Church Staff

Rev. Dr. Charles Svendsen - Interim Minister

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Reverend Svendsen became a Pastoral Transitional Specialist in 1985 and since then has served as Interim Pastor in United Church of Christ and Presbyterian congregations in some 19 churches, in six states and three countries.  Most recently he has served as Interim Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, so he is well acquainted with the nuances, challenges, and opportunities presented to Downtown congregations.   

Rev. Sara Rosenau - Assistant Minister

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Rev. Sara Rosenau’s vision for ministry is to be a facilitator of holy conversations so that the church can continue to listen to the still-speaking God.  Sara has a passion for ministries of faith formation and education.  She is also interested in how the UCC’s legacy and vision for social justice can contribute to church revitalization.  Sara’s ministry is informed by many years of experience in non-profit and educational settings where she has been involved in advocacy with people experiencing homelessness, adults with disabilities, and children in foster care.

Sara holds a B.A. from Earlham College, a M.S.W. from University of Denver, and a M.Div. from Iliff School of Theology.  Sara is currently working on a PhD in Theology with Drew University where her dissertation focuses on how the practices of the church can contribute to social justice and political change.

Raised a Quaker, Sara has been a member of the United Church of Christ since 2005.  Sara enjoys hiking, yoga, and spending time with her spouse Kat, children Ingrid and Severin, and the family dog, Finn.


Michael Kelly - Music Director

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Dr. Kelly has been our Music Director since May 2005.  He has many years of experience, not only as a music director, organist, and choirmaster in several large churches, but also as a performer and professor.  In addition to serving as our Music Director, Dr. Kelly is the pianist for the Portland Symphonic Choir, and is an active vocal coach and accompanist.  Dr. Kelly performed at Lincoln Center in New York City as winner of the 1982 Bach Society Competition.  He has taught piano and music theory at the Manhattan School of Music, the Brooklyn College of CUNY, and the University of Puget Sound.  He earned a Master’s degree in piano at the Juilliard School and a doctorate in piano at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. Thanks in large part to Dr. Kelly, the truly professional quality music we enjoy during services each week adds depth to our worship experience.

Grant Edwards- Organist
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Grant Edwards has been organist of First Congregational United Church of Christ since June 1995, on occasion of the 100th anniversary service of the landmark building. He holds a B.A. in Organ from Lewis & Clark College. Grant has also studied at the Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität in Munich and as a Deutsche-UNESCO scholar in Weimar, East Germany. An organ builder as well, he has been a craftsman at Bond Organ Builders since 1993. Grant installed his first self-designed organ at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. In collaboration with Bond, he also constructed the amazing organ in our sanctuary, incorporating mechanical portions of the original 1951 instrument as well as an ornate 1877 organ case. Other pursuits include composition; he is currently completing a large-scale choral work based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and has created and performed several original compositions for our worship services. Grant has performed for three National Conventions of the Organ Historical Society. In 2003, he recorded an eclectic album, “A Musical Feast,” (ProOrgano CD 7181) at St. Stephen’s Episcopal, Seattle. Active in the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, Grant is currently that organization’s Sub-Dean and chair of the Program Committee.


Batya Podos - Youth Ministry Coordinator

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Batya Podos discovered the Greek Myths at age nine, and ever since then, she has been chasing a good story. For over thirty years, she has been a storyteller and performer, workshop leader, teacher and playwright. She worked as an artist in residence and educational consultant in the U.K. where she lived for over a decade, and later, when she returned to the U.S., as a middle school drama teacher.

Batya is an ordained maggid, a teacher and storyteller in the Jewish tradition, and now that she has retired from teaching middle school, she works with young people who are about to have their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and is one of the directors of “Abraham’s Tent”—an interfaith summer camp for Christian, Jewish and Muslim children.  Her goal is to have children connect with the Divine through their personal experience of the stories within their tradition.  Batya also leads services, facilitates holiday celebrations, and has taken the pulpit on more than one occasion.

Recently, she contributed to the book, The Language of Life, by Milt Markewitz which explores the meaning of the energetic patterns of the Hebrew letters, and her own book for middle level readers, Rebecca and the Talisman of Time, has just been published by Portal Center Press.


John Behrens - Bookkeeper

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Jonathan Dyer - Office Manager 

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Jonathan is responsible for keeping the church office operating smoothly and producing all of the church's publications. Originally from Tennessee, he moved to Portland for graduate school, and he completed his Master’s in Public Adminstration from Portland State in 2011. Jonathan brings years of office and communications experience with him. Previously, he has worked in housing and residence life at universities, and, most recently, he interned with Caldera, a local nonprofit with the mission to be a catalyst for transformation through innovative arts and environmental programs. When not at work, Jonathan enjoys playing board games, reading comics and spending time with his fiancée and their two cats, Moon Pie and Sebastian.


Doug Emmons - Facilities Manager

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Doug wears many hats.  He has worked with us at First Congregational UCC for over 30 years in building maintenance.  In 2010 he became our Facilities Manager, coordinating the schedules of six custodians, as well as overseeing the maintenance of the building as a whole.  Doug also has a passion for the arts.  Working in drawing including pencil, paint, and oil sticks, he manages the artistic efforts of two groups.  One is the art group within NW Pilot Project, an organization serving low income seniors.  The other is the Troy Laundry Lifedrawing group.  When he has time at home, Doug enjoys working on his own pieces.


Cara Rothe - Director of Marketing and Community Relations 

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Cara Rothe was born in Houston, Texas and spent most of her life in Dallas. She finally discovered her inner hippy and moved to Corvallis, Oregon in 1990. She had a passion for children and began her career as a pediatric office manager. She held state certifications as a Medical Assistant and as a Lactation Consultant. During this time, she volunteered for the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence and was very involved with the Circle Church of Christ.

By 2006, she had developed a strong curiosity and passion for nonprofit business. She decided she wanted to learn about how to make nonprofits more effective and efficient. She began her studies at Portland Community College and received an A.S. in Business in 2009. During this time, she volunteered for De Paul Treatment Center and Central City Concern as a fundraiser and event planner. In 2008, she began her own nonprofit, called Holiday Hopes in Recovery, which brings stockings, presents, and holiday parties to women and men in residential drug and alcohol treatment.

In 2010, she began her studies at Portland State University and found that she particularly loved Organizational Behavior and Marketing. She began consulting with small businesses and managers in matters of leadership building, employee engagement and entrepreneurship. She worked her way through school as a Marketing and Development Assistant and as a Volunteer Coordinator. In June of this year, she graduated with honors with a degree in Business Management.

She now serves on the Board of Directors for CNRG and on the Development Committee for De Paul Treatment Centers. She volunteers for Volunteers of America as a fundraiser and as a management consultant and is on her sixth year as Executive Director of Holiday Hopes in Recovery.

Cara enjoys kayaking, backpacking and attending meditation/spiritual retreats. She plays the Native American flute and loves to act and sing.

Cara is very excited to be part of the staff at First Congregational United Church of Christ and is certain that her time here will be a beautiful addition to her journey.