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Mariners Family Ministry Grant honors a worshiping community filled with youngsters

Arizona’s First Light Fellowship is ‘ready for the chaos’

by Blake Collins | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Family Game Night at First Light Fellowship in Anthem, Arizona, provides spaces for parents and their children to play together. (Contributed photo)

First Light Fellowship in Anthem, Arizona, pastored by the Revs. Kristin and Brandon Willett, is a 1001 new worshiping community and a recipient of a $2,000 Mariners Family Ministry Grant.

The Mariners Family Ministry Grant offers an award for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) worshiping communities and related organizations to develop family ministry programs. Family ministry is the focus of the grant; the use is only limited by imagination.

First Light Fellowship used the grant to seed three ministry initiatives:

  • Little Lights, creating accessible space for children and providing Bibles and family journals.
  • Creator Club, hosting cooking and craft classes that bring in 20-30 children each month.
  • Family Game Night, providing space and opportunities for parents and children to play together.

Other Mariners’ recipients have used the grant to update spaces used by families, for community outreach to families, to supplement the children’s catechism with crafts and games, and to plan conferences at Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) camps and conference centers.

This is what Sunday morning worship looks like at First Light Fellowship. (Contributed photo)

Kristin Willett said that recent years have caused many unexpected twists and turns but also great opportunities for spiritual and community growth. When starting First Light Fellowship, the emphasis was clear: be a relevant and welcoming community for families with young children. Currently, half of First Light Fellowship worshipers are under the age of 12.

First Light Fellowship takes seriously the question of how a community can fully incorporate, empower, and bless the youngest among us. Through programs like Little Lights and Creator Club, the church hosts courses on cooking, craft classes, and family game nights, just to name a few. These programs run through the identity of the entire church.

“Parents and caretakers are invited to play together full-out, like belly-laughter play, and this has a huge impact on how we interact with one another,” she said. “It’s easy to forget people we do life with are not only on our to-do lists but are also part of our Beloved Community.”

First Light’s Beloved Community comes alive on Sundays as they purposefully empower young worshipers to lead in worship through song and prayer. Willett says this looks like lots of questions and answers as well as songs that are repetitive, so those too young to read can catch on.

Older members reflect on how they recognize God in the giggles of young children. Maintaining this aspect of “sustainable play” extends to all of church life. It gives members the courage to ask hard questions, granting folks permission to sound ridiculous and dream big. Willett says because love is established, love leads the conversation. By transgressing the unwritten expectations for church gatherings, First Light Fellowship is investing in a more inclusive, lively, and human worship experience — like turning cartwheels in the center aisle.

First Light Fellowship used its Mariners Family Ministry Grant to start craft classes including weaving, which bring in about 20-30 children monthly. (Contributed photo)

This messy-ing of boundaries adds clarity to the congregation. It permits everyone to be fully human — children and older folks alike.

“You don’t have to check your chaos at the door. You don’t have to be ‘pretend’ when you enter worship spaces,” she says.

However, pretending is sometimes permitted and even encouraged, like when the community acts out a dramatic battle scene for a fun family photo. Willett has loved other contexts where she’s served and pastored, but First Light Fellowship feeds her soul in ways she’s never experienced, “even on the hard days,” she says.

Being a part of 1001 New Worshiping Communities has guided First Light Fellowship to remember how church is expressed. From the very beginning, First Light’s focus has been on getting to know the community through incorporating young people in all aspects of church life.

As Willett declares: “We are here for the tantrums; we are ready for the chaos!”

The Mariners Family Ministry Grant is made possible by an endowment established by Presbyterian Mariners. The fund provides for up to three $2,000 grants per year. It is not renewable. PC(USA) worshiping communities, camps and conference centers may apply for funding to create a new family ministry program or to fund a project that will facilitate family ministry. Applications are due on the first Friday of June. Funds are available in September and December.

 A description of the program and the guidelines for proposals can be found here. Apply by clicking here.

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