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Staff Board Report, November 2023

Staff Board Report 

November 14th, 2023

Hello Dear Board, 

And welcome to another report. 

The new church year is off to a wonderful start. 

Attendance continues to be robust and has room to grow. 

We have had a string of beautiful and varied worship services. 

The musical is about to blossom again, with so much work having been poured in by so many people. 

At the time of this writing, we just had our last outdoor service of the fall which was beautiful, with leaves falling and wonderful music, followed just hours later by a candlelit vigil with the Belmont Religious Council and the Belmont Human Rights Commission. 

It was a lovely evening which culminated for me in my friend and colleague Rabbi Krauss praying right next to and then embracing a visiting Imam. 

It was a day that left me full of hope in a time when that has been hard to come by. 

So I write you these words and submit this report in a very particular location in time, with the holidays fast approaching, with the fullness of life filling even more, and with so much gratitude for you all, for all our people, and for this precious moment we are sharing. 

So much is possible. 

The foundation is strong, and I feel inspired and energized for the work ahead helping manifest this next chapter in the long and good book of First Church.  

Here in the next part of this report, I will share about our newly configured Social Action Committee, I will also share an update on Communications, I will touch on our upcoming experiments with simulcast worship, and finally I will touch on the fruitful work of the staffing structure task force. 

And then there will be reports from our wonderful staff. 

Social Action Committee Rides Again

I am so grateful to report that a phoenix is rising out of the ashes of what was the Social Action Committee. Priscilla Cobb has agreed to be a chair for the next two years and Ran Courant Morgan has agreed to help with the effort. They will be sharing more about the new model in the coming weeks, but the idea is to have a rotating chair with a two year term (Priscilla has agreed to two years, and we will find her a solid co-chair who will begin their two years in Priscilla’s second) 

The steering committee will meet quarterly and will host broad invitation gatherings, probably three or so a year focused on the areas of focus for the year. For example, a pot luck in which a focus on voting rights which would then end with opportunities for involvement, a gathering hosted by FCB Green and our youth which would then blossom out into climate justice efforts and so on. 

Again, more details to come, but huge thanks to Priscilla and Ran for agreeing to help anchor this effort and to everyone who has worked so tirelessly over the years in the many justice making efforts of First Church. 


I continue to be so grateful for Raeann’s continued work on the website. It has come so far in such a relatively short time. In the last Board Report she requested feedback and received it, and she is so grateful. 

Please continue to share feedback. 

We will continue to experiment with various communication media and initiatives, and your feedback is crucial. 

Simulcast Winter Worship  

We are very excited to share that we are hard at work on plans for our first simulcasted worship experiment on December 3rd. Every first Sunday in the winter we will be simulcasting the worship, one service at 10:00 on Dec. 3rd, Jan. 7th, Feb. 4th and March 3rd

We will be fine tuning and exploring options and together will reflect on all we learn, both looking towards what it would mean to simulcast more in the coming year, what kinds of tech upgrades we would need as well as personnel implications if any. 

More soon on that, but do mark your calendars those of you who are travelling for any of those Sundays to tune in and check it out. 

Staffing Structure Task Force 

I am so grateful for the hard work and deep knowledge of Martha Read, Martha Courant, Joel Mooney and Brian Caputo who have stepped up and are serving on the Staffing Structure Task Force. 

I am so grateful for all they bring, each of them with professional expertise and experience and all together, an even keel and deep thinking team, just right for this set of tasks. 

We started with reflecting on Janice’s job description and the reality of her departure in January and decided that it made sense to hire for her job as it is configured as a first step and then to look more broadly at the rest of the structure. 

We created a job description and invitation to apply and advertised the job on the UUA website, the UU Administrator’s list and our own website. In addition, a number of members have encouraged solid candidates they know who are looking to apply. 

I feel good about where we are in the process and feel confident we will have a solid candidate to replace Janice. 

And now we begin the second phase of our work, exploring the rest of the structure and looking towards the future. 

This work will take the next few months. We hope to come to the Board and Finance Committee with some recommendations in the New Year and we will discern together the way forward then. 

We are facing a very unique moment. 

In addition to the departure of Samuel and Janice, we also just heard that Wendy will be leaving at the end of the year. This all brings lots of possibilities and potential for reshaping and restructuring. 

