Staff Board Report
October 11th, 2022
Hello Dear Board,
I am sending you all love and gratitude here in the midst of the turning leaves and pumpkin spice everything all around.
We are off to a wonderful beginning of the church year. Our first outdoor service was blustery and beautiful. Our indoor 9:00 and 11:00 worships are back in full swing and vespers services have returned with their depth and peaceful grounding.
Our wonderful new intern John has joined the team seamlessly and is a wonderful addition. Janice has landed in the mountains of Vermont and has transitioned to mostly distanced work and we are all reimagining together what the space is, what it is for and how to configure our time and collaboration.
And we have lots of new folks coming. We have twenty-five new kids in the musical, which is wonderful. And this is coupled with a steady stream of visitors on Sundays as well as a healthy return of familiar faces we haven’t seen in a while.
Our programs are gearing up with the youth group and kids RE starting and seeing slow registrations but solid attendance and wonderful enthusiasm. Our adult programs are robust and the offerings engaging. People are slow to sign up but hungry to participate.
So we start this year in a great place.
Here in the next part of this report, I will discuss our newly reconfigured staff team, I will touch on potential models for deepening our partnerships with our affiliate organizations, I will give some updates on two of our wider UU world projects, I will discuss a potential plan for shepherding the conversations around bathrooms and our welcome and celebration of trans and non-binary folks in the congregation, and finally I will touch on Sandy Island and some follow up which is coming.
And then there will be reports from our wonderful staff.
Our Newly Reconfigured Staff Team
As most of you know by now, we have welcomed our new intern minister, John. He dove right in and is working great as a member of the team. You will hear more from him later in the report, but the addition of a brand new position like this is a big one, and it has been great so far.
We look forward to helping him nestle into the space and flow of our work as well as defining in particular his areas of focus over the next few months.
More on all that as it develops, but we are over the moon excited to have him on the team and to continue to work with students in the coming years.
Deepening Our Partnerships
As many of you know we have affiliations with a number of wonderful organizations. In particular in the last many years we have been looking at ways to deepen, broaden and strengthen our relationships with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee or UUSC, the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry or UUUM, and the Unitarian Universalist Mass Action or UUMA.
All three of these organizations are wonderful, all three do varied and important work in the wider world, in our state and in Unitarian Universalism, and all three have small pockets of FCB folks who care deeply about these organizations and are deeply invested in their work.
In addition, the folks who care deeply about these groups would love for more folks to be involved. We have Sunday services dedicated to each of these groups every year. We also have shared plates at least one month a year.
In conversation with our delegates from the UUUM this year, we wondered about having the shared plates not be just one month, but having the organizations be shared plates for two or three months, and schedule not just the Sunday service with the visiting director, but another event during that time.
This would serve to both deepen our partnerships with these groups, and also provide opportunities for folks to be involved and learn more about their wonderful work.
Our Work In The Wider World
As many of you know we have two projects brewing which serve the wider UU world, the kids UUnited program and the Community Collaborative. I wanted to share a few updates about both programs.
Kids UUnited is off to a great start. We have two pilot programs running this year, one in JP and one in Dedham. Both have signed on for the year, with their first gatherings in October. We have recruited four facilitators and are in conversation with more.
Word is spreading and we have a few more congregations wanting to join in the program, and so as we expand capacity, the program is poised to grow in the coming years as we imagined. More on this as it unfolds.
The Community Collaborative is ready for it’s second year. We have a new team of ministers at the core of the collaboration with more joining on to offer workshops. We are gathering that initial group this month with the goal of launching a series of online classes both for FCB and the participating congregations, but this year also widening the invitation more broadly. We will open up registrations to any UUs in Massachusetts, sharing the website with the Mass Bay District ministers list.
More on this as it unfolds, but it should be a great bunch of classes and this could be a good model going forward, inviting a core group of colleagues and then opening the invitations wide once we have the classes and workshops set.
Bathrooms And More
As many of you know, there has been an ongoing conversation around bathroom signage in particular, and more broadly around our welcome of and celebration of our LGBTQ+ community, especially our trans and non-binary folks.
