Our Settled Minister Search Process


Sunday January 13, 2019:

It is with great joy that we announce that at today’s Congregational Meeting, the gathered congregation unanimously approved the recommendation from our Settled Minister Search Committee that Rev. Elissa Johnk be called to serve as the next Minister of First Congregational Church UCC of Burlington! Rev. Johnk has accepted our call and will begin her ministry with us on April 9.  She will begin leading worship services on Palm Sunday, April 14.

Use this LINK to view Rev. Johnk’s January 13, 2019 sermon: “Beloved”



Our Settled Minister Search Committee was named and officially commissioned, in a “Covenant to Serve,” during worship services on October 15, 2017.

CONTACT US: Our Committee will make every effort to keep the congregation up to date with the search process and welcomes your input.  Please speak with one of our committee members &/or email your thoughts and questions to the Settled Minister Search Committee at [email protected] (or U.S. mail comments/questions to our attention at the Church Office).  Thank you!




  Our Settled Minister Search Committee Members are pictured here (from left to right):  Libby Elder-Connors, Mary McKearin, Mike Knauer, Jeff Comstock, Chair: Susan Ellwood, Rob Backus, Ann Vivian, Matt Bushey, Janice Claypoole,  David Grace, James LaPierre, and Cyndy Hall.

January 6, 2019:

 Announcement from our Settled Minister Search Committee – our candidate is:
Rev. Elissa Johnk
Dear Members and Friends of First Church:
As you all know by now, the Settled Minister Search Committee has selected a candidate that we will ask the congregation to approve at a church-wide meeting on January 13, 2019, following the 10 am service.
It is my honor and privilege to share with you the name and some brief information about our selected candidate below.  But first, I will share with you how we got here, so that you may come to see why we believe this is the best next step in the life of our church and the best person to lead First Church into the next chapter of its life and ministry.
In October of 2017, this committee was commissioned and asked to meet this extraordinarily important goal:  to articulate who God is calling us to be as a congregation and to find who God is calling to next minister with us.  I think it is safe to say that none of us truly understood the depth of work this would involve when we each said ‘yes’.  What we did understand is that after the last few years, which included periods of transition and change, as well as some uncertainty, we were each 1,000% dedicated to making the best choice for this congregation and each member took his or her role as a member of this committee very seriously.
Your search committee created a Church Profile that describes First Church with an extraordinary amount of detail, candor and sensitivity, based on the time we spent listening to the congregation while crafting this 50+ page document.  The response from ministerial candidates was quite positive, and our summer months were spent meeting weekly and spending the time in between reviewing numerous Ministerial Profiles, checking references and reviewing candidates’ online sermons and writings.  We interviewed numerous Ministers from all over the United States, who saw promise in our church and its future and we attended several neutral pulpits throughout Vermont, finding ourselves with a few very talented and faithful finalists.
And then, it came time to end the investigation and to begin the discernment.  As the very wise Rev. Carrie Bail explained to me: discernment is what happens when you let God in.
And as we came to the time to decide among some extremely skilled, faithful and qualified candidates, God did indeed join us.  As Advent, the time of hope, joy and expectation, unfolded, we came to a unanimous decision as to the candidate that we believe is the best fit for our church; a candidate who will serve us as we discover who God is calling us to be.  And here we are.
Our committee unanimously recommends to this congregation that the Rev. Elissa Johnk, currently Senior Minister of Old Meeting House in East Montpelier, serve as our next Settled Minister at First Congregational Church of Burlington, Vermont.
Rev. Elissa Johnk is an ordained UCC Minister who has served since 2011 as the Senior Pastor at The Old Meeting House church in East Montpelier, a thriving, multi-denominational church with strongest ties to the UCC. Before the OMH, Elissa served with Rev. Martin Copenhaver as a Pastoral Resident at the Wellesley Congregational Church UCC, and also held a ministerial internship at the Old South Church in Boston. She has also worked with Habitat for Humanity, and as a Fulbright ambassador in South Korea.
Elissa graduated summa cum laude from Wellesley College, and earned her Masters of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, where she received a presidential scholarship, the award for Excellence in Liturgical Reading of Scripture, and was a Billings Preaching Prize finalist.  Elissa lives in Middlesex with her wife, Sarah, who is an attorney, serving as the State of Vermont Bar Counsel for disciplinary matters.  Elissa and Sarah will continue to reside in Middlesex with their two dogs and six chickens.
Elissa greatly impressed us from the beginning.  We came to our first meeting after reading her profile with our jaws dropping and eyes widened in reaction to her gift with the written word.  In our initial interview with her, Elissa wowed us not only with her ability to articulate her love of God and ministry, but with her ability to take the interview and transform it into a discussion about our goals and hopes for this church family.
In this extremely secular time and place, Elissa has led and grown a Vermont church over the past several years.  She demonstrated a willingness to learn about our church community and work beside us to realize our vision of the present and future for First Church.  The outside sources that we consulted about Elissa confirmed our belief as to her extraordinary faith and talent, speaking of her unique ability to hold sacred space during a church service. Her references repeatedly used the word “joy” when describing her approach to worship.  One experienced Minister who knows her quite well articulated his wish that she was his Minister.
       We look forward to sharing more about Elissa with you over the next few days and look forward even more to the time you will be able to meet and get to know Elissa at our church-wide reception for her on Saturday, January 12th at 1 pm. Elissa will also lead our worship service on January 13, 2019 at 10 am, immediately prior to our church-wide meeting to consider this Search Committee’s very strong recommendation that she serve as the next Settled Minister of First Church.
This process has been an amazing adventure for our committee.  We worked very hard and very well together, as each member of this team was completely invested in taking all the time and care needed to call the candidate we believe to be the best fit for this church.  There are too many examples of love, care and sacrifice (not to mention utter hilarity, ingenuity and joy) each member contributed to this endeavor to list in this letter.  I know each member of this team leaves this commitment more dedicated to this congregation, its members, life and mission than when we started.  We thank you for the opportunity to serve you and the future of First Church.  And speaking for myself, it was my absolute honor and privilege to serve as the Chair.
I also need to thank Carrie Bail for her never ending support and wisdom during this process.  Our staff provided unfailing support throughout this journey for which are ever grateful.  And most of all, we thank the congregation.  Without your generosity of time and spirit, we could not have done this.
Thank you,
Susan Ellwood, Chair of the Settled Minister Search Committee

