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Staff Board Report, April 2023

Staff Board Report 

April 11th, 2023



Introduction 


Hello Dear Board, 


My goodness, your hard-working staff team has been busy. 


I will keep my preamble tight this month, knowing all the good reporting that awaits you. 


I am transported these days by emergence in my garden. Our weeping cherry tree full to bursting with buds, the alien red shoots of peonies reaching up, lilac buds covering our bushes and so much more promising beauty right around the corner. 


And all this as we enter the home stretch on another solid church year. 


I am so grateful to you all, to all our members and friends, to all our volunteers and of course to our amazing staff team. 


We have met and continue to meet this changing moment. We have innovated and created and have found traction and are building momentum. 


We are in a good place and we are poised to keep on building this summer and next year. 


Here in the next part of this report, I will share about our newly clarified process for annual membership clean up, I will also share an update on summer worship and a special invitation, I will discuss communications and this moment of transition, I will also touch on the Installation coming on May 7th, and then finally I will discuss the Listening Circles and our next steps processing and reflecting on their upcoming report. 


And then there will be reports from our wonderful staff. 





Membership Clean Up Process 


Following up on recent conversations, we are proposing this as the annual process for cleaning up our membership list.


Ongoingly we will remove folks from membership who die or who request to be removed. 


Annually, following the close of the stewardship campaign in May, we will gather the list of folks we haven’t heard from in the previous few years stewardship drives. We will circulate this list to staff to see if anyone knows if folks are involved. 


If we haven’t seen or heard from people, we will write them a letter asking if they want to maintain their membership. 


This letter and email will be sent out in June, and if we do not hear back from them either way over the summer, they will be removed from membership in September.


We will enter into the fall with a firmed up membership number for reporting to the UUA in the winter and for our own voting purposes in the annual meeting and any special meetings. 


As for this moment, we are in the process of reaching out to a number of folks we haven’t heard from and adding this coming month’s new members and will report out the freshest numbers once that is all done. 



Summer Worship Update and Invitation 


We are hard at work filling up the summer with engaging and interesting worship. In addition to the return of Matt Myers from Sanctuary Boston leading worship the first two weeks of July, we have the Garden Group leading a flower communion on June 25th and a mix of other worship leaders including Valentin Frank and Kiril Keuppenbender and more. 


I was wondering if the Board might be interested in leading a summer worship service on leadership. We could perhaps have a number of you share about what it means to lead, or why you choose to lead, or who a leadership hero of yours is. 


Lots of possibilities. 


The remaining available dates are…July 23rd, August 6th, August 13th or August 27th


We can discuss if any of you are interested in leading a service and if so, what date might work. We have secured Gabriel Stalberg as a summer music leader, and so there will be ample support for the service. 



Communications 


As we come to the close of the first year of a number of new systems, and as people return to new ways of interacting with the church, we are experiencing predictable bumps and hiccups. As many of you know, we have new forms and systems in place for a number of communications and administrative functions. I, too, am regularly reminded by the staff of the forms to use when I reach out, out of habit, to ask for a reimbursement or something to be put on the calendar and so on. 


We continue to learn a lot about the needs of the system and to refine the new ways of doing business. 


I for one look forward to being on the other end of some of these transitions, but there is only one way to get there, which is through it. 


And I am also made aware, over and over, that people process these transitions in all sorts of ways. 


In conversation with someone about one of the new systems they even asked about our transition to having the Unitarian every other week. When did this happen?! Why wasn’t I told?! 


This transition was done three years ago because we realized that the information week to week was nearly identical with just a few changes. 


But this person’s surprise helped me return to a gentle place, knowing that all these transitions take time, and for the new way of doing things to be become the way we do things is a multi-year process. 


And in addition, with more than 400 members we have more than 400 different patterns and preferences of communication, so while some may want a return to weekly Unitarians, another feels overwhelmed by our emails as is and more frequent Unitarians feels like their being further flooded. 


We will continue to fine tune our strategy and do our very best to fix the bugs in this current system and move ever diligently towards the future. 



The Installation 


Just a reminder of the upcoming installation, May 7th at 4:00. Please come. It is an opportunity to celebrate this moment and this beginning and all that we can build together over the next many years. We will attach the flyer to the Board Packet. 



