First Church this Week

Welcome to First Congregational UCC of Burlington

You are invited to worship in person at First Church at 10am on Sundays in our beautiful Sanctuary at 38 South Winooski Avenue in Burlington OR via the live-stream (or later recording) on the FirstChurchBTV YouTube Channel. Fellowship time follows worship at First Church.

  • This Sunday is our third annual joint worship with College Street! Join us for this full sanctuary, global ecumenical event & welcome all from the College Street Church to worship together with joy at First Church.
  • Following worship – all are invited to fellowship in the Chapel – and to a “crock pot lunch” in the Dining Room &/or to participate in our monthly Silent Vigil for Racial Justice on the front lawn at First Church (details below).

NEW START DATE for FRIDAY BROWN BAG LUNCH DISCUSSIONS:  All are invited to bring a lunch and gather with the Rev. Elissa Johnk – at FirstChurchBTV – at noon on Fridays October 6, 13, and 20 – to discuss the sermon series.

THIS SUNDAY – October 1: The Rev. Elissa Johnk and the Rev. Ken White will lead “World Communion Sunday” – including part three of our fall sermon series – during the 10am worship in person at First Church and live streamed/recorded on YouTube.

  • The Rev. Elissa Johnk offered the first and second sermons in the series on September 17 & 24 – the video links are available here:

  • “Kidz Lab” – our Church School program for grades K thru 6 – welcomes all during the 10am worship.   Our Nursery/Toddler and PreSchool programs are open throughout the 10am worship. For more information contact Director of Faith Formation, Hilah Clarke.

Use this LINK to read the Rev. Elissa Johnk’s September 28 letter.

  • Learn more about NIN – Neighbors In Need HERE
  • Contribute online using Realm and selecting NIN from the giving options.
  • Or, contribute to NIN by check to First Congregational Church, MEMO: NIN

Worshiping remotely? 

  • SUNDAY – October 1: The Rev. Elissa Johnk and the Rev. Ken White will lead “World Communion Sunday” – including part three of our fall sermon series – during the 10am worship in person at First Church and live streamed/recorded on YouTube.
  • On Sunday morning you’ll find linked copies of the Order of Worship, Announcements, and Celebrations & Prayers, etc. using these “click buttons”:

Also on Sunday October 1:

THIS WEEKEND: Get ready to “enter” your favorite crock pot creation &/or enjoy lunch and cast your vote for the best tasting dish next Sunday!  All are welcome and invited to this special event sponsored by our Women’s Fellowship. Donations will be invited.

Interested?  Please deliver your Crock pot creation to the First Church Dining Room before the 10am worship on October 1.  The winner will receive our first annual “Golden Ladle Award” and bragging rights for the next year!


All are invited to stand in solidarity for racial justice NEXT SUNDAY October 1st from 11:30 – noon.  Donations of pre-packaged snacks invited for BTV’s new pod shelter during this time.


Service & Program Opportunities:

Engaging, meaningful service projects for all ages – in community settings, at FirstChurchBTV and at College Street Church – will follow a brief collaborative 10am worship in prayer and song at the College Street Church.

All First Church Choirs welcome new participants – singers, ringers and instrumentalists are welcome! 

For more information, contact Director of Music, Amy Shortt.

  • The Sanctuary Choir rehearsals are Thursdays at 7pm at First Church.
  • Our Bell Choir rehearsals are Wednesdays at 6:45pm at First Church.
  • Rehearsals for our Children and Youth Choirs will resume – following worship on Sunday September 17 with a special “Drum Circle” for all!



The Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ – VTCUCC – is actively involved with flood relief work.

  • Use this LINK to learn of ways to give time and resources in support of this work – including specific volunteer initiatives in Morrisville, Montpelier and Barre.
  • Use this LINK to read stories from the frontline of the flooding written by UCC Ministers from Barre, Waterbury and Morrisville.

The Vermont Conference UCC has organized an offering to support folks in need in Vermont churches and communities impacted by the flooding.

