately.

I believe in the mission and ministry of all our campus ministries in South Carolina, but I am particularly proud of the mark Tom Wall leaves on our annual conference. He has sent many young adults into ordained ministry, both in South Carolina, but also around the world. Tom inspired his students to believe that a glimmer of God’s kingdom can truly come on earth when we work for God’s mission in the world. He has stretched students in our understanding of who God is, how to live out the gospel, what it means to be a servant leader and how to connect God in deep and meaningful ways. Tom has adopted each one of us into his family, called us his own, challenged and encouraged us.

Many generations of Gamecocks will forever be inspired because of you, Tom. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Murray is associate pastor for youth and young adults at The American Church in Paris.

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