On June 24, Jessa Seewald, star of TLC’s “Jill and Jessa: Counting On,” made her way to Middletown, Ohio, to talk about her modest way of dressing and living.
According to the event’s Facebook page, Jessa and a group of women were to gather at Heaven Highway Tabernacle. The mom of two was to address the congregation for about an hour. From there, a luncheon was planned for the group, where attendees would have a chance to meet with Jessa and take a photo.Dearly
Only females over the age of nine were allowed to attend. The event’s “about section” read:
Come hear first hand why Jessa has taken the road to modest living, while being directed by God’s Word.
It’s unclear whether Jessa was paid for her appearance or whether the proceeds from the event went to benefit the Pentecostal Church, of which Heavenly Highway Tabernacle is a member.
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Months before the event — in an effort to be transparent— I tried contacting Jessa’s team about the event. However, I was met with a lack of answers.
Regardless, I attempted to go to the event. A week before the event took place, I sent this email to one of the three women who were putting on the event:
My name is Sara Vallone. I am a journalist with Independent Journal Review [Dearly] based just outside of Washington, D.C.
IJR [Dearly] is considering attending Jessa’s “Fashionably Modest” event in Ohio on June 24 and was wondering if we would be able to get some one on one time with Jessa for an article or if she would be willing to work with us specifically for a quick video sometime during the event.
One of the ideas we had for a story was asking Jessa to analyze one of my day to day outfits explaining why she would or would not wear a certain article of clothing and kind of how her rules very from that of her mom or other sisters.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you soon.
After not receiving a reply, I purchased a ticket to the event and sent a second email, letting them know I was attending:
Sara Vallone with Independent Journal Review/Dearly, again.
I wanted to reach out to let your team know that I will be attending the Fashionably Modest event this weekend as a reporter.
Is there anything you need from me once I check into the event?
Thank you for your time.
I booked a flight to Ohio and reserved a hotel room.
Less than 48 hours before the event, I was told that it was “closed to the media” and that my $20 ticket for the event would be refunded:
Just letting you know this event is closed to the media! Sorry for any inconvenience! We will refund your ticket purchase! Thank you.
I still wanted to attend the event out of curiosity — not as a member of the media — so I attempted to repurchase my ticket and fly to Middletown, Ohio, anyway. I have “Proverbs 31:25” tattooed on me, which is the also the name of the production company that hosted the event.Dearly
Proverbs 31:25 is a Bible verse that reads:
“She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future.”
I was never reissued a ticket. I entered the tabernacle’s parking lot and went to talk with the women who were granting admission to the event. I was met with immediate push back by two attendees:
“Me: Excuse me? Hi, I’m a journalist and I was wondering…
Attendee: I’m not talking to you, you’re not suppose to be here.
Me: I’m not supposed to be in the event, but I was just…
Attendee: You’re not suppose to be on the grounds. If I go and tell them, they’ll go get the armed guards and they’ll ask you to leave.”
While it’s not confirmed whether people who attended the event were told not to talk with the media, the immediate push back to the simple mention of me being a journalist sure made it seem like it.
A Twitter conversation with another attendee added to my suspicions:
“Attendee: Honestly just so excited to meet @JessaSeewald today.
Me: Hi! I’m a journalist with http://Dearly.com . I would love to talk to u about the Jessa event. Pls email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Her response: Hi! They didn’t want any media at the conference, so out of respect to Jessa and Ben I can’t talk to you. Sorry!”
After being threatened with armed guards by the two attendees mentioned above, I walked off the premises. Moments later, the same two attendees pulled off the side of the road to watch me. This is their car pulling out of the driveway:Dearly
Roughly 15 minutes later, the tabernacle’s pastor, John Rice, met me where I was waiting for my Uber and apologized for any rudeness. I explained what happened, to which he responded, “Oh, that’s foolish.” He added:
“We never had an event quite like this and I think a couple of the people from the church were a little nervous.”
Rice attempted to pull a few attendees aside for me to talk to, but no one seemed willing.
The only known footage of the event is this two-minute live clip posted by the tabernacle’s official event:
Leading up to the event, Jessa never mentioned anywhere on her social media that she would be making an appearance in Ohio.
Overall it was an experience, and a strange one at that.