The Vermont Conference invites your donations for Vermont Flood Relief online by CLICKING HERE (include note VT Flood Relief with online donations) – OR by sending a check to the VTCUCC –  with the memo: Vermont Flood Relief to:

​Vermont Conference UCC/Flood Relief – 36 North Main Street –  Randolph, VT 05060

Learn more about  the VTCUCC response to the flooding on their website – including avenues for volunteering- using this LINK  –
also “like” and follow the VTCUCC Facebook page

The Women’s Book Group is meeting in person, Monday, September 25rd at 7pm to discuss This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger; with Patty Thomas facilitating. To receive e-updates about this monthly gathering, contact Janice Clements: [email protected].
CLICK HERE for the 2023-2024 book selections.


Learn about the First Church Elmwood Community Snack Project HERE


Our Outreach Team is pleased to announce that residents of Dismas House on Buell Street will be “growing and harvesting” vegetables in the First Church raised garden beds this summer.  What a great new spin on our long-term mission partnership with Dismas House!


Our FirstChurchBTV Outreach Team invites volunteers to donate meals for youth at Outright Vermont gatherings. Want to know more?  Please contact Outreach Team member Louise Brewster at [email protected] for details and potential dates.


There are many ways to support First Church by helping outside in the spring and summer! If your “green thumb” is experienced… or if you are a novice gardener or mower… we are grateful for your involvement and will help you get started.

  •  Conversational Bible Study – on Zoom – with the Rev. Elissa Johnk will resume on September 7, 2023 at 8:30am.
  • The Zoom link will be posted here on Thursday morning.


Sunday Faith Formation Programs for Children &
Youth Program for Middle & High School Youth

  • Kidz Lab – our Sunday Church School for grades K through 6 – begins anew officially on Sunday September 17 during the 10am worship service.
  • Our Nursery/Toddler and PreSchool room open at 9:50 every Sunday morning.
  • REGISTER NOW: Parents/Guardians are asked to complete an online “Faith Formation Registration” for each child/youth participating in the 2023-2024 year.  Use this LINK for the online form.
  • Kids Lab/Church School Questions? Contact Director of Faith Formation, Hilah Clarke


Youth Programs – a Burlington UCC Collaboration:  The College Street Church & First Congregational Church UCC

YOUTH PROGRAMS: Our successful Youth Program collaboration with the College Street Church will continue for the 2023-2024 year.  For details make sure that you subscribe to our Church Newsletter.

  • REGISTER NOW: Parents/Guardians are asked to complete an online “Faith Formation Registration” for each child/youth participating in the 2023-2024 year.  Use this LINK for the online form.
  • YOUTH GROUP: Every Wednesday 6-8pm youth grades 6th-12th, joint with College Street Congregational Church, gather for fun, food, and faith related activities like “Messy Olympics” and “Penumbra Treasure Hunt.” In September, we will be meeting at College Street Church – in October at First Church.
  • Families with middle and high school youth are encouraged to contact Hilah Clarke, Director of Faith Formation to be added to the e-list for youth program updates.
  • Want to know more about our youth programs?  Contact Jason Vanderlann, Youth Leader – a staff member of both congregations.

In June 2023, nine middle and high school youth, our Lead Minister, the Rev. Elissa Johnk; the Rev. Ken White, Minister at College Street Church; and our shared (First Church & College Street) Youth Leader, Jason Vanderlaan, had a meaningful mission experience serving with HOME,Inc. in Orland, Maine. Our group served in a variety of ways including painting the home in these photos!  Our trip leaders and youth are thankful for your support and prayers.


All First Church Choirs welcome new participants – singers, ringers and instrumentalists are welcome!  For more information, contact Director of Music, Amy Shortt.

  • The Sanctuary Choir rehearsals resume – Thursdays at 7pm on September  7 at 7pm – at First Church.
  • Our Bell Choir rehearsals resume – Wednesdays at 6:45pm – on September 6 – at First Church.
  • Rehearsals for our Children and Youth Choirs will resume in September.