The First Congregational Church UCC of Burlington
“Church Profile”

referenced in Susan Ellwood’s letter (above) is available for members to
read on the Governance page of our Church Website.
The password to this page can be acquired by emailing our Clerk, Linda Elrick.

Saturday, January 12 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at “First Church”  
Meet & Greet our
Settled Minister Candidate: Rev. Elissa Johnk

All – including children and youth – are invited and welcome!
time for our community will include a
“question and answer” forum as well as much
time to informally meet Rev. Johnk and enjoy refreshments.

Sunday, January 13 is “Candidate Sunday”
There will be one worship service at 10 a.m. in the Sanctuary.
Rev. Elissa Johnk, will lead the worship and preach –
all are invited and welcome!
Important Information for Families: In order for as many people as possible to be present for this important worship service, we will not offer a full Church School program on January 13.  The Nursery/Toddler/Pre-school space will be open and staffed throughout the worship service and the Congregational Meeting.  All elementary aged children and youth are encouraged to participate in the worship service and Congregational Meeting.
A special “Congregational Meeting to Call a New Minister” will be held at 11 a.m. in the Sanctuary
 (please see formal meeting warning below)Special Reception for the Candidate & Congregation
All are invited and welcome to the Chapel for a special reception
following the Congregational Meeting.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 13 at 11 a.m.
Warning:  In accordance with Articles VII, VIII (c)  and X,  Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Bylaws of The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Burlington, Vermont,  a Special Congregational Meeting will be held on Sunday January 13, 2019 at 11:00 AM to consider the report and recommendation of the Minister Search Committee to call a new minister.                                                              – Linda Elrick, Clerk     

December 21, 2018:

“In accordance with Article VIII, Section 1, part (c) of the Bylaws, The President calls a special business meeting of the church on January 13 after the 10 am worship service for the purpose of calling a new minister.” -Linda Elrick, Clerk


Mark your calendars to be in church when the candidate being presented to serve as our Minister of First Congregational Church UCC of Burlington leads worship at 10 a.m. on Sunday January 13! On Saturday January 12, following a luncheon with Trustees, Deacons and the Search Committee; the candidate will meet with members and friends of “First Church” from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m. In addition to a reception with refreshments and casual conversation, the Search Committee will host a time for the candidate to address the gathering and answer questions. The formal notice above, calls all members to a Congregational Meeting to vote on the candidacy following the 10 a.m. worship on January 13. The name of the candidate, and a brief bio, will be released on Sunday, January 6.

