Pelham church puts Spotlight on Jesus

&uot;Welcome to Spotlight Studios &045; Population 63,&uot; Randy Long, yelled to a group of screaming children while doing his best impression of a hillbilly from the 1980s TV show Hee Haw.

Long, or I.M. Funny, as he is known, is one of several characters brought to life every Sunday morning in the gymnasium at Valley Intermediate School, located on Highway 33 in Pelham.

Other characters include Twig Magilicutty, an impersonator of the host of The Discovery Channel’s Crocodile Hunter, and his sidekick Lilly Pad.

Clarice, another character, plays the role of the nosy neighbor on the other side of the fence. Clarice, portrayed by Kim Clark, is distinctly similar to another neighbor from the TV show Home Improvement.

Spotlight Studios is a theatrical, high-energy children’s worship program for first through sixth graders.

The ministry is put on by about a dozen members of one of Shelby County’s newest churches, The Church at Shelby Crossings.

The church, a daughter church of The Church at Brook Hills, has used Valley Intermediate for its ministries since its inception almost two years ago.

Shelby Crossings calls a warehouse on Yeager Parkway in Pelham its temporary make-shift office/storage building.

The church has purchased 10 acres on George Roy Parkway in Calera to build an actual church facility someday.

Shelby Crossings has a growing membership of about 300 people, but it is the Spotlight Studios program and the children, Jena Forehand said, which bring energy to the church each week.

Forehand heads the children’s ministry which recently began its third go-around at the church.

Each year, Forehand said, Spotlight Studios has a theme.

This year’s theme, called Creature Feature, is a takeoff of The Crocodile Hunter TV show.

Other themes have included Basic Training and Superheroes.

Each week, she said, Creature Feature focuses on a different animal.

The Spotlight team uses the animal and its characteristics to relate a valuable Biblical message.

Last Saturday, the main attraction was the squirrel and the message to the kids was to &uot;store up God’s wisdom,&uot; just as a squirrel stores up food for the winter.

&uot;Each week we take a creature and talk about how its characteristics relate to Jesus,&uot; said Forehand, who dresses in Australian Outback clothing for the production.

The children’s ministry even had a live squirrel, B.J., a church member’s pet, on hand last week.

The one-hour ministry features an elaborate colorful stage, Powerpoint presentations, live video projected on a large video screen and a technical guru who mixes upbeat Christian music and videos and sets the lighting.

The ministry sprinkles Bible verses among the character’s acts, games and songs.

The Spotlight team spends a couple of hours setting up the stage and equipment every Saturday morning. They tear down at noon on Sunday. But all say it is worth it.

&uot;The kids look forward to the characters and the animals each week,&uot; Forehand said, noting that other animals have included an elephant and a dachshund.

&uot;We want the kids to have a whole lot of fun but also take home a nugget of God’s truth and apply it to their everyday life.&uot;

In fact, after Spotlight Studios is finished, the organizers break the children into groups of about 10 and discuss the messages in the ministry for 30 minutes.

&uot;We try to have a good balance,&uot; she said. &uot;We want them to learn God’s word, but we don’t want to bore them. If they don’t take anything away from (Spotlight Studios), we’re just wasting their time,&uot; she said.

Forehand said she tailored Spotlight Studios after a similar children’s ministry she saw at a small church in Chicago while on a Baptist conference.

&uot;When I was growing up, Sunday school at a baptist church, everybody sat in a circle and learned a Bible lesson. I dreaded it,&uot; she said. &uot;We want the best part of a child’s week to be going to church. We want the best part of their week to be Spotlight Studios.&uot;

Kim Clark plays the dimwitted but well-meaning Lilly Pad as well as Clarice, the nosy neighbor.

&uot;It’s not a traditional children’s worship. It’s fresh and exciting. God gives us the ideas and it all comes together,&uot; Clark said.

&uot;Parents, at first, are in disbelief when they come in to watch. It’s awesome. It’s a lot of work, but this is a labor of love for us &045; just to see the looks on the kids’ faces and know how much they are enjoying it.&uot;

Forehand said the church’s goal to teach God’s word through Spotlight Studios is working.

&uot;We have had children dragging their parents to church,&uot; she said, with a smile. &uot;The kids absolutely love it.&uot;