top of page

Staff Board Report, February 2023

Staff Board Report

February 7 th , 2023

Introduction

Hello Dear Board,

So there’s good news and bad news.

The good news just came recently in a meeting with a few colleagues,

ministers serving similarly sized churches in the area. After a few

conversations individually with each of them, I realized that we had lots in

common, were facing similar challenges and could learn a lot from one

another, so we gathered, and one said something which has stuck with me.

She said that thriving churches, solid and steady or growing churches turn

over about half of their membership every seven years. Reflecting on this in

the moment, it makes sense. People move, people die, people move on from

deeper involvement, this happens for lots of reasons.

And usually, that turnover is replenished by new folks coming in, finding us

in the many ways people find us.

And part of what we are experiencing now is that this pattern which has

gone on for a long time, this ebb and flow of people had two and a half years

of only ebbing.

We are just now this year back to the full cycle of replenishing and

welcoming in new people. We did (somewhat miraculously) gain a few folks

during the lean years of the pandemic, but mostly just now this year are we

welcoming in new folks to the church.

In so many ways, we are back to the patterns of attendance and new people

we have been used to for some time, and it is wonderful.

And still, from a mathematical standpoint, we will be rebuilding from this

interruption to the usual flow of people.

But the genius thing in her insight is that this flow of members has been part

of church for a long time. In some ways it seems like it has been accentuated

by the pandemic, but we are just noticing it more.

To be sure, many people are slowly finding their way back. Many still come

only to our outdoor services (coming soon) and some have been attending

only zoom events. We are finding our way back in so many ways at so many

different paces, and that is fine.

At a recent newcomers potluck, there were ten new people, all of whom

have signed the book or are about to, ranging in age from four weeks old to

someone in who is a grandmother of seven.

So we are on track, the systems of welcoming and worship, service and

justice, inreach and outreach, all the many branches of the church are getting

back up and running. We are returning to thriving and it will take some time

for it to feel like we are back to normal, and that is fine.

It is what it is, and we are where we are. And there is no place I would rather

be than right here, making sense of this all with you all in leadership, with

this staff team and this bright and beckoning future.

Here in the next part of this report, I will share an update on our recent safer

congregation restorative circle, I will also share an update on the Trans and

nonbinary welcome task force, I will discuss the reforming Lay Pastoral

Care Team, I will also touch on the next step plans around Membership and

Fellowship, and finally will also share an update on our wider UU world

collaborations.

And then there will be reports from our wonderful staff.

Safer Congregation Restorative Circle

Following the events of Sandy Island which we have discussed previously,

we agreed to hold a restorative circle in which members of the Board and

staff, members of the Committee on Ministry and people who were there on

Sandy Island spoke directly with one another in a loving and supportive and

fruitful way.

Huge gratitude to Bayard Klimasmith who facilitated and brought us a

beautiful container and process. We will be able to utilize this process in the

future when there are breaches of our covenant and people need to be

brought together to heal and connect.

In attendance were Rev. Chris, Intern John, Martin Plass, Bayard

Klimasmith, Kathy Crawley, Laurie Graham, Marian Westgate and Doug

Massida.

In addition to this report, a communication is in process which will be sent

out to folks who were at Sandy Island, and the process will be discussed

with the Committee on Ministry.

Overall the process felt good and it seemed like everyone present felt

connected, heard and even resolved by the end.

It is really hard for communities to do these conversations and processes

well and thanks to Bayard’s facilitation and everyone who was there, we did

a hard thing well.

Trans and Non-Binary Welcome Task Force

At long last the task force met and had a great training and process

facilitated by Ran Courant Morgan. We are meeting again the week

following this Board Meeting to discuss next steps and will report back

soon.

Possible steps include hosting similar trainings and explorations for

leadership and staff, making recommendations as to the structure, scope and

portfolio of the task force, and defining who owns this vital work.

It exists in a fascinating Ven diagram overlap between Board and Staff and

Social Action Committee and more. So our next task is some definitions

around scope and ownership and then next steps. Exciting stuff.

Lay Pastoral Care Team

Wonderful news on the Lay Pastoral Care Front. We have a facilitator who

will be doing a kick off meeting and training for the newly configured team

in a month. This will include both staff and new volunteer leadership and

will help define and clarify the role of the team.

