The Beginning of the Beginning
There is a scene in a movie I love in which an older man is talking with a younger man who is reflecting on his marriage which is going through a rough patch.
The young man speaks to the old man of how it was “in the beginning.”
And the old man chuckles and tells the young man, “But you are still in the beginning. In fact, you are in the beginning of the beginning.”
I think of that scene every year as the church year launches.
And this year, in two ways.
First off, so much in beginning. The fall every year is so full of beginnings. Every new program launching, returning programs launching new iterations. Sophia beginning on the team this year as our new intern. So many things are in bud.
And more broadly, I am in the beginning of the beginning of my time here with you. This is the beginning of my fifth year here, but in many ways the Pandemic Years were their own bizarre time. It feels like we are beginning now to do foundational work together, meeting this moment and determining the way forward.
The staff team is strong, and so many corners of the church are thriving. We have a solid foundation upon which we can build something special in the many years to come.
I look forward to this year of visioning with you all and exploration of all that we can be and become in the coming years. Here in the beginning of the beginning, so much is possible.
I am, as ever, so grateful for you all, for all our leaders, for the wild generosity with which so many of you serve. First Church is thriving because of you. Because of so many choices you make like reading this report, coming with questions and insights, engaging in this work of leadership.
So thank you. And welcome to the first Staff Board Report of the 2023-2024 church year.
Here in the next part of this report, I will share about our new Shared
Ministry Team, I will also share an update on Communications, I will touch
on Volunteerism and this moment, and finally I will touch on some staff
transitions and on our staffing structure moving forward.
And then there will be reports from our wonderful staff.
Shared Ministry Team
I am so grateful for the beginning of the Shared Ministry Team. Eloise McGaw and Pam Eggert and I have met a few times, and are off to a solid start. This year we will be reaching out to existing committees and getting the lay of the land. We will sync up recruitment cycles and find out how long people have been on different committees and what new kinds of support they might need.
And then we will share this with the congregation, having opportunities for people to learn about opportunities for involvement. We will also share best practices around term limits and meeting leadership as well as reflecting with stake holders about whether committees are needed for specific functions, which we will touch on below. It should be a fascinating and fruitful project.
One quick note about term limits here. When you all hired me a few years back, one of the things which was identified as a need was moving beyond the silos which separate corners of the church. One way to keep silos in tact and people separated are to stay in one committee for decades and not engage in other corners of the church. We have come a long way to unifying the church. We are realizing over and over that we are one congregation, with one purpose and mission, that music and RE serve the same purpose, that we are all part of one organism and that the thriving of one part of the church is woven with the thriving of the
And we still have more to learn and more to untangle to live into this more connected, more cohesive version of First Church. More on all this in coming months.
I am so grateful for Raeann and her hard work on communications. The website in just two years has come so far. To be sure, we can and will do more, but we are off to a great start.
The return of the weekly Unitarian has been wonderful and we will continue to explore ways to share information digitally with videos and articles, social media posts and more.
A persistent challenge is people not reading the Unitarian and information we send. There is little we can do to force people to engage with communication, to embody their half of the process, but we will do our very best to provide meaningful and engaging content whenever they decide to connect to it.
In addition to the digital media we are looking into mailings and other printed offerings, booklets about program areas as well as pew cards sharing about upcoming opportunities.
We are also looking at reconstituting the Communications Committee, exploring ways that members can help Raeann in the many modes of communication in which we are engaged.
So stay tuned and do please engage with lots of what we are sharing. And if you have feedback about communications do not hesitate to share, and when folks share feedback encourage them to reach out to Raeann directly. We are enthusiastic to deepen and improve all our communications and the feedback from our constituents is invaluable.
Volunteerism and This Moment and The Next
We continue to be in the midst of a troubling moment around volunteerism. We, alongside so many communities are seeing a reluctance to take up leadership in committees. As we will discuss below, both the Membership and Fellowship Committees are in transition. In addition the Lay Pastoral Care team and now Social Action Committee without leaders and members and are not functioning. The recent chairs of the Social Action Committee all stepped down and there are no chairs for this group.