In the next evolution of this conversation, we want to have a task force with a few staff members, a few Board members, and a few folks from the LGBTQ+ Alliance here in town to come together and create a plan not just for the particularities of the signs but also one or two opportunities for folks to gather and discuss the signs, the pronouns on the nametags, and more. We want a group to hold the space for a conversation around what it means to welcome and celebrate all our members and friends and in particular our trans and non-binary folks.
We have two staff members already volunteered and are looking for two Board members to join. The goal will be for this group to meet in October and then to host one or two gatherings in November.
On Sandy Island this year, there was an incident of sexist language used in an announcement and then some sexist comments made to some of our community members following the announcement.
We are taking this opportunity to gather folks around and hopefully engage in restorative circles with folks present and effected by these incidents.
These are far from isolated incidents, and we are striving to embody our covenant and put in place our safer congregations policies and practices.
We will be reaching out to specific folks this week and will share more when we meet in person on the 11th, but we are grateful for the work of Bayard and the Board in years past clearly articulating the parameters of what is ok and what is not, and providing a road map for responding to such events. More on this in our meeting and going forward.
And now, here are some reports from them, our wonderful staff…
From Janice Zazinski
As always, the beginning of the church year is like jumping into the deep end of the pool after the summer. New staff on board, an empty church calendar to fill, and a year of possibilities.
The process of working 100% remotely has been similar to working at home while the church was closed with, of course, a few tweaks. Jean Diskin has been taking care of in-office work such as depositing checks and cash, and John O’Connor will soon be up to speed on this and other aspects of in-office work, such as showing renters the space as needed, and keeping an eye on office supplies (very little needed in the building now that staff is mostly working remotely).
Speaking of rentals, we have several Girl Scout troops back, as well as a few other rental possibilities. Mostly they are rentals of the Parish Hall for a group luncheon, or a music program. It’s great to see the building in use again.
Fiber optic Internet has arrived at The First Church, and should be finally connected on October 3 (fingers crossed). Dot Bowe from BaseZen has been super helpful in meeting with Verizon and ensuring it works as intended.
Also on the IT and communications front, I spent time this summer working with Raeann to update the FCB website. Website details continue to be filled in but she has done amazing work to get it up and running.
During this church year, Martha and I, along with other members of the Parish Board, will be working on a few things such as updating the very old fundraising policy and tightening up new hire documentation to ensure that all new staff are aware of the benefits they’re entitled to, and clearly choose to accept or decline those benefits.
I also continue to update a variety of administrative processes, such as how I handle reimbursement requests, and recently created a form that captures all the information I need to process a request, avoiding multiple emails back and forth.
It was great to see so many of you in-person on October 2! I want to extend my deepest appreciation for the Board’s willingness to engage in this remote work experiment. I am always available during office hours (Monday - Thursday, 9 - 3) to chat about how it’s going to anyone who has thoughts, concerns, or ideas for improvement! I’m at 781-400-4587.
From Ian Garvie
Director of Music
As preparations for this season started in August, I had the sudden realization that this will be my 11th year here at the church! Three years were as Alfa’s assistant, and then the past seven have been as Music Director. It’s amazing how the time has flown by!
The 2022 - 2023 season has started out in a wonderful way for the music program. For the first time in almost three years, we are back to a schedule that is familiar, with the musical underway, Second Friday Concerts kicking off, and a full choir roster again. I also have a temporary Music Assistant helping me with many of the small administrative tasks for the program, as well as directing some of the Junior Choir rehearsals. This is proving to be a huge help, as I look at ways the music program can continue to grow and attract new members.
The Children’s Choir program is kicking off the year with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, which is a regular staple of the program. It was last performed 10 years ago. This year, we have a Junior Choir of 41 young actors, and an Upper Cast of 27! That is up from a Junior Choir of 24 and an Upper Cast of only 13 last year, for Pirates of Penzance. Of the 68 total participants in the musical this year, 33 of them are new to the music program, and 22 of the families are brand new to the church community. What we have seen in previous years is that the musical brings in many new families, but the lack of spring season programming causes many of them to leave for other programs. My plan is to build up our programming with a spring Children’s Choir Festival, featuring some guest teachers and choirs from around the area. With a more active choir calendar, I expect more of these families to remain for future years.
The Second Friday Concerts are starting this coming weekend, with Don White returning for another fabulous concert. This year the programming is more varied than ever before, with a Celtic fiddle player, some African American roots music, classical vocal music, and more. We are also expanding the number of concerts we are offering, and by 2024 we are aiming to have around 15 concerts programs per year.
