REV. BOB BARTRAM DOES IT ALL WITH STYLE - Friend, Chef, Professor, Minister

By Drew Moody

Last week the Glenville State College campus buzzed with activity in preparation for semester finals and the summer break.

The Wesley Foundation, located between the court house annex and the college's alumni center, hosted its final "Tuesday lunch" until fall.

The following evening, May 4, Wesley Foundation Director Reverend Bob Bartram organized a Spring cookout.

Bartram manned the grill on the front patio of the center preparing food for a steady stream of mostly Glenville State College students. Several stopped to chat with the chef on their way in or out. One exclaimed it was the best meal they'd had all week.

Reverend Bartram pauses to chat with a student while
manning the grill during last week's cookout at the
Wesley Foundation in Glenville (Photo by Drew Moody)

Whether at the cookout or during the Tuesday lunch feasts, the atmosphere is easy and light-hearted. It gives students, as well as college faculty and staff, the opportunity to find out about activities at the Wesley Foundation.

The center is home to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Baptist Campus Ministry and the United Methodist Student Movement. Bartram estimates during the past school year more than 250 students, staff or faculty spent time at the facility.

A Long Road to the Ministry

Bob Bartram has a quick, easy-going smile. He looks like a man who is thankful to be 'right where he is.' Perhaps the reason he doesn't seem like a minister is because most of his life he was doing something else.

"I just finally gave in...." Bartram said of his journey, calling it an "all-to-familiar story."

"It's a story of avoiding or trying to run away from my call to be a minister since I was a teenager."

Along the way Bartram was a professional bowler and managed a bowling alley in his hometown of Huntington. He spent 10 years working for the Cabell County Board of Education in a variety of positions including as a bus driver and custodian. He sold insurance and worked in the circulation department of the Huntington newspapers. At one point he managed a California Waterbed Store.

He was ready to become a full-time pro-bowler when he met his first wife. That significantly altered his priorities. When she became pregnant he decided to change careers. Other than move his bowling balls from house to house, he hasn't touched them for twenty-two years.

"The thing I learned about bowling out on the tour is that I was as good as there was, but once you get out there everybody is good," Bartram said laughing.

He thinks of those memories as "good times, fun times." He still misses the people he used to bowl with.

With a baby on the way though, he felt he needed to get off the road. "I had to get respectable, I guess....get a real job," Bartram said jokingly.

Life wasn't always easy, or simple. "There have been times when I've had two full-time jobs and two or three part-time jobs all at the same time," Bartram recalls, just to get by.

And then at 33 he found himself divorced with custody of his three-year-old daughter, Candy. Not long afterward he decided to become a minister.

Bartram entered Marshall University in 1991, staying there three years. He attended Duke Divinity School two summers, finishing his undergraduate degree at West Virginia University, graduating when he was 39. In 1999 he attended United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, obtaining a master's degree. While there he met and married his wife, Janine, who was then vice-president of administration and treasury at the seminary. He returned there in 2003 for further study and in 2005 received his Doctorate of Ministry degree, specializing in digital communication.

His wife is an accountant at West Virginia University. Candy, his daughter, is 22-years-old now and plans to transfer to WVU next fall, Bartram said.

Multimedia Sermons

Bartram's time is divided between the Wesley Foundation and serving as pastor of Glenville's United Methodist Church. His sermons frequently utilize multimedia presentations as illustrations.

"It's the medium of the day," he said. As a whole, Bartram believes churches struggle to find a balance between the old message and the new medium.

The message of the church began as an oral tradition, then was written, and now in our post-modern era it's one of images and sound.

Bartram doesn't discount the entertainment value either. "There's always been an element of entertainment in worship," he said. "Anybody that says there's not is kidding themselves."

He believes every worship service needs to be contemporary to the congregation, whether it's a group of 80-year-olds or teenagers. For any presentation to be effective it has to speak the language of the people who are there, according to Bartram.

Bartram hopes in the near future funding may be available to create full-time positions at both the Wesley Foundation and the local church.

A Ministry of Presence

A significant part of the Glenville State College campus outreach is what Bartram calls "a ministry of presence." He sees the Wesley Foundation as providing a safe environment that encourages students' growth and development.

"The kids know I'm there and the church is there, no matter what has happened, or what the need or problem is," Bartram said. "It's a safe place to come and search out answers. I'm there for them even when they don't need me, and even probably when they don't want me."

The Wesley Foundation isn't officially part of the college, but there's a close connection. Bartram believes the relationship is stronger than it's been for some time. He credits Dr. Peter Barr and his wife, Betsy, for supporting the center's efforts. He also acknowledged Dr. Kathy Butler, Coach Dennis Fitzpatrick, Janet Bailey and several other Glenville State College personnel as well.

"It's a unique community," Bartram said. While the center is supported by the United Methodist Church, in practice it operates non-denominationally.

This Saturday, May 12, Bartram is heading for Ocean Isle, NC with 16 to 18 GSC students and a faculty member to enjoy the beach for a week.

At the end of May he'll be taking 10 students from throughout West Virginia to Tacoma, Washington to participate in the United Methodist Student Forum. Representatives from Glenville, WVU, Marshall, West Liberty, Potomac State and West Virginia Wesleyan are attending the conference.

NOTE: Reverend Bartram is accepting donations to off-set a portion of the expenses of the beach trip. Anyone interested in contributing may contact him at either 462-5171 or 462-7569.