Jennifer Spellman Philo tapped into her creative side at an early age. The director of media services at Sulphur Springs’ First United Methodist Church made goodies for her classmates at Ennis High School, including heart-shaped brownies and a layer cake fashioned to look like a hamburger.
“I was always baking,” said the mother of two in a recent interview. “One time I saw a hamburger cake in Seventeen magazine, so I made it. I used fondant for the lettuce and cheese.”
She also learned to cross stitch and sew during grade school.
After graduating from Ennis High School in 1998, she attended Navarro College on a choir scholarship. She was involved with several groups and one time she happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“I was selling tickets at a basketball game when the assistant coach came over,” she remembers.
He said, “You’re in choir, right?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“I need someone to sing the national anthem,” he said.
So he handed her the microphone and put her in center court.
“It was the first time in my life I felt my knees knock,” she noted.
“I didn’t think I could walk off the court. I don’t know if I got the words right.”
Obviously, she did a good job; she had to sing it at every home game from then on.
“I was petrified, but it never occurred to me to tell the coach, ‘No,’” she said with a laugh.
Philo finished her education at the University of North Texas, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English. It was while she was a student at UNT that she met Craig. The couple married in 1993. They have two children, Jonathan, 16, and Corban, 12.
For the past year, Philo has been “IT” (information technologist) at FUMC, according to Senior Pastor Pete Adrian.
“She combines her creativity with technology,” Adrian notes. “She helps with ideas to enhance our worship services. She has a creative mind that feeds everyone else. That’s why I include her in everything.”
Trained to be a teacher, Philo was more attracted to business. She had worked in the office of an automotive shop while she was in college.
“I interviewed for teaching positions, and I felt awful,” she remembered. “Then, I interviewed for two business-type jobs, walked in and felt comfortable.”
After marrying, the couple set up housekeeping in Sulphur Springs, where Craig was employed as a middle school coach.
She took a secretarial job at Wesley United Methodist Church, where she stayed for six years.
While employed at Wesley, she and Craig became members at First United Methodist Church.
When she heard that FUMC might be looking for a part-time secretary, she thought it would be a good fit.
“By that time, we had two small children,” she noted. “If we could swing it financially, part-time work would be better for me.”
Her job duties at FUMC initially included doing the weekly bulletin and newsletter, using desktop publishing and her innate creativity to make the documents more interesting.
At home, she used her creativity to feather her nest – painting, decorating, sewing and hanging curtains, doing cross stitch and, of course, baking.
“Right now, I’m really into making these gigantic chocolate chip cookies,” she confessed. “They’re the size of a saucer and they’re pretty stinking good.”
Adrian says Philo is the bane of his efforts to stay on a diet.
“Everything she makes contains 14 pounds of butter, And, it’s absolutely delicious. I give up,” he jokes.
Being in the kitchen gives Philo a sense of completion.
“There’s a beginning, an end and usually a positive outcome,” she jokes. “It might not always look pretty, but it usually tastes good.”
For years, Philo dreamed of owning a KitchenAid stand mixer. She saved her pennies and birthday money, sought out rebates and used coupons in order to purchase a brightly persimmon-colored machine recently.
“That baby almost paid for itself,” she noted. “I do love it.”
Recently, Philo has been lifting projects from the popular site Pinterest. She’s been making sweet treats and sewing reversible purses.
“I do a lot of things,” she joked, “but I don’t do a lot of things well. It comes in spurts.”
Members of the congregation would disagree.
“First United Methodist has been blessed with Jennifer Philo, our multi-media facilitator,” notes long-time member Sue Ann Johnson. “She uses her creativity to enhance many of our services and programs.”
Before each worship service begins, Johnson says, “the announcements on weekly events, upcoming birthdays and special needs are already running as we come into the sanctuary. During morning worship, you will find the words to the hymns on three of the big screens in the sanctuary which allows us to read the words, in nice big print, while still being able to see our choir director, Carol Allen, lead us.”
Philo’s creativity doesn’t stop after worship service.
“The other uses for our media tools, like Vacaction Bible School, many youth programs and even our Harvest Sale each fall are now so much better due to the programs Jennifer and her technical crew provide,” Johnson notes.
Philo realizes that introducing technology into a historic, hallowed room like the FUMC sanctuary is a fine line to walk.
“It’s a hard balance to use cameras, a sound board and a bank of computers and still respect the history of that room,” she noted. “Mike Hoybook and Mike Smith are our tech geniuses. They've integrated everything into a space in the balcony.”
So far, Philo has left the sound and cameras to the guys, while she operates the computers.
“I have not ventured down to the soundboard,” she confessed. “I can turn it on and I know how to turn up the microphone for the pulpit, but the depth of my trouble-shooting knowledge is turning everything off and then turning it back on.”
On a typical Sunday, Philo prepares for the 8:30 a.m. service making any necessary adjustments to the announcements and making sure a photo of the altar flowers are included on the slides. Before the 10:45 services, Philo, Hoybook and Smith hold their own version of “Sunday School.”
“We talk shop,” she said with a laugh.
Philo was raised Baptist. Until recently, her home church had the same minister since Jennifer was in high school. It took some time to adjust to the Methodist way of rotating pastors in and out, but she appreciates the system because “you have to align yourself with the church and your church family, rather than a pastor.”
“I see these people six days a week,” she notes. “We’re a family.”
Director of Worship Arts Carol Allen is grateful for Philo’s many gifts and talents.
“On top of being shiny bright, she is able to juggle about 20 things at once and get them all taken care of in record time,” Allen said. “Need a dozen of the best cookies you ever ate? Need a video to go with music? Need a logo? A bulletin cover? A new business card? Who you gonna’ call? Jen Philo!”
Adrian includes Philo in his creative process because he says “she has unique ideas and she is our special asset.”
What’s most important to Philo is that she helps make the world a little brighter, taste a little better and become a little more spiritual.
“Our team tries to orchestrate a worshipful moment,” she said. “It’s like we’re putting a present together for the congregation each Sunday and we can’t wait to give it to them. I pray, ‘Please, let it spark something.’”
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