After 20 years leading Arlington United Church and many years of supporting marginalized groups in the community, Pastor Deena Jones is retiring.
Jones began serving at Arlington United Church on Sept. 5, 2000. Her final day was on June 30 and a farewell parade was held for her on June 28.
Between her support of homeless people through programs like the Arlington Emergency Cold Weather Shelter, her volunteering in the community, and her support of racial equality, many in the community said Jones has helped improve the community.
"Helping the homeless has always been a passion of hers," said Jessica Ronhaar, director of the Stilly Valley Youth Dynamics.
"She helped to start the cold weather shelter about 10 years ago that rotates through a number of Arlington churches," said Ronhaar.
The emergency cold weather shelter has operated for 10 years, although it wasn't able to open last year because of complications.
Jones was one of the people who helped the program get off the ground.
"It's one of those things where I was thinking 'what is our part in helping the community?' and everywhere I looked I saw a homeless person, so I think the Lord was trying to tell me something," she said.
At that time there was nowhere for local homeless individuals to go on a cold night.
"People would come to me and I would have no shelter to recommend to them," said Jones. "So when I started it, it was partly out of my own desire to have something to say.”
Typically, the shelter would rotate between a number of churches in the community.
"It was good to work together with the other churches here," she said.
The "Brown Bag Brigade" which provided lunches to families in need and homeless individuals was also a project that Jones supported.
"As patrons would come to the food bank they would hand out those lunches there while they were waiting in line," said Jan Bauer, a member of the Arlington Kiwanis.
Jones also participates in community organizations and services, such as the Arlington Kiwanis, a local service club that supports youth and gives out scholarships.
"She participates in all our activities," said Bauer.
"We have our Fourth of July auction that she always helps at, and our swag making event around Christmas she also helps with," Bauer said.
Throughout the years Jones has served as the Kiwanis Club’s president and in other officer positions as well, said Bauer.
Arlington United Church regularly supports local events such as the Hometown Halloween and Easter egg hunts.
At the city's Easter events volunteers with the church would usually provide snacks for attendees.
"It was fun to interact with the kids there and just bless the event," said Jones.
After the 2019 El Paso shooting which was targeted Latino individuals and left 23 people dead, Jones helped to organize a "No Place for Hate" rally that started at the church and went to Legion Park.
"That's an indicator of how she tries to serve the people in our community that have been traditionally marginalized," said Will Nelson, the director of equity and student success at Arlington High School who also spoke at the event as a member of the Blackfeet Nation.
"She was out there in support of people in our community," said Nelson.
Jones also spoke at the recent Black Lives Matter protest in Arlington as well.
"She has been dedicated in her work as a pastor and as a community member, especially to help people whose voices are often under-heard," said Nelson. "That work will be missed.”
Many people said they appreciated all of the work Jones did throughout the years.
"She's just a quiet person who is always ready to do things behind the scenes," said Bauer.
"She's been a pastor here for 20 years and has always been someone who is there when you need her. Her door was always open," said Ronhaar.
Jones said she has enjoyed her time in Arlington as well.
"We always loved the Arlington community," she said. "It's just a really friendly community and a beautiful place."
Jones is retiring because of health issues and needs to see how her recovery goes, but she hopes to continue being a part of the Arlington community.
"I'll probably try to be more involved with Stronger Together, which is an organization promoting racial diversity in Arlington," she said. "I'm not going anywhere for a while."
Arlington United Church Is under the United Methodist system, so the new pastor has already been appointed.
Pastor Cecilia Comer began work with the local church on July 1.
"We're really excited for Pastor Comer," said Jones, who said the church will not miss a service.