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Staff Board Report, March 2024

Hello All,

I am sending you all rain-soaked love on a truly gray March day.

I am writing these words in a coffee shop in Providence, RI, where I am

about to meet with a wonderful colleague who has been part of the GBLM

(pronounced Ga-Blam!) the Greater Boston Lead Ministers, a group of ten

colleagues serving multi-staff congregations around Boston.


In the midst of the return from lockdown I was meeting with colleagues one

on one, ministers serving Sherborn, Arlington and more, and I realized a

bunch of us have very distinct challenges. And so, in addition to helping

gather and serve all hundred plus of our UU Ministers who were part of the

Mass Bay Ministers group I helped lead for the last four years, ten of us

started to gather for worship and sharing resources.


It has been a wonderful group with many successes and challenges to share.

I look forward to sharing more about our work together and the many

possibilities for cross pollination and creative collaboration going forward.

For now, welcome to another Staff Board Report. Here in the next section, I

will touch on the Stewardship Kick Off and the Team for this year and next,

I will discuss our Simulcasting experiments and learnings, I will mention our

upcoming Activity Fair and Shared Ministry Team, and finally will share

some exciting news about my involvement in the UU Urban Ministry.

And then there will be reports from our wonderful staff.


Stewardship Team and Kickoff

The Stewardship Drive is off to a great start. While it is early days to make

sense of the results, we are free from red flags so far and have a robust

response to the first stage. We are tracking with previous years and have had

numerous new pledgers added to the ranks.


We will have more details reported in the next few months and the larger

themes and implications will come clear in those subsequent updates, but we

are off to a positive beginning.


The one caution is that we need as a Board, and potentially along with the

Nominating Committee, we need to infuse the group with additional leaders.

Gina and Bruce will both be stepping down, and while the remaining team is

wonderful, Godfrey, Mary Ellen and Katie all are cautious to take on the role

of chair. Gina reported to me that Mary Ellen and Katie both have large jobs

which limit their availability, and Godfrey was very clear from the get go

that he and Janet are away for many key weeks in the midst of the process.

They have all been crucial team members and will all continue on, but we

need to recruit load bearing members to join them and perhaps to chair the

team.


I have personally recruited all the recent additions to the Stewardship Team,

Mary Ellen, Katie, Godfrey and Gina. While I am happy to continue to help

in this way, it would be wonderful to have some support in this effort.

Perhaps Board members approaching past Stewardship Chairs or past Board

members, or any other wonderful ideas you have. I am wide open to your

wise and wonderful ideas.


Simulcasting

We are very happy to have come to the end of our winter of simulcasting

experimenting. To be sure we have learned a lot. Among the lessons we

have learned are that Ian and I can not be the point people for this effort. As

is probably obvious, we have lots of other important tasks on Sunday

mornings. We have also learned quite a bit about technical challenges and

strategies that we can share with a team of volunteers who might emerge.

One volunteer in particular who has professional expertise in this area has

come forward and volunteered to be part of a team. We will firm up a plan

and get back to you with more details as it emerges, but for now I am deeply

grateful for Ian and my son Benjamin who put in many hours to help make

these experiments happen.


Shared Ministry Team and the April Activity Fair

As many of you know, our fledgling Shared Ministry team has hatched the

wonderful idea of an activity fair on April 7 after the first outdoor service.

We will have tables from committees and groups at the church and members

and friends will be invited to move through the Parish Hall and connect

peoples faces with groups, receive some information about the groups’

purposes and details, and potentially reaching out to learn more about

helping join the team.


The Shared Ministry team will also report back about their work in this first

year of their work and then look to upcoming projects and ideas for the

future.


UU Urban Ministry

Finally, I am honored to report that I have been invited to join the Board of

the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry. In my initial conversation with

Rev. Mary Margaret Earl, the Executive Director, she said that the

nominating committee has a very deliberate process and they take a lot of

time deliberating and discerning about candidates before they invite them to

join the Board.


Their invitation comes at a wonderful time as I have a number of wider UU

involvements having concluded. As many of you know for the last four

years I served on the Mass Bay Districts UU Ministers Association

Executive Team, for the last three years as president. I stepped down from

that this fall, passing the leadership on to a wonderful team. I will also

complete my time on the Belmont LGBTQ+ Alliance this spring.

I have always considered my ministry as serving both the church and the

wider world and as such I like to have one wider world involvement. And I

have long admired and been deeply inspired by the work of the UU Urban

Ministry.


So I have accepted their invitation. I will my first three-year term in June

(you can re-up three-year terms three times) In addition to six meetings of

the Board a year I will also serve on a committee. I will share more as I

know more, just wanted to share the news.

And now the reports from the rest of the Staff…


From Tracey Summerhayes

Congregational Administrator

Reflecting on my second month as the Congregational Administrator, it has

been a period of significant learning and growth as I continue to familiarize

myself with the responsibilities of this role. I am grateful for the patience

and support extended to me by the board, our team, and the congregation as

I navigate this transition.


