It all started with a simple love. What Ashley and Tyler Moreland thought would be a fun hobby as a young married couple turned out to be a powerful ministry developing others into disciples of Christ.
The couple's love of hockey and the Fort Wayne Komets, the area's minor league team, quickly grew into a passion for using the sport as a platform for ministry. As the idea for a hockey ministry emerged, Ashley and Tyler turned to their home church, St. Joseph United Methodist in Fort Wayne, for guidance to form what is now known as the Lamp Lighters Hockey Ministry.
The term "lamp lighter" refers to a hockey player who scores so many goals in a game that the goal indicator light seems to remain continually lit. However, Ashley said, it was the term's spiritual significance that compelled the couple to choose the name for their ministry.
"It was fun trying to come up with a name that was meaningful," Ashley said. "We thought it was great because it's a hockey term, but it's so biblically relevant. We knew we could find a verse that displays what we want, and that's when we found John 8:12, Jesus' 'I AM' statement: 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.'
"It really spoke to us about who we wanted to be as an organization, reflecting the light of Christ to the world and being able to do that in a new and different way."
"Coming together as a community"
Originally a camp produced once a year, Lamp Lighters is now a weekly clinic that includes drills, game play and a devotional, striving to create a strong sense of community.
"It's more about coming together as a community and keeping each other accountable," Ashley said. "It's less about the tradition of the church and more about the relationship that has built the church as a whole. [We tried] to think outside the box in that we have this passion for hockey and for Christ, and what would it look like if we put them together? It took a long time to discern what God was calling us to and what Lamp Lighters eventually turned out to be. There was a lot of prayer and waiting to see what it would actually look like before we came up with what we have now."
And what they have now, Tyler said, is a ministry that is helping kids develop in every aspect of their lives through their Lighting the Way curriculum.
"Our program is a little bit more than just the traditional 'unpack and preach the word' evangelist style," Tyler said. "We focus more on holistic development in that we have these five areas that we focus on: mind, body, Christian spirit, leadership and service. I think from the very beginning we knew it had to be more than hockey."
Mission and values
Lamp Lighters' mission to "fully develop mature disciples of Jesus Christ through hockey" helped establish the core values the program now promotes: relationships, character development, faith development, simplicity and excellence.
Dave Cornett and his 11-year-old son, Calvin, are regular Lamp Lighters participants who have especially felt the impact of the program's mission and values. For the Cornetts, the ministry has had much deeper effects than what simply takes place at the clinics.
"Before Lamp Lighters, we didn't go to a church every week and were not regular church goers as far as traditional organized church," Dave Cornett said. "We've done Vacation Bible Schools and things through the years, but I think it has been good because [Lamp Lighters] made us want to find a church and get the kids involved more. That has been the biggest thing I have taken from it."
While the Morelands are providing an avenue for young people in Fort Wayne to develop into disciples of Christ, Ashley said, it is their dream for Lamp Lighters to have the same effects throughout the world one day.
"When I envision Lamp Lighters in the future, I see it as a global ministry, something that anyone could plug into and start in their own area to be able to use it as a tool for discipleship," Ashley said. "It's hard to see that now, but you dream about all these people who could come to Christ because of this program just because someone took the time to build a relationship with them and speak truth into their life."
*Bonnell is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].