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Helping our youth flourish

The PC(USA) Pentecost Offering

by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterians Today

Children gather at Beechmont Presbyterian Church in Louisville for a time of learning and fun. Courtesy of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

Like most teens, Josh Davenport-Herbst had a healthy appetite for both Harry Potter books and pizza. But unlike many of his peers, he didn’t like to be around too many people, loud noises or too much excitement. That’s because Josh is among the 5 million adults in the U.S. identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Josh’s difficulty communicating and interacting socially with others made attending the Presbyterian Youth Triennium in 2016 a formidable challenge. “Back then, I was not very social,” he said. “I wasn’t against meeting people, just ambivalent.”

Triennium is a gathering that draws over 3,000 high-school-age youth, youth leaders and young adults from across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Its sessions include preaching as well as the use of drama, flashing lights and loud music. This made the event even more daunting for the then 18-year-old, who, like others on the autism spectrum, is especially sensitive to his environment.

As a member of the Triennium delegation from Tres Rios Presbytery, Josh’s father, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Davenport-Herbst, had good reason for concern in preparing Josh for Triennium.

“If you’re not the kind of person who thrives on that, there’s no place for you. Yet young people with disabilities need youth group, too,” he said.

Bringing those same sensibilities to the 2016 Triennium, Davenport-Herbst, who is the pastor of St. Paul Presbyterian Church in San Angelo, Texas, saw a way for people to enjoy the experience away from the noise by creating a safe and welcoming space in a top balcony at the site of the gathering.

Funding inclusivity

Creating a space for all of God’s children in the life of the PC(USA) is what the Pentecost Offering — one of the PC(USA)’s four annual Special Offerings — is all about.

One unique feature of the Pentecost Offering is that 40% of the gifts is retained by individual congregations for local ministries in their communities, while the remaining 60% is used to support children at risk, and youth and young adults through ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. While the Pentecost Offering may be taken anytime, most congregations receive it on Pentecost Sunday, which this year falls on June 5.

Not only do gifts to the Pentecost Offering benefit young people like Josh by supporting the Office of Presbyterian Youth and Triennium, but the offering helps to fund the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Young Adult Volunteer Program and the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” national initiative. It also helps the many young immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers hoping to start a new life in the U.S. overcome their challenges to inclusion.

In the fall of 2019, Lissy H. arrived in Louisville from Honduras at the vulnerable age of 14, having dropped out of school to seek asylum with her father. New to both the U.S. educational system and the English language, Lissy enrolled at Louisville’s English as a Second Language Newcomer Academy, which she attended for scarcely six months before Covid drove most schools into virtual learning.

Gifts given to the Pentecost Offering have helped fund the Learning Hub at Beechmont Presbyterian Church in Louisville. Courtesy of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

Although she was issued a laptop computer and had access to a Wi-Fi hotspot, Lissy was all but lost for months. But that all changed when the Learning Hub at Beechmont Presbyterian Church in Louisville found her.

“Covid had such intense implications for vulnerable populations like new immigrants,” said the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, a recently retired PC(USA) mission worker who attends Beechmont. “We were hearing about it from Elmer Zavala, himself a native of Honduras and a pastor, who worships at Beechmont. We learned that the recent immigrants with unusual work schedules and limited English skills often couldn’t work with their kids on nontraditional instruction.”

Zavala serves as pastor and leader of the Presbyterian Hispanic Latino Ministry of Preston Highway, a “house church” composed of some 40 families, many of whom also attend Beechmont. As Braaksma considered how Beechmont might respond to the educational crisis exacerbated by Covid, a local organization, which was hosting a site where students could gather safely during the pandemic for physical and virtual support, encouraged the church to start their own.

“What’s a good image for God’s kingdom?” asked the Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle, Beechmont’s part-time pastor. “It is a mustard seed, a small mustard seed that grows into a bush that gives the birds a place to nest in its shade. That is why I think that Beechmont and other churches like it are not small. They are mighty and full of possibilities to build the kingdom of God.”

From January through May 2021, the church ran a full-time, five-days-a-week instructional program for 10 immigrant children. Today, the Beechmont Learning Hub continues as an after-school program serving 21 immigrant children.

“We’re building a community for families that need extra support when it comes to the educational system, with or without Covid,” said Sarah Hong, an elder at the church. It’s also building a stronger Matthew 25 church because the learning hub intersects with the work of eradicating poverty through education and with renewing congregational vitality.

Building foundations of faith

Another initiative supported by the Pentecost Offering that similarly advances the objectives of Matthew 25 is the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program: an ecumenical, faith-based year of service for young people ages 19–30 in sites across the United States and around the world.

Two recent YAV alums, Akilah Hyrams and Noah Westfall, both credit their gap years in the YAV program not only with strengthening the foundations of their faith, but also with leading them toward their chosen careers in public health.

Hyrams, a 2022 graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, spent her 2016–17 YAV year serving in the Philippines, while Westfall was placed with the YAV site in Austin, Texas, where he served Texas Impact, an interfaith advocacy organization located directly across the street from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Embracing the PC(USA)’s call to be a Matthew 25 Church, YAVs accompany local agencies working to address the root causes of poverty and reconciliation while simultaneously exploring the meaning of their Christian faith and accountability to their neighbors in the community with peers and mentors.

“The YAV program continues to walk alongside young adults just like Noah and Akilah to help with their vocational discernment in areas such as race, poverty and church vitality, the three focus areas of Matthew 25,” said Destini Hodges, the YAV program’s coordinator. “Many times, YAVs are able to experience the intersection of all three of these pillars within their placements.”

Upon first discussing the YAV program with her mother, a PC(USA) pastor, Hyrams said that they both knew instantly it was the kind of program she was looking for, especially the opportunities it offered to travel to other countries.

“The YAV program wasn’t a missionary program that most people associate with church volunteers, but rather it provided me with an opportunity to immerse myself in a community and culture that was very different from my own,” said Hyrams.

Because of the interest Hyrams had already expressed in pursuing a medical career, her YAV site coordinator in the Philippines was able to customize her YAV experience based on her vocational aspirations and interests.

Westfall’s direction at graduation was somewhat less clear. With an undergraduate major in philosophy, he found himself seriously questioning whether he could find a practical application in his field of study. “Since there aren’t a lot of jobs in philosophy, I wondered how I might best use my love of thinking and asking questions, and then I learned about the YAV program,” Westfall said.

Working at Texas Impact gave Westfall his first experience of the policymaking process, which was excellent preparation for his current role as program coordinator for the Primary Care Collaborative. He joined the Washington, D.C.-based health-care advocacy nonprofit in the spring of 2021, after first earning a master’s in public health from George Washington University.

Because of the YAV program’s historic emphasis on justice issues, especially racial reconciliation and poverty, both Hyrams and Hodges would like to inspire more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) youth to get involved in the PC(USA) and apply to the YAV program.

“The Pentecost Offering supports the demographic of the church that is vital to our existence,” said Hodges. “It is our Christian duty to equip, educate and elevate youth and young adults during their discernment as Christians.”

Emily Enders Odom is the mission interpretation project manager for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Mission Engagement and Support team.

Editor’s Note

Due to continuing pandemic precautions, the 2022 Presbyterian Youth Triennium (PYT) has been canceled.

The PYT team is proceeding with its plans for “PYT Beyond” and “Triennium Connect,” newly expanded ministries for youth that will offer virtual sessions and online courses related to the theme based on the Matthew 25 Scripture: “When Did We See You?”

For more information or to participate, visit The Pentecost Offering continues its support of the Presbyterian Youth Triennium.

Learn More

For more ideas and information on the Pentecost Offering, visit

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