  • CLICK HERE to watch our Sanctuary Choir, soloist Kristen Elder-Connors & Music Director Amy Short offer: “I Believe”
  • CLICK HEREto watch our Sanctuary Choir & Music Director Amy Short offer the John Rutter’s: “Look at the World” during worship on October 16, 2022.
  • CLICK HERE to watch Emy Berger, flute and Music Director Amy Shortt, piano offer Katherine Kennicott Davis’s “Let All Things Now Living” as a postlude during worship on October 23, 2022




BOOK SELECTIONS for 2023-2024: The Women’s Book Group has made their reading selections for 2023-2024.

  • CLICK HERE to learn more about the book.
  • Most months, the meetings are on Zoom at 7pm on the 4th Monday – the September and October 2023 meetings are in person.
  • Please contact Janice Clements to be added to the e-list for location and/or Zoom link details.


Our PIPC – Partners In Pastoral Care – Team and affiliated volunteers known as: “Friends at First” have been busy in the ministry of providing meals for many years.  In collaboration with our clergy, PIPC coordinates meal deliveries within our church community in response to various times of need.  Interested in participating in an upcoming Meal Train? Contact PIPC Chair: Janice Clements at [email protected]


NAME TAGS help BUILD COMMUNITY We’ve rolled out new, magnetic name tags!  Please use this LINK  to request a name tag  – let us know your specific name request (nickname, pronouns, etc.). Thank you


ZOOMING: We are hosting regular and periodic gatherings using the platform “Zoom”.  You should be able to join a meeting simply by clicking on the link provided, and following the instructions.  You can also call in using the numbers listed below each event.  For more detailed instructions on how Zoom works, CLICK HERE.


CLICK HERE for First Church Phonic  – – offering you the opportunity to listen to:
– Sermons
– Spirit Seekers Interviews – including recent Spirit Seeker guests: Helen Head, Becky Levasseur, Richard Gagne, Hilah Clarke and Carlanne Herzog!  Listen online on HERE.


    • OUR THRIFT STORE – THE POSSIBILITY SHOP is OPEN: The Possibility Shop is open – 10am-3pm on Wednesdays and Fridays.
    • DONATIONS: Please bring Possibility Shop donations to First Church any time between 10am and 3pm – Tuesday though Friday.  Clean clothing and household items in good  condition are always needed.
    • ESPECIALLY NEEDED NOW:  Fall and winter clothing in excellent condition for all ages.
    • VOLUNTEERS INVITED: On open days (Wed. & Fri., 10-3); on weekdays when the shop is closed (Tues. & Thurs.); &/or projects at home.
      • Greet customers in the midway (near Church Office), count those entering and exiting, keeping the number within the allotted safe amount… a great opportunity for readers and knitters!
      • Assist with the financial aspects of the shop, @two to three hours per month.
      • Handle and help sell older, valuable items that are donated to the shop.
      • Questions?  call Karan Dewar 802-922-3821 or Brenda Fraser 802-862-4747.  Thank you.
Posted in First Congregational Church, News and Announcements | Comments Off on First Church this Week

First Church Responds to COVID-19: Guidelines & Updates

As people of faith, we understand that Science, Math and Reason are all gifts of God.  As such, we trust the research that indicates we must do our part to flatten the curve.  All of this has informed our decisions to do our part to lessen the advance of the Coronavirus. We are implementing the practices urged by the CDC , W.H.O., and the Vermont Health Department, doing our very best to protect the health of all.    


UPDATES FROM OUR REGATHERING TEAM: Our Team continues to meet regularly. The fall update to our guidelines includes recommended (rather than required) mask wearing for all over age two in the church building. On October 14 our Regathering Team adjusted our guidelines to permit food and beverages in the building.