Listening Circles   


Another year of listening circles is in the books, and I am so grateful for Kathy Crawley and Jackie James and the whole Committee on Ministry for hosting multiple opportunities for folks to share feedback, and now compiling all the wonderful data. 


That compiling process is underway and we will report back soon with their digested report. I will also dig into the report with the staff team and this will help us shape our goals and vision for the coming year, all of which will be shared in these reports in the coming months. 



And here are the reports from the wonderful staff…





From Janice Zazinski

Church Administrator 


March threw me for a bit of a loop in a couple of ways. First we discovered that the church’s payroll direct deposit processor, Patriot Software, uses Silicon Valley Bank, which meant that the March 17 payroll needed to be done manually. We managed to pay everyone either via a bank check, Venmo, or PayPal, but it was a complex process to sort out. Fortunately we are now back to normal with our payroll service.

I also experienced a major flare up of an old back problem which kept me away from my desk for about 3 days, so I am catching up from that time out.

As the end of the church year approaches I’ll be working with Martha and Mark Thurber to send out end of fiscal year pledge reminders, probably mid to late May.

I’ve sent our rental proposal to the Belmont Public Library and as of April 3 am waiting to hear back from them. Thanks again to Brian Caputo for coming up with a pricing structure.

We’re getting more and more requests to rent the Parish Hall by school groups and others, which is heartening that outside groups are coming back to the building. We can accommodate some of them when there aren't other church programs planned.

And don’t worry, the request for the annual report will be coming, once the date of the annual meeting is final!



From Ian Garvie

Director of Music 


The Music Program is heading into the spring with lots of plans for the future, as well as some wonderful events to start the season off. Over the past month we had two of our most successful concerts to date, two of our best Sunday services, and lots of productive work on future events. 


The Second Friday Concert on March 10th was our first ever sold out show for the concert series! About 175 people showed up, and Ellis Paul had a wonderful time. The work that Jon Svetkey has put into the concert series over the past few years is paying off, and we have some truly amazing artists booked for next year. I think that sold out shows will become more and more common, as we attract better and better artists. Our May show is also promising to sell out, since we are a stop on her latest album release tour. 


The Community Concert on April 1st featured Trailmix and Foodbaby, two local bands anchored by First Church members. More than 125 people were in the audience, and we raised more than $2,500 for the SPARK Center at the Boston Medical Center, a charity that the music program has been supporting for more than 25 years. We used the sound system in the Parish Hall to its fullest capacity, with 27 channels run through the mixing board. Both bands had a wonderful time, and we’re now looking at making it an annual event. 


The Major Music service was on March 19th, and featured John Rutter’s Requiem. I was able to finally pull together a service that I’ve been planning for almost 5 years - a community-wide memorial service with a major orchestral work. The orchestra was easily the best group of musicians we’ve ever had for a major music service, but it took an incredible amount of work to hire. Camila did most of the work for that, sending more than 100 emails and calls to recruit the players. The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive, with some community members claiming it was the best major music service they’d ever been to. 


On April 2nd, we celebrated Palm Sunday, Passover, and Gospel Sunday, all at the same service. The music for the day featured guest musicians from the Hamilton-Garret Music and Arts program in Boston. Many thanks to Roger Brown for forging the connections with them, and facilitating that part of the service. Other performers included many members of the FCB community. 


Looking ahead, we are hard at work putting the finishing touches on the Children’s Choir Festival, which will happen on May 13th. Belmont BASEC has been hired to take care of the supervision and games, and I have 4 incredible teachers hired to lead the music classes. Children are signing up, and we have invited 5 other choirs from around the greater Boston area to participate. This year the program will be small, and will be funded almost entirely by the music program. Looking ahead to next year, the 2024 Festival will take place on May 18th. With over a year to plan, the music program will be sending in a number of grant applications, as well as working with other choirs to raise funds to make the festival possible. The goal for this year is to have 75 children participate, and next year the goal will be twice that. 


Planning the Choir Festival has also opened up some other possibilities for the children’s music program that I will be exploring more over the next few months. One is a possible choir exchange program with the Trinity Church in Boston. They have a very well established children’s music program, and we hope to host them here for a service or two next year, as well as bring our kids to Boston for a service there. More details about that will become clear in the next few months. 


Finally, we are also hard at work planning next year’s musical. We don’t yet know what the show will be, since I’m waiting for performance rights for a few of my top choices. But many parent volunteers are working hard to create an organizational structure that allows the musical to happen in a stress-free way in the fall, with tasks clearly defined, and able to be delegated to the many parents we have in the program. 


