Senior Pastor

Rev. James Pennington came to First Church in January, 2014. His background, in no particular order, includes:

  • a year in Siberia (Novosibirsk!) for the Lutheran Church
  • directing an LGBT center in Milwaukee
  • ordination in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
  • campus ministry in Nebraska
  • childhood in Mississippi and later Michigan
  • outreach to international students in Wisconsin
  • a B.A. in Psychology and Elementary Ed
  • a decade working in the non-profit sector
  • social justice work in immigration and marriage equality
  • finding a new home in the UCC in 2007
James' dog, "Pastor" Jackson Pastor James' constant companion, Jackson

James' observations are peppered with the insights of a Minnesotan/Wisconsin's life in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. He hikes the local parks and foothills with Jackson (photo at left), who is generally nearby at church, as well.

He is more likely to be encountered in sandals and shorts than a Sunday suit (with quirky socks); his leadership approach is low-drama, challenging people by speaking boldly while asking more questions than he tries to answer.





Visitation Pastor

Teresa Blythe has been working as a spiritual director with individuals, groups and organizations since 1997Teresa works with people from a variety of faith backgrounds as well as those who are in-between, searching or from the “it’s complicated” category.

In addition to running the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction, Teresa is the visitation pastor at First UCC Phoenix and also 
trains spiritual directors in her work as Director of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction at the Redemptorist Renewal Center at Picture Rocks in Tucson. She is a published author, blogger for Patheos (Spiritual Direction 101) and the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, frequent public speaker and a full-time advocate for the practice of spiritual direction.

An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC), Teresa received her Master of Divinity and Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction from San Francisco Theological Seminary in 2000. She is a member of First UCC Phoenix and Spiritual Directors International.


Program Director:
Young Adult Outreach


Nelson Mendoza

While he was born in the Philippines, he spent his formative years growing in up Virginia. After receiving his undergrad degree in International and Intercultural Communications and Relations he moved to Phoenix, AZ. In Arizona, he began his advocacy at an organization doing LGBTQ nondiscrimination policy work. Nelson successfully helped manage a state-based communications campaign to counter the hateful SB1062 religious freedoms legislation that surged in 2014. Within his activism efforts, Nelson has organized around marriage equality, interfaith community building, race and reconciliation work, and much more. Nelson is actively engaged in his local community where he serves on multiple young professional boards for emerging leaders. Nelson wears many hats in various faith communities and can often be seen running between services on Sunday! When he isn’t trying to save the world you can usually find him on top of a mountain after a hike, staring at the Netflix suggestions page, or decompressing through video games.