  •  CLICK HERE to read the Rev. Elissa Johnk’s September 16, 2022 letter that addresses the fall regathering guideline changes that moved to make masks recommended inside the church building.
  • CLICK HERE for information about our guidelines adjusting on October 14, 2022 to allow food and beverages inside the church building


An August 26, 2022 Update & Survey from the First Church  ReGathering Team: 

Dear First Church,

For more than two years our Re-Gathering Team, comprised of representatives chosen by our Deacons, staff and by our Buildings and Grounds and Worship Teams, have been meeting a minimum of once a month and as frequently as weekly to assess our response to the Covid pandemic.

As we plan for the months ahead, we are asking for your thoughtful input via the survey LINKED HERE .

In April 2021, the Re-Gathering Team shared a similar survey that asked for your feedback on virtual worship, vaccinations, and the potential for offering in-person worship. The Re-Gathering Team analyzed every response and formulated our re-opening plan in coordination with those results, as well as local, state, and Vermont UCC Conference recommendations. Over the last 18 months, we have resumed in-person worship with singing (!), began offering outdoor fellowship with refreshments, hosted community events, and many more amazing offerings!

We understand that while there are no perfect answers, plans, or policies, as the body of Christ, we affirm our responsibility to do our best to care for all in our congregation, including our oldest and youngest participants, and those in the congregation and staff who are, or who live with, those who are immune-compromised or too young to be vaccinated.

In creating any proposed revisions to our gathering guidelines, the Re-Gathering Team will take into consideration responses from the survey, along with local, state, and Vermont UCC Conference recommendations. Before making any policy changes, a proposal from our Team will be presented to representatives of our Executive Team, Board of Trustees, and Lead Minister. Please complete the survey as soon as possible, and if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact members of the Re-Gathering Team.

In Faith,

The Re-Gathering Team: Doug Viehmann, Bob McKearin, Hilah Clarke, Ann Vivian, Caroline Catlin, and First Church President Paul Hobbs (proxy for Rev. Elissa Johnk)


An AUGUST 18, 2022 NOTE FROM OUR REGATHERING TEAM: Our Team continues to meet regularly. Recent updates to our guidelines include optional mask wearing for all speaking from the pulpit and for those not singing while playing the organ, piano or other musical instruments.  We are no longer roping off every other row in the center sections of the Sanctuary but do continue to reserve the balcony and under the balcony for those wanting to maintain physical distancing.  Social gatherings and any gatherings with food are held outside.  All over age 2 continue to wear masks for all indoor church activities and meetings.  Whenever possible a virtual (Zoom) option to worship, programs and meetings is offered.

On February 4 2022 – the guidelines below were updated to allow congregational singing – with masks – and with physical distancing.

January 7 2022 Update from our Covid Response Team

Dear First Church Friends –

We know you’ve been following the news on the Omicron variant and keeping close tabs on the rising case numbers and record hospitalizations – because you’ve told us! Here at First Church we have been doing the same thing.  Your Covid Response Team – comprised of members of Personnel, Buildings, Deacons, Worship and Staff – has been watching the trends closely, and consulting with those in the medical field about how to best proceed over these next few weeks.

As you might imagine, the answer is … cautiously!

To protect our most vulnerable populations and staff, and in order to continue gathering in person, we are temporarily returning to an earlier stage of our Covid precautions.
For this week:

  • Every other pew in the sanctuary will be roped off in order to observe physical distancing at all times during the service
  • There will be no congregational singing (UPDATED on 2/4/22 to permit signing – with masks).
  • ALL worshipers are asked to depart the building immediately following the service, to socialize outside or over our zoom fellowship gathering.
  • All non-essential, in-person church events be postponed
  • The Possibility Shop and Church School activities will continue as they have been – with strict distancing guidelines, upgraded masks, and new air purifiers.  Church School now has a zoom-in option during the 10am worship.

We want to reassure you that our Covid Response Team is meeting weekly, and will attempt to make decisions for each week in “real-time”.  We understand that none of this is ideal, and there is no one solution that will feel right for all of us. One of the things that has been so remarkable about this community over the past two years is the adaptability and respect we have been able to grant one another as we navigate these challenging decisions and care for one another in these challenging times. Please know your patience and understanding is seen and appreciated.

