Senior Pastor

Rev. James Pennington

Rev. James Pennington came to First Church in January, 2014.  James' observations are peppered with the insights of a rural Mississippian/Minnesotan/Wisconsin's life in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. He hikes the local parks and foothills with his "boxador" Jackson, who is generally nearby at church, as well.

Rev. Pennington was born in Chicago during a family gathering, returning with his family to Booneville, MS as a newborn or 1 month. At the age of 11, James moved with family to Chicago's south side. He pursued his undergraduate studies at both University of Chicago and Concordia University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, Elementary Education and Philosophy. Following college he attended Concordia Seminary. While there he also took several classes at Eden Seminary and Washington University. He received his Masters of Divinity Degree in 1985.

James spent four years serving as an Associate and Campus Minister for a Lutheran church in Wayne, Nebraska and the following five years as the Director of Ministries for University Lutheran Chapel in Lincoln, NE. He spent 18 months in Novosibirsk, Russia serving as leadership development director for the Lutheran Church. His primary focus was with students from Akademgorodok. Akademgorodok is a part of the Sovetsky District of the city of Novosibirsk, Russia, located 30 km south of the city center and about 10 km west of the Science town Koltsovo. It is the educational and scientific Center of Siberia and is known as the Silicon Valley of Russia. Following his return from Russia he served at the Peace Campus Center in Stevens Point, Wisconsin where the focus was on outreach and working with international students studying English as a second language. Throughout his time as a campus pastor, James spent much of his time working with students and helping them to discover their "privilege" and planning and implementing immersion trips to third world countries and third world locations in our own United States of America.

In 1997, Rev. Pennington left parish ministry to pursue "hard core" social justice work in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Among other callings during 10 years of working within the not-for-profit sector, James served in the HIV/AIDS field as services director for an Madison based AIDS Service organization that included Case Management services, prevention services and clean needle exchange programs. James was instrumental in beginning and facilitating several "Rainbow Clubs" throughout central Wisconsin for LGBTQI A high school students. He was the Executive Director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and was one of the lead individuals working for full-marriage equality throughout Wisconsin.

In 2007 James was ready to re-enter parish ministry but he realized that the Lutheran church no longer called to him. A friend introduced him to the United Church of Christ and he answered a call to lead a Minneapolis UCC church through a period of re-vision and revitalization. His ministry there caused the church to outgrow its location and they were placed in conversation with another UCC church that was ready to close its doors. Rev. Pennington became the pastor to both congregations and eventually the two churches blended/merged and became Living Table UCC.

James brings many gifts to our church. He has a life-long interest in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 60's and an ongoing interest in Liberation, Feminist and Process Theology. He has been involved in several community based groups working for Immigration Emancipation Reform statewide and nationwide.

Associate Pastor

Rev. Susan Valiquetteis the Associate Pastor.  In grade 10, on a church youth retreat, she sensed a calling to ordained ministry. After high school, she completed her Bachelors of Art degree in Religion and Communication.  She furthered her studies to obtain a Masters of Divinity and was ordained in the United Church of Christ (UCC).  She was hired as an Associate Minister of a large 1500-member UCC congregation before she completed her studies where she served as the Associate Minister.

Susan then applied to be a mission co-worker with Global Ministries. Susan was then seconded to serve as the Chaplain of Inanda Seminary, an all-girls secondary boarding school located in a township in Durban, South Africa.  Inanda Seminary was started by Congregationalist missionaries in 1869. She served as the school’s Chaplain for 18 years.

Susan has two children, Micah and Madeline and she loves to cook, travel, birdwatch and hike the desert mountains.  She believes that the church has the potential to heal the world and she feels called to be a vessel used for healing.

Spiritual Director

Teresa Blythe

Teresa Blythe has been working as a spiritual director with individuals, groups and organizations since 1997. Teresa 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.

Teresa can be contacted at: (520) 971-4724 

Commissioned Minister - "The G-d of Your Own Understanding"

Gordon Street is a Commissioned Minister who focuses on helping people find their own spiritual connection.  He grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, moved to Phoenix in 1988, and has been a member of First Church since about 2000.  Gordon has served in many capacities in First Church leadership over the years and has worked with other churches and non-profit groups. 

Gordon’s thirty years of recovery and working with others gives him special insight into the common struggle (in and out of recovery) of finding a genuine experience with God, which is the essence of spirituality instead of religion and dogma.  Gordon likes to say his ministry is a gift from the recovery community back to the wider church.  He currently facilitates a weekly spiritual connection group for anyone interested in exploring spiritually of any religious and non-religious tradition.  He also is available for one-on-one meetings.

In Gordon’s spare time, he frequents too many coffee shops, enjoys life with his husband of 24 years and their furry children, two beagles.  His fondness for beagles exemplifies his attraction to stubbornness and endearing bad behavior.

First Church UCC

1407 N Second Street
PhoenixAZ 85004
 (602) 258-6891
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 Contact Us

Service Times

Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
with Pastor James Pennington

Office Hours
Mon - Fri: 9:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Closed Saturday & Sunday

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