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Staff Board Report, May 2023

Staff Board Report 

May 9th, 2023


Hello Dear Board, 

I am writing you these words from my porch, as a fresh spring rain is coming down. My neighbor’s pink dogwood is in full flourish, another neighbors tulips are in their last glorious moments, and my own garden before me calls me towards hours of quiet and connectedness, hands digging into the earth. 

I do love this time of year. And somehow it always fascinates me that it coincides with such a busy time in the church year. With the budget season, stewardship, the auction, the installation, the annual report, the annual meeting, so much coming our way in these next few weeks. 

I am, as ever, deeply grateful for you all. It matters so much all your time and attention, all your commitment and creativity and care. 

A minister who I have served as a mentor for is just now entering candidating week at a church, and I was talking with him yesterday. He asked me if during my candidating week with you all there was anything that seemed like a red flag, any foreshadowing of troubles to come. And I told him no, that one of the great gifts of First Church is that it is a fundamentally healthy congregation, and that was clear then and it is clear now. 

Of course, we can always do better. We can improve on worship, communication, programming and every other corner of the church. But core, the relationship between the leaders and the staff, between the leaders and each other and the staff and each other, all these are strong, and that is such a gift. 

We have made it through a challenging time. And now we are rebuilding. Now, in these coming years we discern together where and how we want to build. We discern together what is the gift First Church will bring to the world. 

I am so deeply grateful to get to build this ministry here with you all. 

Here in the next part of this report, I will share about our new Shared Ministry Team, I will also share an update on our Stewardship Team, I will discuss our upcoming staff reviews, 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. 

Shared Ministry Team

I am so grateful that Pam Eggert and Eloise McGaw have agreed to be the nucleus of a new team, called the Shared Ministry Team. 

While the scope may grow, in the first year we will seek to host one or two activity fairs, helping members and friends connect with committees and groups that are looking for volunteers. We will also help unify the recruitment schedule and loom for other efficiencies. In the future the group may look towards the care and feeding of committees through advocating for term limits and other best practices. 

What we are seeking to avoid is the committees adding their eighth and ninth members while other important committees like the Stewardship Committee comes into May with just three members next year. Syncing up our recruitment and communicating with committees about their needs and the needs of other committees will make a huge difference. 

Many new and long term members want to be engaged and involved but just don’t know that groups are looking for new members or fear getting sucked into leadership. Well defined expectations and coordinated recruitment timing will serve as a helpful next step. 

Stewardship Team 

As mentioned above, the Stewardship Committee has just three members for next year. Ideally, they would have at least two other members in addition to these three. Please share any names and feel free to help recruit folks. 

Staff Reviews 

‘Tis the season! 

Just sharing that staff end of year reviews will happen in the course of May supervision meetings. I will let you know once they are all done and the annual evaluations are in the staff files. 

John’s final evaluation is done because it gets sent into the UUA Credentialing office, and the others will be done later this month. 

Listening Circles 

I look forward to discussing the upcoming report with you all and the staff in the coming weeks. It was a huge lift by the committee, and they did a great job. 

As we mentioned in the past, after we discuss the report with everyone, then I will create my goals for the coming year informed by these discussions. 

And here are the reports from the wonderful staff…

From Janice Zazinski

Church Administrator 

Like March and the Silicon Valley Bank scramble, April was also a bit crazed, due to the Fire Department’s sudden inspection of the building for the Auction alcohol permit and their finding of a variety of violations. Everything has been, or will be, fixed asap and the Fire Department granted the alcohol permit.

The bigger picture is that several vendors who have automatically come to do inspections and repairs in the past have not contacted us for inspections for the past two years. I’ve created a spreadsheet, shared with the Property Committee, to stay on top of who needs to come by, and when, to inspect/repair various systems to keep us in check with state and town codes. You may be surprised to learn (as I was, once I started compiling them) that the church building has a dozen separate annual inspections.

The Belmont Library space rental seems to be a total no-go, though they have requested that the church donate two rooms they can use as office space. Since the Parish Board is the body to approve donating space, I have sent that request to Laurie. It seems like a very helpful thing for us FCB to do; the Library has offered to pay towards utilities, which would be a very small payment given the square footage of the building. Brian Caputo and I will work on that if the Board approves giving over the Tinkham Room and Classroom 7 as Belmont Library office space.

Moving forward into May, I’ll be working with Martha, Mark, and the Membership Database Committee to send out FY23 pledge reminders. I’ve also sent out the first wave of annual report requests, and will follow up with those again in a couple of weeks. May is also the beginning of the end of the church’s fiscal year, which has numerous moving parts to wrap up the year.

