Picture a lighthouse: a beacon of light, illuminating the area for all to see and follow. How true this image is to the Lighthouse ministry of St John’s in Westport, as they shine the love of Jesus in their community.
Every Sunday afternoon during term time (yes, every Sunday afternoon!), St John’s opens its doors to the community to shine their light. Young and old, babies and Grandmas, carers and foster kids, dads and neighbours, adopted grandkids and wardens, those who can’t sit still and those who love to be still – all come through the doors to be welcomed by the Lighthouse team. Raewyn Johnson, Matt Watts and a dedicated team of volunteers host this all-age interactive gathering for the people in Westport. People bring their friends and neighbours to hear from the Bible, learn about Jesus, play games, sing and dance, pray and compete in the weekly Zonk quiz (what's Zonk?). Some weeks, everyone joins the kitchen team for a tasty dinner around tables to finish off the evening.
Una, a grandma, had bought her granddaughter’s 9-year-old friend after her biological grand-daughter had moved away. The church warden brings the 8-year-old girl he provides respite care for. Whirling into the church, it’s clear she loves the music and dancing. Little ones sat in the front row with their friends, teddies, dolls and toys. More than half wouldn’t usually come to church but now call Lighthouse their whānau – now that is church growth!
I couldn’t help thinking about how many opportunities were here for God’s love to be shared and made known. I pray that the Holy Spirit moves in power to transform the lives that have responded to the light in Westport.
Raewyn: I look at the churches in our small town of Westport and most of them have a congregation at least as old as me (and I'm only a few years from retirement!). This is probably true for many places in New Zealand. None of the local churches offer Sunday School or any after school activity for children. If we don't tell our children and their families about Jesus, in a few years there will be nobody left to do it.
I've worked all my career with mothers, families and children, and I have a love for them, and I know that so few of them know the love of God. And this is our great commission - to go into the world and preach the gospel. I'm not going to deepest, darkest places in the world to preach the gospel, because my very own town needs this good just as desperately.
Having short lessons, interspersed with activities, seems to work well to hold everyone's attention. The theme of the Bible story each week is connected with a parallel theme of a more modern story, and the game each week also reinforces the theme. These interconnected lessons help the children to fully understand what is being taught each week. And of course, Zonk! Zonk is a game that is played at the end of the message. Our two teams, Chalk and Cheese, are pitted against each other to win the most points. It's loud and noisy as the teams cheer each other on, but it's a great way to reinforce the learning.
It's not your typical church service, but it is a fun and interactive way for families with young children to join in, and hear about God. One of our young mums commented that Lighthouse is a lovely place to bring friends who don't yet know God. One very shy young girl commented that she feels accepted here and loves to come every week. And one child was baptised in January as a result of attending Messy Church initially, then learning more about Jesus at Lighthouse.
When these children have tough times, as they inevitably will in life, then it can be very lonely. Who can they turn to? Without knowing who God is, it is so easy for them to turn to harmful relationships and means of coping as they seek love and acceptance. They need to know that God loves them no matter what, and is always there for them to talk to.
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We have invited these writers to share their experiences, ideas and opinions in the hope that these will provoke thought, challenge you to go deeper and inspire you to put your faith into action. These articles should not be taken as the official view of the Nelson Diocese on any particular matter.