As always, I’m grateful to the community for all of the wonderful support, and all the amazing music!



From Nate Sellers 

Director of Children’s Religious Education 


Despite a hectic winter, we’ve been able to hold on tight and invest time into the KUU program (Kids UUnited), while also developing an active schedule for our own CRE program. Our attendance has gone up 15% since December, and our KUU partner churches (Dedham, Jamaica Plain) have seen a difference/growth in their attendance, as well. The increase in numbers appears to not only be linked to new families, but also an interest in the current program on SEL (Social Emotional Learning). We saw a similar boost in attendance in the spring of 2018 when we offered the SEL & UU Identity curriculum, alongside our 5th/6th grade OWL program.


As mentioned in the last report, our latest Families Tuugether (CRE SPRING CELEBRATION) has moved to April 8th, making it an Easter theme event. The kids will be dying eggs, building matza houses, having egg races, and going on an Easter egg hunt! Knowing these activities would be fun for visiting families and those who are unable to attend the event, we’ll be offering most of these activities at the 10am service, Easter Sunday (4/9)


This April, Wendy and I are expanding the use of our CRE hallway by finishing the “Calming Room” for the children on Sunday mornings. The room serves as a space for children to relax in an alternative environment, as well as find tools and strategies for managing emotions and feelings. We’ve seen the room be a positive transitional space for many kids on Sunday mornings, which is why we feel it’s important to complete the room ASAP. As mentioned in a previous report, “...our Calming Room [exists] to reduce negative sensory input and provide tactile experiences/items for kids to play with, whether they are working out their big feelings or simply hanging out with friends.” 


Summer is quickly approaching, but is not quite here, so we’re preparing and excited to finish this year strong!



From Lillian Anderson 

Director of Adult Programs 


This is an exciting time of year for Adult Programs.  We are winding down on current program offerings but conceptualizing next year’s vision for a more comprehensive and cohesive arrangement of our programs.


Ending this church year, our Date With Death Club Programs with Jackie James have been really successful.  On March 29, thirty-three people participated and engaged deeply in the topic of “What is a Good Death?”.  Using multiple break-out rooms they were able to share deeply with each other.  This was a team approach with Susan Kobayashi, Sam Foster working with Jackie who is an outstanding resource for us.  On April 11, Jackie has invited Will Brownsberger to share his knowledge about “Medical Aid in Dying/Death with Dignity”.  We anticipate a larger group of attendees since this will be more content and less sharing and Will has a following around this issue.


Our goal for next year is to group our programs together under umbrellas that make sense.  Along with the Adult Programs Committee we are just beginning that process.  Some ideas of groupings might be: the Arts at FCB; Feeding the Body and Spirit; End of Life Issues.


We would like to continue to offer a balance of online and in person programs so that all members of the congregation have an opportunity to participate safely.  In thinking about this, one aspect of our programming that may change is how we communicate our ongoing programs to the congregation.  Currently all programs are included in all of our church communications perhaps creating an overload for some. and an inability to focus on one-time or unique programs.  More to come on this after the staff discussions all of our communication strategies.


In each of the major areas - the Arts, DWDC, and Feeding the Spirit - we may have  one in-person event, perhaps with a featured speaker, to inspire the congregation.


One other area within our umbrella categories that I am exploring more deeply is retreats.  We currently have a Women’s Retreat on April 28-30 for 30 women.  Next year, I’d like to add an at home retreat at FCB for those who don’t feel they can go away. Christine O’Neill is interested in helping with this.  We have a task group planning team who develops the theme so that could be adapted to suit an at home retreat.  On the subject of retreats,  I am exploring the idea of a short writing retreat for the fall and also the idea of a spiritual pilgrimage has surfaced through the CommUUnity Collaborative for the spring.  More on that next month.



From Sam Foster 

Membership Coordinator 


My main goal in the next three months will be helping our newcomers become new members, in time for the New Member Welcome and the Annual Meeting. Chris and I will be running a two-session Journey to Membership workshop for our latest crop of visitors in late April. We'll hold another newcomer potluck event in May and probably a newcomer breakfast, too. (Next church year I plan to restart our newcomer breakfasts, which were twice-yearly before the pandemic, perhaps on the Sundays we worship outdoors.) I will also be writing to our lapsed members, identified by James Hencke, to determine their membership status in good time before the Annual Meeting.


