In preparation for the First Congregational Church Annual Meeting on Wednesday, May 28, 2014, we are pleased to send the narrative portion of our Annual report for your review. The financial portion of the report will be available at the meeting.
We invite and encourage everyone to come for a delicious dinner at 6 p.m., followed by this favorite gathering and event. Please RSVP to Chrissy in the Church Office if you plan to attend. We are looking forward to seeing you!
First Congregational Church
Annual Narrative Report
The following Narrative Reports are listed in this order:
Senior Minister, Associate Minister, President's Report, Director of Music, Director of Austin Handbell Choir, Director of Children's and Youth Ministries, Director of Mission and Outreach, Prudential Committee, Stewardship Committee, Adult Education Committee, Youth Ministries Committee, Christian Action Committee, Mission Committee, Communication and Membership Committee, Possibility Shop, Deacon's Report, Planned Giving, Music Committee, Memorial Garden, and Church Office.
As I now near my second year of serving as Senior Minister, I give thanks for the many things we have accomplished. But, what does it mean to accomplish much? One could check off the things we did from a long list, but ultimately we must somehow measure our success in offering the Gospel in a bold, compassionate and inclusive way to a world which longs for good news. As a community of faith, we endeavor to do what it says on our sign out front: “Welcoming All, Seeking Justice, Finding God.” Together, we strive to help others grow in their discipleship. In so doing, we transform lives.
So, how are we doing and where are we going? In the apostle Paul’s letters to the churches he served, he always began with words of thanks. So, I would like to begin by first thanking Adrianne Carr for her many years of service at First Congregational Church. She graciously agreed to stay with us as I began my ministry here, and her caring for many, her unfailing humor, and her willingness to be a good colleague offered welcome stability during these first couple of years during which there has been much change. As she prepares for retirement, I know many feel a sense of loss along with uncertainty about the future. It’s important, however, to enjoy these last months together as Adrianne has time to help us adjust to her departure, while giving us time to think about what comes next. We look forward to a grand celebration of her amazing ministry in the fall before her retirement at the end of September.
I also wish to thank the rest of our staff for their very hard work. They have been diligent in their tasks and have sought to strengthen so many areas of our ministry. They have endeavored to be responsive to the congregation while also offering their best advice and professional expertise. It is a blessing to work with such great colleagues. It is an additional pleasure to be working with a wonderful group of lay leadership, including President Andy Barker, our President-Elect, Louise Brewster, and Former President, Linda Elrick.
This year, we have sought to live into Six Marks of Christian Discipleship
As disciples, we worship the living God. People in our congregation pray in different ways. Some appreciate worship where there is a level of predictability about what will happen, while others appreciate a dimension of surprise and whimsy. Some prefer solitude, and others enjoy coming to worship to connect with their neighbor. In our worship, particularly during Lent and Easter, we offered varied worship experiences, bringing the treasures of tradition into conversation with the new. Ultimately, in worship we don’t just talk about the Gospel, but we encounter and live the story as we worship a God who is transforming us and making all things new.
- As we move forward, we seek to garner more support for our worship services through creating a worship committee to support our worship -- from the arts, to ushers, to the recruitment of lay readers of all ages. We also hope to offer different worship opportunities where laity can participate in planning and leading a few alternative services, accompanied by potluck-style fellowship meals and learning opportunities.
Another mark of discipleship is to engage in lifelong learning. This year, we sought to expand our opportunities for adult learning. We sponsored many stimulating Forums featuring a fascinating array of guests who reflected with us on their faith journey. During Lent, we began an introductory class on theology which was well attended, and many have remarked that it was helpful for them to think more theologically about their faith. In addition to the theology class, we had two bible studies taught by Rev. Adrianne Carr and Rev. Tom Taylor, along with several book groups.
In the arena of youth ministry, we introduced the Path program which allows all of our youth to explore the different aspects of Christianity and to live into the Six Marks of Christian Discipleship. The Deacons also spent time looking at these marks, especially focusing on worship and hospitality.
- As we move forward, we want to respond more to the hunger for learning in our community. We would like to expand and strengthen our educational offerings on Sunday morning for people of all ages. Additions could include classes in theology and the history of the church, along with a full array of Forums. This also may inspire adjustment in the Sunday morning schedule to accommodate learning and fellowship, and exploring other venues during the week which are responsive to the varied schedules of busy people and families. We hope to develop a youth and family ministry team to significantly strengthen opportunities for children and their families to learn together as we create a "Home for Faith." Finally, expanding opportunities for service learning locally, nationally and globally will be an important part of the faith formation picture.
Disciples extend a bold welcome to others. As a church, we are committed to hospitality. We received 28 members in the last year and continue to receive a steady flow of guests on Sunday morning of different ages and life circumstances. Visitors to our church regularly include college students, empty-nesters, families with children, couples young and old, and people in their late retirement years who have moved here to be closer to their children. We have worked to improve our system of greeting on Sunday morning.
Another way in which we grow is in offering significant pastoral care to members both old and new. This year, we have endeavored to reach out to more people through the efforts of our pastoral care team. We continue to work at our responsiveness, and have improved in our ability to deliver meals to those who are not well and make visits to those who are in need.
- As we move forward, we need to find ways as a church to allow more time and space to welcome new people and offer them meaningful ways to connect with our faith community. We also need to offer more opportunities for fellowship where friendships and a sense of belonging may be cultivated. Towards this end, we will begin a process for reorganizing our committee system to better engage people’s gifts for ministry, while seeking to strengthen the Fellowship & Hospitality and Membership & Communication committees.
Disciples serve well and do Justice. As we embrace the priesthood of all believers, many find our committee system lacking in being able to engage people to do ministry. All of us are invited to live into our baptisms, drawing on our well spring of skills and life circumstances, which does not necessarily require being on a committee. Reorganization is important as we seek to welcome new people and engage them in significant ministry and opportunities for spiritual growth.
- As we move forward, the Board of Trustees, with the congregation's blessing, will lead a reorganization process with the help of a consultant and coach, Mary Fillmore. The objective is to engage more people in ministry while giving committees a renewed focus on helping others participate. As we cultivate a culture which embraces the idea of priesthood of all believers, we want to ensure the church does not suppress people’s gifts, but instead helps them discover and use those gifts to enrich the lives of others, including doing justice in the world. We will take it slow and allow a new system to unfold gradually.
