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Polly Dickson: “Bad Cop” with a Servant’s Heart

Polly Dickson.JPG

Polly Dickson has been volunteering as a youth leader at St. Philip’s for 17 years, which means, if the middle schoolers are correct when they guess that she’s 25 now, she started when she was just eight years old. For 16 of those years, she’s worked side by side with youth minister David Gilbert, and they’ve developed a leadership style for middle schoolers that works for them. “We joke about it––I’m the bad cop, so he gets to be the good cop,” she explains. “That means I call the kids out if they do something like take too much candy at once, and David can be the fun one.”

Polly is comfortable with that dynamic, though, as a lot of her work is done behind the scenes: ordering dinner on nights without parent volunteers (she’s got her own formula for figuring out the number of pizzas to order), informing David (whom she describes as a “free spirit”) when it’s 8:00, and making sure all the doors are locked at the end of the night. She also helps assure non-St. Philippian parents that yes, it’s ok to drop their kids off. “They’ll say, ‘We don’t really go to church,’ or, ‘We go to church, but not this one,’ and I’ll say, ‘That’s ok. Everybody is welcome.’”

Polly is the one who keeps the games honest (you must remain seated while throwing the ball in dodgeball) and the one who makes sure the candy leaves in stomachs, not in hands or pockets. It’s the candy and the games, she thinks, that draw the kids in. “We act up with each other and just have fun,” she says, “but then we ask them to just give us 20 minutes.” In that time––which, ok, might be closer to 30 minutes––the kids settle in to watch a fun video, pray, and recite a memory verse. Prizes for diligent memorization might range from a can of SPAM to Clemson or Carolina tumblers. “It’s just a safe place to come on a Friday night,” Polly says. 

It’s safe and so much fun, in fact, that the kids sometimes attempt to extend their time at youth group by telling their parents it ends at 9:00. The high schoolers who meet for youth group on Sunday nights also wish they didn’t have to leave at 8:00, and since many of them drive themselves, they don’t necessarily have to. “We don’t rush them out at 8:00,” Polly says.

While this year’s high school group is larger than it’s been in recent years as a particularly large 8th-grade contingent has moved on to 9th grade, Polly still describes Sunday evenings as like hanging out with family. “It’s just this whole new energy,” she says. “It’s the same type of format as Friday night, but it’s a different feel.” And though it’s an older group than the Friday night crowd, they’re not beyond seeing Polly’s “bad cop” side––they just don’t see it that frequently. “They’re rambunctious, but in a good way,” she says.

Youth group

If you have a child in 6th through 12th grade who has not yet checked out youth group, drop him or her off this weekend and enjoy a couple of hours to yourself! Your child will have a blast getting to know the kids and Polly, David, and the rest of the team, which includes Polly’s niece Sarah Silcox, pizza formula heiress. To get youth ministry updates, including calendar changes, tips for serving youth group dinners (there are lots of openings––please volunteer!), and news of service projects, click below to sign up for youth minister David Gilbert's email newsletter.

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