I am thrilled to introduce Jess Cook (they, them, theirs) as More Light’s new Program and Communications Manager! Jess will serve as our third full-time staff member alongside Joey Lopez and me. Some of you may know Jess from the LGBTQ youth workshop they led at the 2015 More Light National Conference. However, if you haven’t met Jess yet, let me help you get to know them!
When I posted the job description for the Program and Communications Manager, I acknowledged that I was looking for a unicorn: someone who had the design and communications chops to take our media work to the next level, experience in program management, and the theological or congregational experience to work alongside our More Light Churches and members. Jess is that unicorn.
Jess is currently a candidate for ordination in the PC(USA), has an MDiv from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA, and a Masters of Fine Arts in photography from the University of North Texas including graphic design experience. For the past four years, Jess has worked as the Youth Programs Director at Side-by-Side, an LGBTQ+ youth center in Richmond, VA. While at Side by Side, Jess grew the youth programs over 300%. Jess was part of building their existing youth programs, including a support group for trans youth and the first LGBTQ+ youth for Middle Schoolers on the east coast, and helped start a new group specifically for LGBTQ+ youth of color. In addition, Jess started a meals program at Side by Side and coordinated the messaging for the organization’s re-brand in 2016. If you want to see Jess talk about their work at Side by Side and how it translates to the work we do at MLP, check out their TEDX talk about what faith communities can learn from queer kids in capes.
Here’s what Jess had to say about joining the team at More Light:
When I started at Side by Side in 2011, I was beginning my third year of seminary. I came in with ideas of building bridges with faith communities in an attempt to make them safer for LGBTQ+ youth. Instead, I was drawn into the space itself and the kind of magic that happens when young people are truly seen and affirmed in who they are. I continue to be moved by the transformation I see in youth every day. More Light is the opportunity to do what I thought I would do those years ago, now more firmly rooted in the lived experiences of the people I’ve met as I communicate with congregational leaders about how to truly create space for LGBTQ+ people in their congregations. This job fits perfectly within both my formal education and my work experience and allows me the opportunity to fulfill my sense of call to help bridge the gap between the “LGBTQ+ world” and the “Church world.” I cannot wait to join the team and be part of the work and witness of MLP.
We are in an exciting time of growth here at MLP. More congregations than ever are joining More Light in a commitment to sharing God’s abundant love in a witness of welcome. People of faith have been taking to the streets and halls of their legislators to push back against discrimination, and faith communities are asking the important questions about how to live into LGBTQ inclusion. Jess’ gifts will strengthen and expand the work we are able to do together. Please join me in welcoming and celebrating a new chapter for More Light!
Alex Patchin McNeill