About First Congregational UCC
We Are Your Family
Loving God | Loving People
Collage of members and various activities at First Congregational UCC showing our spirit-filled community
Collage of members and various activities at First Congregational UCC showing our spirit-filled community
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A  Spirit-Filled Congregation

 

We are a spirit-filled church in Sarasota committed to unity, acceptance of all, righteousness, justice and peace.  When you walk through our doors you are part of our family.  See who our church has been, is, and prayerfully becoming through the leadership of laity and clergy.

The United Church of Christ

 

Formed in 1957, The United Church of Christ (UCC) envisioned a world where Protestant, Christian denominations came together to live Jesus’ prayer from John 17:21, “That they may all be one.”  While there is still much work to be done for denominations to work together, the UCC passionately believes in unity and acceptance of all.

The UCC was born when four Protestant denominations (Congregational, Christian, Evangelical, and Reformed) brought their diverse heritage and histories together.  We do not believe in tests of faith, rather testimonies.  You can read our UCC statement of faith here.  Each congregation in the UCC is governed by the local people, who make faithful decisions that reflect the unique local church.  We believe in our covenantal connections to the other UCC churches in the Florida Conference and across the United States.  We encourage you to learn more about the uniqueness of the UCC by visiting the website: www.ucc.org.

Meet Our Staff and Lay Leaders

Say hello to the leadership team at First Congregational UCC. Have questions for the lead team? Contact us by clicking here.

Rev. Dr. Wes Bixby

Rev. Dr. Wes Bixby

Senior Minister

Pastor Wes Bixby began his ministry as Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in January 2014. Wes was born in Iowa. He attended United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. It was in the Twin Cities where Wes met his wife Gina. Ordained by the UCC in 2001, he has served congregations in New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Wes and Gina have two children, Ethan and Olivia. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, running, laughing, watching movies and maintaining his blog at www.gracetraces.blogspot.com.

Gregory Chestnut

Gregory Chestnut

Minister of Music

Greg Chestnut has served as Minister of Music since 1989. He received Bachelor and Master Degrees in Organ from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. A noted church organist and choir director, Mr. Chestnut has served churches in Indiana and Florida.

Gordon Quimby

Gordon Quimby

Collector

Mark Swain

Mark Swain

Campus Manager

Douglas Kingsley

Douglas Kingsley

Media Specialist

Pam Hendrickson

Pam Hendrickson

Bookkeeper

Terri Chapman

Terri Chapman

Office Manager

Carol Fields

Carol Fields

Moderator

Carol is a retired vocal music educator. She has served as a music director for Presbyterian Church of the Way in Shoreview, Minnesota and a vocal music teacher for children grades K – 12. Carol met her husband, Doug, also a teacher, while teaching in Roseville, Minnesota. They have 3 children and 7 grandchildren and recently celebrated 50 years of marriage. Carol spends her time golfing, singing, traveling, sewing, reading and attending the theater.

Jim Butterworth

Jim Butterworth

Vice Moderator

Jim retired to Sarasota after 46 years in education in upstate New York as a teacher, principal, superintendent of schools, state education official and university professor. With his wife, Sandra, they raised three children in Castleton-on-Hudson, N.Y. where Jim served as Sunday School teacher and lay leader in the Methodist church. At Church, Jim has been a part of the Staffing Committee, the Oasis Center Advisory Group and SURE’s affordable housing initiative. He enjoys gardening, hiking, bird watching and working with the Sarasota Literacy Council as an English as Second Language instructor.

Warren Bacon

Warren Bacon

Immediate Past Moderator

Warren is a 2015 retiree from Boston, Ma who recently served as the Chair of Church’s Finance Committee and a member of the Church Council; he is a Deacon Emeritus of the Wellesley Hills Congregational Church in Massachusetts. With his wife, Barbara Smith-Bacon, they raised two children in Newton, MA, where they had a deep connection to the church, a number of non-profits and their community. Warren spent 40 years in Chicago and Boston as a banker and management consultant. He enjoys photography, bicycle trips, cooking and science fiction.

Robin Reich

Robin Reich

Co-Treasurer

Mike Johnston

Mike Johnston

Co-Treasurer

Lynne Woodman

Lynne Woodman

Secretary

Meet Our Leadership Teams

 

Our church is led by members of the congregation and the staff who together set the direction of the church and its programs. Serving on a leadership team is usually a three-year commitment. Teams generally meet once a month.

At-large members are individuals who serve on the church council to help provide a connection to the membership of the church, reporting on celebrations as well as concerns.  The at-large members serve as listening ears for our church, as well as important voices at the council table with a perspective beyond that of the teams.

We invite you to browse through the 10 leadership team descriptions just below.  Perhaps you will find the perfect fit for your interests and talents!  