November 2018:

Hello Fellow Members and Friends of First Church:
It has been several weeks since we have posted any news about our process and we want to provide you the following update:
The Settled Minister Search Committee has recently discontinued our posting of the First Church Profile on the national UCC website.  This means we are no longer actively seeking new candidates for this position and that we are focused on those candidates who have already submitted their Profiles to our church.  The SMS Committee has been working extraordinarily hard over the last few months towards our one goal of calling the best possible Minister to First Church, a task that has taken time, in part, due to the healthy response we had to the posting of our Church Profile.
While the process of reviewing and discerning our candidates’ credentials and skills will remain confidential – and will take at least a little more time – our committee is dedicated to remaining as accessible and transparent as possible as we enter this phase of the process.  So, while we will be keeping a low profile over the next few weeks, please feel free to reach out to any of us in person or by email.   We are always ready to hear what you think about the future of our Church and how our next Minister will help us reach our goals.

Thanks to all for your support and faith.
Susan Ellwood, Chair

Settled Minister Search Committee: Libby Elder-Connors, Mary McKearin, Mike Knauer, Jeff Comstock,  Rob Backus, Ann Vivian, Matt Bushey, Janice Claypoole, David Grace, James LaPierre, Cyndy Hall and Chair: Susan Ellwood.


September 2018:


Dear Members and Friends of First Church,It is Fall at First Church! Kids are back in Church School and youth programs; committee work has resumed and we look ahead towards the new church year with anticipation, hope and joy.  Carrie’s sermons over the last couple of weeks have pointed us in the direction of the future, reminding us that the day will soon come when a new Settled Minister is called to join us in ministry.

And, many of you ask the Search Committee…WHEN WILL THAT BE HAPPENING?
Here is what we can report:
  • Your Search Committee started receiving Ministerial Profiles this summer.
  • We had a healthy response to our Profile and have been in the process of reviewing each candidates’ written profiles (each about 15 pages long), interviewing multiple references, reviewing audio or video sermons; and interviewing the candidates that we wish to pursue a dialogue with.
Our team looks at each candidate through this lens…
Is this the person that the members and friends of First Church wish to see over the next few years:
  • Every Sunday morning at the pulpit, delivering the inspiring sermons we rely on.
  • Sitting at the front of the Sanctuary with all of our kids to share the Word of God for All Ages and inspiring the next generations to serve in the ministry and mission of the Christian faith.
  • At your hospital bed, providing pastoral care and support when you need it the most.
  • Standing in front of two young adults whom you care about to join them in marriage.
  • Celebrating each holiday and event, maintaining sacred rituals and introducing new traditions.

     As we all know, there is much, much more to this job: from chatting with the local homeless folk, to managing staff, juggling the cash flow and being Christ’s Ambassador within and outside the walls of our Church.  This job, while joyful and inspiring, requires thoughtful multi-tasking.  This committee is dedicated to calling the Minister most capable of handling these many challenges and who can provide our congregation with the best possible range of skills and faith going into the future.

I cannot give you a date by which we will have a new Minister.  I can give you our assurance that this process is well underway and your Search Committee is working as hard-and as quickly – as possible to make this call as soon as we are certain we have found the best fit for this church.  We are not taking a magic slipper and searching the length of the entire Kingdom for the perfect Minister.  There is no such thing.  We are, however, listening with much care and much prayer to references and sermons – and candidates.  First Church deserves nothing less.

I would be remiss in not sharing with you that our Church Profile has been routinely praised by our candidate pool, who regularly say that this document shows a strong and vibrant church community, dedicated to the mission and ministry of Burlington.  This is due to a lot of hard work by this committee, but also speaks to the ministry of our church and the members who took the time to work with us in creating our Profile.  But truth be told, our Profile’s strengths are mostly due to all of you who have created this church community that has clear strengths and is so easy to praise.