Fascinatingly, there is lots of will to do the work of social justice. Many people volunteer to do the work of UU The Vote or to help the Sulamani family, the immigrant family from Afghanistan we are helping. So many of our FCB folks are leaders locally in government, in Belmont Against Racism and the LGBTQ+ Alliance. But no one wants to chair a committee to talk about doing justice work. And on some level this is fine. Part of a thriving ecosystem is things coming into being and other things ceasing to exist.
We have only so many volunteer hours. Our role as staff and leaders is to right size the volunteer load to meet the hours available. And who knows, perhaps we are experiencing a temporary moment of burnout and people will be more refreshed and able to reengage. And perhaps not. Perhaps this is the new normal and we will be called to do less, perhaps programs will be more staff led. We will discover this together. But it will be important in these coming months and years to see clearly where we are so we can build from here.
Staff Transitions and Structure Going Forward
As many of you know, just last week, Janice gave her notice that she will be
moving on as of the New Year. We are so grateful for all her many years of service, and especially for the years of service through the pandemic. She has been a creative,
collaborative, calming and capable member of our team and she will always
be in our hearts.
In addition with the recent departure of Samuel, and the new context and dynamics before us in this 2023 moment of First Church, it will be good to bring together a team of people to think through our staffing strategy for this moment and the next. I have discussed this with the finance committee and now you all and I look forward to working with a task force to come up with a short and long term plan to meet our current and upcoming needs. There is an opportunity here and it will be good to dive into it.
And we will look to celebrate Janice and share gratitude for her many years before she leaves. Also just a quick note to say that Janice gave her notice after sharing the report below. She will include the news more directly to you all in her next month report. More on all this in the coming months.
And here are the reports from 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 — refreshing and a little scary. A new intern, an empty church calendar to fill, and a year of new initiatives. Over the summer Camila Parias did an outstanding job with the church’s banking and in-person systems. Of course, Luis Carrion did his usual wonderful job keeping the building running smoothly and once again BASEC were wonderful summer camp space users in the building.
If you take a look at the church’s rental calendar you’ll see lots of building use from outside groups. You can see that calendar by clicking here. Thanks to Jody Renouf for programming all the key fobs for these groups. The Hungarian School space use (roughly every-other Saturday) is in full swing and they seem very pleased with how things are going. There are a
few little kinks to work out such as ensuring they re-set space (per the agreement) when they are done for the day. The Hungarian School process brought to light some outdated info in the church’s facilities use agreement, and thanks to Bob McGaw and James Hencke for their careful review and update of said facilities use agreement.
Raeann Mason and I worked together to bring the congregation a weekly Unitarian in a new format that captures what’s happening in the week ahead. We continue to update the design to make it as reader-friendly and creator-friendly as possible.
I’ve met with the Compensation Task Force to ensure we are in compliance with First Church’s, as well as the UUA’s, requirements regarding benefits for current and new staff. That process is ongoing. Thank you all for your leadership!
From Ian Garvie
Director of Music
The music program has started out the year in typical busy but wonderful fashion! We welcomed back our four amazing soloists into the Senior Choir, Chuck Claus, Kartik Ayysola, Camila Parias, and Laura Couch. Both the Senior and the Nova Choirs are doing well, but are significantly down in numbers from 2019. We are going to be putting out some announcements, flyers, etc. to try to recruit some new members. We know the community
loves to hear the choir sing! Many folks just seem a bit reluctant to sing themselves.
The Children's Choir program is kicking off the year with Once Upon a Mattress, our 44th consecutive annual musical. We have 68 children singing this year, with a handful more waiting until after the musical is over to join.
Unfortunately Covid seems to be hitting the cast quite hard right now, with 8 children in grades 5-8 either currently sick or recently recovered. I've reinstituted a mask mandate for rehearsals until this wave passes.
We've had two wonderful outdoor services - on September 10th we had a brass quartet join us, and just this past weekend we had a Celtic dance band, with a fiddle and a bagpipe joining Simon and myself.
