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Come as you are

The 2022 Walton Award recipients worship in a building, a garden and home gymnasium

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

First Light Fellowship in Anthem, Arizona, is one of three Walton Award recipients for 2022. During their Easter egg hunt this year, children found scriptural passages telling the story of Jesus. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Three new worshiping communities in Arizona, Georgia and Louisiana have been named winners of the 2022 Sam & Helen R. Walton Awards. Each recipient, listed below, will receive $15,000 for their excellence in furthering Presbyterian mission in their communities and neighborhoods.

  • First Light Fellowship (Presbytery of Grand Canyon, Synod of the Southwest) is the only Reformed expression of church in Anthem, Arizona, providing refuge and community for people who do not feel welcome or cared for by other Christian faith expressions. First Light strives to be in community with those who haven’t been exposed to the gospel message, encouraging those God has gathered to work for justice in their community. More than half of the 60 people who call First Light home haven’t been involved in church for over a decade, if ever. The Walton Award will be used to finish renovations on building space the presbytery recently acquired on First Light’s behalf with signage, furniture and audio-visual needs.
  • Okra Abbey (Presbytery of South Louisiana, Synod of Sun) is both a NWC and functioning community garden in the primarily low-income Pigeon Town neighborhood of New Orleans.

Residents of a primarily low-income neighborhood worship at Okra Abbey, a functioning community garden in the Pigeon Town neighborhood in New Orleans. (Contributed photo)

Through the growing of food and sharing of meals, Okra Abbey is building a unique community of faith. In a garden, people come as they are with their physical needs for food and water, with their questions and doubts, and their curiosity about faith. Surrounded by church buildings which are rarely open, except on Sunday, people in Pigeon Town are increasingly facing gentrification. Okra Abbey will use its Walton Award to purchase rainwater barrels and solar panels — green infrastructure which will allow it to be more resilient and operate more efficiently.

  • WAYS (With All Your Strength) (Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Synod of South Atlantic) is led by Nick and Liz Johnson, who converted their home garage into a nonprofit business, which includes “Cross Fit Liminal.” Here the Johnsons started an NWC. Worship modeling the rhythms and movement of the PC(USA)’s Book of Common Worship happens on the gym floor while the community is working out.

Nick and Liz Johnson (center) run a nonprofit CrossFit business and new worshiping community out of their garage. (Contributed photo)

Roughly 50% of WAYS’ anticipated budget will be directed to those with financial need. About half of the residents of Clarkston, Georgia are foreign born. They’re   immigrants and refugees hailing from 50 different countries. WAYS currently has 20 adult members, plus an average of 20 children, which is the maximum allowed attendance due to space restrictions. Currently negotiating a lease in a larger building, WAYS will use the Walton Award to improve this new expanded space and purchase additional equipment.

Each Walton winner was nominated by the Mission Development Resource Committee (MDRC), an elected body of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB).  These recommendations were endorsed by PMAB at its meeting this week.

 In December 1991, Sam and Helen R. Walton made a gift through the Presbyterian Foundation of $6 million, which included $3 million to be used for new worshiping communities. Since 1993 there have been 125 Walton Awards totaling $5 million — and representing 77 presbyteries.

Visit Mission Program Grants for information on additional grant opportunities for 1001 New Worshiping Communities and presbyteries working on congregational transformation.

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