In faith,
The Staff and Covid Response Team


Worship In Person at First Church – June 2021 Update
Weekly Live-Streaming on YouTube

    It’s time to re-gather physically! Stay tuned for updates on guidelines, but we are ready to welcome one and all back to the sanctuary starting Sunday, July 4, 2021!
Of, course, we understand not all of us will be able to be there physically, so we are committed to continuing to integrate our digital congregation, by live-streaming at 10am on Youtube!   Our Zoom Fellowship time will continue after worship – as will in person fellowship on the front lawn at church!   CLICK HERE for details about programs for children and youth this summer.

A Letter from Our Deacons About In-Person Worship

June 25, 2021

Dear Members and Friends of First Church

In a year of many firsts, changes and challenges, this congregation is about to embark on a new experience with much joy and celebration: First Church will be opening its doors again for live worship on Sunday July 4.   The Deacons are excited to be part of this joyful and celebratory time, and want to share with you some information as to how our worship life will work, once we begin to welcome folks back within our church walls.

While many of our friends and neighbors cannot wait to walk into the Sanctuary and reclaim that favorite pew, we do expect some in our community will continue to worship virtually; some maybe for a brief period of time and some may continue permanently.

In addition to our physical re-opening, our ministry leaders have been working hard to adapt our worship to support an ongoing remote worship along with our live Sunday services.   We want our tradition of radical hospitality to extend to folks who will continue to participate remotely on Sundays, to ensure all can access our time of worship, even if their physical presences is not possible due to issues of health, accessibility or distance.   It is our goal to make remote worship an extension of our Sanctuary service, so that those worshiping virtually can share sacred time and space with those who are participating physically.  READ MORE…



“We will serve communion in pre-torn pieces, we won’t shake hands for the passing of the peace, and we have hand sanitizer in the pews.  I think we have a good plan in place.”
-Elissa Johnk, Trustees, 5/10/2020

I have heard it suggested that a pillar of wisdom is learning to laugh at yourself.  If this is true, some of us should be emerging from these last 15 months like Solomon. None of us knew what was in store, of course, but for quite some time it has felt as if we were constructing a raft while already floating down the rapids, praying there aren’t larger waterfalls ahead.

“If all goes well, we will be able to welcome into the building anyone who wishes to physically attend worship on…”  CLICK HERE to read the full letter


April 16, 2021 – Covid Update from the Rev. Elissa Johnk


Dear Friends –

This past week marked our two-year anniversary together, and it seems strange to think that the last year has been our own congregational version of a long-distance relationship!  Instead of gathering in our beloved sanctuary, I have been invited into your homes for every meeting, every visit, every worship, every week.  You have offered yourselves in testimony and witness, and I now know how it is you respond to forms of trauma and stress. While these are not the same things we would have learned about each other in any other year, in many ways, it has felt like many years of ministry condensed into one.

But I’ll tell you what I miss (beyond the obvious preaching to a present congregation, communal music, laughter, and prayers) – I miss the hallway conversations. The ways you get to know someone, and what is happening in their life, in passing. The details that are shared over a warm mug of coffee or tea, with children running just a little too fast around your knees.  Like me, I am sure you are eager to get back to this – even if it means forgoing the warm mug.

To this end, I am pleased to tell you that the Covid Response Team (comprised of members of staff, Deacons, Building and Grounds, Personnel and Worship) has been working to establish a plan to get us back to one another as soon as it can be done, and done safely.  Drawing on resources from public health officials, denominational resources, and the wider church, we have developed what we are calling our “PEACE Plan”, which establishes a five-part plan for a phased reopening.

P, or phased-in worship regathering, involves our worship LEADERS coming back to the sanctuary to record our worship for streaming. This will involve staff, lay readers, musicians, leaders, and our new A/V team, to begin to learn the new equipment.  We anticipate this will start in late May or early June, as our staff will (hopefully!) be finishing their vaccinations by this date. Indeed, all who are in the building during this phase will be required to be fully vaccinated, to wear masks, and practice social distancing. There should be no more than ten people in the sanctuary at any given time.

