During the General Conference this summer, Rev. Zach Szmara wrote a Facebook post discussing how Wesleyans and Wesleyan organizations are committed to more than words; we express our beliefs through action. The “More than words” series expands on his post by highlighting each of The Wesleyan Church’s (TWC) subsidiary organizations.
In part one, we looked at Immigrant Connection and how it serves as a gospel witness to immigrants and their communities. Part two examined how Hephzibah62:4 continues to stand up for the sanctity of life after a century of service. Part three explored the Wesleyan Pension Fund’s faithful support of clergy and lay ministry employees. Then, in part four, we talked about the Wesleyan Investment Foundation and how it simultaneously provides funds for church building projects and encourages investors to steward money wisely.
Now we turn to the final subsidiary of TWC, which is operated by the Wesleyan Bible Conference Association: the Wesleyan Village.
Wesleyan Village spans just under 300 acres in the Florida District but started out much smaller. In 1956, the district purchased 30 acres of land to use as a campground and for Bible conferences. District leaders quickly realized that their simple campground had the potential to grow into something much bigger.
Gary Harris, Wesleyan Village’s current general director, notes that people began to move to the land and — because it was Florida — stay there. “Cottages became more and more permanent,” he says, “and it [the campground] turned into a community.”
Sometime later, around 1970, Wesleyan Village leaders decided to turn the campground into a year-round community founded on Christian values. Taking on the name Wesleyan Bible Conference Association, they brought Wesleyan Village to its official incorporation in 1971. A season of expansion followed, as they developed a mobile home park and began constructing residential units.
Today, there are 400 residential units on the village property with more being constructed. During peak season, Wesleyan Village has about 800 inhabitants, but Gary states there are enough full-time residents to form a year-round “fully active adult Christian community.”
Gary adds, “Wesleyan Village is a great place to live! More and more people are discovering this hidden gem in Central Florida as both a wonderful Winter residence and a delightful year-round place to call home. Every week someone new applies for membership in the community and the village has launched a new construction phase in an effort to keep pace.”
Martha Blackburn and her husband, Jim, are winter residents of Wesleyan Village. Martha says they “are blessed to be a part of a vibrant Christian community where God is honored, and His Word is the basis for our existence.” They enjoy the opportunities the village offers, from preplanned excursions to golf, line dancing and other methods of physical exercise. She and her husband have renewed friendships, made new friends, grown spiritually and serve the community because of Wesleyan Village.
The Blackburns also list “a great church in which to participate and worship” as one blessing Wesleyan Village has available. Gary notes many residents attend a Wesleyan church, though not all. “What brings us together is our faith in Christ,” he says. “We’re all Christ-followers, even though our theology may differ.”
As an active adult community, Wesleyan Village hosts a diverse spiritual life program, including Bible studies, an annual camp meeting and most recently, a course in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality led by Tom and Lydia Hines. Residents also enjoy a variety of activities daily, from pickleball to hiking to a drama club to an assortment of musical programs that suit most everyone’s style. Their various events, activities and even food services help promote the social interaction the Blackburns love so much.
Wesleyan Village may have started as a conference ground and vacation spot, but in the decades since it has grown into a thriving community. They have plans to continue expanding in the future so more and more people can find a place to belong. And through it all, says Gary, they hope to be “an example for The Wesleyan Church on how to live together in community.”
Jerah Winn is a communication assistant in the Communication and Administration Division of The Wesleyan Church and studies writing and honors humanities at Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, Indiana.