One pivotal step I took this month was reaching out to a seasoned UU CA

mentor who has been offering guidance and insight into the intricacies of the

position. Additionally, I dedicated long hours to becoming more familiar

with different aspects of FellowshipOne and Church Windows.


Collaborating closely with the Treasurer, we diligently reconciled our

financial records, ensuring accuracy and transparency. Although the learning

curve has been steep, I am pleased with the progress we have made together.

To streamline operations in the Parish Hall, I received training on our A/V

setups and created a user-friendly reference sheet for space users, ensuring

smoother processes moving forward and efficiency in training others. Of

course, no transition is without its challenges. I recently encountered and

successfully resolved an issue regarding Sanctuary Flower donations,

reaching out to those affected to rectify the situation. 


Looking ahead, I am eager to continue enhancing our operations. I have

been processing space rental/usage requests and invoices for the remainder

of the church year, while also working to finalize the summer BASEC lease

and beginning to draft the Hungarian School lease.


Engaging with our community remains a highlight for me. Attending events

such as the multigenerational service, a recent Fellowship committee

meeting, and the SoUUper lunches has provided valuable insights into the

various activities and initiatives within our congregation. Witnessing the

sense of unity and camaraderie among our members has been incredibly

inspiring.


As I look forward, I am confident in my ability to grow into this role and

contribute meaningfully to our community's growth.


From Ian Garvie

Director of Music

The past month has seen some of the more successful concerts the music

program has hosted this year. On February 2nd, Camila Parias

performed Cantos Y Suspiros, Songs and Dances of 17th Century Spain, to a

very appreciative audience in the Sanctuary. On February 9th Mark Erelli

almost sold out the Parish Hall, performing for around 180 folks. And just

this past Friday, Paul-Andre Bempechat performed a brilliant piano recital

for over 60. Attendance at this year's Second Friday Concerts has been

higher than any year prior, and next season is almost complete. The

Classical Concert Series has also proved successful, and marketing strategies

for next season are being discussed. I am beginning to book the five classical

concerts for next season. 


Simon has finished his month's leave, and it's great to have him back. He

was capably replaced by Paul Bempechat for two services, and by Sarah

Hager for February 4th. 


Finally, the Children's Choirs were featured in our Celebration Sunday

service on March 3rd, where I wrote a story to tie all seven of their songs

together with the theme of We Are the Ones. The simulcast broadcast was

once again problematic, but the performances went well. 

Looking ahead, this Sunday is the Major Music service, where we have a

fantastic orchestra joining the Senior Choir for Antonio Bononcini's Stabat

Mater. Though this fantastic and moving piece is a setting of a 13th Century

hymn from the early 18th Century, it's stunningly relevant now. This is the

first time we have had a harpsichord, an organ, and a theorbo in the

orchestra. And Amanda Forsythe, an internationally famous early music

soprano (and parent to one of our Youth Choir members) will be joining us

as a featured soloist. Definitely not something to miss!


From Lillian Anderson

Director of Adult Programs

Women’s Retreats

The registrations for the Women’s Retreat at First Church on March 22/23

are coming in regularly. Some women are even choosing to attend both the

At Home and the Away retreats. Since this is the first year we have done the

At Home retreat we were not sure if there would be a good response but it

looks as if we are meeting a need for connection. We currently have 23

people registered and the deadline is March 15. The planning team of Lynn

Anderson, Nicole Bernstein, Barbara Gortych, Christine O’Neill, Eva

Patalas, Gladys Unger has been meeting once a week since February 11 and

has been eager and dedicated. It has been fun to work with them to create

this event. Miriam Baker has developed the registration form so that people

can register online using their credit cards which is a great improvement.

The Away Women’s Retreat planning group is also meeting regularly and

their registration begins on March 14th.


Fellowship Group

The group met on February 29 and planned the spring events. Leslie Wolf

will be running the April 6 All Church Potluck Supper with lots of help from

the rest of the group. The group felt that they wanted to keep it simple,

especially since we haven’t had a potluck since before the pandemic. They

wanted to make it easy for people to attend - just bring a dish and beverage

to share, no rsvp, just come and enjoy. We also spent time talking about the

end of year picnic and Sandy Island. This week’s Unitarian will ask for

volunteers interested in making the picnic happen. I’ll follow that in the

next few weeks with an appeal to form the planning group for Sandy Island.

I feel that both events will draw the requisite number of people to create two

planning groups.


Welcoming/Belonging Group

There will be a brainstorming meeting on March 18th to plan the events for

the rest of the church year. These will include the Welcoming/Belonging

class for newcomers followed by a social gathering at Fatima Serra’s house.

We are also planning a recognition of new members at one of the worship

services in June. Currently we are staffing the Welcoming Table at coffee

hours on Sundays. We have had several newcomers (both brand new and

returning) signing the visitor book and Mark Rosenstein has been making

name tags for them.