Phase Experimentation will begin shortly thereafter, and will involve staff, worship leaders, and designated groups such as the Trustees, Deacons, Worship Team, or Faith Formation Team, gathering to test out what a hybrid regathering would be like, then discuss it later and make changes based on experiences and science. During this phase masks and distancing will be required, and all present will be required to have at least the first dose of a vaccine. There will be no more than 25 people in the sanctuary at any given time.

Once Phase Experimentation is underway, and we begin to work out the “kinks” of hybrid gatherings, we anticipate Phase A adding the broader adult congregation – will occur shortly thereafter, hopefully in mid to late June. This is, of course, the phase we are all waiting for!  And, as exciting as this will be for all of us, I want to remind us that this will not look like what it has in the past – there will be no congregational singing, or passing of the peace, attendees will have to register in advance, and masks and distancing will be required.  To move into this phase, a few additional factors will have to be established:

  • most of the adult church population has been vaccinated with at least one dose,
  • the majority of the Chittenden County adult population has been vaccinated with at least one dose
  • No more than 2 percent positivity rate in the County, and 14-day downward trends
  • No known presence of vaccine-resistant variants in the area

The next two phases – adding Children, and Everyone! Everywhere! – also have a set of environmental and congregational “triggers”, which we will tell you more about as we get closer to those stages.

I want to reassure you that your Covid team has been incredibly thoughtful about putting together this plan.  A summary of this plan can be found by clicking here.  Please note, however, that this is not locked in stone.  In fact, every part of this plan is subject to change, based on new information or circumstances.  We are putting this out to you simply so you have a better sense of the guiding principles behind our decision making and procedures.  Before each phase is complete, and we move to the next, conversations will be had between the Deacons, Trustees, and Covid Response team, to ensure we are safe to proceed to the next steps.

To help us ensure we are on the right track for you and your family, we have compiled a short survey we hope you will complete.  This will help us evaluate our plan, and consider appropriate steps between phases.  As it has been all year this is a congregation-wide effort, and we really do need to hear from you to make sure we most effectively focus our attention and resources moving forward.

There is an old joke that a man bought his wife a bouquet of 48 roses for their 50th anniversary.  When she asked why 48, he said “one for every good year.”  She looked at the bouquet and threw out a few more before giving him a kiss.

I know this year has been hard. But with the amount we’ve learned about one another, and ourselves, I would still call it good. So happy anniversary, friends. Here’s to the year ahead, in faith.


The Rev. Elissa Johnk

November 19, 2020 Covid Update from the Rev. Elissa Johnk

September 2020 Update from our Staff & Covid-19 Response Team


May 21, 2020: As the country begins to ponder re-emerging from our homes, I am reminded how grateful I am to live in Vermont, which leads the nation in successful response.  As we are consistently reminded, however, now is not the time to lose our diligence.  Even as restrictions are loosened, we are being asked to follow best practices – staying close to home, wearing masks, and limiting social gatherings.
CLICK HERE  for The First Church BTV Covid-19 General Guidelines including guidelines related to: Worship, Team Life, Office and Building Protocol, Pastoral Care, the Possibility Shop and Renters.


June 18, 2020: In her sermon on workplace relationships this winter, Elissa called worship our “staff meeting.”  It is the place we come to “discuss the issues at hand, encourage one another, and equip ourselves for our particular jobs spreading the love of God, serving God in the world, each in our respective assignments.”  It has been just over three months since we were able to physically gather for “staff meeting”.
CLICK HERE to read the full update from the Task Force for ReOpening

Transformation & Vision: Our Next Steps

June 2020: Few are the moments in one’s life that are so transformational that you know you are experiencing one in real time: saying “I do”, the birth of a child, the death of a beloved. They are moments so profound, so disorienting – so re-orienting – that you know you will be changed forever.
Pentecost, which we just celebrated in worship, was one such moment for Peter.  Having denied even knowing Jesus three times, at Pentecost he finally had the chance to take it all back – to be who Jesus believed he was: the rock upon which even our church here at 38 South Winooski is founded. Here at First Church, we are in an extraordinary place, because we are living in the middle of two transformational moments at once.
CLICK HERE to read Elissa Johnk’s Message: Transformation & Vision: Our Next Steps