Christians are civically and politically active. This includes how we participate in congregational decision-making, and how we gather and share good information for those decisions. We regularly seek to improve our financial reporting and communications, and to offer opportunities for the congregation to discuss what is happening, and lend their opinion and voice. We continue to offer retreats, kitchen table meetings, and other settings where we may share information and hear and faithfully respond to comments, suggestions and exploration.
Our participation in our church civic life also extends into how we as citizens care for our community and world. This year, the Christian Action Committee developed a covenant to guide clergy and parishioners as we speak and act in the public square. This covenant, which was subsequently approved by the Board of Trustees, will offer a constructive framework for addressing the issues of our time in light of our faith.
- As we move forward, we will continue to offer ways to participate in our community life and live out our faith in our community and world. We will not shy from addressing ways in which we can speak against structural forms of injustice and poverty, both locally and internationally. We speak to the truth of the resurrection which breaks the bonds of death in this world and gives us a basis for hope.
Finally, as disciples we understand our fiscal needs and respond faithfully with our financial support. In 2013 and 2014, pledged giving jumped from $365,000 annually to $450,000 annually. For this fiscal year (2014/15), there was no jump in the overall pledged income line, however it is important to note that 99 families increased their pledges or pledged for the first time. Of these, 21 families made brand new pledges, totaling $20,500. Overall, we received $47,000 in new money, 77 pledges remained the same, and only 23 pledges decreased. Unfortunately, the gains we saw in pledges were offset by a corresponding reduction in pledged giving, due to illness, death, moving away, and family circumstances, resulting in zero net gain on the pledge line. As of this writing, we are still waiting to hear from 25 families about their pledge.
- As we move forward, we invite each and every person to look at the place of giving in their lives. Giving brings joy. Many pledge about the same from year to year, while the costs for quality ministry increase. The Executive Committee recently developed a Needs Committee, which is working to articulate priorities around helping our wonderful old building work better for us, while strengthening our mission, music, and educational ministries. We will also begin a concerted planned giving effort, inviting people to include the church in their estate-planning. The Needs Report will help us to imagine the possibilities. Along the way, we will continue to do our very best to report clearly on our financial situation, so that we can all continue to respond faithfully.
Thank you for being such a wonderful church, and for the opportunity to serve in your midst. I look forward to another exciting year.
This year has been both a challenge and a joy. I started off last summer with a hip replacement and was spoiled by the food that came to our house. Neil is particularly grateful because he has trouble boiling water. I had surgery in April and was again treated to wonderful caring support and food. Last fall, our daughter, Cathleen, was diagnosed with Addison’s disease. Neil and I took a bus down to be with her and her husband Peter as we all went through a frightening time with a good conclusion. She is on medication that simulated the cortisol secreted by the Adrenal glands and is learning how to listen to her body. The greater surprise was that as she was recovering, she discovered that she was pregnant. She is now going into her ninth month and, with God’s help, will be delivering a healthy baby.
I give you all this ‘organ recital’ as a primary reason why I have decided to retire as of September 2014. Neil and I want to spend some time with family and in particular our grandchildren. My desire is to be a doting grandmother without worry about schedules or commitments. I leave you in good hands with Peter and I know that whoever replaces me will be taken under your wing, as you took me 18 years ago.
I did do some work this year. I will be completing about 17 years of my early morning Bible Study in May. It has been fun and challenging as I try to stay one foot ahead of the wonderful group of attendees. I have also been encouraging everyone, young and old, to fill in Advanced Directives, both for their own peace of mind and also for their families.
Bill Whitman and Bob Shattuck, joined by others, have worked hard to make the Memorial Garden a place of beauty. It is stunning when the flowers bloom. A lot of work needed to be done on the Memorial plaques. Elliot Douglas spent hours rearranging plaques so that the names of couples would be together and new plaques installed. If you go to the garden, look at the fine work that he has done.
I have spent a lot of time visiting people in hospitals and in their homes. I particularly appreciate the time we have spent at four local nursing homes, bringing a hymn sing and communion service to the residents. I am grateful to Karl Doerner, the Deacon in charge; Janice Clements, Jan Jackson and Carlanne Herzog, who have accompanied on the piano; several choir members who have added their voices; and the number of Deacons who assist with Communion. Peter, Janice Clements and I have visited members in various senior residences and enjoyed those opportunities to meet folks and hear their stories.
I have been extraordinarily blessed to work with incredible colleagues: Peter, Lucy, Laura, David, Kathleen, Sylvia, George, Sarah and Chrissy, Derik and Carole, as well as Kristen, Emily, Tom, Becky, and Emmanuel. This church shines because of you.
I look forward to the next four months, as we find ways to celebrate our lives in this beloved community.
May God be with us all,
Rev. Adrianne Carr
First Congregational Church is a place where we endeavor to build an institution that reflects God's will here on earth: God's radical love for the world; God's embrace of every human struggle and triumph; and God's promise of Resurrection. We do this work together, with all the joys and burdens of human community. Because we work together with God, we build an institution that endures. In the past year, we had much to celebrate.
Today, speaking for the whole church, I wish to recognize the contributions of many people to this success. First, we thank Rev. Cook for his tireless and devoted leadership, and Rev. Carr for her deep caring and wisdom. We thank all the staff for their professionalism and compassion; they are truly the foundation upon which we build God's church. We offer deep gratitude for all those in lay leadership who give so generously of their time in committee meetings to guide and carry out our work. Finally, we are grateful to all those in our church community who brings gifts of all kinds to worship, music, mission, and fellowship.
In the coming year, one of our top priorities is a structural reorganization that is long overdue. Our goal is to create a committee structure that minimizes meeting time and bureaucracy, while strengthening our mission and ministry to this community. The process will be inclusive, with many opportunities for congregational input and feedback. I invite all to join in this work. May we grow in our faith and our trust for one another through this process and create something beautiful!