We are in the midst of recruiting new members to the team, defining term

limits and roles and will report back as all that is determined.

I look forward to having this team up and running with some new additions

and some deeper clarity around mission and vision and scope.

Membership and Fellowship

And following on a theme, the Membership and Fellowship branches of our

ministry are similarly transforming, or rather completing a transformation

which has been underway for a while.

Sam Foster and Sara Oaklander have met and started a process of imagining

which will complete with me joining them next week for a meeting.

We will articulate this new system which will include task forces for

fellowship events. A team will come together for Sandy Island, one for

circle dinners, one for a few game nights. But for fellowship we will not

have a standing committee but rather an event hosted once a year to

brainstorm some events and then a few organizers to schedule those events

and make sure the teams are on task.

The Membership Committee will be more of a task force, a lean team of four

who meet to fine tune and implement the Journey to Membership classes

and newcomer pot lucks. More on this structure next month after our final

planning meetings.

The Outreach Committee will also cease to exist as a committee. It had

dwindled to one person. But we will continue to do the events we have done

in the past, Town Day, Meet Belmont and so on, and we will put teams

together for each of these events.

The Larger Theme

As we look at the transformation in Membership ministries, as we look at

the Lay Pastoral Care Team, we are in a process of asking what committees

and structures make sense any more, what people are committing to, what

people are wanting to do.

We have a committee like Lay Pastoral care, which, after a break, will be a

wonderful thing to recreate and reenergize.

And we have something like the House Committee which languished and

was left and most likely will not return.

Not that it wasn’t wonderful having a bunch of church elves who came and

worked on the building as if it was their own, but that team had no

definition, no structure and no succession plan and when the last folks left,

another team talked about taking it up, and then COVID came, and now

there is no House Committee.

And so we, staff and leadership, are in the process of exploring what we

need to get done to keep the programmatic life of the church thriving, what

we need to do to keep the building healthy and strong and beautiful, what we

need to do to keep people connected, supported and loved, what we need to

do to keep opportunities for people to serve and deepen and grow.

And an important part of that calculus is what people are showing up for,

what people are volunteering for.

There are ten people on the adult programs and music committee each while

we are in the process of rebuilding Membership and Lay Pastoral Care. It is

not a coincidence that the more long term, steady staff positions contribute

to health and recruitment for committees, but it is not the whole story.

And so we are discerning and exploring. We are asking how people want to

serve. We are asking what committees do we need. We are asking what

might be reimagined.

And here are the reports from the wonderful staff…

From Janice Zazinski

Church Administrator

Click here for the video version of my board report!

A belated Happy New Year to all of you and thanks for all the work you do. 

I’ve been working closely with the Membership Database Committee,

Martha Read, and Mark Thurber to get accurate contribution statements in

the mail by January 31. I also ensure staff and contractors get their tax forms

on time as well. 

I’m also doing some support for our hardworking Stewardship and Auction

Committees though they are all mostly self-sufficient.

Something that’s come up on my radar recently is building security, and

Laurie Graham and I have met to go over the Belmont Police Department’s

recommendations to see what we can do to ensure the building is accessible

when it needs to be and secure at other times.

With Brian Caputo’s help we should have a summer lease for the BASEC

program over to them by early February. At their request and with Brian’s

agreement, they will have a three-year lease with us to ensure continuity for

their program staff and families. They are wonderful tenants to have.

The UUA’s retirement plan will have a new plan administrator called

Empower, a switch away from TIAA CREF. This switch will happen

starting in February and be finalized by March. While that switch is

happening, there will be some training I need to do to ensure we are able to

make pension contributions correctly. The UUA will be providing those

trainings soon.

I feel like there is so much more I could get into, but I’ll stop here.

From Ian Garvie

Director of Music

As I write this, I am just back from a much needed vacation, where I spent

four days in the Colorado Rockies, skiing with some family members. The

sun is streaming through the windows, and I’m feeling rested and

rejuvenated. 

