“Mama, I want some!”

Moving to DC taught me that there has been a constant in my life that has been so present that I never imagined life without it: being around kids A LOT of the time. My life is marked by the kids I babysat, the kids I tell stories about and follow on Facebook (which constantly makes me feel old). Catherine, Michael, and Bryce were my first. Then Susanne and Riley, and Carson and Kaleigh (and later Jackson!). Then Marshall and Walker entered the scene, along with Trevor and Crawford. Even in Arkansas I babysat: Linden and Evie, and Tobin, Vada, and River. In Maryville, Daniel and Asher quickly entered my life. Summers were full of Presbyterian preacher’s kids: Stockton, Anderson, Hannah, Charlie, Caroline, and Thomas! Children are a constant, and I’ve been feeling the hole that not being around kids has left in me.

Last Sunday at New York Avenue Presbyterian, I had the chance to give the children’s sermon and then go to Worship Play with the few kids in worship who weren’t at the all church retreat. It was the most restorative day I’d had in a long time. We read stories about Moses, sang Pharaoh, Pharaoh, and ate fruit snacks. I heard about Halloween costumes and how school was going, and made a fool of myself with dramatic motions during our song and different voices during the Bible stories. It was wonderful, but I knew that it would not be an every Sunday kind of activity.

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The main part of my job on Sunday mornings is working in the Radcliffe Room, a breakfast/hospitality ministry that NYAPC offers each Sunday. Guests can come and get clothes that they need from the clothing closest, some coffee and breakfast, and then have space to hang out and talk to one another or to church members, sing spirituals or hymns, attend a Bible study, or simply rest for a little while. It’s incredible to see every week, but today was different.

This morning, a woman that I hadn’t met before came in with her little girl who is probably around two. I had been told that if a child were to come in, I should go pick a few books from the nursery to give them since we don’t typically have children’s clothing. I went and asked her mother if she would like that, and then tried to find books that I knew were fun. After I had delivered the books, I returned to the stage to keep the women’s clothing area pretty organized and visit with the guests that I’ve come to know, but I was super excited when the mom and toddler came onto the stage. Her mom and I talked a little bit and she told me some of her story. She made a point to tell me that even though she was having to start over from nothing, she knew that keeping God first was the key to feeling like she could make it.

Towards the end of Radcliffe Room, one of NYAPC’s parish associates served communion to the guests. She began by telling a story about the saints of the world, defining saints as “those who let the light of God shine through them.” She spoke about the saints in all of our lives who have shaped and guided us, and I could feel the room settle as we all thought of those people who immediately come to mind. As she spoke the words of institution and prepared to take the plate and cup around to each of the guests, those of us standing around the piano began to sing Let Us Break Bread Together.

The mother and her daughter had moved to sit closer to the piano so that they could sing and hear the music, and while Beth moved around the room and we sang the song, the little girl grew impatient. She had watched attentively while Beth spoke and prayed, and grinned when the music began to play. Her impatience showed itself with her ever louder cry: “Mama, I want some! Mama, I want some!”

Beth served the little girl and her face lit up. She held that piece of bread while she heard the words, “This is the bread of life, for you!,” and gleefully ate it and drank the grape juice out of the little cup that was just her size.

If the saints are those who let the light of God shine through them, then I met a saint this morning: a tiny little girl with a bright pink coat whose shouts of “Mama, I want some!,” would not be ignored.

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I Want to Cover Up.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks in this election cycle. Granted, it’s been a rough election. I dread looking at the news in the morning, wishing that I could avoid seeing the new ways people are being attacked, both through words and actions. It’s been a rough election.

I’ve been thinking about sexism a lot during my YAV year. It’s hard not to considering how much of the news is about the ways that Donald Trump continues to put women down again and again. I open the NPR app on my phone and read about Donald Trump talking about sexually assaulting women, and then I open Facebook and read about how “words are just words!” But I’m here to say that words aren’t just words. It could just be me, but words cut deeply. Words live with me, and it’s a whole lot harder to figure out a way to send them out of my head.

Tonight I watched Michelle Obama’s speech from last week in which she responded to the video of Donald Trump on the Access Hollywood bus, and it made me think about all of the things that have been said to me in the church, the things said that make me want to cover up.

“I could barely pay attention to your sermon because your legs are so distracting!”

“You’re a cute little girl with a cute little figure!”

“You look like you’re ready for a hot date!”

“You do know that that cookie is fattening, right?”

These are just a few of the comments made to me over the few years in college that I worked as an employee at a church. Several of those were made while I was shaking hands after worship. After each of those comments, I found myself thinking, “It’s alright. Once you’re ordained, you can wear a robe. Maybe if you’re covered up, people won’t say these things. Maybe then they’ll just comment on your hair.” Isn’t that screwed up? I think it took me until the last few weeks to realize how screwed up it is. I am angry that my first thought is that I need to cover up. I am angry that I feel anxious about the comments about my body more than I am anxious about what people will think of my sermons.

What kind of church are we creating for the girls and women who are a part of it? What are we doing? I’m genuinely fearful of what will happen if this “words are just words” mentality continues.