It is with particular affection and gratitude that we thank Adrianne for her service to this church over nearly two decades. Through many dangers, toils, snares, and committee meetings, she has led this community to know the grace of God more fully. As she heads into a well-deserved retirement, we wish Adrianne and Neil health, happiness, and the peace of evenings together!
DIRECTOR OF MUSIC
Our community continues to be blessed by many participants and listeners. Together, through singing and through listening, we come closer to an understanding of the glory of God.
We have much to report from the Choir Loft. It has been a year of celebrations, particularly the 50th anniversary celebration of the the Austin Handbell Choir. What a gift and legacy that has made for many happy hours of music making and listening in our historic Sanctuary. Congratulations to the ringers, under the direction of Sylvia Stebbins. What a blessing to have been able to celebrate with the founding director, Nancy Lawrence, who was able to attend the program as well.
Kathleen Kono completed her first full year with the children and youth choirs, bringing her many musical and personal gifts to guide the development of our youngest members. Kathleen has been busy, along with Laura Elder-Connors, putting together a more fleshed out musical program for all the young people in our church school program, in addition to leading the children in worship.
The Music Committee has been actively engaged throughout the year, under the leadership of Betsy Shuey. In addition to supporting the Austin Chimers' celebration, the Committee hosted the annual “Choragic Fund” luncheon on Palm Sunday. This fund is intended to support special music in the church, like the brass players at Christmas and Easter. Caroline Edmunds and Jennie Coleman put together a most wonderful meal and the members of the Music Committee served, cooked, baked, and cleaned up. In addition, the Committee continues the ministry of assembling several large print hymnals for members. In all, a very busy and productive year that points to the many people that serve our wonderful community.
We have provided music for over 100 worship services this year. We continue to offer programs for nearly every age group, and there are over 50 members of the congregation who are actively involved in one or more of the choirs. What a blessed year!
Dr. David Neiweem, Director of Music
DIRECTOR OF AUSTIN HANDBELL CHOIR
Much of the past year was spent preparing for the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the handbell choir at First Church. The concert, held on December 15, 2013, was the culmination of the generous support from the family of the late Warren Robinson Austin, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, over the past fifty years. His late wife donated the cost of the original two octaves of Schulmerich handbells in 1963, and the family has continued their support since then.
The concert was well attended (over 300 people!) and involved many committees of the church, as well as the inclusion of our organist and adult choir in the performance. We are grateful to all.
The handbell choir recently participated in the 33rd annual Vermont Spring Ring on April 26 in Essex Junction, VT; we had a successful Bake Sale on Mother's Day, May 11; and the choir will perform during worship on June 8.
Sylvia Stebbins, Director
DIRECTOR OF CHILDREN'S CHOIRS
The Cherub, Choragic and Youth Choirs have had a great year of providing worship music for both the main Sunday congregation services, children’s chapel services and special services. We have 16 strong voices in the Cherub and Choragic choir, and 6 voices and instrumentalists in the Youth Choir.
This year, the choirs have had the opportunity to combine with the Sanctuary Choir on several occasions, including the Christmas Pageant, Consecration Sunday and Palm Sunday. This remains among the children’s favorite worship experiences. The Youth Choir provided music for Advent and Youth Sunday services and will also combine again for the upcoming Confirmation and Senior Sunday Service. The Youth Choir members also jump in on occasion to help the younger choirs when we are in need of extra voice power!
Two new initiatives that both Children’s Ministries and Children’s Choir Programs are combining on is implementing regular song into the Pre-School curriculum and to the Children’s Chapel services. Most Sundays, the Pre-School children participate in well-known and loved Bible songs led by the Pre-School teachers and Kathleen Kono. Also, most Sundays, the K-8 children participate in a sing along in a spirited Bible Song that blends with the Children’s Ministries curriculum. On the last Sunday of each month, ALL church children join the Children’s Choirs for a joint worship song during the Word of God for All Ages. It is inspiring to see more and more children involved in Sunday worship. We have received great response and will continue both practices in the fall.
Children’s Choir Director
DIRECTOR OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH MINISTRIES
In my role as the Director of Children and Youth Ministries, I am blessed to work each week with children of all ages, their families, and the many talented, thoughtful, and faithful people who support me in this task: my staff colleagues, members of the Children’s Ministries committee, church school leaders—both adults and high school helpers—and our families themselves.
This year, our church school program continues to develop in new and vibrant ways. Children in the pre-school through 8th grade have had the opportunity to participate in a variety of classroom experiences, from all-church school wide activities and worship services, to the more traditional age/grade groupings. We have created murals and learned songs together that we have shared in worship. We celebrated Christmas by telling the story of Christ’s birth in our familiar, traditional way, side by side with a new and different version which proved to both entertain and enlighten us. We have also learned a great deal about prayer and different ways to pray this year too, and many children have learned the Lord’s Prayer by heart, as we say it each week when our entire church school gathers on Sunday mornings.
The Children’s Ministries Committee continues to support development of a flexible, integrated church school curriculum, as well as exploring ways to provide families with the tools they need to practice our Christian faith in their homes. Our committee’s mission statement reads, in part, that our goal is to help our children know that they are cherished members of the family of God and of this faith community, and that our church is a place where their faith is nurtured, their spiritual growth inspired and their Christian discipleship encouraged. We look forward to continuing this work in the coming year.
DIRECTOR OF OUTREACH
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
What a hopeful year 2013-2014 has been in the mission and ministry of First Congregational Church! Our Christian Action Committee has just put in place a covenant for advocacy that has the potential to be both a cornerstone and a spring-board for our congregation’s faithful pursuit of social justice advocacy and environmental action for years to come. Our Mission Committee broadened its agenda and faithfully involved many in our faith community in significant mission efforts in Vermont and internationally. Our Youth Ministries Committee and staff supported the Rev. Peter Cook in the implementation of a new “Path to Confirmation” for our high school students, and expanded the options for involvement by youth in the ministries of First Congregational Church to include four Youth Deacons.
