Community, Family, and Cohort: An Interview with Second-year Resident Sara Palm

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I’m originally from the East Coast, outside Washington, D.C. and I attended UT Knoxville where I majored in Spanish and International Agricultural Economics. For seven years prior to coming to CYMT, I lived in St. Louis where I worked as a teacher’s aide for the English Language Learning Department of a middle school and as a youth director for St. Andrew UMC, a multi-cultural Methodist church. I have two awesome kiddos, Andrew (10) and Christopher (5), although my youth call themselves my “kids” as well. I love riding my bike, reading, and traveling.

My CYMT story actually begins with my Grandma. Grandma is my number one youth ministry volunteer. She is my maternal Grandmother who has lived with or near me since I was seven. When I was working at St. Andrew UMC, we took the youth group to Youth 2011, the national United Methodist youth conference at Purdue University. Grandma had a blood clot in her leg and had postponed surgery so she wouldn’t miss a trip with her extended “grandchildren.” At the conference, we decided to attend a seminar that required her to walk a great distance, and when we arrived it was canceled. I wasn’t going to make her walk anymore to find a new seminar, so we attended the one in the next room. That seminar was led by Deech Kirk, who spoke about CYMT. I was sold. I knew that was the program I needed to be a part of.

The Importance of Community

I currently serve at First United Methodist Church in Covington, Tenn. This community is very different from the multi-cultural community I left in St. Louis, and we really love being here. I have about 20 active youth from grades six through 12. We have a very traditional setup of programming, Sunday School, Wednesday night Bible study, and youth group on Sunday evening. We are a mixed age group all the time, so we’ve come up with some creative ways to have small groups within current programming. Our youth group time is split between boys and girls small groups, junior and senior high small groups, and a combined game night with First UMC Munford, Tenn., on different Sundays of each month. I also go to a lot of ball games, as this is a very active community with regards to sports. In addition to the sporting events, I attend my students’ Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings, a morning breakfast club, and chapel at the private schools, which keeps me busy all year long.

Balancing this job as a single mom has been easier in Covington than I imagined. I live next door to the church, so if I need to be home with my kids, I’m still close enough that all three of us can go over if we need to be in the building. Grandma watches the boys for me much of the time, but I also have some great adults in the church who watch the boys for me if Grandma and I are both with the youth. The parents here are very respectful of my time with my own kids, not expecting me to work past my contracted amount per week. We have good friends here and really feel at home here.

The biggest challenge for me here is the cultural change. I am a very liberal person, socially and politically, and this is a very conservative area, so mostly I keep my opinions to myself. However, I’ve been able to be in relationship with those who think differently from me and to love them. I have never had to do that before because I’ve surrounded myself with people who think like me. I think this has been the best learning experience for me by far, to not just tolerate those whose views I don’t agree with, but to love them without expecting them to change.

The Importance of Family

Covington FUMC is so much like a family. With this being a small town, many of the youth are related–either they are siblings or cousins–but that familial relationship extends beyond the actual family bonds. The youth in this church have labeled themselves my “youthalogical” children, to differentiate themselves from my biological children, and in a lot of ways I am a mom to them. I break up squabbles, dry tears, bandage wounds, and make sure they pick up after themselves.

But where I see God in their family relationships is during meal time. When we go on a retreat or a trip together, all my kids eat together: by that I mean if the boys get to the dining hall first, they wait for the girls, and they all sit at the same table. If someone is missing, they go find him or her, and they make sure everyone has a seat at the table, no matter how we have to arrange ourselves. No one is excluded from joining the “family” either; if people from another group want to sit with them they make room, and make sure the family is all together. This to me is the Kingdom at work together. They love each other, but that love isn’t just turned inward. There is always room for a bigger family.

The Importance of the Cohort

I could say all kinds of great things about CYMT, about the classes and coaching, but the greatest way CYMT has impacted my ministry is through relationships with other cohorts, specifically through my relationship with Lauren Gilliland. Lauren graduated from CYMT in 2013 right before I came to Covington. She serves at Munford UMC within the same county in which I serve. Lauren and I both have a passion for the connectional church, so our groups do a lot together. We meet once a month for a combined game night, and we spent much of the summer doing combined activities, such as a mission trip and a youth activities weekend.

Beyond our relationship as youth directors she has become family; we get confused for sisters around town all the time, and my boys call her “Aunt” Lauren. She stays with the boys while I’m on CYMT retreats and takes them to school for me. Lauren is just one example of how the CYMT community helps me to be the best at my job. CYMT impacts us the most through relationships.

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