The winter is always a time of rest and planning for the music program. So

much has just happened, with the musical, the Christmas services, and the

first Major Music service. The next few major events are in March and

beyond, and while it feels quiet, there is still much to do behind the scenes to

prepare for what’s coming next. 

A group of parents will be meeting soon to begin talking about next year’s

musical, and starting to organize all of the tasks that need to be done to make

it even more of a success than this year. One of the challenges this year was

the number of tasks that fell to me, personally, because of a lack of

organization. Our goal is to have systems in place so that the parent body

can organize most of the tasks such as set building, food, supervision,

programs, setup, etc.

Planning is also underway for the Children’s Choir Festival, a day-long

music festival and activity in May for all of our kids’ choir members. We’ll

have games, activities, concerts, and more. Some of Boston’s best musicians

and teachers will be involved, as well as some guest choirs. 

The spring Major Music service is right around the corner on March 19th, so

Camila and I have already started hiring an orchestra for that. We’ll be

performing John Rutter’s wonderful Requiem. This year the music service

will also serve as a community-wide memorial event, where we’ll be

inviting remembrances from the congregation of people they’ve lost in their

lives. It promises to be a profound and moving service. 

There are also a number of concerts coming up in the near future. The

Second Friday Concert series has expanded to encompass some concerts on

other days of the week, and we have at least 7 performances coming up in

the winter and spring. Musical styles will include celtic, classical piano,

vocal, jazz, folk rock, and more. 

Finally, a note about the music staff at the church. Our alto soloist and

section leader Irina has decided to step away from her position after eleven

wonderful years. She is a wonderful person and musician, and we will miss

having her in the community! Our new soprano soloist Camila is settling

into her role as both soloist and music assistant, and will be taking on more

work with the children’s choirs in the near future. If you have not yet heard

her at the Thursday evening Vespers services, you’re missing some

incredible music!

As always, I’m grateful to the support that the community gives to the music

program, and to the wonderful staff I get to work with. 

From Nate Sellers

Director of Children’s Religious Education

This January, our 1st to 5th graders enjoyed the switch to the KUU (Kids

UUnited) curriculum with learning about reliance and collaboration through

building MASSIVE domino structures! Here’s a sample of the lesson, IT

ALL FALLS DOWN:

ACTIVITY #1:

DOMINOES 1.1 (7 - 10 minutes) - Ages 5 to 12

Purpose:  Independent Thinking, Resilience

Give each child 15-20 dominoes and spread them around the room.

Encourage them to build their own domino creation and topple. If the group

is unfamiliar with the activity, feel free to show them an example.

It’s important to mention that when the dominoes topple, we can always start

over with some effort and positivity. Dominoes will fall, even when we

don’t want them to! 

**Create some follow up questions based on what you observed and how

they functioned together as a group. 

ACTIVITY #2:

DOMINOES 1.2 (15 - 20 minutes) - Ages 5 to 12

Purpose: Collaboration

Now encourage the kids to form groups of 3-4 friends.  Inform them that the

second activity is going to challenge them to work as a team, which means

listening and being patient with one another. DOMINOES WILL FALL.

IT’S OKAY! WE CAN PUT THEM BACK UP!

Then instruct them to recreate their most successful independent domino

topple from the last activity, but this time, attach it to the builds of those in

their group! Point out that the team topple is not only larger, but it’s

bringing together different ideas to form a singular creation! 

Teams may work together to create various builds after their big

topple. 

In other news, The Children's Religious Education Program and the Youth

Program are planning to combine forces and create a single committee that

works together to ensure the compatibility of content and activities across

the different age spans: Pk/K, Elementary, Middle School, & High School. 

Additionally, we will be exploring new ways to engage children/youth,

developing themes for curriculum, and looking at ideas to connect

children/youth with older members of the church community. We are

currently looking for parents to join the committee to advise and guide us in

those goals and also to be ambassadors of the CRE & Youth Programs. 

Lastly, our middle school Building Bridges class has expanded into a junior

high youth group on Sunday mornings. The youth are continuing to learn

about different religions and have the opportunity to visit various houses of

worship, but we’re now integrating fun, engaging lessons around self-

identity and community. We’ve found that the youth enjoy having a new

structure to socialize and engage in discussion, so much so, that they often

want to stay in class once the sessions are over!