Celebrating Worship
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Celebrating Worship
The Celebrating Worship Team develops policies and procedures for and provides oversight of church worship programs and services.
"As a team we are pleased that we can be a sounding board for our pastor as special worship experiences are planned and created. The end goal is making sure that worship is meaningful and a blessing to our congregation."
Peace and Justice
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Peace and Justice
The Peace and Justice Team brings awareness to and supports the public witness of FCUCC to issues of injustice and inequality, specifically developing our church's historic commitment to such issues as racial diversity, poverty, the environment, and the LGBTQ community.
"We signed on to Equality Florida's Racial Justice statement after the murder of George Floyd and subsequently developed our own Statement. We are continuing to look at ways our Church can live into the Racial Justice Statement and the call to action."
Music and Fine Arts
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Music and Fine Arts
The Music and Fine Arts Team plans and supports all aspects of the church's music program, as well as a variety of other fine arts activities (choirs, concerts, special music, visual arts, performing arts, and drama).
"We are looking forward to the day we can sing together again in church, hear live music and meet together in person. We are proud of the contribution that our music program plays in the life of our church."
Mission
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Mission
The Mission Team oversees and coordinates activities which express the gospel message of justice, reconciliation, peace, and giving to others. This includes Our Church's Wider Mission, Love Offerings, mission trips, volunteer opportunities and recognition, and evangelism.
"With many of our traditional activities put on hold due to the pandemic, we continue to carry through with our two main fund-raising projects: the Easter Love Offering, benefiting the church's wider community in the world, and the Christmas Love Offering benefiting organizations in our smaller community."
Growing and Caring
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Growing and Caring
The Growing and Caring Team provides general oversight and guidance aimed at helping our church members to grow in faith, invite others in our community to share in growth, and share Christian love within the church.
"Throughout the pandemic, the Growing and Caring team members made literally hundreds of contacts by phone or mail with church members to ensure their well-being and provide a sense of connectivity with the church."
Fellowship and Special Events
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Fellowship and Special Events
The Fellowship and Special Events Team plans and supports church-wide events that create opportunities for fellowship, enjoyment and social interaction within the congregation and that create opportunities to welcome and embrace a diversity of visitors and newcomers.
"Our team is eager to meet and greet our church family in person again and host everyone at Fellowship Time. We promise a big celebration when we are all able to be together again safely."
Spiritual Education and Growth
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Spiritual Education and Growth
The Spiritual Education and Growth Team plans and supports all aspects of the spiritual development and faith formation initiatives for all ages in the church.
"The labyrinth has continued to be available to individuals and small groups throughout the pandemic. It became the site for the weekly 9:00am Sunday Worship in the fall of 2020."
Budget, Finance and Stewardship
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Budget, Finance and Stewardship
The Budget, Finance and Stewardship Team provides oversight for all church financial matters such as the financial policies and procedures and the coordination and development of the annual budget.
"God has blessed First Congregational UCC! Our congregation stepped up to the plate and hit a home run in 2020, despite the unknown. Pledges and donations met (and sometimes even exceeded) project budget levels for most months."
Facilities and Grounds
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Facilities and Grounds
The Facilities and Grounds Team plans and supports maintenance of buildings and grounds, equipment needs, and coordinates long-range site needs and improvements.
"This team is blessed with folks who have unique capabilities that are extremely helpful to this team and to keeping our campus and buildings in good working order all the time."
Staffing
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UCC TEAMS
Staffing
The Staffing Team plans and supports all facets of the employment of all paid staff, including salary decisions and maintainance of the job descriptions and Employee Handbook.
"The Staffing Team is grateful for the flexibility and dedication exhibited by our church staff as we successfully maneuvered through a difficult year. We look forward to emerging from this as a stronger church, ready to adapt to whatever new challenges we face in the future."

Church History

 

Began in 1954 and established at its present site on S. Euclid Avenue in 1956, the church has a long history of community involvement.  First Congregational UCC was instrumental in developing various community projects over the years such as:

Our spirit-filled church sanctuary in 1954 in black and white

The Sanctuary in 1956

Black and white photo of the church exterior in 1954

The Church in 1956

The Early Days

A Congregational Church in Sarasota was proposed to the UCC Florida State Conference in November, 1953. On January 20, 1954, the Conference asked Rev. Walter Whitney to come to Sarasota to organize a Congregational Church. More than 73 years of age and having just established a church in Ft. Lauderdale, he was ready and eager to establish a church in Sarasota.

A small notice in the local newspaper and some personal invitations brought together 63 people for the first worship service. This service was held Sunday evening, February 14, 1954 in the Women’s Club Auditorium on Park Place, now the main stage at Florida Studio Theater.

A location committee was appointed and in July, they recommended, and the church group voted on, the purchase of five acres of land east of the new Alta Vista School on Euclid Avenue.

In September 1954 a Constitution and Articles of Incorporation were adopted. Rev. Whitney presided. On November 14, members voted to apply for a loan of $16,000 from the Home Missions Board. The firm of Sellew and Gremli was chosen to draw up plans for a church building program.

Growth of the congregation made it imperative that larger quarters be sought. On February 1, 1955, Dr. John Jockinsen began his pastorate as the first minister of First Congregational and on September 4, groundbreaking ceremonies were held. The chancel was constructed from used bricks obtained from the razed courthouse in Tampa. One hundred three new members were welcomed into the church family in 1955, for a total membership of 169.

