Rev. Michael Ellick - Senior Minister
Rev. Michael Ellick came to us in November 2014 from Judson Memorial Church in New York City, where he served as minister for seven years. In that time, Rev. Ellick's sermons established a new Christian vocabulary for a post-Christian world, embracing Judson's legacy as the the Research & Development Laboratory for American Christianity. Recognizing that an authentic witness of the Gospel means moving beyond the traditional words and concepts we've used to describe it; Ellick's exploration of new theological forms grew out of his commitment to the social gospel in action, and the practice of God's presence in silent prayer, reflection, and meditation.
Raised in a Conservative Baptist church in Washington State, Rev. Ellick studied Comparative Religion and Philosophy at the University of Washington before earning his M. Div. at Union Theological Seminary in the year 2000. There he grew frustrated at the current state of the country's religious dialogue, and looking for both new ways of understanding the Gospel, and real world practices for embodying its "prophetic compassion," he studied closely under a Tibetan Buddhist teacher for the next seven years.
Later Rev. Ellick also worked as a faith-based organizer for Immigrant Rights, Marriage Equality, Single Payer Health Care, Economic & Enviornmental Justice, and Islamophobia. Taking the national stage through his work with Occupy Wall Street, his work with "Occupy Faith" earned him awards and recognition from the Rainbow Puch Coalition, the Michah Instittue, the New York City Council, the New York State Senate, and Auburn Seminary. Rev. Ellick is particularly interested in understanding the Christian Passion Story in an American threatened by falling Empire and falling Plutocrazy.
He currently lives with his wife in N Portland where in his off time he contemplates time travel, the prophetic interactive mythology of comic books and zombie films, and churches as potential American Mystery Schools for the 21st Century. On vacation, he loves spending time in empty, desolate places.
Rev. Elizabeth Durant - Assistant Minister
Rev. Elizabeth Durant joined us in July 2016 having previously served as a frequent guest preacher in the Portland area, parental leave pastor at Lake Oswego UCC, and member at Parkrose Community UCC. Elizabeth is a queer poet-preacher, activist and rabble-rouser who deeply loves Mama God, her family, Buffy and Jesus (not necessarily in that order). She believes that spiritual growth and social transformation are twin sides of our calling to be church.
A first-generation German immigrant, Elizabeth grew up with a strong sense of call to serve God and work for social justice. Raised in an independent evangelical church in Southern California that refused to ordain women, she struggled for years to find her place in a faith tradition that fit her calling. Elizabeth's journeys took her through an undergraduate degree in Politics from Willamette University, confirmation and lay ministry in the Episcopal Church, a career in software engineering, leadership in earth-based women's ritual circles, and eventually, to the interfaith theological studies program at Marylhurst University, where she graduated with her Master of Divinity degree in 2013.
In 2015, Elizabeth founded the Racial Justice Network to organize UCC churches within our region to work for racial justice. She currently serves as co-chair of the Central Pacific Conference Justice & Witness Ministry Team, and is a leader in the Portland chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. Elizabeth writes for the interfaith blog, State of Formation, and her academic work on racial justice, biblical interpretation and interfaith collaboration has led to presentations at regional and national American Academy of Religion conferences.
Elizabeth and her wife Sadie have one daughter, Ellie, and make their home in East Portland. When not enjoying the discoveries of early childhood (building homes for ladybugs, splashing in puddles & helping Rey (and Elsa!) pilot the Millennium Falcon), Elizabeth and Sadie like to do logic puzzles, walk on the beach, and camp under the stars.
Cara Rothe - Business Manager
Cara Rothe is responsible for promoting the church's activities to the public, building partnerships with other organizations, and coordinating all of the events happening at First Congregational. Previously, working in health care, Cara developed an interest in nonprofit management and decided to switch gears. While working on her Bachelors in Business Management from Portland State, Cara worked as a Marketing and Development Assistant and as a Volunteer Coordinator.
Cara is excited to apply her love of organizational behavior and marketing to First Congregational. Cara enjoys kayaking, backpacking, and attending meditation/spiritual retreats. She plays Native American flute and loves to act and sing.
Batya Podos - Youth Ministry Coordinator
Batya Podos discovered 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 conntect 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. She has written her own book for middle level readers, Rebecca and the Talisman of Time.
Michael Kelly - Music Director
Dr. Michael 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 serveral 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 Julliard School and a Doctorate in piano at 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
Grant Edwards has been organist of First Congregational since June 1995, on occastion of the 100th anniversary service of the landmark building. He holds a BA in Organ from Lewis & Clark College. Grant has also studied at the Ludwig-Maxmillians-Universitat in Munich and as a Deutsche-UNESCO scholar in Weimar, East Germany. An organ builder as well, he has been a craftstman 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 orginal 1951 instrument as well as an ornate 1877 organ case. He is currently completing a large-scale choral work based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson and ahs 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, Musical Feast, (ProOrgano CD7181) 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.
Ryan Sotomayor - Facilities Manager
Ryan Sotomayor has been with First Congregational UCC since March 2008, first as a custodian and event staff. In 2015, he took on the gargantuan task of managing our church building. Ryan has an extensive background in social work and has been working in the nonprofit sector since 2003. He is married and enjoys reading and the the outdoors. He also plays music and is our resident recording guru.
Jonathan Dyer - Office Manager
Since August 2012, Jonathan has been responsible for keeping the church office operating smoothly and producing all ove the church's publications. Previously, Jonathan has worked in higher education and the nonprofit sectory giving years of experience in administration and communications. He holds a BS from Middle Tennessee State University (Go Blue Raiders!) and an MPA from Portland State University.
Jonathan enjoys working at such a progressive church with a strong commitment to social justice. When not at work, Jonathan enjoys playing board games, reading comics, and spending time with his wife and their two cats: Moon Pie and Sebastian.