The most important thing to note is that the program is experiencing new life

through our most recent changes-- and more than excited about it!

From Lillian Anderson



Director of Adult Programs

Our winter programs are now in full swing and I’m happy to report that

attendance for both in person and online programs is excellent. In addition

to our First Church offerings we have begun the online CommUUnity

Collaborative (CC) programs and people are registering from all across the

country.

Our ministerial intern John O’Connor is leading an online CC two part

program called “The Revelation of John: Notes from the Edge of the Abyss”

on February 14 and 28 which explores the ways we “engage with the

Apocalypse, one of the most troubling texts from our Christian tradition”.

He is also participating in a panel discussion along with Revs. Kim

Crawford Harvie and Chris that will respond to Peg O’Connor’s lecture

“Higher and Friendly Powers:Transforming Addiction and Suffering” on

February 8th. Registration for all the CC programs is on the web-site

Our first program using the Date With Death Club curriculum is on January

31 and we are grateful that Jackie James will be helping us to explore getting

comfortable with death talk and living a fulfilling life. She has agreed to

continue developing programs using this extraordinary curriculum and the

next topic is “Good Life & Good Death including discussion of Medical Aid

in Dying” which will be online on March 29.

Richard Waring and Ian Garvie will be hosting our annual “Moth” hour

event on February 17 and Richard is actively recruiting our storytellers.

These stories are vital to connect us to each other so if you want to

participate please contact Richard rwaring@nejm.org. And plan to attend

and have fun listening.

During the month of February the FCB History Group will be leading two

programs on Confronting Our History: The Stories behind the Tiffany

Window and in the second part How Do We Respond? Our FC historian,

John Howe will moderate these programs on February 12 and 26 at 12:30pm

in the Sanctuary and parlor.

Our adult programs committee continues to monitor our current programs

and is always thinking of new opportunities for creative programs. We have

just added Ann Dexter to our stellar group of committed members (Bill

Blumberg, Mark Davis, Karl Klasson, Susan Kobayashi, Ed Siegfried) ably

chaired by Debbie Dobbins and Nicole Griffin.

From Sam Foster

Membership Coordinator

This month the Membership Committee hosted a potluck dinner for

newcomers to the church. Two of our new folks, Jerome and Leah, have

recently become members, and their newborn has the distinction of being the

reigning tiniest baby in the congregation. 

A significant project in January was to build on the event announcement

system designed by Raeann, in order to bring our website calendar up to date

and to simplify the staff's process for tracking events and announcements.

With help from Raeann, Janice, and Lillian, I have put in place what should

be a reliable online dashboard for staff use, enabling Janice to update the

Unitarian, the Order of Service, and the building calendar, Raeann to update

social media, and myself to update the website, with minimal technological

disruption and without announcements falling through the cracks. Our

weekend worship emails have been updated with new features, as well. One

of my projects in February will be to publicize the website calendar, in order

to familiarize the congregation with this new source of information. 

There is a lot of energy at the moment around developing new fellowship

events. A new member, Judi Berman, and I will be hosting a Fellowship

Brainstorming session on February 19, to which everyone with ideas for

fellowship events is invited. We hope this event will spark new ideas and

encourage new folks to take the initiative. Judi herself will be running a

Valentine's Day Card workshop on the 4th, and we are planning a contra

dance lesson for the spring. Another recent member, Margaret Eagle, is

reaching out to neighbour congregations in the hope of founding a Boston

area UU singles group. I will update the Board on these initiatives next

month.

From Raeann Mason

Director of Youth Ministry

Youth Group kicked off the new year with a super fun night of Trivia. They

presented some tricky categories and we learned a lot about how to make the

event even more fun in the future. The youth raised nearly $500 toward their

Panama Service Learning Trip. The trip is around the corner and some

adventurous FCB youth will be learning about sustainable and regenerative

agriculture practices to deepen our relationship with Sustainable Harvest

International and of course, our planet. 