March 4, 1956 was Dedication Sunday and 450 people gathered for worship in the new sanctuary.

On April 26, 1959, ground was broken for the new Fellowship Hall and Sunday School Building and on October 10, the Sunday School moved out of the sanctuary to the new buildings. The Sunday School planned a Biblical Garden to be placed near the cross in the meditation center of the garden.

The church grew in activity and membership and was known as the “friendliest” church in Sarasota.

The Constitution of the newly formed United Church of Christ was ratified by the congregation and the name of the church was changed to First Congregational United Church of Christ on November 10, 1960.

On September 26, 1962, groundbreaking for the new Christian Education Building was held. On February 17, 1963, the new Educational and Social Center Building was dedicated for grades 5 – 8.

Little Pilgrim Preschool opened in 1963. It was operated under direct supervision of the Board of Christian Education.

For the first time in the 11 years of the church’s existence, all organizations and committees of the church had adequate facilities. The last project – covering two wings to the church building, new portico entrance, narthex and other sanctuary improvements – was completed in 1965.

Groundbreaking of the new Fellowship Hall and Sunday School Building 1959

Fellowship Hall and Sunday School Building Groundbreaking 1959

Rev. John Syster talking to a group of children in the church

Rev. Dr. John Syster with the children

First Congregational UCC Habitat for Humanity Project Site in 1996

Habitat for Humanity Project Site, 1996

Reed Chapel highlighting the stained glass

Reed Chapel

The Middle Years

Through the initiative of the Women’s Fellowship, the beautifully renovated Fellowship Hall was dedicated on Thanksgiving Sunday, 1981.

By faith, on a cold and blustery Sunday in February, 1983, the church called the Rev. John E. Syster to be the fourth senior minister. The mortgage on Fellowship Hall was paid off in December and forty-seven people joined the church that year.

The church was becoming a place in which each person was able to offer his or her services and talents. The fall season of 1985 brought a large number of new members, a new church van, and increased activity with the involvement in Habitat for Humanity, Manasota, Inc.

In June, 1986 John completed work on his doctorate of ministry and became the Rev. Dr. John E. Syster.

Gregory Chestnut arrived in January, 1989 as the new minister of music.

The church was chosen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to receive, along with Bensonville Homes of Illinois, $1.8 million to construct a handicapped housing facility of 40 units in Sarasota, and a site on Lockwood Ridge Road was found.  On September 4, 1993, Orchard Place opened, a 40 unit handicapped facility on 13th Street and Lockwood Ridge Road,

The Resurrection House, a day center for the homeless, opened its doors in 1992. The church provided financial support through the Love Offering to begin and maintain Resurrection House.  Members of the church purchased their first truck.

A new organ was chosen for the sanctuary in 1993, a tracker type pipe organ, built by Jaeckel Incorporated of Duluth, Minnesota. The installation and tuning was completed in  October 1993 and dedicated on February 13 1994.

“Reach for the Dream” became a reality on February 9, 2000, when the Reed Chapel and Music Center was dedicated. For the previous five years, many worked to make this dream come true, especially Medora Reed, for whom the beautiful facility was named.

The four-rank pipe organ in the Reed Chapel was dedicated in April and May of 2001. It had been moved from Maine to Florida; it dates from 1878 and was built by Hook and Hastings in Boston. It was donated by Ruth Upshall.

The Little Pilgrim Preschool experienced an outstanding year in 2002.  In July, Little Pilgrim was accredited by the National Association of Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in July.

In 2011, we celebrated Dr. John Syster’s 40th year of Christian ministry with a big luncheon party on the church lawn.

Present Day

In the spring of 2012, Dr. Syster, after 29 years of service to our church and community, announced his plans for retirement as of July 31.  The congregation elected a 10-person search committee, and in the early fall of 2013 they had unanimously agreed upon their candidate.  Following protocol he was presented to the church, met with us, led us in worship and preached to us in his style. And we gave a near unanimous vote of acceptance to the Rev. Dr. Wesley Bixby, then Minister of the UCC Church in Janesville, WI. Wes brought with him his wife, Gina, son, Ethan and daughter, Olivia.

Pastor Wes has led us through many, many Bible studies, book readings and small group meetings, with an open door policy always telling us to come and talk with him. He has continued to lead us in our professed spirit of extravagant welcome with the words, “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” And at the conclusion of each service of worship, “Our service of worship has ended, and our service to the world has begun. Let all God’s people say ‘Amen’!”.  He has been a huge part in helping us become a spirit-filled congregation.

We look forward to Pastor Wes’ preaching, teaching and spiritual leadership. And we have pledged to support and work with him to grow and develop our church for many years to come.

Pastor Wes Bixby with his family on vacation in Alaska

The Bixby Family

The labyrinth on the church campus with fronds strewn from Palm Sunday

The Labyrinth

The memorial garden on the church campus with American flags in the ground

The Memorial Garden

Our spirit-filled church sanctuary in present day

The Sanctuary Today

First Congregational UCC present day picture

The Church Exterior Today

First Congregational UCC present day picture

The Peace Pole