Wesley @ Wesley ~ David Scroggin: The Man Behind the Movement

Story by Jeannie Stone

The newest church in Russellville is not so much of a building as it is a concept. Wesley@Wesley is the merging of Wesley United Methodist Church with Wesley Foundation, a Methodist-sponsored ministry at Arkansas Tech University. The matrimony of souls is what planners call “Rethinking Church,” a living embodiment to the challenge of taking church outside the traditional walls. 

David Scroggin, the catalyst at the helm, is himself a contradiction. After the unexpected death of his alcoholic father when he was only 12 years old, the tenuous links holding his family together further weakened under the strain of financially hardship. Scroggin turned into a rebellious teen well-known to law enforcement in his hometown of Morrilton. His future looked grim.

And then he found God.

“My conversion experience was so lucid I remember the complete sermon and the scriptures,” Scroggin said. Evangelist Larry Taylor was preaching a revival at First Baptist Church in Morrilton. The sermon he delivered touched on Romans 10:13. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

“The preacher asked me if I wanted to be saved, and I told him, ‘You better believe it,’” Scroggin said. “I learned my first scripture verse on my knees in front of that church.”

At that very moment David Scroggin, on the cusp of his own ministry, did not own a Bible or know that it was divided into an Old and New Testament.

The year was 1961, and he was a senior at Morrilton High School. His future wife, a member of the church, was in attendance. Eleanor was 14 years old at the time.

“I didn’t really know him personally, just his reputation, so I was impressed that he would make that kind of an outward commitment in front of a church,” she said, “and it was packed.”

“It was a super salvation,” he said. Scroggin joined the Methodist church after visiting many different pastors and churches.

“I shopped around for several months and heard quite a few comments about Methodists being too liberal, but when I finally got around to visiting the Methodist church it just seemed like a better fit for me.”

He began college at University of Central Arkansas, but he continued to struggle with a destructive attitude and indifference. Times were unsettling even for the most stalwart student in those days.

“The Vietnam War was going on, and I just wasn’t taking my studies seriously,” he said. “I was having major trouble with my grades, and then the Dean called me into his office and told me not to come back till I decided whether or not I wanted to be educated. He threw me out.”

Reeling from that blow, Scroggin found the Lord waiting for him when he returned to his dorm room. “I started crying and literally begging God to help me,” he said. “Actually, I started bartering with Him. I was promising Him I would go into the ministry if he’d give me another chance.”

And another chance was what he got.

At the time, he was majoring in Physical Education. “I was going to be a baseball coach because I played all through high school and two and a half years in college,” he said, “but I’d heard the Lord call me during my freshman year, and in my hour of need I used that as my bargaining chip.”

Immediately after his proposal, Scroggin glanced out his window and saw the Wesley Foundation on campus. He had never before entered the building, but he rushed in and told Vernon Anderson he had to see a preacher.

“I’m not much of a one, but I’m the only one around here,” Anderson told him. Scroggin wasted no time in blurting out his intentions of becoming a preacher.

“He nourished me through this, and got me one more semester in school,” he said. Scroggin didn’t disappoint. He got his life

on track and began earning good grades. “In fact, I made the best grades in seminary,” he said. “I’ll always be grateful for Brother Anderson because he gave me room to grow.”

Eleanor and David began dating after his conversion and wed after her sophomore year at UCA.

While a junior in college Scroggins received his first appointment to Mayflower and began serving five churches in Faulkner County as a student pastor. During his fifth year at UCA, he was assigned to serve at Plumerville United Methodist Church.

“There were some wonderful people there,” he said.

Eleanor taught English to support them while he attended Emory University in Atlanta.

After a six-year stint pastoring St. John’s United Methodist Church in Van Buren, Scroggin heard the Lord call him again.

“I had been restless for a couple of years. I knew the Lord was calling me in a different path, but I didn’t know what that path was,” he said.

His will became clear at the Annual Conference, a meeting, sharing and regrouping time among the faithful in Arkansas, when someone gave a short report on one of the Wesley Foundations in the state.

“It was probably about a three minute report max,” he said, “but a light went on, and I ran out of the balcony at Hendrix where I was sitting to find out more about campus ministry.”

Scroggin found the bishop a little less open to the idea than he’d anticipated.

“He felt it wasn’t appropriate for me to leave a traditional congregation to minister to kids. They gave me two years to get it out of my system,” he said, and laughed.

His legacy spans three decades plus a year at Arkansas Tech.

“Nobody is more surprised than I am with the turn of events,” he said. “Frankly, my goal was to stay with a class from freshman year all the way to graduation, but after four years I realized I was just learning how to do the job.”

Brother David, as he’s called on campus, is ever amazed that college students continue to confide in him even though he is old enough to be their grandfather.