And all of this with the backdrop of returning from the acute years of COVID and many of the structures and practices and priorities shifting. Lots to explore. 

So thank you again to the task force. Their counsel and process and presence is enormously helpful. And as always, thank you to our wonderful staff team. 

They have, each and every one of them, served the church with commitment and care, with passion and pride, with a deep love, an abiding patience and an abundant creativity. 

It has been a joy to work alongside every one of them. 

Here are their reports…

From Janice Zazinski

Church Administrator 

As you all know, I have resigned from my position at the church to pursue other things in my life (in particular, my dog training business) here in Southern Vermont. It’s a bittersweet leaving of FCB for me (in that I’ve enjoyed my work there!) but it’s time.

Speaking of time (well, timing), an apartment has become available in a senior living community 10 minutes from our house and my elderly parents will be moving into it from Orange County, NY within 60 days. So life here just gets better and better as my sister also lives nearby, and my nieces, nephew, and stepsons are frequent visitors here.

I will miss you all and my colleagues and being part of the good work you do in the world. I’m most proud of how my colleagues and I (and all you lay leaders) kept things going during COVID. I think the new administrative and operational systems set up (by necessity) during that time have served the church well.

It’s too soon to say I am wrapping things up as I’m still busily responding to rental queries, building issues, finance issues, and helping Raeann with communications, but I’m working hard to complete the FCB Congregational Operational Manual (a project three years in the making), which I hope will help your new administrator. I’m trying to think of things “I wish I’d known” when I started but I’m sure the new admin will receive lots of help and guidance from Rev. Chris, their colleagues and of course all of you.

I’ll be down (weather permitting) for the December 3rd 10 am service, so hope to see many of you then.

From Ian Garvie

Director of Music 

The music program is in the midst of the musical craziness right now, with only one week left until showtime. The children have put in an amazing amount of work, and the shows will be truly spectacular. Like many other areas of the church, we have had a challenge recruiting enough parent volunteers to make the production run smoothly. Most of the work is being carried by a few dedicated folks, and there are many others who are not available to help much. We will be working on revamping our volunteer recruitment for next year, and making a stricter requirement of volunteer time for participants. 

Looking back, on Friday, October 13th we had our first Second Friday Concert, with a full house and an incredible performance by Vance Gilbert. And on Friday November 3rd, we had our first Classical Concert Series performance, with art song group Calliope's Call. 

Coming up, we have Carrie Newcomer performing this Friday, November 10th. The show promises to be just about sold out, and will be an incredible evening. And of course, on November 16th through 19th the Children's Choir performs the amazing comedy musical, Once Upon a Mattress. If you don't yet have your tickets, get them soon! They are selling out quickly. 

And next month, will be continuing our long-standing Major Music tradition on December 10th with Haydn's Mass In Times of War (Lord Nelson's Mass). 

As always, I'm appreciative of all the support the community gives to the music program! 

From Nate Sellers 

Director of Children’s Religious Education 

We began October with a successful Welcome Back Donut Breakfast during the first holiday weekend (October 8th) for families who missed out on our “Welcome Back” events in September, and we ended the month strong with our annual Halloween Party on October 28th! New families attended both events, proving again that the start of school isn’t the only time of year that we're welcoming and engaging visitors in our program. 

We’re continuing to discuss the possibility of a 1st and 2nd grade OWL on Sunday mornings between the 9:00 and 11:00 service. After discussing this potential Sunday addition with a handful of parents, and hearing their enthusiasm, we feel it may be beneficial to schedule a sample lesson this winter/spring. Before setting a date, we plan on sharing the updated OWL guide (for Kindergarten to 2nd grade) with our CRE families, in addition to having at least one discussion group around the new curriculum. We believe that adding this additional OWL program will bring more families into the community and serve the growing population of younger children in our program. 

The past three Sunday mornings have been busy-busy as we have seen the most consistent number of children in our classes since last winter. Although our registration isn’t the highest on record, we’re continuing to notice a strong trend in our attendance and a solid community forming within our classrooms (which I love!). Again, I believe an additional program, like OWL for our early elementary children, would generate the strong possibility of attracting outside families and visitors. This being said, we're more than happy to be serving and connecting with our current families, and are looking forward to our festive holiday events next month!