I’ll see you at Chris’ installation!

From Ian Garvie

Director of Music 

The end of the year is fast approaching, and the last few services and events are being lined up. 

This weekend we have the installation of Chris as the Minister, and we’ll be bringing in a brass quintet to provide some music for that service. It should add a celebratory note to the afternoon!

The final touches are being put on the Children’s Choir Festival, which is bringing together some of the choirs from the greater Boston area for a day of games, food, and music here at the church. So far we have 42 children registered, but I’m hoping for quite a few more in the next few days. 

The musical for next year has been chosen, and I’m thrilled that we’re going to be putting on Once Upon a Mattress in November. This is a hilarious comedy re-telling of the Princess and the Pea fairy tail, and should be a wonderful time for the audience and cast. I’m anticipating needing to have two casts again, which is wonderful. Performances will be November 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th. 

The Children’s Choirs performed in the service on April 30th, and did a wonderful job. For next year, I’m working on creating at least two opportunities for our children’s choirs to sing in other spaces, in addition to our own services. There’s the possibility of a field trip to Trinity Church in Boston, and I’m also reaching out to the UU Urban Ministry. And next year’s Children’s Choir Festival is already planned for May 18th. With a year to plan, we should be able to fill the building!

In more sobering news, both of our adult choirs are still struggling to rebound after the pandemic. Where we used to have 35 members in the Senior Choir, we now regularly have about 15. And where there used to be 20 in the Nova Choir, we now see 8 or 10. We are still able to have wonderful music for the services, and our section leaders and soloists are excellent. But we need to encourage folks in our community to sing in the choirs, and recruit singers to join the church. 

Finally, the Second Friday Concerts will be welcoming Hanneke Cassel and her band on May 12th. She is a dynamite Cape Breton and Celtic fiddle player, and her show is going to be amazing. I strongly encourage everyone reading this to attend!

And as always, I’m grateful to all the community members who are willing to share their musical time and talent with us all!

From Nate Sellers 

Director of Children’s Religious Education 

This spring we’ll be wrapping up the school year by celebrating our youth on May 14th at the YOUTH SERVICE and then working on our PRIDE PROJECTS for early June (Belmont Pride, etc.). On May 28th, grades 1-5 will read Love is Love by Michael Genhart, and decorate colorful LGBTQ+ rocks as a group, which we’ll then hide along Concord Avenue!  On June 4th, the class will read PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders, after making RAINBOW WANDS/FLAGS for our PRIDE PAPER MURAL, which we’ll finish on June 11th! 

Our junior high youth group/Building Bridges class (grades 6-8) will be visiting the Cambridge Peace House this month, where they will meet the resident monks and learn about Buddhist meditation and chanting. This spring’s religious visit follows a year of learning about Eastern Religion (Buddhism, Jainism, Shintoism, etc.) via our CRE Building Bridges curriculum, which will continue into next fall. 

The FCB OWL classes (8th grade, 5th/6th grade) will be coming to an end this month. Both sessions continued to be a success through quarantine, and have seen an increase in community involvement after returning to in person programming last year (2021- 2022). On the heels of the program's growing success, we’re beginning to discuss the possibility of a 1st and 2nd grade OWL on Sunday mornings between the 9am and 11am service. We believe adding this additional OWL program will bring in more families within the community, as well as serve the growing population of younger children in our program. 

From Lillian Anderson 

Director of Adult Programs 

It is exciting to conclude this year’s programs and simultaneously be thinking about the possibilities for next year.  The annual report helps us to analyze the success of our offerings by looking at our attendance numbers.  Since many of our online programs were recorded we also factor in the youtube views as an indicator of the congregation’s interest and will help guide us for creating new programs.

This week I gathered 15 people for a discussion and brainstorming session about the Arts at First Church.  It was a lively meeting and generated many interesting ideas.  The next Unitarian I will share those ideas with the congregation and let them know that we welcome hearing from them. One of the most important aspects of the gathering was for interested people to hear one another so that collaboration around new ideas can happen.  We will continue to link interested people together so that some of these ideas can become realities for next year’s programming.  

While we explored in-person Arts programs for the coming year we are also committed to continuing many of our online program offerings.  The adult programs committee will be determining which of our current programs will be continuing next year and we’ll be creating new offerings for the winter months.

Jackie James is eager to continue to use The Date With Death Club (DWDC) curriculum next year. Susan Kobayashi, Jackie and I have met and have decided to do three online programs.  We are also looking for a featured speaker to do an in person event in late October or early November to launch our continuing discussion about end of life issues.