“I was very interested in pastoral counseling. I never thought about becoming a campus minister,” he said, “but I think the results have convinced everyone of the worth of campus ministry and reaching to young adults during this stage of their lives.” The proof is the added fortification of dedicated young adults in the Methodist church.

“We have seen many lives changed by this ministry,” Scroggin said. There are many ministers in the state who got their start here. Youth ministers, children’s ministers and even missionaries have gone through the Wesley Foundation in Russellville. One of our students went into the Air Force chaplaincy. We have been very blessed so many seeds we planted have taken hold.”

Some of those seeds have flung far from the garden patch. Following the sudden death of Bobby Jackson, a much-loved worship leader at the foundation, the students and Scroggins worked alongside the family to establish a memorial ministry in the Congo. On the other side of the world, a Wesley Foundation was built, and a staff person hired to work with students there. Now the good news is spread in one of the most disparaging places on earth. Now there is hope.

The amazing bar set by the foundation has garnered nationwide attention. In 2000, Scroggin was nominated by fellow campus ministers around the country and chosen as he Campus Minister of the Year. “It was a very humbling experience,” he said.

“It was a well deserved recognition,” campus minister Jason Molitor said. “Some of the ministries are located at very large universities and to be nominated alone from a smaller school in more rural Arkansas is just such an honor.”

Molitor, one of the hundreds who passed through the ministry during his years at Tech, says the national spotlight only confirmed what he and his fellow students knew all along. “We knew this ministry was absolutely in the top tier in the country,” he said.

Molitor, one of those faith success stories, has just returned to the Tech campus after completing seminary and serving four years as the campus minister at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. He has the utmost respect for Brother David.

“As a campus minister he was the one who helped me realize my calling,” Molitor said. “He was always supportive, and he and Eleanor both modeled what it meant to be good leaders and mentors for us at that age.”

The “us” Molitor refers to is him and his wife, the former Emory Tyson, college sweethearts who met at the Foundation and married upon graduation.

“Beyond the spiritual aspects of his guidance, Brother David and Eleanor helped us in practical ways,” Molitor said. “We had serious discussions about what marriage was all about, and by the time we stood before him to marry, we felt sure about our decision and loved by our community.”

He takes the revered place held so long by Scroggin at Tech during this time of transition while Brother David takes up the reins at Wesley United Methodist Church. The congregation voted earlier in the year to open their hearts, their minds and their doors to the 400 members of the Wesley Foundation already worshipping twice weekly to create a different church.

“Brother David had a great ability to help us all understand the servant role of Christ, and he encouraged us. That view helped us move beyond just thinking of ourselves all the time,” Molitor said.

“Those of us fortunate enough to fall under his loving guidance not only grew in head knowledge of who God is, but we were able to feet to that knowledge, so we could put our faith in action. As a campus minister, I now have the opportunity to share the gospel with students and watch them grow to serve.”

“It’s a new challenge, and I love it,” Scroggin said. “It’s really exciting. The timing was perfect. Jason, whom I watched grow into a confident and effective communicator, was ready. I had wondered if he would be the one to replace me.”

It is here that Scroggin interjects he believed his years were numbered at Tech. “Truthfully,” he said, “I was planning to stay on at the Wesley Foundation another year or two and then retire.”

But another call came – this one from the Bishop: “He invited me to initiate a Sunday morning worship service at the Wesley Foundation because I knew the college community,” Scroggin said. “At first, I told him he needed a younger man, but I couldn’t resist the chance to bring a home- style community worship to the students and an opportunity to experience a living ministry to the congregants.”

His first two months in his pastorial role has seen the establishing of a launch team with eight working committees organized to create an alternate worship locale for the home congregation. “It’s new to everyone. Nobody has expertise in this. It is simply unprecedented,” he said.

“I never set out to make good little Methodists out of the students,” Scroggin said, “but to pull them closer to Jesus Christ so they could take their gifts, talents and abilities with them to wherever God may send them. My desire was always for them to make an impact in their communities.”

Spree Hilliard of Harrison, communication director at Wesley Foundation, says she couldn’t believe Scroggin was being reassigned.

“When we heard the news we were in shock. So much revolves around him, but he is a relationship person, and his life is a reflection of what church should be. I knew it’d be fine.”

Some of the members of the launch team are not members of the church nor the campus ministry.

“It keeps the spirit of ecumenicalism alive,” Scroggin said. “That encompasses the very spirit of the Methodist church. In fact it was at the last Annual Conference that we were directed to Re-think church.”

“For those of us who embrace change, like the majority of college students, the sluggishness of the church can be frustrating,” he said. “I thought I could hasten change in the church by concentrating on college kids. I hoped that through the grace of God we could impact the church today, and it is happening. Students really get the ecumenical vision of John Wesley.

“You know, you don’t have to be a member to belong to our church,” he said.

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