From Lillian Anderson 

Director of Adult Programs 

This has been a busy month both continuing our fall programs and looking ahead to the winter months.  The Adult Programs fall brochure was printed and distributed during the worship service a few weeks ago and I’ve been pleased at the responses.  People have expressed that they are happy to have a printed version of our programs.  It is also helpful to hand out to newcomers.

The Newcomers Welcoming Table is now in operation during both coffee hours.  We had two people greeted and signed the visitor’s book and their names will be entered in Fellowship One.  There will also be follow-up emails in the next several weeks.  The Fellowship group has met and developed a schedule of programs, on a month, for the rest of the year.  January will have Pizza, Bingo and Prizes, February - Valentine Day Card Making, March - Circle Suppers, April - Potluck Supper, May - a hike, June - end of the year picnic.  We also will be forming a separate group to organize Sandy Island.

The Earth-centered Spirituality group met with 5 people and others have expressed interest but were unavailable to attend the first meeting. Anna Churchill and I have been discussing how to proceed and she will be using a book centered approach as well as meeting during various moon cycles during January and February.

Nina Grimaldi will be continuing to offer the Parents of Older Children. They will be meeting again on December 17, 5-6pm.  The Living with Health Challenges support group will have its first meeting on November 7th.

One new program for the fall that didn’t make it into the fall brochure is The Biblical Prophets: Relevance to our Lives and Contemporary Events with Joe Weiss on Thursday, Nov. 30, 7:30pm, Online.  Joe will be surveying several Old and New Testament Prophets, how their messages inform ethics in our own lives, and how they are relevant to current situation and crises.

Looking ahead to our winter programs, I have been in touch with Will Brownsberger about doing a program in January titled The State of Our Democracy.  He has contacted Katherine Clark and she is eager to participate.  He is working with her staff to decide on a date.

The CommUUnity Collaborative is underway and we are in the process of finalizing our winter programs.  They will be offered from January - March and there will be an exciting group of offerings.  More to follow next month.

From Raeann Mason 

Director of Youth Ministry 

Youth Group

This past month, the Youth Group had the opportunity to hear from Rachel Greenberger about the Mass Indigenous Legislative Agenda. They then had the opportunity to write a testimony to legislators urging them to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. Several youths then volunteered to share their call to action with the congregation the following Sunday. Due to Rachel’s and the youth group’s diligence on the matter, First Church submitted a total of X testimonies in favor of supporting this aspect of this agenda.  

The youth also had the opportunity to collaborate with the UUMA Youth Corps for their kick-off event. Our youth group collaborates with the UU Mass Action Youth Corps, a dynamic program that unites high-school-aged leaders passionate about social justice and activism from various UU churches across Greater Boston and beyond to take meaningful action together. 

Youth from different UU congregations can join the Youth Corps Leadership Team, where they develop their leadership skills through collaborating to plan events and actions. These dedicated young leaders hold regular meetings and organize larger youth-focused Youth Corps events and actions that welcome participation from all UU youth groups in the region.As part of this partnership, our FCB youth group participated in the Youth Corps annual kick-off event at First Parish in  Arlington. Together, the youth heard from the UUMA: YC partners, I Have a Future, and City Life/Ubana, and then got creative making tie-dye items to sell at craft fairs (including our Social Action Holiday Fair coming up on 12/10!). Our youth group is proud to say that one of the leadership team’s most active members is our very own Keira Healey. You may know her from seeing her on Sunday mornings in the CRE classrooms and spending time with the kids during worship—big shout out to Keira for all her hard work and dedication. 

We also hosted the Belmont Religious Council’s service-learning trip info session. This year, we’re going to the Navajo Nation, and I think we will have a great turnout from the community. If you’d like to learn more about the trip, you can check out this slideshow here. And if you’re a youth interested in applying, you can do so here.

The youth hosted our annual Halloween Party for the CRE kids. It was great to witness the youth stepping up and running stations, leading teams of kids on scavenger hunts, and putting in some elbow grease to set up and tear down. A bonus was connecting with some of the parents in our community.   

