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In 1900, the Rev. Willard Nathan Tobie arrived at his new charge. Parks Chapel, a small congregation near the University of Illinois, was just eight years old.

Tobie immediately saw the possibilities of the Chapel’s location. About one-quarter of the students enrolled at the University were Methodist, needing spiritual guidance and Christian fellowship.

If the church were to serve these students, it would need a larger sanctuary. The congregation was not wealthy, so Tobie turned to the Methodists of the state, arguing that all Illinois Methodists should support a ministry to Methodist college students.

There was opposition to Tobie’s plan, some arguing that Methodist support should only go to Methodist schools. However, Tobie also received significant support, and six years later Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church was dedicated.

Under Tobie’s successor, James Chamberlain Baker, the work grew so rapidly that the Trinity church building was soon inadequate. It was Baker’s vision to expand the Trinity program to include a social center and a dormitory for Methodist students. In 1909, the Illinois Conference adopted the student enterprise at Trinity as a conference-wide responsibility and in 1913 the “Wesley Foundation” was incorporated, the first legal use of the name.

The present Wesley Foundation building was dedicated in 1921. The structure was modeled closely on Christ Church College at Oxford where John Wesley received his education.

Paul Burt, pastor of the church and director of the Foundation from 1928 to 1961, guided both through the years of the Depression, World War II, and the postwar recovery. In 1956, Trinity Church changed its name to Wesley Church to signify its unique position as the “Church of the Wesley Foundation.” In 1959 the church dedicated a new sanctuary, built adjacent to and connected with the Wesley Foundation building.

The movement begun at Urbana soon spread to other college campuses, and eventually overseas. Today, thousands of Methodist college students find support, counsel, and fellowship at over 250 Wesley Foundations in the United States and in other countries. The original Wesley Foundation continues its own ministry to over 1500 students yearly.

Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: The Wesley Foundation has been in continuous operation in its current facility since 1920, seven years after its founding by James Baker. Portraits of influential Wesley Foundation leaders Baker, W. N. Tobie, and Paul Burt are displayed. The architecture of both the Foundation and the Wesley United Methodist Church are worth the visitor’s attention and appreciation.

Special events: The ceremonial observances of the Foundation are related to the liturgical year, the University and community calendar, and various cultural events.

Area attractions: The Wesley Foundation is on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Several state parks are nearby, and Chicago is to the north.

To visit:  This Heritage Landmark is a working Wesley Foundation facility. It is open to the public from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm Sunday through Thursday, 8:00 am to midnight Friday and Saturday when the University is in session. It is open 8:00 am to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday most other times.

Location: Within the boundaries of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, in Champaign County. The twin cities of Champaign-Urbana are 130 miles south of Chicago on Interstate 57 and east of Bloomington on Interstate 74 and Decatur on Interstate 72.

Food and lodging: Champaign-Urbana offers numerous lodging and eating places.

Directions: Take Interstate 74 to the Lincoln Avenue exit in Urbana. Travel south on Lincoln Avenue about three miles, to Green Street. Turn right on Green Street and travel to the first traffic light, which is Goodwin Street. The Wesley Foundation is at the southwest corner of Green and Goodwin. To park, turn left on Goodwin. The Wesley parking lot is the first driveway on the right.

For further information, contact: Dan King Crede, Wesley Foundation, 1203 W. Green Street, Urbana, IL 61801; 217-344-1120.

To learn more about United Methodist church history in this area:

Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference Archives, Illinois Great Rivers Conference Office, P.O. Box 515, Bloomington, IL 61702-0515; Lynne Phillips, Archivist.

J. Gordon Melton, Log Cabins to Steeples; The Complete Story of the United Methodist Way in Illinois(Commissions on Archives and History, Northern, Central, and Southern Illinois Conferences, 1974).

James C. Baker, The First Wesley Foundation: An Adventure in Christian Higher Education (Nashville: Parthenon Press, 1960).