As for Fellowship, Judi Berman and I will be hosting an all-ages Pizza and Bingo evening on April 15. If it proves popular, we may hold it regularly, or perhaps on a rotating theme (Pizza & Bingo, Pizza & Games, Pizza & Talent Show...). The midweek SoUUper Lunch continues to draw a good number of people, between a dozen and twenty every Wednesday. The Thursday night game group is a small but valued addition to our church social scene. I plan to kickstart the planning process for Sandy Island this month, too. 


Following a suggestion by Mark Thurber, I am bringing back the Welcome Table. It will include both paper and electronic versions of the guest book, along with a notice board on which to display upcoming events during coffee hour.


I have been working with Gina Carloni to develop a new "Cuba" task force, whose mission will be to explore the implications of the History Group's recent findings on the subject of the Atkins family, the Tiffany window, and the church's early ties to Cuban slavery. Gina is excited to be launching this initiative, and my role over the next few months will be to help Gina build a team who can carry it forward.


Other projects this month include the podcast, which has an upcoming episode on creativity; organising the church booth at Town Day in May; improving our communications about ways to serve on Sunday mornings (ushering, ride shares, coffee hour snacks, newcomer greeters); supporting Chris as we build a new Lay Pastoral Care team; and my weekly editorial work on the website and the order of service. 



From Raeann Mason 

Director of Youth Ministry 


Youth Group

This past month, the youth group enjoyed a super fun night at Boda Borg. Many youths have expressed the importance of fun, offsite activities as they emerge from years of isolation due to the global pandemic. We often overlook the importance of fun for teenagers (and everyone!), so as I build out next year’s calendar, I hope to keep the gem of stress-free fun and connection at the center of our programming. The Youth Advisors and I have been working hard on writing out the mission and vision of FCB Youth and have fleshed out our priorities for the coming year:

  • Cultivating exploration

  • Fostering Leadership

  • Friendship

  • Social Action

  • Safe Space for all

  • Whole Family Connection 

We want to ensure the entirety of our programming supports these goals. To dive more deeply into realizing these tenets, we are committed to doing the following each quarter throughout the upcoming church year:

  • Enjoying more moments of Sunday morning connection

  • Engaging in service and volunteer work around Belmont and Greater Boston

  • Connecting with FCB committees throughout the year

  • Hosting fun and supportive gatherings for YG parents

  • Social onsite events (example: Halloween Party and Tye Die night)

  • Fundraising for YG and service learning trips

  • Workshops which focus on self-awareness, personal growth, and spiritual discovery


The youth also participated in this year’s Listening Circles, I am excited to share out what came of that in the coming weeks. And lastly, the work for the youth-led service has begun and we are excited to worship with you all on May 14th. 


Junior High Youth Group

One thing I have learned over the last two years as Youth Director is that we are a) missing the window where our Coming of Age program would be most effective for our young people and b) not allowing the program the amount of time it really needs to be effective. To make the most out of the CRE’s already incredible programming, Nate, Wendy, and I have been brainstorming what a Junior High/middle school-aged program could look like with the addition of a Coming of Age component. So much of what the CRE program offers empowers young people to make their faith identity their own, and we want them to feel a sense of ownership over their faith journey as they enter high school Youth Group. Beginning next year, 6th-8th graders will participate in a “junior high” program that allows us to use the CRE programming currently in place to ask the important questions that go along with the Coming of Age program on Sunday mornings. Over these three years, they will keep a log of their “I’ statements and explore their personal beliefs so that by 8th grade, they will walk away with a more personal understanding of who they are and what they believe. Along with this, we will also add the occasional offsite Junior High adventure (like laser tag or a trip to Meadow Land), the possibility of 8th grade overnight is being discussed, and having some intentional connections between Junior and Senior High YG. We will share more about this reimagined program over the next few months.  


Common Ground

As many of you know, I have been working on a new program, Common Ground. CG connects UUs with service-learning opportunities. Our goal is to provide these opportunities first to the congregations that don’t have the critical mass to run a trip of this nature. On a Common Ground service-learning trip, teams will work with established nonprofits, NGOs, small businesses, and locals on community-driven projects to make meaningful, sustainable global contributions. Through hands-on work and profound exposure to different cultures, participants will learn about service and international collaboration. Many travelers will return inspired to make a difference at home, bringing their experience to the greater Unitarian Universalist community. And I am excited to say there are trips for youth, families, and adults. 