Thank you,

Susan Ellwood, Chair

August 2018:

Dear Members and Friends of First Church:
Your Search Committee has been working very hard all summer, committed to the goal of finding and calling a new Settled Minister for
First Church as quickly as possible.  We are meeting weekly, reviewing Candidate Profiles, scheduling interviews and completing all the work required to ensure this process is completed as efficiently and thoroughly as possible.
Please understand that the review of candidates, including review of Profiles, references and interviews, remains confidential and we cannot share details of our process with specific candidates; however, we can share that we are working as quickly and efficiently as possible, while staying true to our one goal of calling the best possible Settled Minister for First Church.
PLEASE feel free to visit with any of us at Church or contact us through our email address: [email protected].
Susan Ellwood, Chair

April 2018:  “We are working steadily towards our goal of completing our “Profile” in April and plan to have it ready for posting with the UCC national conference in May. We will have a copy of the final document available for you to read prior to posting.  PLEASE contact us at any time at [email protected]. Or find us at Church and share your thoughts with us.”

Thank you,
Susan Ellwood, Chair, Settled Minster Search Committee


– LINK to November 3, 2017 Letter from Settled Minister Search Committee Chair, Susan Ellwood

With Our Settled Minister Search Committee
following 10:00 a.m. worship service
You have undoubtedly seen us at coffee hour and other functions, asking all for your thoughts and input on the essential question of WHO IS GOD CALLING TO MINISTER WITH US? We have learned a lot in this process – and we want to share this information WITH YOU as we finalize the Profile for submission to the national UCC office this spring. We want to share our excitement about the process and answer your questions about where we are and what comes next.
Delicious snacks and child care will be provided!
PLEASE join us in the Dining Room for this Church-wide Forum to review and discuss the Profile concepts developed to date.   While the Settled Minister Search Committee is charged with creating the Profile and calling a candidate, all of our work is in service to our congregation: We cannot do this important work without your participation and input!
Additional Opportunities to meet with members of the
Settled Minister Search Committee
Sundays February 18 and 25
following both worship services
during the fellowship time in the Chapel.

You are invited and encouraged to reach out to members of the Settled Minister Search Committee to give input on what is one of the most important questions that we as a Congregation need to answer:

“What qualities and skills are we looking for in a new minister?”

You are also welcome to ask us any questions on the search process while sharing your thoughts on this question.  Members of the Search Committee will be in the Chapel on Sundays 2/18 and 2/25 from 9 to 10 and following the 10 a.m. worship service to meet with all interested in sharing their ideas and questions.  You will find them near the easel with the large search process poster.

Our Settled Minister Search Committee is working with the congregation to craft our church profile.

What is the Church Profile?
       The profile document that the committee is working on is newly developed by the national UCC.  It is the primary document that every ministerial candidate will review when considering whether to apply for this call and it is critical to our search process that it accurately portrays our current congregation.
      The profile asks excellent questions. To answer them honestly and thoroughly, our committee and our congregation needs to “dig into” the process and figure out how to portray our many strengths and our goals for the future.  There will be opportunities for various committees to reflect on our church’s current positions relative to areas such as finance, mission, and membership over the next few weeks.  Most important will be the input from the wider congregation on the “essay” questions in the profile to ensure it accurately portrays who we are and what we are looking for in a settled Minister.
      We are committed to completing this process and trust you will help us gather the information to complete the profile.  We look forward to your participation in the process. Our committee is actively establishing a timeline to move this process as efficiently as possible and will share this with you in an upcoming update.
      The big questions that we will be addressing in the church profile are:
“Who are we now?”
– “Who is our neighbor?”
– “Who is God calling us to become?”
– “Who is God calling to Minister with us?”
       Representatives of our Search Committee met with members of the congregation in December and in January to begin gathering input for writing the church profile.  We will soon announce additional opportunities to meet directly with members of the Settled Minister Search Committee to discuss the questions that we need to answer to complete the Church Profile.
In January we focused on the question:                  
“Who are we?”
       Please help us describe “who we are as a congregation” by identifying important events in our church history and the impact of these events on who we are today.  We welcome your thoughts, ideas and questions during our announced gatherings and by email or in conversation with members of the search committee.
       Please speak with one of our committee members (listed below) &/or email your answers, thoughts, and questions to the Settled Minister Search Committee at [email protected] (or U.S. mail comments/questions to our attention at the Church Office).   Thank you!   
Settled Minister Search Committee:
Rob Backus, Matt Bushey, Janice Claypoole, Jeff Comstock, Libby Elder-Connors,
David Grace, Cyndy Hall, Mike Knauer, James LaPierre, Mary McKearin, Cleophace Mukeba, Ann Vivian and Chair: Susan Ellwood.
LINK to November 3, 2017 Letter from Settled Minister Search Committee Chair, Susan Ellwood
This entry was posted in First Congregational Church. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.