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This PC(USA) church in Stillwater runs deep

Innovative youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma, is featured during ‘Being Matthew 25’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Youth and young people are not the future of the church.

They are the church, as viewers of the August edition of “Being Matthew 25” learned Thursday. Watch the conversation with Jenna Campbell and Mabrie Baldwin of First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma, by going here.

Campbell is FPC’s director of children and youth ministry. Baldwin is a senior at Stillwater High School who’s preached sermons at the church and has delivered other significant ministry there as well. They were hosted by the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and DeEtte Decker, the PMA’s acting senior director of communications.

Campbell and Baldwin discussed the church’s “Pay It Forward” challenge made possible by a $5,000 bequest from a church member. Thirty-one children and youth each received $150 and were asked to “make a difference in the world,” Campbell said, using printed materials sent home by the church to prompt conversations “about where they see need in the world. It led to wonderful conversations and it led to empowering our youth to make a difference now.”

Encouraged to “grow their gifts and multiply their impact,” the 31 children brought in an additional $8,500. Twenty-three organizations or projects received funds. By raising money for RIP Medical Debt, one girl at FPC helped to wipe out more than $750,000 in medical debt for 488 Oklahomans. The pay-it-forward message, according to Campbell: “You might be one person, but you can make a difference. Your gifts and your passions can make a difference in this world.”

Baldwin and two friends started the red pantry at FPC, where period products are available free of charge for anyone who needs them. “We have kept it going. A lot of people have used it,” Baldwin said. “We see people taking the products and we see people restocking them. Period products — I think it’s a very good thing for people to have.”

Asked how embracing the Matthew 25 invitation has been transformational, Baldwin replied, “I used to believe that being a Christian meant you read the Bible, prayed and went to church. I still believe that, but now I know it’s also through action and helping others” and by “giving others grace and being open to everyone.”

“That will preach!” Decker told Baldwin.

“That’s the narrative. It’s discipleship in action,” Moffett said. “We’ve been called to be world-changers — not through our own power, but through the Holy Spirit’s power.”

Jenna Campbell

“I think you can see from Mabrie that they’re thinking about what faith means and what faith calls them to do,” Campbell said. “They are reflecting on who God is and that God is a loving God who cares for those who are oppressed and marginalized. If that was where Jesus’ focus was, it should be ours as well.”

Children and youth at FPC are thinking not only of community issues, but also about “the systemic issues that undergird those community issues,” Campbell said. “Justice asks ‘why,’ and we did a lot of asking ‘why.’ We educated ourselves on the why so we could be part of the effort to address the larger systemic issues in the community.”

“There are so many systems in our world that put people at a disadvantage from the beginning,” Baldwin said. Naming those disadvantages was the focus of a sermon she preached during youth Sunday at FPC. “I talked about how the country was founded and that people were at a disadvantage from the beginning,” Baldwin said. “We need to recognize that.”

“That’s great! You’re further along than most adults,” Moffett told Baldwin. “We have to tell the story — not to make people feel guilty but to help people get to the why so that unjust systems can be dismantled. Good job!”

“We don’t have to drag our youth into this,” Campbell said. “They are looking for ways to see how the church is relevant in this world, and they’re leading us through this.” A group of adults exploring antiracism asked the youth to come to their class to explain to them how youth think about the topic. “Our youth are seeing what the heart of the gospel is,” Campbell said, “and they’re leading us in that way.”

“It’s cool to have people open to continue learning from young people,” Baldwin said. “I really appreciate it. It feels good to have adults listening and learning.”

A moment of forgiveness

Melonee Tubb, loan assistance associate in Theology, Formation & Evangelism, took to the last segment of Thursday’s broadcast to talk about student loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which carries an Oct. 31 signup deadline.

The assistance program, which is explained here, is available for anyone with federal student loan debt and is serving a nonprofit or public service organization, Tubb explained.

It’s a new program, and for those “who think this isn’t for me, I want to make clear there’s a good chance that’s no longer true,” Tubb said. “Things have changed and there are now things that can help you. Take a look.”

“This,” Decker said, “is a life-changing opportunity.”

Melonee Tubb

Tubb graduated from seminary with $85,000 in student loan debt. “I got the first bill working for a profit where I was making, I don’t know, $27,000 a year, and they wanted me to pay $900 a month toward my student loan,” Tubb said. “I’m out there trying to fulfill … what God’s calling me to do. [Accumulated student debt] is debilitating and it will shut you down and make you feel like you have no hope and you cannot do this. I feel you. You are not alone … It’s so easy to let past inaction and past unawareness affect our decision-making right now. Please, please, please — just take a minute to click the link and let us help you.”

That’s the link to register for a free webinar to be held at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Aug. 25. The student loan consulting company PeopleJoy will help explain changes to Federal Student Loan policy and are available to provide free loan advising to everyone who qualifies — which is most people, according to Tubb.

“I hope everyone will take advantage of that free coaching,” Moffett said.

The next edition of “Being Matthew 25” is scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, Sept. 15. It’ll be available here.

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