In a similar vein, FCB youth has been working directly with UU Mass

Action to establish a UUMA Youth Corps, and January saw their First kick-

off meeting. Along with youth from Bedford and Concord congregations,

the youth corps had the opportunity to brainstorm some amazing justice

work with some local justice workers: Black activists Ronel Remey with

City Life Vida Urbana, who spoke on community organizing in the face of

housing injustice, trans activist Jon Wishnie who works with 350 MA and

spoke in intersectional climate action, and our very own Rev. Annie

Gonzolez from First Parish Bedford who works with the Boston

Immigration Justice Network and shared about what a world might look like

without cages, borders and police. Now that the youth corps is up and

running, you can find updates on our website, fcbyouth.org, and the lower

hall bulletin board about their work.

The Coming of Age crew has moved into a new season: Becoming. These

next few weeks, they will focus on topics like authenticity, stereotypes, body

image, ethics, passion, joy and more. I, along with the COA Advisors (shout

out to Richard Waring and Eva Patalas!), are looking at ways to engage with

the COA curriculum more intentionally and are already dreaming about next

year’s programming iteration. 

Similarly, CRE director Nate Sellers and our favorite, most helpful OWL

director and RE admin, Wendy Conroy, and I are forming a fantastic PreK-

12 Religious Education Committee. We’re excited to join creative forces to

look ahead in the coming year. We’ve got exciting plans coming down the

pipeline.  

We rounded out the month with an inspired Intergenerational Climate Panel.

The Social Action Committee, FCB Green and FCByouth joined forces to

open a candid discussion on the church's role in climate justice work. We

learned more about what the church and youth are already doing, and we had

a lively brainstorming session about ways to move forward

intergenerationally about something so many of us are passionate about. We

hope to prepare more ways for the congregation to connect over the subject

in the coming months. 

Common Ground

Common Ground is a project I am working on to provide UUs in the area

opportunities to attend service-learning trips. We have a thriving

community, but not all congregations have the critical mass needed to

provide their youth, adults and families with a chance to engage in service

learning—this is where we hope Common Ground will come into play. I

have 15 years of experience leading service-learning trips around the world.

I am a full-time travel writer beyond my role with FCB and am a partner for

a travel and social action online magazine; international mutual aid is a huge

passion of mine. I look forward to sharing that passion with UUs in and

around Massachusetts through Common Ground. Keep an eye out for more

about Common Ground as the details unfold. 

Website

The FCB website is an ever-growing work in progress. We’re hearing back

from some community members about what they wish to see, what’s hard to

find and what’s working well for them—this is the best type of feedback I

can get, and I am working hard to make updates that serve the FCB

community. The staff continues refining our communications system,

working out glitches. In this arena, collaboration has been the name of the

game. We’re grateful for a patient community as we refine a very intricate

and often complicated process. 

From John O’Connor

Intern Minister

December and January were very busy at First Church! On the

administrative front, with the help of Ian and Samuel, we have worked out a

booklet form for the Order of Service which is reasonable enough to produce

and print. We are still working on a flow of information to coordinate which

announcements appear each week in the Order of Service. Samuel and

Lillian have been most helpful in this on-going effort.

The Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) has approved the Learning

Agreement I prepared in conjunction with Chris and the Intern Minister

Committee. I am happy to report that I will meet with the MFC in

September, 2023. In preparation for that interview, I participated in a mock

MFC interview that Chris put together for another candidate, Ken.

In February, I will be participating in two programs through the Community

Collaborative: a two part presentation on the Book of Revelation; and an

author talk on the book Higher and Friendly Power. Currently we are

working on publicity to insure we have good attendance at each.

I had a blast at all four Christmas Eve services, which were beautifully done.

What a day that was! I also preached on 1/15 (MLK weekend). The title of

the sermon was The Yin and Yang of Resistance and Acceptance. In the

sermon, I explored the tension between resistance and acceptance. To

illustrate this tension I explored the history of our Tiffany window and our

connection to slavery. This theme will tie in nicely with John Howe’s 2 part

discussion on Confronting Our History, which will occur in February.

Youth programming and children’s RE will be a focal point of my internship

this winter. I will be attending a section on 1/29 on Eastern Religions, an

introduction to OWL on 2/5, and a section on Taoism on 3/12. I will also

attend some meetings on proposed curricula changes in the coming month.

Wishing you all the best!

Comments


bottom of page