April 11 th , 2023
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 25 th 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 23 rd , August 6 th , 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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
Something 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.
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
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
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, someone 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.
Another person approached me after the Major Music service and wanted to
schedule some time to meet; and I had a lovely meeting last week,
and have scheduled another for next week. I also met with a staff member 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, Raeann, 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: Belonging (our history), Becoming (our growing independence), and Beyond (faith, God and themes on things bigger than ourselves). 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!