We tied up the month with a trip to Capitol Theater in Arlington, where we rented a theater to watch the Halloween favorite, The Addams Family. We had popcorn, soda, and, of course, Halloween candy, and the youth were encouraged to bring their friends along. We had a good turnout, and I hope to see what’s become an annual tradition grow over the years. 

We kicked off the month of November with a crash course on tarot card reading, per the youth’s request. We discussed how tarot can be a tool for introspection and self-awareness. We learned about divination, its history, and how we engage with the idea of the divine, eternal, g-d, spirit, intuition, etc, in the modern day. We ended our session with some card reading practice, and overall, it was a fun exploration of the subject.  

Looking ahead, we’re making care packages for last year’s seniors, who are now college freshmen. We hope to shower them with love and encouragement as we head into the winter season and, of course, extend an invitation to the 11 pm Christmas Eve service, which I’m encouraging all the youth to attend.  

The rest of November will be a little different than other months. You can expect to see us during intermission at the musical, selling refreshments and theater grams. All proceeds will go to our service learning trip with the BRC to the Navajo Nation. I encourage you to come by and say hello to show support. 

Later, we will return from the Thanksgiving break in full force with an overnight stay at Common Cathedral. The program they run is called CityReach, which is an overnight urban outreach program for youth (with accompanying adults), young adults, and college students from churches of any denomination. The program gives these young people the opportunity to learn about homelessness firsthand from people who have experienced it. During the 20-hour session, participants join CityReach staff in street ministry and offer hospitality, food, and clothing, followed by sharing and reflection. Sign-ups are already rolling in, and we look forward to reporting back on December 17. 


As always, we’re constantly refining the flow of communications. We’ve had great success with the new weekly Unitarian. We’ve combined moments of reflection, congregational and thematic deep dives, and messages from our ministers, along with important updates and reminders from the staff and program leaders. Big shout out to Martha Hicks-Courant, who has graciously given her time and energy offering feedback from a “users” perspective. And, of course, to my fellow staff member, Janice Zazinksi, and her editorial eye for detail. Her institutional knowledge is deeply appreciated, and we will miss her come the new year.

The Universalist is well underway, and folks should expect to see it in their mailboxes in late November/early December. We had issues with the last publication of folks getting them nearly a month late, so we’re troubleshooting with Belmont Printing in the hopes that doesn’t happen again. 

We have officially combined the Podcasts, thanks to the help and guidance of Mark Rosenstein. Moving forward, we hope to publish weekly Sunday sermons and mid-week deep dives as we can. We think this will help listeners find us more efficiently and engage more often. 

Lastly, a big shout out to our youth group member, Ben Jablonski, who has been working on recording Sunday morning services so we have more video footage for both communications and our YouTube channel. We hope to offer a way for folks to tune into the sermons virtually without detracting from bodies in the seats. Ben’s willingness and hard work are opening lots of doors. 

From Sophia Doescher 

Intern Minister 

I've come to call this second month of the internship my "settle-in" month. I continue to be grateful for all of the guidance and wisdom share by members and staff, and I have enjoyed getting to know you all better! 

In early October, I had the opportunity to attend the Atkins Cuba Legacy task force where we began to name our goals for the year ahead and noted the Nov. 19th service that will speak about this legacy work. Since that meeting, I have been reaching out to some connections at Harvard to learn how we might be able to connect with their work on Harvard's Legacy of Slavery Report. 

I also had the pleasure of preaching on October 22nd and leading vespers on October 26th. Planning these services was a wonderful introduction to the collaborative process, and I learned so much from the worship staff, and from community feedback after the services. I am looking forward preaching again on November 26th! 

Settling into this role has also meant making connections with community members through one-on-one meetings, which has offered such wisdom and insight. I'm looking forward to more to come. In addition to making one-on-one connections, I will be a co-facilitator of the Living with Health Challenges small group starting November 14th.

In the coming months, I am excited to be offering a couple classes/presentations through the CommUUnity Collaborative and the Alliance. Through CommUUnity Collaborative I'll be doing a class called "Chanting: Through History, In Theory, As Spiritual Practice" on January 17th (Zoom) and January 24th (in-person) at 7:30pm. I'll be presenting with the Alliance on February 8th. 

It has been such a joy to be in community with you all, and I'm so looking forward to the months to come. 


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