I want to cover up. I want to hide my body so that maybe men will stop making comments that make me feel uncomfortable. I want to cover up the body that God created, and I want to cover up because I’m afraid. And that’s not okay. We’re better than this, y’all. Why don’t we act like it?

Ready or not, here we go!

After months of prayer and preparation, it doesn’t feel real that today is the day I’m heading to Stony Point, NY, for orientation with the other 80+ YAVs. Now seemed as good a time as any to write a quick post to check in before kicking off the year.

Since I last posted, I’ve found out what my placement is for the year! I feel incredibly lucky to have been placed with NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. They are very different sites, but I feel like they are the places I’m meant to be for this year. At NYAPC I’ll primary work with social outreach through their Community Club tutoring program and the Radcliffe Room Ministry. With NEXT I’ll be able to go through community organizing training and also see what it’s like to run a non-profit like NEXT. I’ll do a lot of behind the scenes administrative stuff such as fundraising, connecting with people to let them know about the things that NEXT does, etc. I think that these sites will be really interesting and that I’ll learn so much.

This summer I’ve spent as much time as I can with the people I won’t get to see as much as I’d like over the next year. In preparation for the year, what I’ve realized is that the only thing I’m truly anxious about is feeling disconnected from “my” people. I’ve been on a bit of a Bob Dylan kick and a particular line from Forever Young has stood out to me over the past couple of weeks: “May you have a strong foundation/when the winds of changes shift.” The winds of changes have shifted, but this summer has reminded me of how strong my foundation is.

I’ve spent at least a week of almost every summer of my life in Montreat, NC, and almost always with the same group of people. They’re my family and my foundation, and being away from them for so long will be hard, but they’re excited for me and I know that they’re always a text or phone call away. The reunion will be that much sweeter!

In all honesty, that really is my biggest fear/anxiety. I’m so excited to see what this year will bring. I know that it won’t always be easy, but I cannot wait for the new experiences and relationships waiting for me.

Now that the time has come to really begin the year, I’m very aware of ways that I will need support this year.

  • Pray for me and for the people with whom I will live and serve this year. It will be a year of growth, change, and adventure and your prayers would be so appreciated.
  • Follow my experience by reading or following my blog! I will be updating periodically with stories of my time in DC and would be excited to read your reactions in the comments section!
  • Send me a card! I love receiving notes in the mail. They help me remember how blessed I am to be connected to so many wonderful people. If you want to send a card or a note, contact me and I’ll send you my address.
  • Contribute to my fundraising efforts! Each YAV is asked to fundraise at least $3000 to help finance their year of service, but going above and beyond is fabulous and helps the program immensely. You can donate online at http://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/e051477/ by entering the amount that you’d like to donate and then adding “Sarah Dianne Jones” to the comment box that will appear when you’re asked for your billing address, or by sending a check made out to the PCUSA to Presbyterian Church (USA) Remittance Processing, PO Box 643700 Pittsburgh, PA 15264. On the memo line, include my name and the number E051477.

I’m so grateful for the amazing support I’ve already been given. I can’t wait to have more to share!

Sarah Dianne

New beginnings

It’s hard for me to believe that I graduated from Maryville College over a month ago! I’ve spent the majority of my summer traveling with various groups of youth from Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church where I’m serving as their summer intern. It’s been wonderful so far and I’ve been grateful for the new friendships that have begun and experiences I’ve had, and also for the many chances there have been to tell people about what I’ll be doing this fall. 

In August I will be moving to Washington, D.C., to spend a year with the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program. I’m not sure yet what my exact job will be, but there are several possibilities including working with the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness, NEXT Church, and Church of the Pilgrims. I’m excited by the possibility of working with any of the placements and look forward to having a better sense of what I’ll be doing. 

I know that this year will be life changing. YAVs are asked to live outside of their comfort zone and to focus on the needs of others. My faith will change and grow in ways that I cannot yet imagine, but I am confident that the lasting impact will be a good one. I know however that this is not something that I can do on my own. 

Though I haven’t yet begun my year of service, there are already ways that I know I’ll need support. One of these is prayer. Please pray for me! Another is by checking in once the year has begun. I love how connected I’ve always been with friends and family (chosen and blood!). The idea of being this far away from the people I love so much is hard, but a quick text to say hello or to check in would be so appreciated. 

The final way is really important. The YAV program asks those who will be serving to each raise $3000 to help offset the cost of the program. I would greatly appreciate any help in reaching this goal! There are several ways to donate. One is by sending a check to: Presbyterian Church (USA) Remittance Processing, P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700. If you choose to send a check, please write this in the memo line: Sarah Dianne Jones, Washington DC, E051477. This will ensure that it goes to the correct place. You can also donate online by following this link: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/e051477/. If you donate online, make sure to write my name in the ‘comments/instruction section’ so that they know who the gift is for. My goal is to have all of the funds raised by September 1st!
I am so excited about this year! I’ll be updating this blog throughout the year about my experiences, hopes, fears, challenges and joys, and I hope that you will follow along and walk this journey with me!

Sarah Dianne