The “God of hope” is ever-present in our shared ministries and missions, in our faith community, in our lives. The God of hope is there for you and me every day. Do you, do I, always notice God’s hopeful presence? I know that I was especially alert and aware of God last July when my dear God-daughter Nyota was born and I had the incredible joy and privilege of being present for her birth. The God of joy was with me around the campfire experiencing worship and a particularly joyful communion service with our high schoolers in June on our YETS Trip, and when I helped deliver four of our elementary and middle school youth to Camp at Covenant Hills in Cabot last summer! The God of joy was ever present during our YES collaboration with the children of the Sara Holbrook Center and our teens. The God of hope was shining during Youth Sunday and through the weekday mission of JUMP, and the God of peace was and is ever present in the mission work of the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative. Bert Marshall’s performance of the Gospel of Mark; Alice Rothchild’s discussion about Israel and Palestine; Basil Farraj and Alex Cook’s presentation on a “Path to Peace”; the first Thursday in Advent Worship Service and Dinner; the positive community response to the CROP Hunger and COTS Walkathons; the extravagant welcome from our congregation to the College of Wooster Symphonic Band and their fantastic concert… these and many other moments made this year special, hopeful and joy-filled for me, and for many of you I am sure!
It is with joy that I share that in the ministries of Mission, Christian Action and High School Youth Ministries, we had a year filled with faithful activity and meaningful service:
Mission and Christian Action Ministries:
I am thankful for the effective ways that so many took part in our ongoing local mission and outreach ministry programs with Small Potatoes, Share Christmas, Meals On Wheels, Alternative Giving, Dismas House, JUMP, COTS, the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative, our CSA project with New Farms for New Americans, the CROP Hunger Walk, and other vital missions this year. I look forward to the future with hope that many will contribute and be involved. JUMP (the Joint Urban Ministry Project) is responding to many in crisis in our community, now assisting 50 households weekly, in space donated by our church. Gifts of space, volunteer and staff support from our church allow JUMP to devote the majority of resources to direct services assisting thousands in need each year. I am thankful for the strong volunteer, material, space and financial support of JUMP that is generated by our church community.
High School Youth Ministries:
It is a privilege to serve with Co-Director of High School Youth Ministries, Bonnie O’Day, with Director of Children and Youth Ministries, Laura Elder-Connors, and our adult volunteers, as together we work with our young people as they grow in skills, faith and fellowship. Our high school students contribute in many ways to the vibrant atmosphere of our church; serving with them is a fulfilling journey. It has been particularly satisfying to see the on-going strength of our YETS service and travel program while watching the growth and new involvement made possible through YES – our local vacation-time service experience for teens. (Please see the Youth Ministries report for more detail about our high school youth programs.)
A Shared Mission:
In my role as your Director of Outreach Ministries, I meet weekly with the Chittenden County Housing Resource Team, a collaborative group of Vermont state and private agencies to help prevent homelessness in our community by linking people at risk of losing their housing with much needed resources. This year I continued the work of assisting and guiding families in search of housing, or at risk of losing their housing, but who have no access to case management. This work has been challenging and interesting. Other areas of outreach ministry work include outreach ministry to the new American community, service with COTS, the Vermont Conference UCC, leadership of the CROP Hunger Walk, and significant involvement with the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative (and much more).
At the close of 23 years in service and ministry with you, I believe that together we are following the Apostle Paul’s guidance to “abound in hope” as we seek to respond faithfully and in loving, thoughtful and effective ways to the needs of our neighbors globally and in Vermont.
Peace, joy and hope to you always,
Lucy Samara, Director of Outreach Ministries
Co-Director of High School Youth Ministries
Probably the biggest challenge facing the Prudential Committee this year was several large unexpected building related expenses including a sink hole in the Memorial Garden, replacing the large refrigerator in the main kitchen and issues relating to water, mold and failed sump pumps, as well as dangerous electrical wiring.
At the end of March, costs for facility related expenses exceeded annual budget numbers by $13,000 with one month still remaining in the fiscal year (FY). Since income and expenses for the other line items in the budget are on target, the additional costs for maintaining our building and property are the major cause of the anticipated budget shortfall at the end of the 2013-2014 FY. We also know that we will have major building expenses early in the new FY (that started on May 1) putting pressure on the maintenance and repair budget for FY 2014-15. We are very grateful to the Possibility Shop for their assistance in paying for some of the unanticipated expenses and their commitment to the church building and grounds.
Items reviewed and authorized or approved by Prudential:
- Preparation and monitoring of income and expenses for the FY budget ended April 30, 2014.
- Plan and organize fall spring and fall cleanup day.
- Office renovation project.
- Updated policies regarding use of I&T funds including the identification of restricted funds that can be appropriately used to support the operating budget.
- Renter Policy and Safe Church Policies.
- Installation of new Midway ADA water fountain to replace the one that was leaking.
- Installation of locks on the elevator to prevent unauthorized access to basement and second floor when not in use.
- Purchase of wireless microphones for ministers.
- Fence repair and new gate and fence to secure area near the education wing as part of the Safe Church initiative.
- Repair of sink hole in Memorial Garden.
- Purchase of refrigerator in main kitchen replacing 25 year old failed refrigerator.
- Temporary roof leak repair in winter.
- Mold mitigation and painting of sanctuary narthex bathrooms and replacement of failed sump pump.
- Recommendation for funding church reorganization consultant from restricted I&T funds.
- Health insurance for eligible employees - decision to stay with UCC policy and re-visit joining the Vermont Health Exchange for 2015.
- Preparation of aspirational budget for 2014-2015 as basis for stewardship campaign with revisions for approval at the May Annual Meeting.
Building repairs that will happen soon and estimated costs:
- Installation of a backflow preventer valve on water line required by code – $1,800
- Repairs to Possibility Shop due to flood not covered by insurance - $3,500
- Install security camera on Midway glass entry doors and purchase software so camera feeds can be viewed on computers - $1,500
- Roof leak repair in dining room and classrooms - $5,000 estimated; deferred from winter temporary repair.
The work of the Prudential Committee depends on many volunteers and staff. This year we owe a special thank you to:
- To an anonymous donor who helped to pay for the renovation of the administrative offices.
- To the Possibility Shop for funding the balance of the office renovation, the new water fountain, the mold mitigation in the sanctuary bathrooms, security locks for the elevator, and soon to be installed energy efficient lighting for the Possibility Shop.