The Women’s Retreat at Rolling Ridge Conference Center was a great success!  Using the theme of Turning Points the planning team (Niti Seth, Martha Spaulding, Anne Stuart and Hayat Weiss) created the framework for fun, creative exploration and sharing deeply for thirty women.  We have confirmed our dates with Rolling Ridge (April 26-28, 2024) for next year.   Since there has been interest in creating an At Home Retreat, I will be convening a planning group to offer that option next year.

From Sam Foster 

Membership Coordinator 

The Journey to Membership workshops in April were well attended, with nine newcomers at the first session (though fewer at the second). I'm following up with our attendees to help them find their niche in church life and hopefully their signature in the membership book. The New Member Welcome has been scheduled for the outdoor service on June 4.The Bingo & Pizza fellowship night on April 15 was a big success and we plan to repeat the event in the fall. We had thirty attendees, including numerous small children, all of whom were hooked by the bingo. I am grateful to Judi, the organiser, and to Donna and Laurie for helping the evening go so splendidly.Abby Donner and I are starting to plan for Sandy Island in September. We have the contract, which we will return to Angelo by the end of May. We intend to book the whole island, which the church will easily fill. We'll be trying a new planning process this year, recruiting volunteers for a list of positions on the yet-to-be-convened Sandy Island task force. We'll be nominating a programme director, to run the operation during the weekend; a food coordinator, to ensure special diets are catered for; an activity coordinator, to assign volunteers to activities; a tech support person, to manage the new signup forms we'll be creating; and so forth. We hope this more structured approach will prevent some of the planning stresses of previous years.Having restored the welcome table to the Upper Gathering Hall, I would now like to install new notice boards on the walls. On the evidence of the many flyers taped to the walls, which tear off paint and plaster when removed, our notice boards are situated in all the wrong places. I would like to install notice boards in the stairwell and on each of the pillars in the Upper Gathering Hall. My idea is that there will be a notice board for events coming up this week, a notice board for newcomers to the church, one about our upcoming worship services, one about Sandy Island, and so forth. Perhaps the notice boards downstairs, which are neglected, could be repurposed for art (including art created by the CRE kids, which will create a much pleasanter vibe). I am investigating inexpensive solutions for putting notice boards upstairs. Your suggestions would be welcome.Belmont Town Day is booked up this year, so we're looking into creating a Town Day "fringe festival" of sorts on the Town Green, with activities for kids and maybe a pony.

From Raeann Mason 

Director of Youth Ministry 

Brief Board Report

Between Easter and April Vacation, FCB youth had a few weeks off to rest and reset. We came back from the break and hit the ground running with the planning of the upcoming youth-led worship service. We’re excited to explore themes around Retrofuturism with the congregation (if futurism is when people imagine and predict the future through art, stories and fashion etc., retrofuturism is looking back at those predictions and reflecting/comparing them to what actually unfolded). I’m so impressed with their creativity and willingness when it comes to planning these services. 

We also had a blast making our own tie dye creations this past week.

Lastly, I have submitted a detailed proposal to the board for Common Ground and hope to share more details as this unfolds in the coming weeks. 

From John O’Connor 

Intern Minister 

With only a little over 5 weeks left of my internship here at First Church, this the second-to-last Board Report that I will be submitting to you. How did this year go by so quickly?! Aside from the participating in Sunday services, vespers, committee meetings, and attending to administrative matters, I’ll update you on a few hi-lights and milestones.

The Intern Support Committee has finalized its evaluation report of me. I am deeply grateful for the support of the committee and the guidance it has offered me throughout the year. Chris has drafted his evaluation of me and we will review it together during our supervision on Thursday. And I have drafted my self-evaluation and am in the process of making the final edits. Once they are completed and signed, I will submit all three to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee for inclusion in my “packet,” as they call it. 

My most recent sermon was a bit long as I was trying to weave in Earth Day and our preaching theme for the spring, “creativity.” Nevertheless, the textual references to Homer, Genesis, and Paul anchored the sermon, which I concluded by modeling “creativity,” playing a Chopin prelude on the piano. Both the congregation and I made it through the sermon and prelude largely unscathed. 

I am looking forward to Chris’s installation which is shaping up nicely. Chris and I will also begin preliminary discussions for planning a memorial service. And as part of the CRE Building Bridges curriculum, I will be going with the Youth to Peace House in Cambridge for a Dharma talk and introduction to meditation. I will preach my final sermon on May 21st. And for the June 11th service, Simon and I plan on playing a Mozart Piano Sonata for 4 hands. There are a lot of blazingly fast notes I’ll need to learn to ready myself for this. Yikes.



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