The Senior Choir welcomed soprano soloist Camila Parias, and tenor soloist Kartik Ayysola to their ranks this year, which means we once again have a full roster of section leaders! Kartik and Camila join Chuck Claus and Irina Kareva, who will continue the long tradition of musical excellence. We are also looking forward to resuming our annual Major Music tradition. On December 11th, the Senior Choir and a professional orchestra will be performing Camille Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio, a stunningly beautiful work for string orchestra, harp, and organ. And on March 19th, we will perform John Rutter’s amazing Requiem.
Finally, last year the Music Committee approved funding for a temporary Music Assistant position, for the fall season. The goal was to provide support to me through the musical season, as well as to take on some of the rehearsals for the Junior Choir. This has proved absolutely invaluable, especially given the size of the Junior Choir this year. (For some perspective, in the past when we have had 50 to 60 younger children in the program, they have been divided over two casts. This year we have 41 children in just one cast, which means we have four separate groups of actors to manage, as opposed to two or three.) It allows us to run simultaneous rehearsals in different rooms, making better use of everyone’s time. We were fortunate to find a wonderful candidate in our soprano section leader, Camila.
As always, I’m deeply grateful to the community here at the church for their support and commitment to the music program. I’m looking forward to another incredible year!
From Nate Sellers
Director of Children’s Religious Education
This September, we successfully launched our new workshop, Imagination Station (Grades 1-6), and reintroduced Building Bridges as an onsite program for our middle schoolers. The Preschool and Kindergarten room has been a key spot for younger families to reconnect, as well as, introduce newer families into the CRE program. Since September 19th, we’ve given multiple tours of the classrooms to new families, and now hope to schedule a New Families Breakfast event in late October.
Wendy is beginning to plan for OWL, as a record number of families sign up for both our 5th & 6th, and 8th grade sessions. The OWL program this year will be led by Rick Hawkins and Wendy, with the addition of a college intern, Mikey Cox. We hope to include more young adults as we evolve this program and cover more relevant topics (LGBTQIA+ issues, gender identity, consent, etc.).
As of mid-October, the FCB website will feature an additional page for the KUU (Kids UUnited) program. Churches that are signed up with KUU will have access to all the offerings on our CRE website, as well as a landing page of their own. What is KUU? KUU is a new independent program, co-created by Rev. Chris, that operates out of our CRE program at First Church in Belmont. It provides RE leadership and curated Sunday workshops for churches in need of substance and growth within their RE programs. I’m looking forward to reporting more on this new adventure as the program develops and takes shape this year. "
Director of Adult Programs
As I begin my tenth year at First Church I am grateful for the continued enthusiasm of the Adult Programs Committee and the congregation. We have developed an exciting array of offerings for the fall and the beginning of winter. We are striving to reach a balance between in person vs. online programming in order to meet the needs of the congregation.
Our October programs include several in person offerings
A Celebration of Leonard Cohen
Gather Round on Values with Rachel Greenberger and Martha Spaulding
An East Coast Liberal Talks Politics in Rural Wisconsin with Monte Allen
Revisiting Our Church Covenant with John Howe
And our new online programs include
Mid-term Elections with Scott Ferson
So You Want to Write a Book with Kathy Crawley, Yasmin Azad and Dorothy Stoneman
We have also been recruiting for our current Small Group Ministry Group as well as adding one additional new group facilitated by Karsten Kueppenbender. Rick Hawkins will be starting a new Next Chapter Group as well as offering a series called Difficult Conversations in November.
We have many, many ideas for the winter and will be closely monitoring the attendance at our many continuing programs which include 2 film discussion series, the Alliance, FC book group, Science and Spirituality, FC history group, FCB Sangha, FC garden group. Our FC Cooks will resume in January.