- To all of the volunteers who help with the fall and spring cleanup days, as well as stalwart building stewards including Ann Vivian, Doug Viehmann, Charlie Church, Elliott Douglas and Dale Critchlow.
- To Susan Saunders and Lois Farnham for their work on the safe church policy; working with the Burlington Police Department and local social service agencies to support our wish to keep our church property open and welcoming, and at the same time, make our property less welcoming to drug users, overnight sleepers and loiterers.
- To Tony Hall and Charlie Wolf for their work on developing the Gift Funds Statement & Policy and Statement of Investment Policy for I&T Funds.
- To the Needs Committee that has developed a list of program and building needs that will be used to prioritize projects as funding becomes available.
- To all members of the committee who have attended meetings, taken minutes and worked on special projects.
- To John Connors for investigating security cameras and software.
- To Carole and Derik Breen of Boucher Cleaning for the cleanliness of our church building.
- To George LaCasse for overseeing the needs of the building and arranging for required inspections and vendors to perform the work necessary to keep our property in good condition.
- We also owe a very special thank you to Sarah Brown, Office Manager, for all the work she has done to reconcile the deposits to Program Account and Operating Account bank accounts, for developing the Protocol for withdrawals from Investments and Trusts to support the operating budget and other needs of the church, and all the reports and analyses she prepares for the committee regarding spending patterns, budgets and needed policies.
The Stewardship Committee conducted another well-received and productive campaign this year. The Committee continued the theme started last year of making personal contact with as many members and friends of the church as possible. To this end, one of our major activities was to invite each person to a cottage meeting. The purposes of these meetings were to:
- Engage church friends and members in discussions of the past, present, and future activities and programs of the church
- Educate participants about the aspirational budget and the need for increased pledging to support it
- Emphasize activities and programs, present and future, that are a result of inputs gathered during last year's Person-to-Person campaign
Participation in the cottage meetings was widespread and enthusiastic. Meetings were held in homes, at Wake Robin, at church, and via conference call.
Many tasks were carried out in addition to and in support of the cottage meetings. They included:
- Updating the Stewardship website
- Developing giving analysis tools which made this campaign and will make future campaigns more efficient
- Redesigning and updating the church brochure
- Developing a PowerPoint presentation for the cottage meetings that described the many programs and activities of our church, organized around the Seven Marks of Discipleship
Stewardship also piloted some new committee work styles. As a committee of 6, we met to discuss high-level goals & strategies and organize the work to be done. Tasks were assigned to subcommittees of 2-3 of us working together between full committee meetings. Subcommittees recruited others to help with specific tasks such as calling, hosting, or facilitating cottage meetings. We found that this was a successful model that leveraged the skills and interests of many other people beyond the members of our committee. Also, during our busiest times, we found on several occasions that conference call meetings were a more efficient way to get together than finding a common time to meet at church. Based on our experiences, we recommend these new committee work styles (empowering & using subcommittees; recruiting and leveraging additional people for specific tasks; and using conference calls as one of the meeting formats) to other committees as well!
While the results of our Stewardship campaign as of press time are not yet final, we are within striking distance of matching last year’s record pledging during the Person-to-Person campaign. In addition, nearly half of the pledging households are increasing their financial support this year. We are thankful for God’s support to all of us, and we praise God and thank all of you for your generous support of the mission and ministry of our church!
ADULT EDUCATION COMMITTEE
The Adult Christian Education Committee was very active this year in providing a variety of educational opportunities for the adults in our community. The committee sponsored several discussion forums through which we met several interesting people in our community and learned how their faith intersected with their daily lives. We met Dolly Fleming of Mercy Connections, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Jackie Wintersteen (who grew up in Belgium during WWII), Rabbi Joshua Chasan, and Cleophace Mukeba (who talked about the humanitarian work he is doing for women and girls in the Congo). We also had several opportunities to learn about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
During Lent, the committee sponsored a book study group that read "What’s Theology Got to Do With It?" by Anthony Robinson. This was complemented by an evening Lenten education program that provided all an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the theological meaning of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This series concluded with a presentation by Dr. Alice Rothchild who talked about her documentary film "Voices Across the Divide". The film was a very personal account of the Palestinian perspective of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The other significant project that the committee undertook was to survey the entire congregation as to what adult education programs they would like to see offered by the Adult Christian Education Committee, and how they might be offered to maximize their accessibility to those who had an interest. The committee will continue to analyze the results of the survey and develop a comprehensive long-term plan for providing high quality programming for the congregation and the community at-large.
YOUTH MINISTRIES COMMITTEE
The Youth Ministries Committee oversees programming for Middle School and High School students. This past year has brought many opportunities for youth to participate in service projects in our community and church, explore and develop their faith lives, participate in worship, take part in meetings and mini-retreats on the “Path to Confirmation”, and enjoy the fellowship of the congregation and their peers.
Middle School Youth Programs
: Our Middle Schoolers had the opportunity to make and share dinner at Burlington’s Dismas House and shopped for and donated gifts for children through our First Church Share Christmas program. Our Middle Schoolers planned and led the “Word of God for All Ages” on Youth Sunday and the group took part in a “Camp-Inn” overnight at the church that was planned to include service, fellowship and worship.
During the program year, our middle schoolers also helped out at church dinners, sang in worship services and made sandwiches for Small Potatoes. They raised money and walked in the CROP Hunger and COTS Walkathons, helped organize the Super Bowl Sub Sale, and assisted with running games at the church picnic. These are just some highlights of the many ways that our youth are involved in the worship and community life of our church.
In the summer months, some of our youth attended Vermont’s (UCC and Methodist) Covenant Hills Camp
in Cabot with the support of “Camperships” provided by budgeted funding, a grant from Women of the Church, and our fundraising efforts. The camp is in a beautiful setting and offers diverse and faithful programs for all ages including family camps.
High School Youth Ministries
: Our teens meet weekly during the school year and take part in worship, support many programs at church including our Church School, fundraise for their programs and service trips, engage in fellowship, lead several worship services, and help with many local service projects. This year, four high school students served faithfully as Youth Deacons and many took part in our new “Path to Confirmation” that emphasized participation in the full life of the congregation.
