“I find inspiration in the traditions I grew up with, in the beauty of the natural world, in the wisdom of other religious traditions, and in a church community stretching to be its best.”
Kent French, Lead Pastor In October 2009, the members of the First Congregational Church of Bellingham called me to be their Lead Pastor. The following January, I moved from Cambridge, Massachusetts to serve in this dynamic congregation.
I am passionate about the life of the First Congregational Church and carrying on the tradition that No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.
I grew up in Independence, Missouri, the son of an engineer and farmer and a music educator. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in History and Bachelor of Music at Northwestern University I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and worked as an actor and singer until restlessness brought me Harvard Divinity School. At Harvard I earned a Master of Divinity, was awarded the Billings Prize for Preaching, and served as the Epps Fellow, the undergraduate chaplain of the University’s Memorial Church. After graduating, I served at Wellesley Congregational Church in Massachusetts in a Lilly Endowment-sponsored Pastoral Residency program. At Wellesley I introduced ministries for college students, elders and environmental justice.
As a kid I loved the Southern Baptist church in my hometown. In college I discovered the inquiring and thoughtful traditions of the Episcopal Church and the Unitarian Universalists. The Bible stories I grew up with still resonated with me and I found my way to the United Church of Christ, the most progressive of the Protestant denominations. I find inspiration in the traditions I grew up with, in the beauty of the natural world, in the wisdom of other religious traditions, and in a church community stretching to be its best.
Whatcom County and Washington continue to amaze and delight me. On days off, you might find me biking, hiking or walking my dog, Magic. I moved to Bellingham with Robert, my partner of over 20 years – we met at Northwestern.
I take Friday as sabbath and Saturday as a day off.
contact Kent by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tara Olsen Allen, Pastor The Holy Spirit brought me here – no question about it! I grew up in Boylston, Massachusetts with two older brothers and a sister in a house that my mom and dad still live in.
I graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts in International Development and a minor in Education in 1996 and then in 2010, received a Master of Divinity from Bangor Theological Seminary in Bangor/Portland, Maine. That same year, through the search and call process I discerned that First Congregational Church in Bellingham was where God was asking me to go; I moved here with my husband Damien Allen in the fall of 2010.
The feeling of warmth one gets when one enters the doors of FCCB and the genuine care and outreach offered by members and friends of this community amaze me. Every day brings something new and exciting. Answering the call to become Pastor and Teacher in the United Church of Christ allows me to be with people in the holy spaces of their lives. It is an honor to walk with people as they grow and change in their faith, as they struggle to understand the mysteries of life and celebrate the miracles of creation. I enjoy live performance of many kinds — music in particular. I’m an avid photographer, enjoy reading, hiking, swimming and watching New England sports teams — especially the Red Sox and Patriots.
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Sharry Nyberg, Education Coordinator I was a 15-year member of FCCB who was managing and working at a local clothing store for several years when I was asked to apply for the position of Christian Educator in 1999. It is an honor and privilege to journey with this amazing faith community, which continues to live into the statement, No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here. I love connecting with the children and youth as we nurture them on their faith journey; they have amazing gifts and wisdom to share with all of us. The most important part of my job is creating a space where they feel seen, safe and secure, loved and at home while they grow and explore questions of faith honored and respected for the wonderful persons they are. I also love the opportunities I have to plan retreats, labyrinth walks, mission trips and other ways to experience the Holy Spirit outside of Sunday worship in creative and tangible ways.
I grew up in Bellingham and have been married to Joe for 33 years. My daughter Lindsay is a schoolteacher living in Seattle and son Eric is a mechanical engineer in Bellingham. My life outside of FCCB includes morning walks with golden retriever Maggie, reading, traveling, knitting and learning new creative crafts. Beach walks, gardening, cooking and eating great food with friends are some of my favorite things to do.
Contact Sharry by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Marsh, Youth Coordinator I grew up attending FCCB and thoroughly enjoyed participating in the youth group and mission trips. I think that the youth are a valuable part of the church community and have wonderful ideas and talents to offer. I am excited to help them grow and explore new ideas. Outside of church I also work in the veterinary field. I have been attending WWU since 2009 with an interest in economics and environmental science. On my days off my boyfriend Chance and I enjoy hiking, camping, and getting together with friends and family. I have an adorable pooch; Snoopy and a sweet cat; Abby.
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Deborah Brown, Chancel Choir Director – I grew up attending a UCC church in southern California, where my love of music and choir was fostered by a wonderful Music Director, Ralph Prime. I loved going to camp twice a year at Pilgrim Pines, the sister to Pilgrim Firs here in Bellingham. I received my degree in voice and lifetime teaching credential in music from the University of California at Irvine.
I love working with the talented singers and musicians at FCCB, and feel particularly blessed to have the opportunity to collaborate with Judy Widrig. Judy’s artistry helps our singers add beauty and color to all our endeavors. The FCCB community and staff are a treasure trove of talent, enthusiasm, love and welcoming support that adds to the joy I experience in my work at FCCB.
I am also the Artistic Director and Conductor of the 90-voice Whatcom Chorale and Sinfonia, and have been the director of award-winning choirs in schools in California, on Waldron and Shaw Islands in Washington and at Squalicum High School in Bellingham. Many athletic singers have been surprised to find their conductor wielding a tennis racquet in my work as tennis pro at the Bellingham Tennis Club!
Judith Widrig, Organist
Brian Rapp, Children’s Choir Director
Kathryn Taylor, Church Secretary – My husband Sam and I married and moved to Bellingham in August of 2006. A temporary position brought me to First Congregational Church in October of that year; what kept me here was the staff and church members. This is a very giving congregation in so many ways – to the staff, to each other, in the community and globally. I love helping people, and getting to know church members. We have a great staff and we work well and have fun together. There are always different events and things going on in the church, new challenges and tasks to tackle. Sam and I had our first child, Wesley, August 26, 2010. I love being a mom. I also enjoy photography and quilting, and visiting our families in Idaho and Alaska.
Contact Kathryn: firstname.lastname@example.org
Darlene Anderson, Church Custodian – I was born in Bellingham and have lived here my whole life. This is the best job I’ve ever had — I love it! I’ve worked here since 2007. I love to clean and stay busy. I have a son, a daughter, three grandchildren and one great grandchild — plus three cats and a dog.
Denise Hoffman, Church Accountant – I have been with FCCB since 2007 and enjoy working with the members of this church — they’re a special group of people. I grew up in New England and moved to the Northwest after marrying my husband Roy, who works for US Customs. We have two sons Michael, a junior at WWU and Brian, a senior at Sehome. We’ve lived in the Northwest for a total of 17 years, but spent several years in Guam and Hawaii. I love to quilt.