From Sam Foster
I am excited to be starting the church year with a sense of hope and possibility. My priority this fall is to create new ways for both members and visitors to connect with their church, both in person and online. With many of us suffering from zoom fatigue and burnout, I want folks to feel like they can walk over to their church and find their community there waiting for them. In a word, my goal for this church year is fellowship. To this end, I am starting a weekly lunch, a weekly tea and scones, and a weekly craft evening after vespers, all in the church building. It was a strange experience rummaging through the kitchen drawers for our first lunch, which was last week, because the kitchen has barely been used since March 2020. But folks seemed delighted just to be together, particularly the new people, for whom a social event in the church was a novelty. I plan to devote a good part of my hours each week to hosting these gatherings, which will help our new folks to connect with our members, our members to connect with each other, and me to connect with both. Another priority this fall is to help make the church feel more like home and less like an institution. Refurbishing the church spaces will be a large project and the staff will be collaborating with some great volunteers to get it off the ground. But my goal, as your membership and outreach manager, is to make the space feel like it belongs to the congregation at large, not to an "in group" or a privileged minority. Something I hear from new folks occasionally is that the space does not feel as friendly and inclusive as we would want it to. So I'll be collaborating on the refurbishment and redecoration of our church with an eye to making it seem inviting to anyone who walks through the door. For example, decorating our spaces with art made by our kids and our youth group sends a clear message that our kids and youth are a valued part of our community. Finally, I'll be working with Chris on a new season of the podcast, a new video series, and a new workshop series for newcomers. More to follow in the report next month.
From Raeann Mason
Director of Youth Ministry
FCByouth has officially kicked off. We had a great start to the year with a pizza party and lots of get-to-know-you games. Our advisory team has some new members. Joining Eva Patales, Richard Waring and Sarah Axelrod this year is Ran Courant-Morgan and Brian Isler. Eva and Richard will be spearheading Coming of Age this year with a fresh curriculum offering small groups, credo planning, offsite bonding activities and more. It’s going to be a great COA year, complete with an online parent/student portal.
We are also adding small groups for the entire youth program this year, and they will be on the same Sunday nights as COA. We think this will be a great way for youth to expand their friend groups and deepen their bonds.
Just announced was the ‘23 service learning trip. We will be partnering with Sustainable Harvest International and heading to either Panama or Honduras. Lots of meetings are underway to flesh out the details but we couldn’t be more excited to work with such an amazing organization.
Looking at the rest of October, our Youth Group is heading to Honey Pot Hill Farm for some apple picking and corn mazes, hosting the CRE Families Tuugether Halloween event, and having our own Halloween movie night.
In an effort to do some intergenerational collaboration, we invited the Social Action Committee to host a postcard writing workshop, in partnership with Reclaim Your Vote. RYV seeks to mitigate voter disenfranchisement in communities of color by increasing voter registration and participation. Big thanks to Laura Caoputo for organizing this. We hope to get some youth/family sign-ups for more postcard writing in the near future.
Lastly, looking further into the future and more closely at our involvement with big topics that matter to us, FCByouth is partnering with UUMass Action for a 3 day 2 night social action focused retreat. Here, youth from around Massachusetts will be invited to participate in skill shops, inspirational lectures, team building exercises that focus on community and collaboration, some hands-on social action opportunities as well as fun, games and connection. More details to come about this event happening in early December.
From John O’Connor
Although I am only 3 weeks into the internship, I feel that I have made progress in acclimating myself to FCB and making some meaningful contributions. Some of the highlights have been preaching services on 9/25, meeting with the Intern Minister Committee, and meeting with Janice and Miriam for training on Fellowship One and banking. My supervision with Chris has been focused, fun, and productive.
A more detailed enumeration of my activities is a follows:
9/11: Participated in Services at 9 and 11; Opening Words and Benediction
9/12: Participated in Staff Worship Meeting and Large Staff Meeting
9/19: Participated in Staff Worship Meeting and Large Staff Meeting
9/21: Participated in Worship Committee Meeting and UUMA Leadership Meeting
9/22: Participated in Individual Supervision with Chris and Gave Readings at Vespers
9/25: Preached “The Courage to Change” at 9 and 11 Services
9/26: Participated in Staff Worship, Large Staff Meeting, and Meeting with Janice on Administration matters
9/27 Participated in Social Action Committee Meeting
9/29 Meeting/Training on Fellowship 1 with Miriam and Meeting/Training with Janice on OOS Production
10/2 Assisted Ian with Sound Setup for Outside Service; Read Prayer at Service; Meeting/Training with Janice on Check Processing and Banking; and Attended First Intern Committee Meeting