In June, our high schoolers were in Rhode Island for the YETS (Youth Experience in Travel and Service) Trip. YETS 2013 offered a service experience engaged in a theme focused on faithful community responses to hunger and poverty “from farm to table.” We served in community shelters, meal sites, and at a youth program, and worked at a nonprofit community farm that uses organic practices to raise tons of food that is then distributed through the Rhode Island Food Bank, which was also one of our service sites. Our YETS participants lived at a beautiful, wooded retreat center owned by the Rhode Island Conference of the United Church of Christ, took part in evening worship and fellowship programs, and enjoyed a day exploring beautiful Block Island together.
Our YES (Youth Experience in Service) program continued to provide in-depth local volunteer experiences for youth during summer and school vacation periods. Our July and February YES projects were in partnership with Burlington’s Sara Holbrook Community Center as we supported their programming for children from many cultural backgrounds.
During the program year, many of our high schoolers volunteered in our Church School classrooms and helped out at church dinners, sang in worship services, made sandwiches for Small Potatoes, and planned and led a special Advent worship and dinner for our congregation. They led worship on Youth Sunday, helped out at the CROP Hunger and COTS Walkathons, and with our own Christmas Wreath sales and the annual YETS Auction.
Leadership for our youth programs was provided by our staff: Laura Elder-Connors, Director of Children and Youth Ministries, and Lucy Samara and Bonnie O’Day, who serve as Co-Directors of High School Youth Ministries in collaboration with volunteers from both the congregation and our Youth Ministries Committee. Our dedicated team of staff and volunteers work together to create a positive and caring environment that gives our youth many opportunities to grow in faith and fellowship. Special thanks to our 2013 YETS and YES adult leaders who worked with our staff and youth: Amy Young and Steve Hauke.
Youth Ministries Committee: Molly Bucci, Chair; Ingrid Sievers, Trustee; Amy Young, Steve Hauke, Deanna Papaseraphim, and Elspeth Tolan. Staff: Lucy Samara and Bonnie O’Day, Co-Directors of High School Youth Ministries and Laura Elder-Connors, Director of Children and Youth Ministries
CHRISTIAN ACTION COMMITTEE
The Christian Action Committee was staffed by Peter Cook and Lucy Samara and composed of 6 members: Amy Mellencamp, Mary Ann Wolf, Judy Doerner, Mary McKearin, Becky Winward and Susan Ellwood. The key accomplishments of the committee include:
- Development of the Covenant for Christian Action and Advocacy to provide guidelines for church members and clergy on advocacy work in the areas of social justice and environmental care;
- Informing the membership of the covenant through the newsletter and posting the document online;
- Encouragement of Trustees to use the Covenant for training of incoming Trustees and new church members;
- Recommending a name change for the next committee to better reflect the future focus of the committee;
- Promoting the development of passion-oriented small teams to focus on specific social justice or environmental change advocacy at one forum and one book discussion group.
Plans for next year include:
- Developing and implementing strategies to keep the Covenant “alive”, including collaboration with Trustees and Deacons to incorporate the Covenant’s guidelines into training provided to new members and new Trustees;
- Collaboration with youth ministries and Adult Education to provide training and/or experience in advocacy-related strategies, and effective listening and communication skills;
- Developing and implementing effective ways to engage church members in local, national and/or international advocacy efforts to improve the environment and/or the lives of our neighbors in need.
“What does the Lord require of you but to seek justice,
and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
The Mission and Christian Action Committees were re-formed as separate committees with unique agendas for the 2013 – 2014 year. While Christian Action began exploring the path of energizing a new direction in advocacy ministries for our church, the Mission Committee worked faithfully to continue our Church’s long history of supporting effective and caring missions locally and globally.
In addition to allocating the Mission Budget, planning and carrying out several special offerings, and collaborating to support several adult education programs, the Mission Committee worked to involve our congregation in effective mission initiatives, responding to significant human needs in our local community, including homelessness, hunger, and supporting refugees as they transition to life in Vermont as new Americans. The Mission Committee also supported global initiatives through organizing and fundraising support for Church World Service (CROP Hunger Walk); a special UCC offering in response to the Typhoon in the Philippines; and through support of the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative’s mission in the DR Congo. By providing opportunities to share individual gifts of time, resources and talent, the committee works to involve adults and youth in our church in active participation in the church’s mission - as expressed in our Covenant of Membership - to be “the promotion of justice, human dignity and peace, and participation in meeting the unfolding needs of God’s people.”
Allocation of Funds to Core Ministries and New Projects: The Mission Budget ($24,500 in 2013-2014) is funded by pledged dollars and Communion Sunday cash-in-the-plate contributions and by the congregation’s budgeting process. The Mission Committee focuses funding on three core ministries: the United Church of Christ, the Joint Urban Ministry Project (JUMP) and Small Potatoes. The details of Mission Budget income and expenses are available in the fiscal year-end financial documents of First Congregational Church.
- The United Church of Christ – a core ministry of First Church ($15,000): The UCC nationally, and as expressed regionally through the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ, supports critical international mission work in many countries, including the United States; assists with minister search for local congregations, supports social justice initiatives and programs for youth; manages a pension program for clergy and some church staff, offers educational events and resources, and assists new church starts and provides a myriad of tools for faith formation. There are many ways to learn more including researching the UCC online: www.ucc.org; www.vtcucc.org.
- JUMP (The Joint Urban Ministry Project) - a core ministry of First Church ($8,000): JUMP is a collaborative, interfaith outreach ministry that responds to the needs of low income families and individuals each weekday. In 2013, JUMP assisted thousands of adults and children; more than 50 households each week. In addition to funds provided through our mission budget, we support JUMP with funds from special offerings and our collective participation in JUMP fundraising events, directed gifts by individuals and Women of the Church, volunteers, office and drop-in center space, and staff support (www.jumpvt.org).
- Small Potatoes – a core ministry of First Congregational Church (up to $1,000): A Saturday community breakfast and bag lunch that has served people in need in our community for 26 years; we provide the facility and much needed resources, including a weekly supply of tuna for sandwiches and key volunteer and staff support.