From Raeann Mason

Director of Youth Ministry

February has been a great month for First Church youth. Trivia was a

BLAST (shout out to our MCs Ben Jablonski and Keira Healey!), and we

were able to raise a few hundred dollars for the Navajo Nation service-

learning trip. We’re grateful for Jen Roderick’s guidance in creating fun,

quality questions. And a big thanks to the folks who showed up to support

us! We would love to see different committees and groups forming their

own teams next year! 



Before sending our youth off to the Navajo Nation, we had our 3rd annual

“it’s-nearly-spring,-we-can-make-it-through-winter-just-a-little-longer”

Boda Borg adventure. We had a decent turnout, even with it being

Superbowl Sunday. I think we may need to skip next year’s adventure-

they’re getting a little too good at solving the puzzles!



Our trip to the Navajo Nation was incredible. We’re really looking forward

to sharing about it in the upcoming Sunday worship service on March 17. 


As I prepare my teams for such journeys, I always emphasize to the youth

that what you invest is what you gain, both in these experiences and in life

itself. If you show up and try new things, make new friends, and take new

risks—there is a reward. The more open and vulnerable we allow ourselves

to be, the deeper our encounters become. The team embraced this ethos

wholeheartedly, and the impact was undeniably profound. Having mentored

these youth for three years, I've witnessed their camaraderie and compassion

grow. However, our bonds reached unprecedented levels during this trip,

largely due to the warmth and generosity of our hosts and their families.


Our time was divided between service and education. We had the privilege

of assisting at Angel House, a donation center managed by our host and

highly respected Diné elder, Vanessa, and supported by her children

(Chaunupa is the cool one in the aviators). Due to the lasting effects of the

Bennet Freeze, and the nature of life on the reservation, many go (or have

gone up until very recently) without electricity, plumbing, and running

water. Vanessa and her family inundated with donations due to the ongoing

pandemic, graciously allowed us to aid in sorting through thousands of

clothing and household items, ensuring timely delivery to those in need. In

this process, we had the opportunity to parse out items for babies and deliver

them as a team to the local WIC office. This was particularly moving for me

as I have been the beneficiary of WIC programs here and know firsthand

what an impact these provisions can make. The full-circle nature of this was

not lost on my hosts, so they were sure to introduce me to the amazing team

of women who run the local office. Something powerfully healing happened

because of that meeting—I am still struggling to find words to describe, but

our encounter felt deeply human. 


We also had the chance to do farm labor and help clear out a field on Hopi

land. Hopi and Diné people have land on the Navajo Nation reservation, and

many sacred Hopi lands and ancestral sites are within the Navajo Nation

reservation. Clearing this field was not only strenuous but part of an annual

ritual, complete with fire dancing and blessing the earth with positive energy

and intentions. We were, in turn, blessed with holy water and learned about

the ‘three sisters” growing tradition (planting squash, corn, and beans

together). Being invited to the Hopi village was one of many privileges and

gifts we received on this trip that most other travelers will never be allowed

to experience.


Most of our evenings were spent learning about the Diné way of life. Guest

speakers gave us language lessons, and we learned about the women’s

coming-of-age traditions and even held a mock ceremony. We learned about

art from a local basket weaver and about healing circles from a drummer

who taught us healing dances. A family even opened their special hogan

“sweat lodge” to us for a life-changing, four-session spiritual journey. Each

one of these learning experiences was a gift to us. But they were also meant

to reimagine what service can look like. Our “European savior” complex

was never addressed directly but was challenged at every turn. Sometimes,

the best thing way to serve someone is to listen and learn. Our hosts

compared these learning sessions to sparks, with enough of them, a fire can

burn. Our willingness to sit and truly learn was likewise seen as a gift in

return, a mutual exchange I will forever be grateful for. 


I am very excited for you to hear from our youth. Their personal encounters

and takeaway lessons are still brewing in their hearts and minds. They had

much to share in our debriefing meeting this past Sunday, and their

newfound insight will likely shape not only our March 17 trip report but also

the youth-led worship service coming up in May. The lessons they learned

will last a lifetime, just as I suspect the friendship we forged with our Diné

hosts will. 

 

From Sophia Doescher

Intern Minister

This has been a month filled to the brim with joy and connection! I started

the month with a presentation for the Alliance, the focus of which was

Spirituality and Our Mental Health. I really appreciated the open minds and

curiosity that all participants brought to the presentation, it was powerful to

hear other people’s connections to their mental health journeys, and those of

their loved ones.


Throughout the month I led two Thursday midweek meditation services, the

first a chanting Meditation on February 8th, and the second a guided

meditation on February 29th. This month I have had a special focus on my

work with the Youth group as I helped prepare for the Youth Trivia Night on

February 3rd and attended the Youth Service Trip to Navajo Nation 2/17-

2/24. This trip was incredibly powerful, challenging, and full of laughter. I

am so excited for the youth, Raeann, and I to share some of our learnings

and experiences during the Sunday services on March 17th and to invite our

wonderful community with us on our journey to deepen our connection to

the earth and with one another.

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