Little Jesus figures have been shared and hidden throughout the GA226 site.

Little Jesus figures have been shared and hidden throughout the GA226 site. Photo by Rich Copley

The Rev. Sharyl Dixon, a teaching elder commissioner from the Presbytery of the Coastlands, came prepared when she arrived at Salt Lake City for the 226th General Assembly. She was equipped with a “snackle” box and over 100 “little Jesuses.” 

There had been a planned infestation of the 1-inch rubber figurines during Eastertide when her congregation read the Road to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-35) of the resurrected Christ appearing to two travelers.

Dixon, pastor of Kingston Presbyterian Church in New Jersey described how the confirmation class had placed 500 of these Jesuses all over the church in windows, pews, bathrooms and coffee pots along with messages that said, “Where am I to find Jesus?” In Dixon’s sermon she invited everyone to take two—one for themselves and one for someone else. “Could you give Jesus to someone who might need him or put Jesus in a place where someone might be surprised to find him?” Dixon asked of her congregation.

“We don’t know when Jesus is going to show up,” said Dixon, adding “and we are not bringing Jesus. Jesus is already there.” Dixon had a similar idea in mind when she came to the Assembly. She placed little Jesus with multi-colored sashes in planted cacti and bookshelves around the hotel lobbies or in all gender bathrooms of the convention center when she needed a little bit of joy as the best-laid plans of the assembly’s agenda quagmired in questions and quandary.

But it was Dixon who was ultimately surprised. On Tuesday, a friend sent her a care package to her hotel with 200 more figurines and a note: “Have a great day with all of your friends.” While it was Dixon’s birthday, it had also been a day of particularly dense deliberations.

Sharyl Dixon of Coastlands Presbytery has been sharing Little Jesus figures with fellow participants in GA226 and hiding them around the GA site.

The Rev. Sharyl Dixon of Coastlands Presbytery has been sharing Little Jesus figures with fellow participants in GA226 and hiding them around the GA site. Photo by Rich Copley

“The question was, ‘Is Jesus all my friends or is the assembly all my friends?’ It could be both,” said Dixon. She admitted that despite the other pitfalls of the proceedings, “It has made today really fun.” Now holding more than 300 Jesuses, Dixon had to get the word out about them. She posted a photo and an invitation on the 226th General Assembly Facebook group commenting, “If you need a little extra Jesus today come on over to I-28.”

By Tuesday evening, Dixon had given out 250 Jesuses to assembly participants. But the good news of little Jesus could not be contained to Presbyterians. Hotel staff saw her giving away the figurines and asked if they too could have a little Jesus.

After evening plenaries, she was approached by the young waitstaff at the hotel restaurant. They shared with her and her tablemates why it was they needed a little Jesus. People deliberated over which Jesus spoke to them, explaining what their chosen color of his sash meant to them. Purple was a fan favorite, and blue and teal were also popular.

When Dixon apologized that while Jesus had a rainbow of stole selections, the figurines only came in one skin color with an unnatural hue, which was not historically or theologically accurate. Some took time to ponder the invitation to imagine Jesus as a real person, saying, “I always loved the depiction of Jesus as…” and then offering a cultural reference or “I see Jesus in …” before naming a person in their lives. Jesus could be anywhere. Christ could be anyone — in Emmaus or Salt Lake City.

“Do you mind if I take two of these for my VIP guests,” asked a hotel employee. More staff told other hotel guests not related to the assembly about the little Jesuses. One by one, strangers came up to Dixon’s table at the restaurant, sharing with her and her colleagues about their lives and how this Jesus symbol fit into it.

The stories ranged from drip to dolorous. One woman in her 20s explained she collected miniature ducks which she took with her to raves and delighted to have a Jesus now to watch over her ducks. The VIP guests turned out to be a widower and his 14-year-old grandson of whom he had guardianship. He explained that since the death of his wife, they were living in the hotel. They traveled all over the country, running a business remotely and completing school online. On the road together, they navigated the early stages of grief and tried to figure out what home would look like in this next stage of life so soon after the loss of their beloved.

Not quite able to express what the absence of his wife meant to him and how the presence of Jesus helped to fill it, the widower said, “Everybody needs a little Jesus.”