- New Projects and Advocacy Initiative, including Vermont Interfaith Power and Light (up to $500): This funding allows us to be a member faith community in Vermont Interfaith Power and Light and encourages new directions for our church in mission and advocacy projects.
The financial and outreach mission work of our congregation also includes positive impact from multiple national UCC and local “Special Offerings”, thousands of hours committed to volunteer work by our members, the outreach of the Possibility Shop, and extensive community use of our church property by local programs including JUMP, several AA and Al-Anon groups, and the Ronald McDonald House (housed in donated space - our historic parsonage).
The Gifts of Time, Talent and Resources
- JUMP: Special thanks to our JUMP volunteers: Judy Doerner, Susan Jenkins, Rebecca MacDonald, Bernice Wesseling, Brenda Black and Alice Barlow. Brenda Black and Suzie Crews serve on the JUMP Board; Director of Outreach Ministries Lucy Samara serves on several JUMP Committees and is our official liaison with JUMP.
- CROP Hunger Walk: Walkers raise funds to support local and global hunger fighting initiatives and 50+ volunteers from our church help out on “Walk Day.” Our church will be the host site for the CROP Hunger Walk on October 12, 2014; our volunteers and Director of Outreach Ministries, Lucy Samara provide much of the leadership for this important event.
- Dismas House: Special thanks to Rob Backus who coordinated volunteers to prepare, serve, and share dinner with residents and staff one night a month at this Burlington program that provides a home and a new beginning for parolees. Special thanks to our many Dismas volunteers, including our Middle School Youth!
- Share Christmas: Many in the First Church community were involved with Share Christmas this year. Through Share Christmas, we coordinate the collection and distribution of practical, fun gifts and food - sharing the joy of Christmas with many area families.
- Alternative Giving Fair: With leadership from Betsy Freeman, the Committee partnered with the Peace and Justice Center to organize a successful “Alternative Giving” Fair during Advent. This fun event provided support to local programs, as well as support for several national and international mission projects.
- COTS: Our volunteers raised money to support the Committee On Temporary Shelter’s emergency shelter and homelessness prevention programs and services during the annual COTS Walk. Our walk-day adult and youth volunteers helped the event run smoothly. Our volunteers also “staff” a night of the COTS Phonathon. Special thanks to Betsy Freeman for leadership on the COTS Walk Day, and to Krista Ley for recruiting COTS Phonathon volunteers. Director of Outreach Ministries Lucy Samara serves on the COTS Program Committee and on the Housing Resource Team. Thank you to Andrea Heller for coordinating our volunteer effort to provide dinners at Burlington Emergency Shelter on four nights this spring.
- Small Potatoes: We are thankful to Becky Winward for serving as Volunteer Coordinator for us for Small Potatoes. In addition to some weekly support for Small Potatoes, one Friday a month, Becky Winward coordinates volunteers from our church to prepare sandwiches for the program. Special thanks to Jeff and Nancy Comstock and to Don and Sue Gilbert who have served the Small Potatoes breakfast and bag lunch at our church one Saturday a month for many years. Along with many adults and family groups, our church youth groups have been sandwich makers this year!
- The Vermont IBUTWA Initiative (VIBI): We have a close affiliation with this nonprofit that has a dual mission. VIBI is working to educate people in the U.S. about the devastating impact of war and violence on the lives of women, children and men in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while also creating new avenues for women in the South Kivu region of the DRC to access healthcare as they recover from injuries caused by rape and violence. VIBI is starting a pilot project to provide avenues for employment and sustainable livelihoods for the women, and is providing community support for women and girls who have been traumatized by rape. First Church members Cleophace Mukeba, Susan Saunders and Lucy Samara serve on the board; the founding group also included the late Rev. Bob Lee. While VIBI seeks 501(c)(3) status, First Church accepts donations on behalf of this innovative and important organization.
- Refugee Resettlement: Our Church community is involved with refugee resettlement. Volunteers donate furniture, provide key relationships, transportation, tutoring in English and with the many adjustments to life in Vermont. Lucy Samara coordinates this effort.
- Burlington Area Meals On Wheels: We give thanks for Al Weldon, who took on the leadership of our Meals On Wheels volunteers this past year. Al is recruiting and organizing our many generous Meals On Wheels volunteer drivers, meal runners and substitutes as we staff the second Wednesday Meals on Wheels routes monthly.
Further Information: To learn more about these and other programs, pick up a copy of the “Outreach Ministries” brochure, read the church newsletter, or see our website
. We invite your involvement in the mission ministries of First Congregational Church!
2013 – 2014 Mission Committee Members: Steve Dumas, Chair; Krista Ley, Trustee; Betsy Freeman, Krista Ley, Andrea Heller, Alice Barlow and Lucy Samara, Director of Outreach Ministries.
COMMUNICATIONS AND MEMBERSHIP
Welcoming and Greeting is more than just smiling and saying “Hello”, right? This year, the Communications & Membership committee asked: "How might we support a more extravagant welcome at First Church?"
We have expanded our outreach and identified simple things we can do to attract and retain more visitors and members to First Church. We encourage everyone to participate in:
- Wearing your nametags. Thanks to Mary Ann Wolf for creating these.
- Signing up to Greet, and help us collect Visitor information via the new Visitor Info cards.
- Signing up to supply extra goodies for our expanded fellowship hour between services from 9-10am.
- Offering welcome and community to anyone who is looking for connection here at First Church.
Thanks also to Barbara Carter for writing and sending handwritten cards and emails as follow-up to visitors.
Whether you like meeting new people or re-engaging long-term members, we have some wonderful opportunities for you to grow your connections with visitors, members, neighbors, and friends.
Another busy, interesting and rewarding year has been completed at the Possibility Shop. We were again successful in continuing our support to JUMP, donating over $11,000 in vouchers for those in need. Profits from the shop enabled us to fund the water fountain, lockout capabilities on the elevator, and mold abatement in the Narthex restrooms.
In keeping with our goal of improving the Possibility Shop, making it a pleasant place for our customers and volunteers, we will be upgrading the lighting and restructuring the cash register area.
