Tarleton State Ministry Brings Comfort

In the summer of 2019, Mackenzie Campbell-Furtick began working part time as the Campus Missioner at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Stephenville. Her primary role is to serve as a liaison between St. Luke’s and the students at Tarleton State University, which is just across the street from St. Luke’s.

She also works with programs and events for the on-campus organization, St. Luke’s Episcopal Campus Ministry (ECM). Both these roles had been partially funded with grants from the Mission and Outreach Committee of the Episcopal Church in North Texas, now the North Region of the Diocese of Texas. She is now full time.

Campbell-Furtick barely had her feet on the ground when Covid hit. Plans for student get-togethers and in-person events had to be completely re-thought.

“We have to scale back our ideas . . . I work hard to keep everyone safe,” she said, noting that masks are required for every event, something not popular in the Stephenville area.

When Covid hit, “technology guru” was added to her title as she managed online worship.

You Are Loved Library
As the Campus Missioner program has been able to move safely into meeting in-person, one increasingly successful program is the weekly You Are Loved Library.

“It’s basically an opportunity to have them just feel comfortable in a church setting without it being necessarily church-focused. It can be a study opportunity, hang out, play games, we may have a meal, or we might have snacks,” she said.

Mentors from the parish “share their wisdom or are there to offer advice or listen to the students if they have something they want to say or get off their chest.”

She says she often refers to St. Luke’s as an oasis, a hidden gem. 

“They come to see friendly people and be themselves really because a lot of the students we have are very vulnerable. They have depression and anxiety. We have a lot of LGBTQ+ students . . .and in our tiny town, we’re basically the only place that accepts them,” she said.

“Once you’re here, you’re loved no matter what . . .you are loved, no exceptions.” she said.

She said that while they welcome any student, it is the message of unconditional love that has resonated.

“We didn’t really set out to get the marginalized but we offered ourselves as people who will accept and love the marginalized. It’s a lot of who we serve. I love it so much. You just can tell that sometimes these students don’t have family and we are their family.”

Indeed, some of the mentors from the parish are referred to as grandparents by the students. And while they don’t have huge numbers, for the students they serve they are a vital touchpoint.

“I’ve heard from several students. One in particular said if it weren’t for our ECM Group plus one of the mentors and another person at the university, they would have dropped out of school. I felt like that just is a testament to what we offer here.”

It is also a testament to the trust she and the mentors have built with the students that they are so willing to share their fears, their dreams, indeed, their lives, during the Monday night library meetings.

“. . . it got very real very fast . . . I was pleased that they were willing to share so many vulnerable stories with us very quickly,” she said.

Students giving back
So welcome have the students felt that some come back to help with St. Luke’s Food Pantry. Others have started attending worship and have become lectors on Sunday.  They serve on the altar guild. One student got baptized last year and confirmed this year.


She had hoped to organize sending some students to General Convention in Baltimore, but the shortened and smaller Convention put in place as part of Covid precautions meant that wasn’t possible. 

She said that the support from the Episcopal Church in North Texas, coupled with that of the parish, has been key to their success in challenging times.

“We’re very lucky to be a part of this diocese. The whole reason this program started was because we got a big grant from the diocese. That made it possible,” she said. 

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