I've also joined the Property Care Committee as the Staff liaison, and am helping to recruit some new members to the team to help with some of the ongoing logistics and challenges with regards to maintaining this building of ours. The current property care team members are doing an amazing job, and it takes more than three people to juggle all of the maintenance and upkeep needs of a building like this. Kent Findell, Karl Klasson, Heather Quay, Nathaniel Rono, and Christine Dunn have already joined. We will be organizing a community - wide work party to tackle some of the small things that could be done to spruce up the place, such as cleaning, painting, reorganizing, etc. I have also ordered a 75" LED smart TV and a soundbar that will be installed in the next few weeks in the Parlor. This has been purchased by the Adult Programs committee, and will greatly add to the number of events and lectures we are able to host in that space. I'm looking forward to another year of music and community!
From Nate Sellers
Director of Children’s Religious Education
Wendy and I kicked off the school year with a CRE Welcome Back Bagel Breakfast between services on September 24th, and we'll be hosting a second Welcome Back Breakfast during the first holiday weekend in October(October 8th) for those families who missed out in September. Sunday mornings have been quite active in the CRE classrooms since September 12th, and although our numbers continue to hover around 30 children per
week, we've seen a solid increase in new families (e.g. seven new children
enrolled as of October 1st).
We're most excited about our Junior High Youth Group/Building Bridges class (grades 6-8), which is now being built as the foundation for our new Coming of Age (COA) workshop! Each student will end their 8th grade year with a journal of reflective entries from their time in JH Youth Group, which can then serve as an outline and/or map for their own *COA Credo
The journals are used at the end of each Building Bridges (world religion) lesson, after the larger, more in-depth discussion with the group. It's a written record of personal "takeaways" and growth. We strongly believe that this journaling practice will help alleviate some of the pressure and stress that COA can create by allowing students to reflect on their religious
education as a journey.
Due to the growing success of the OWL program, we're beginning to discuss the possibility of a 1st and 2nd grade OWL on Sunday mornings between the 9:00 and 11:00 service. 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.
*Coming of Age (CoA, COA) is a Unitarian Universalist program in which participants explore theology, spirituality, and history. The program culminates in a ceremony in which the youth share their statement of faith (credos) to the congregation during Sunday morning
From Lillian Anderson
Director of Adult Programs
The church year is off to a very good beginning with lots of energy and enthusiasm. Although Covid is still in our midst (speaking personally having just recovered from one month of isolation) most of our new activities are definitely headed toward more in person meetings and gatherings.
Last Sunday after the 11am worship service Rachel Greenberger facilitated her second session of “Just Talk” a lightly facilitated, circle-conversation alternative to coffee hour. There were 22 people attending and the sharing was personal and provided an important opportunity for feedback following the Heritage service. Rachel has agreed to offer the program on a monthly basis this fall.
Several members of the congregation have contacted me about initiating new groups. Anna Churchill would like to see if there is interest in exploring Earth Centered Spirituality and our 7th Principle; Nina Grimaldi is forming a group for Parents of Older Children Who are Struggling; Debbie Dobbins and Rick Hawkins are exploring reviving a group that would deal with facing health challenges. It is important for congregation members to help each other and share their concerns and my responsibility is to facilitate this.
Other major program contributions this fall include “Making End of Life Wishes Known” with Jackie James, who continues to have an avid following and FCB History programs with our historian, John Howe. John will be presenting a history of our church building as well as shepherding our exploration to create a new Covenant. We are deeply grateful for their
dedication and enthusiasm.
In addition this year, my role has expanded and I am overseeing the areas of Fellowship and Welcoming. Our initial Fellowship brainstorming session was productive. Mark Thurber is scheduling Circle Suppers for Nov. 4th and has that well in hand and Martin Plass will be offering a hike on Oct. 21st.
There is interest in a Games night in the winter and the end of the church year barbecue/picnic celebration.
The Welcoming group will be meeting on October 11th and we will be defining the necessary aspects involved e.g. nametags, creating lists in Fellowship One, staffing a welcome table, follow-up for visitors, etc.
From Raeann Mason
Director of Youth Ministry
We began the Youth Group year with the return of Youth Cabins at Sandy Island. The youth who could attend had a great time socializing, did a late-night swim, and even told ghost stories at Juliet’s Point. Running some youth-focused programming alongside the rest of the First Church community was great.
