Journey brings Stump to Oakland Christian Church of Christ
Published 4:45 pm Wednesday, June 28, 2023
The journey that led the Rev. Jason Stump to Oakland Christian Church of Christ is not one he had planned.
But serving the community at the 5641 Godwin Boulevard church turned out to be the calling that God has for his life.
In a recent interview, Stump discussed his journey, Oakland Christian’s work, applying the principles of Matthew 25:31-46, his interruption signs and helping others to feel better about having faith.
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Following his graduation from high school, Stump attended Norwich University, a private college in Vermont on a four-year ROTC scholarship studying civil engineering. Originally, he had dreams of a military career, with plans to retire as a military officer and get into politics.
This changed due to knee issues, leading Stump receiving a medical discharge toward the end of his university career.
During this time in his senior year in college, he began looking into seminaries, while at the same time putting out applications for engineering firms.
“I was struggling with this transition [of] my dream not being able to happen, but yet knowing there was something more. And I’ve always felt a connection, I’ve always been involved in church in some way,” Stump said.
He looked back at a “benchmark” moment in his life while attending the campus chapel in the early hours one morning.
“I sat in that chapel and I prayed this prayer that the chaplain at the time would always say, ‘My answer is yes Lord. What is your question?’” he said. “I feel like I knew then, in that moment, the call was there.”
After college, Stump got a job in construction management, which eventually led him to the Hampton Roads area. Through this time, Stump also became a father, dealt with a custody battle and became a school teacher at Kings Fork Middle School. Despite the enjoyment he got from working with and teaching children, he said he struggled with the educational system.
“I will say I got pretty miserable towards the end of the six years,” Stump said. “I think I did a good job teaching, but I didn’t enjoy going to work.”
Having a conversation with God and himself on Godwin Boulevard, a 38-year-old Stump debated what he wanted to do with his life. Stump said this led him to a call to pastor in Pennsylvania and finish his seminary degree at Lancaster Theological. Eventually he said he was called back to Oakland once again, but as pastor.
“Church has always been the place where I felt most at home in both being myself and feeling the most purpose,” Stump said.
On Oakland Christian’s work
Prior to becoming pastor, Stump worshiped at Oakland Christian and served as a youth leader for the church’s middle school group and as director of Christian education for two years.
While calling the church a “unique” place, he said those in the congregation call it Suffolk’s “best kept secret” in both a sense of pride and shame.
“More people should know about this place, and I will always feel that because I think that they are doing the Lord’s work – not all of the Lord’s work. We can’t do it all. There’s other places that do some things better than us – but the work going on at Oakland is really good, always has been,” Stump said. “We’re a place that brings along the foundational beliefs that have always been there, but is learning how to apply them in a world that is always evolving. I think our relationship with God is always growing and evolving too.”
Five years ago, Oakland started a campaign to add a community life center to the church grounds as a space for the community’s use, not just the church.
Stump said the building now sees constant use by various groups five to seven days of the week.
Oakland celebrates paying off the center’s debt during July.
“The Ruritans meet there, people hold wedding receptions and birthday parties and garden clubs and book clubs and cub scouts. It’s been a way to reach out into our community, which is hard for churches to do,” Stump said. “It’s not hard to reach out into the community, it’s hard to do it from where you’re at, and they found it. I think it’s not because they built it, but it’s the purpose behind building it.”
6 things that Disciples of Christ should do for others
Reflecting on a sermon that he gave on the scripture, Matthew 25:31-46, Stump explained the importance of the verses and how Oakland is currently working to follow the six passages where Christ says to help others.
“I was hungry and you gave me food,” led to Oakland’s Loaves and Fishes program where once a month the church gives enough food to feed 50 families with no paperwork required of those in need. There also is a food pantry at the church for emergencies as well.
The church began collecting coins to go toward clean water, addressing “I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.” Stump said children decorate canisters with a clean water theme, and all the money goes to World Church Service to help bring people clean water.