Our hope for the coming year is to recruit volunteers and increase donations to be sold in the Shop. We are a welcoming group, we have a lot of fun, and we would enjoy having you on our team. Won't you please consider joining us?
The Board of Deacons began last fall with the question - “Why do we do what we do?” In an attempt to answer that question, Rev. Cook devoted a portion of each meeting to a study and reflection time. He incorporated “The Six Marks of Membership”, which was a church wide theme this past year.
Five Youth Deacons committed to the board this year and have been active participants in worship and meetings, providing a fresh perspective and deepening their understanding of UCC traditions.
In addition to serving communion monthly, the Deacons have served in a variety of ways throughout the past year. They hosted dinners for prospective new members throughout the year, served at holiday worship gatherings, lent a hand with Lenten series dinners, and assisted with nursing home worship services twice monthly at 4 area nursing homes. In May, the Deacons will provide dinner for the Burlington Emergency Shelter.
One challenge this year has been to maintain adequate membership on the board to carry out duties. The Deacons are enthusiastically engaging in the church wide committee reorganization process to address this issue, as well as to increase effective communications with other committees and boards.
The Board of Deacons wishes to thank the ministers for ongoing support and encouragement. I wish to thank each board member for kindness, generosity and patience during this past year.
Carol Hauke, Board Chair
Music Committee Highlights:
- Planning for the 50th Anniversary of the Austin Chimers was initiated, and the committee worked with several other committees for this event. The 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert was held on December 15th and 335 people attended the concert. Donations by the attendees and the Austin family totaled about $3,100. It was truly a wonderful event.
- Hymnal availability and readability were identified as an ongoing project for the committee. An inventory of hymnals in the sanctuary and chapel was done in the past and the committee will work to put together with staff to determine next steps to complete this project.
- The annual Choragic Music Fund Luncheon was a great success with a delicious luncheon, healthy donations (about $3,000) and a surprise celebration of David Neiweem’s 15 years of Music Ministry at First Church. Special songs, a beautiful wall hanging, and heartfelt tributes all made this day a special surprise for David. The committee will work to further promote this fund through additional publicity in various church publications throughout the year.
Thank You/Appreciation to Committee Members: The chair would like to thank all of the members of the committee for working hard throughout the year, rising to the occasions to support two very special events during the year, and for promoting Music Ministry at First Church.
Music Committee Members: Jennifer Coleman, Caroline Edmunds, Janet Green, Carlanne Herzog, Kathleen Farmer, Betsy Shuey (Chair), and David Neiweem (staff)
Betsy Shuey, Chair
2013-14 represented Year II of the Memorial Garden rejuvenation project. After the major changes to the garden in Year I, further modifications and additions were noted over the past season, specifically:
- A tree was planted in each of the four internal beds
- Several dozen perennials were added, including ornamental grasses, bugbane, asters, and sedum to the long bed bordering Buell Street
- Three teak-like benches were assembled and installed to provide more seating
- 220+/- spring bulbs were planted in fall for early spring interest
Future modifications may include a new treatment to the garden's center, additional spring bulbs, refinement to the perennials, a new fence, and some additional winter interest...all yet undefined.
We were particularly pleased that in the last 12 months our committee has expanded to include three more members: Jan Jackson, Adam Holmes, and Tyler Atwood. And, in a most pleasant surprise, the Memorial Garden received several monetary gifts to continue with improvements to the garden. We are encouraged by our progress to date on several fronts, and hope that additional changes will be received positively.
on behalf of all committee members: Tyler Atwood, Adam Holmes, Jan Jackson, Sue O'brien, Bob Shattuck, and Bill Whitman
The Planned Giving Committee completed and the Board of Trustees approved the Planned Giving and Investment Policy for First Church during the past year. Also, the Committee had a well attended session on October 20, 2013 entitled, "Do it Your Way... Have a Will". The session followed the 10am Church Service and was led by attorneys Sarah G. Tischler and Hobart Popick, estate planning attorneys at Langrock, Sperry and Wool, who discussed this topic as part of our Planned Giving Committee's programs on ways to support the ongoing mission of First Church. Thanks to Kay H. Ryder for arranging this session.
Former Chairman and member of the Planned Giving Committee,
"Change always comes bearing gifts."
It has been another year of progress and change. For the office and building staff, 2013-14 maintained a speedy pace, and brought us some unexpected challenges, along with some significant and welcome improvements.
Our historical church building felt the impact of Mother Nature generously sharing her excess water, and we were obliged to address ongoing mold and flooding issues under the Sanctuary and in the Possibility Shop. On the bright side, we have been able to quickly remedy these issues, dry and restore the Poss Shop in record time, and freshen the restroom area under the Narthex.
Through the support of our church community, including individuals and groups, the building also has a new water fountain, a new refrigerator, new lock-out capabilities on the elevator for added security, and most notably, a newly renovated Church Office and Christian Education area! This renovation was truly a team effort, and we are deeply grateful for the support of all who contributed their time and resources towards its fruition.
Outside of building improvements, we are diligently working to increase and foster our rental income, improve overall efficiency and cost-effectiveness in day-to-day operations and broaden communications with our members, friends and the wider local community through increased outreach through e-news, and increased exposure on social media outlets.
Our thanks goes out to all of our office volunteers who have folded, stuffed, sealed, researched, sorted, moved, painted, and performed a dozen other tasks. Extra special thanks to Susan Saunders and Dana Spencer who reliably and generously contribute time every week to help us keep things humming along. We appreciate your consistently positive assistance and energy.
As ever, we thank ALL of our many members and friends for your support, encouragement and kind words throughout the year, and we look toward this next year with excitement for the growth, change and gifts to come.
Warm wishes from the First Church Staff
The First Congregational Church Staff:
(left to right) Derik Breen, David Neiweem, Rev. Adrianne Carr, Lucy Samara, Sylvia Stebbins, Rev. Peter Cook, George LaCasse, Laura Elder-Connors, Kathleen Kono, Chrissy Forbes, Sarah Brown, and Carole Breen
We encourage you to check out our website to learn more, and to enjoy our photo gallery! www.firstchurchburlington.org