Rebekah Napier-Jameson was a graduate student from South Africa researching immunology when she began attending the Episcopal student ministry on her college campus through a friend’s invitation. She wanted something appealing to her interest in Bible study, traditional worship, and Gospel work. She found a match in the Episcopal Jacks, a college ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas at Stephen F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches.
Located in the pine forests of East Texas, SFA’s 13,000-member student body is small, with a big heart embodied in its strapping Lumberjack mascot, who carries a double-bit axe painted in school colors - bishop (SFA) purple and white. Planted in January 2015, the Episcopal Jacks is a small missional community operating without a physical location or paid staff, served by bi-vocational priest, the Rev. Ashley Cook, of Lufkin. The ministry is an independent restart of the student group previously funded by Christ Episcopal Church, next to campus. The parish graciously allows the newer ministry to use its youth area on many Sunday evenings, where students gather for meals, faith conversation, and worship.
When it comes to small ministry, Cook said she likes to remember the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Napier-Jameson experienced her first Holy Eucharist at SFA, receiving wafer and wine from a makeshift altar between the Foosball and ping-pong tables.
“I found the Episcopal student ministry very welcoming and warm. The weekly meetings gave me a sense of family. We would share a meal and news from our week, and then share in the Word,” she said.
Napier-Jameson, a Spring 2018 graduate, said she enjoyed helping develop a ministry partnership with the campus food bank, Food for Thought.
“This gave us an opportunity to help the student population in need of food support, “she said. “Episcopal Jacks will always have a warm place in my heart, and I am truly grateful for them and the work they are doing.”
Dalila Lillie Garcia, a Sociology major, joined Episcopal Jacks after searching for a faith community where she felt she fit in. Already researching online, she said it was a difficult experience with friends that truly sent her looking for a place to belong.
“As corny as it sounds, I wanted to find a place where I felt at home. I visited a few churches in Nacogdoches along with a few Christian organizations on campus, but it wasn’t until a friend of mine suggested the Episcopal Jacks that everything, became clear,” she said.
Last semester, Garcia excitedly recruited students at the Ash Wednesday “Ashes to Go” event the ministry hosted on the student quad. More than 100 students and faculty stopped to receive ashes and prayer at what has become a popular annual event on campus. Confirmed in the Catholic tradition, Garcia has asked to be Received into the Church when Bishop Andy Doyle makes his visit to SFA later this Fall.
“I feel like I have been called to be Received because I feel like in the Episcopal Church I can be 100 percent myself. I don’t have to pretend to be anyone other than me. I can be my imperfect self and not feel judged,” Garcia said.
TJ Powell, Nursing major, grew up in the Episcopal Church and said he has found a satisfying continuing connection in college ministry.
“Episcopal Jacks really helped me keep my faith through the semesters,” he said. “I felt like I could connect with people who were going through the same situations I was.”
A recent hate-speech vandalism incident on campus prompted the ministry to make a recent stand with the student NAACP and other groups condemning the act, calling for prayer and a focus on the all-embracing love of Christ. Gabi Harris, Political Science major, saw the Episcopal Jacks tweets on the issue, and reached out to join the ministry in the Fall 2018 semester, following her family’s recent decision to join an Episcopal Church back home.
“For a while I stopped believing. It was hard for me to believe in anything, really, when I saw the hate and bigotry that had overcome our country. It took me awhile to believe again; however, when my dad and stepmom found a new church that they seemed really excited about, I was more than open to attending. Going into that church specifically with those people, made me realize that this is what our country is,” Harris said. “Sharing that peace with one another and truly feeling God’s embrace is something I’ve only experienced in the Episcopal Church. With that said, I found it only fitting to spread that love in a place that matters to me the most: my college campus.”
The Episcopal Jacks meet weekly on or off campus. Follow them @EpiscopalJacks on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Contact: via PM or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.