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” is being met as Oakland is “hospitable to anyone who comes in our doors who’s seeking love and God,” he said.
The church collects clothing and works with the Salvation Army and Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk, to meet the scripture, “I was naked and you gave me clothing.” Oakland also provides gift cards for families in need of clothing.
“I was sick and you took care of me,” led the church to its program of visiting those who are sick in hospitals and at home.
Lastly on “I was imprisoned and you visited me,” Stump pointed to the church’s yearly work with the Salvation Army on the Angel Tree program. He noted of his work prior to Oakland with a group called Prison Fellowship and their Angel Tree program.
“What happens there is we get a list of children who are in our community whose parents are currently incarcerated,” he said. “The difference in this program is we don’t just send it off. We will shop for the items and then we will deliver them to that house, but we won’t say ‘this is from Oakland.’ We will say ‘this is from your mom or your dad, whichever parent’s incarcerated.’ I’ve done this in Pennsylvania and it is a really powerful experience.”
Helping the public and healing wounds
An interesting ritual that Stump does at coffee shops and restaurants is allow people to “interrupt” him. In these trips, he includes a sign at his table that reads, “I am a pastor, please interrupt me,” encouraging people to speak with him. On reception that people give him and his sign, Stump said it has been generally positive.
“Most times when I have the sign out, the general experience I’ve come to expect is people will smile and wave. They may say ‘I like your sign’ or ‘Thanks for doing this’ or ‘That’s a cool sign,’” Stump said.
He pointed to the sign’s importance in opening himself to the public following the pandemic’s effect of closing others off and the importance for simple social interaction.
From this experience, Stump recalled how both an ODU student and a woman working from home asked to “interrupt” him to hear about the church and Stump’s work as pastor. Regardless of whether they chose to attend Oakland after their talk, Stump said it was important to help them feel better about having faith.
“There’s a lot of people hurt by churches. People have probably been hurt by our church at times,” he said. “If it gives them another positive interaction with a Christian, or any person of faith, that’s helpful.”
He said this his way of saying: “If you want to talk to someone, I’m here. You never really know what someone is going through. Especially among teens, it’s just such a high rate of suicide.”
In his discussion with people, he has found many feel uncomfortable being in church due to various painful experiences in the past. He recalls some who “always wanted to be at home in the church,” but has heard things from pastors that have made them feel unwelcomed.
“What I was able to shed a deeper understanding and academic approach to what the scriptures might have said in their original language and how I think God’s relationship with humans evolved and what Christ was teaching when you look at the overall arc of it, and how that applies to the world today,” Stump said. “Not because we’re inventing our own new thing, but because we’re living more into what God wants.”
Stump said he was able to provide this for them.
“They felt more at home,” he said. “They heard things they had not ever heard from a pastor in 20 years, and I think it healed some wounds for them.”
Stump said he is concerned with how some churches in the past, and even now, have hurt others not including them.
“One of the biggest ways the church has created harm is by excluding people,” he said. “I just think that we have across the board, from including women more, to building handicap ramps at our community life center, and that in itself is healing. There is nothing in our church policies, constitution bylaws or in my understanding of Jesus’ teachings, that prevents anyone from living fully into a Christian life in our church. As you come into our church, you are qualified because you are a child of God to exist in our church,”
Stump has a message for anyone interested in Oakland Christian.
“I think the first thing I would say to anyone about anything to do with Christianity is to know that they are loved — just as they are. Just as they come through the doors. We know that God loves them, so that means we are to love them too. We’re human, and we might mess that up,” he said with a tear in his eye. “I believe everybody has the potential to do incredible good in their lives, and bad. We all have that potential. Oakland is a place where you can use your potential for good.”
Stump said Oakland is a great place for him to be any Sunday.
“I love being in worship. I can’t wait to get there to be with those people, but when I see a new face or an old face has returned, it’s even better,” he said. “So if they want to make a place better, come to Oakland.”