Following Sandy Island, we had our first official Youth Group session where parents and youth went head-to-head in a game of “Which YG staff.” YG staff wrote interesting facts about themselves, and the two teams had to guess who wrote it; Team Parent won. It was a fun way for youth and parents to get to know their YG staff better. A Pizza Party and more fun
followed up the game.
We had the privilege of hosting Rachel Greenberger, who discussed the Mass Indigenous Legislative Agenda. Our youth shared their insights into Indigenous communities in and around Boston from their school studies. Rachel led an engaging discussion about the effort to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day, inspiring those present to reach out to their legislators to support the cause.
We will join several UU congregations from the area for the UU Mass Action’s Youth Corps kick-off event. The UUMA YC is 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; our own Keira Healey and Lizandra Hawkinson have been very involved in this leadership team over the last two years. All 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. Our FCB youth group joins hands with the Youth Corps to attend the fantastic events and actions they organize throughout the year. These events offer unique opportunities for personal growth, activism, and community engagement. During the first kick-off event, we will create donated tie-dyed items to help raise money for the UUMA YC partners: I Have a Future and City Life/Vida Urbana.
Above are UU youth meeting with Legislators in early 2023.
We’re also very excited to announce that we’re officially back on for the
biennial Belmont Religious Council inter-faith youth service-learning trip!
This year, our youth group and several others from the community, have
been invited to Navajo Nation, AZ. I’m so excited about this because this
will be a return visit to the Navajo Nation. Helping us plan the trip is a
fantastic organization called Amizade (pronounced more like Amih-za-
dgay). Check out the YouTube video below to learn more about Amizade and the
Also coming up is our annual CRE Halloween event on October 28, where
our youth volunteer to plan, set up, and run an amazing Halloween event for
the kids in 1st-8th grade. This event also doubles as our first service-learning
trip fundraiser. We rented Capitol Theater in Arlington for the following day
to have our annual Halloween movie night, and the youth are encouraged to
bring friends from outside of church.
I’ve taken on a more significant role in communication this year, and have been doing a lot to ensure we’re getting the correct info to the right people at the right time. Some edits have been made to the Community Communication form; they were minor edits, so some folks may not even notice. I’ve also included a new description for how and when to use the Events and Announcement feature, which will continue to be tweaked over
the next month or so.
This new method of sharing has allowed us to more seamlessly share info on the website, social media, and the Unitarian. The more feedback from the community we get, the better we can make these forms work! I’m always open to constructive criticism and kind suggestions.
I have also been busy redesigning the Unitarian, both in style and purpose. We’ve gone back to a weekly Unitarian email, as we found this is the most opened email we send out. In doing so, we’ve absorbed our bi-monthly Worship email into the Unitarian, which also means that instead of lots of promotion for events in the future by request only, we will highlight all events and announcements in the upcoming week. We hope this will simultaneously allow church members to stay in the loop with all our offerings and encourage them to visit the website to look ahead a bit more; our events and announcement pages are updated weekly.
I’ve also been hard at work creating our new Theme Pages. First up is Heritage. You can take a look at the progress here. This page will be featured on our Home page in the coming week for church members to delve more deeply into our three-monthly-long themes. While it’s not complete yet, it’s well underway, and I’m excited to launch it soon officially.
We were working on combining the podcast so church members and friends can find weekly sermons and community/theme deep dives all in one place. We’re riffing on the idea of “Unified” for a title: “Unified: Sermons” and “Unified: Beyond the Pulpit.” Our Beyond the Pulpit will include community chats, stories for kids, thematic deep dives, and more!
This year, the Universalist will be a two-page tri-fold publication coming out retrospectively. Church members can expect the first one to drop in early December when we will reflect on our theme: Heritage.
From Sophia Doescher
Since my first Sunday, September 10th, I have been welcomed generously
by this congregation. As with all transitions, I have encountered some
turbulence, especially getting Covid during my second week! Despite that, I
have been able to attend committee and staff meetings as well as trainings
for administrative tasks. To introduce myself to the congregation, I filmed a
video that was included in the September 21st issue of The Unitarian.
If you missed it, here it is…
The video was well received and inspired moments of connection and
conversation with the congregation, which I have appreciated dearly.