I am thrilled to announce that our first trip for October is well underway. We will visit Ecuador for community development work alongside the Manna Project. And, there will be an add-on opportunity for interested folks to visit the Galapagos Islands following our service-learning work week. The goal is to run an adult trip every October and a Youth Trip over every April vacation, with the possibility of a multi-gen summer trip beginning in summer ‘24. I hope to see some First Church representation! To learn more, you can visit www.commongroundtravel.org


Website.

The website continues to change as we learn more about the community's needs. The main menu now operates as a drop-down menu so users can more readily find what they want. And the staff are working HARD to ensure the right messages are going to the right places at the right time. We are refining this ongoing process every week, but I think we’d all agree, despite some kinks, our communications have never been so fluid. The staff is taking a very close look at our communications in the hopes that we can hone in on what’s working best for everyone so we can serve FCB to the best of our ability on the comms front. 



From John O’Connor 

Intern Minister 


I continue to be deeply grateful for the rich experience I am having serving as you intern minister. Aside from the attending services on Sundays and Vespers on Thursdays, at which time I see many of you, I wanted to highlight several items from this past month.


The Major Music service on 3/19, featuring the Requiem by John Rutter, was a deeply moving experience. The service came off very much as a worship service, and not just a musical performance. The reflections, by Simon, Ian, and me, invited the congregation to call to mind their own dearly departed as they listened to the requiem. My benediction incorporated Jewish, Buddhist, and Christian elements with the intent that the congregants could walk away with a deep appreciation of the spirit of the requiem. The feedback was very positive and a tribute to the amazing worship that FCB produces.


I attended a 4 hour workshop led by Rev. Liz Weber, the minister for pastoral care in Concord. In attendance were Chris and me, together with members of the lay pastoral care team. It was a great experience and was designed to reinvigorate the lay pastoral care team.


In regard to pastoral care, I have had the opportunity to meet/speak with several people this month. After the Major Music service, the French horn player approached me and asked if he could call me sometime as he was moved by my reflection and wanted to speak to me about a family matter. Nanny A. also approached me after the Major Music service and wanted to schedule some time to meet. Nanny and I had a lovely meeting last week, and have scheduled another for next week. I also met with Reanne over lunch to lend her my ear on some non-church matters that were on her mind. I am pleased that people feel comfortable approaching me, and I feel that my interactions with people have been positive, and helpful.


I also had the opportunity to visit Rev. Jenna Crawford in Marblehead to attend services. As part of my training and formation, Chris wanted me to attend a smaller congregation to see how they do worship. I know Jenna well as she served on the Worship Committee with me at Arlington Street Church. It was great to see her in action, recognizing many phrases and elements of the service she picked up from Rev. Kim.


During the month I had the opportunity to meet with Wendy, Raeanne, and Nate to discuss CRE and Youth Group. The challenge is how to make adjustments to the curricula to account for smaller numbers in attendance. In addition, the current Coming of Age program seems to be a bit stale, so the question becomes how do you weave in, to material that is already being taught, the three pillars of the Coming of Age program: Belong, Become, and Beyond. Also, I am working with Wendy to facilitate bringing the RE group to Peace House, which is a new Buddhist center in Cambridge run by my HDS friend Karl. The program will involve a short dharma talk given by two monks from Sri Lanka and then an introduction to meditation. This is part of the Building Bridges curriculum and will occur in May. I hope to be able to attend this session. 


I also lead a Lectio Divina Vespers service on Psalm 139. Camila did an amazing job singing, with Simon on Piano. The quality of the Vespers’ service is so high. I wish more people would come to them. They don’t know what they are missing out on!


And lastly, at Chris’s request, I met with a seminarian at BU named Kyle who is in the process of discernment. He is in his second year and had questions about my experiences with Clinical Pastoral Care at Beth Israel, my internship here at FCB, and the path to ordination and all the MFC requirements. We left the door open, such that Kyle knows he can reach out to me to schedule time for further discussions.


All that and the usual meetings (Parish Board, Auction Committee, Worship Committee, Staff, Community Collaborative, and UUMA Leadership Committee) made for a very busy and productive month of March!


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