Meet the Annual Meeting pre-session guest speakers

Rhina Ramos, Plymouth UCC in Oakland California

presenting "Growing Progressive churches in Latino Communities"

Rev. Rhina Ramos is an ordained United Church of Christ minister leading an open and affirming Spanish speaking congregation in Oakland since 2011. Her church, Ministerio Latino, welcomes Latinx immigrants and also members of the LGBTQ community. Rhina was born in El Salvador and grew up during the civil war. Her understanding of the fight for justice was influenced by watching people rise up to fight for their human rights. Rhina graduated from Hofstra University Law School in 1995. She also obtained a Masters in Divinity from the Pacific School of Religion in 2003. She practiced labor law for 5 years recuperating thousands of dollars in back pay for immigrant workers and is an experienced Community Organizer leading programs to promote educational equity, labor rights, international solidarity with El Salvador and domestic violence awareness.

Rhina Ramos, Plymouth UCC

Rhina Ramos, Plymouth UCC

Jerold Garber, First UCCSL

Jerold Garber, First UCCSL

Jerold Garber

co-presenting "Growing Churches in Online Community"

The Rev. Dr. Jerold "Jerry" Garber is a veteran of over three decades in education and public broadcasting. He retired from public television as General Manager/CEO of Idaho Public Television. He holds a bachelors in Speech Theatre, a Masters in Radio/TV/Film and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees. He founded First United Church of Christ in 2013. It is the first church in any mainline denomination to have full standing while existing only in virtual reality. He is the author of "Ministry to the Avatars: Building a Real Church in a Virtual World."

 
Chris Ng, UCCSL

Chris Ng, UCCSL

Christine Ng, First UCCSL

co-presenting "Growing Churches in Online Community"

The Rev. Christine Ng has been a minister with First United Church of Christ Second Life since 2017, and ministers through that church from her home in Northern New Mexico. She also serves as a volunteer fire chaplain, spiritual director, and workshop leader. Beginning in 2018, she and her artist daughter formed a partnership to create fabric liturgical art as a business and a ministry. Prior to entering seminary, she practiced appellate law for 20 years in Florida, and taught in two Florida law schools.

 

Matt Mardis-Lecroy, Plymouth Church in Des Moines, Iowa

presenting “You Do You: Claiming Your Congregation’s Unique Identity as a Path to Renewal”

Matt Mardis-LeCroy has served Plymouth Church in various capacities for over 13 years. In 2014, he was installed at Plymouth’s 17th Senior Minister.  An award-winning preacher and community leader, Matt holds degrees from Messiah College, Princeton Theological Seminary and Chicago Theological Seminary. He is married to The Rev.  Mary Beth Mardis-LeCroy—also a UCC minister!—and resides with her, two adorable children and two cranky cats in Windsor Heights, Iowa.

Matt Mardis-Lecroy

Matt Mardis-Lecroy

You Do You: Claiming Your Congregation’s Unique Identity as a Path to Renewal  - Every local church has a unique identity –some particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit, some peculiar gift entrusted to you for the sake of the world.  Knowing your church’s identity, and having the courage to claim it, may be the key to congregational renewal. In this presentation, Matt Mardis-LeCroy will share tools and resources for naming and claiming your congregation’s inimitable call. 

 
Timothy Hogan-Palazzo

Timothy Hogan-Palazzo

Timothy Hogan-Palazzo, St. Paul’s UCC in West Milton, PA 

presenting “Growing Churches by Enlarging the Table”

Pastor Timothy Hogan-Palazzo is serving the people of the rapidly growing faith community of Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ in the small borough of West Milton, Pa.  Pastor Tim moved to Central Pennsylvania as a trailing spouse after attending seminary at Methodist Theological School of Ohio, just outside of Columbus, Ohio, and serving in a large downtown church focused on community missions. In Central Pennsylvania, Pastor Tim first served a United Methodist congregation in a nearby borough for 5 ½ years, that was resurrected from near closure with a worshiping congregation of 40 to an average attendance of 220 in that time.  After a 10-month sabbatical for discernment, Pastor Tim discovered the welcoming United Church of Christ and was called to serve Saint Paul’s, a community of faith averaging 18 in the pews late in 2016. Saint Paul’s worships an average of 84 people a week and has family members driving from 4 surrounding counties weekly to worship and involved in church programs throughout the week. Pastor Tim loves what he does, whom he serves and loves to share his story in hopes that others too will want to discover for themselves the joy in serving unconditionally. 

Enlarging the Table: Strategy for Church Growth: Looking for a way to build a bigger table?  Welcome more people through the doors of your church?  Fill the pews or make for a healthy community of faith?  Create a more authentic community of faith?  Want to know the secret formula?  The simple solution?  Stop by and let’s talk about it.  Join me for an open conversation. While it’s not magic, there is a three-step solution.   (Disclaimer: any faith community can do it, it will require honesty about your feelings, where you are as a church and what you, as a faith community really want to do.)

 
Courtney Stange-Tregear

Courtney Stange-Tregear

Courtney Stange-Tregear, Pacific Northwest Conference

presenting “Growing Vital Churches”

Rev. Courtney Stange-Tregear joined the Pacific Northwest Conference in 2016, in the newly created role of Minister for Church Vitality. In this capacity, she brings a holistic vision of vitality that bridges the secular and sacred, church and community. Leveraging the power of relationship to both comfort and agitate, she supports local churches, the Pacific Northwest Conference, and the wider church in leading through the challenges and opportunities created by a shifting culture. Growing up outside the church, her calling to ministry was ignited by a classical Great Books education, and further developed by world travel, community organizing, and an entrepreneurial spirit. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree in Congregational Development, and only half jokingly, says that her first real ministry job was as a bartender.

Growing Vital Churches: What if church vitality is more than just code language for increasing average worship attendance? What if pursuing vitality is both more simple and more complex than any 10 step plan to grow your church? In the Pacific Northwest Conference, Vitality Ministry has taken an integrated, holistic approach: start with listening, hear concerns, struggles, joys. Prioritize deepening relationships, build trust, and listen some more. Focus on what really matters, to our churches, our communities, and our colleagues. Vitality means life, and life can’t be forced, shouted, begged, siloed, or programmed into existence. Informed by adaptive leadership, systems thinking, and community organizing, this workshop will share the story of how the Pacific Northwest Conference has been practicing a new approach to Conference Ministry; learning how to tell our stories, learning to listen better to the stories of others, and paying attention to how this changes everything.

 
Marjorie Wilkes Matthews

Marjorie Wilkes Matthews

Marjorie Wilkes Matthews, Plymouth UCC in Oakland California

presenting “Growing Churches Unconventionally”

Rev. Marjorie Wilkes Matthews has served as Pastor of Plymouth Church since October 2013, after serving there for four years as their Associate Pastor.

She is a fifth-generation educator, descended from several generations of women who dedicated their lives to teaching and improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged children. She co-founded and co-directed the West Oakland Community School, a charter school for grades 6 – 8.

In addition to being ordained in the United Church of Christ, Pastor Marjorie is trained as a spiritual director, providing support to individuals, couples, and groups seeking to deepen their relationship with God. She believes that her responsibility, as pastor and spiritual director, is to help people embrace belovedness – to grow in love for God, themselves, and others.

Pastor Marjorie is a graduate of Princeton University and Pacific School of Religion. She is married to Rev. Bob Matthews.