  • For any prayer requests, emotional support, or other assistance you may need during this time, please email our Partners in Pastoral Care and Clergy at [email protected]  
  • Our Partners in Pastoral Care and Deacons Teams are working together to be in regular contact with our members and friends during this time.  If you haven’t received a call, or know of someone who is in need, please email [email protected]  


Your stewardship is more important than ever in this time.  You can mail in your checks, or use one of the options below.

Click HERE to Give Now

  • GIVE to First Church by texting: FCCBUCC to 73256 to give a gift using your text messaging. Standard text message rates apply.


  • JUMP – with COVID-19 precautions in place in Vermont – JUMP has created “JUMP FLEX” – so that phone and email can be used to connect people in need with valuable and much needed direct services. 
  • Our AA and NA meetings will resume meeting at First Church when they feel comfortable after “stay at home” is lifted. 
  • Small Potatoes continues serving Saturday morning breakfast and bag lunch (now outside) at First Church having made adjustments to menu and serving methods; volunteers have agreed to disinfect any space used following the meal. 
  • The New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church has temporarily cancelled all in-person events. 
  • The Possibility Shop is closed and can not accept any donations at this time.  We are grateful to our volunteers, donors and customers for their generosity and patience.
  • The Office will be open from 10-3 Tuesday thru Friday, but most staff will continue working from home for the time being.  To make sure that staff will be present, it is always good to call ahead (802-862-5010, ext.4) before visiting the church.  Ring the doorbell when you arrive.
    • A small crew of volunteers will be regularly disinfecting the common areas for the safety of our office staff and volunteers.


Posted in First Congregational Church, News and Announcements | Comments Off on First Church Responds to COVID-19: Guidelines & Updates

The Vision Process at First Church

What’s Next in the FCCB Vision Process?
  • Our March 26 Discernment Gathering was live streamed on YouTube – to watch it on your device – CLICK HERE.
    • To watch on your TV, find the video on our FirstChurch BTV YouTube Channel – it is one of three in the playlist: “Vision Process Updates”
  • Online Voting:
    • If you were not able to vote in person on March 26th – you are invited to participate in online voting this week.
  • Participating in Vision Proposal Discernment/Voting online?
    • Watch Elissa’s prayer (video below) offered in the gathering that preceded the in-person vision proposal voting on Sunday March 29 – it will support your faithful discernment process.

    • Before voting… scroll down to find links to review our:
    • Next … CLICK HERE to open our quick “How-to” voting guide – Discernment Voting 101.

      YOU CAN SEE OUR IN PERSON VOTING: On Sunday, members and friends voted in person, by walking around the chapel, placing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice stickies on large-scale posters of each proposal.In order to make the discernment as communal and equitable as possible, you may see photographs of the proposals, with the stickies it received in-person on Sunday HERE

      Blue stickies are first choice, pink are second, and yellow are third. This should help you get a sense of how the Spirit was moving on Sunday afternoon.
    • The ONLINE VOTING FORM asks you to record your first, second and third Vision Proposal priorities. The form – available below – will be “open for voting online from Wednesday March 29 through 5pm, Sunday April 2.
      • When you complete the online form – your priorities will be included in the congregation’s tally.

    • If you’d rather not use the online form: please contact Caroline Catlin in the Church Office – she will record your top 3 choices: 802 862 5010, ext 4; email: [email protected].  If you call over the weekend – Caroline will get back to you about your voting priorities on Tuesday April 4th.

Prepare to discern your top three proposals:

  •  CLICK HERE for quick guide to the “voting” process –Discernment Voting 101 – the document includes tips on how to take part virtually.

  • Review the 5 Vision Proposals  – linked via the graphic – in one document. (To open each proposal separately – scroll down on this page.)
  • Watch the video of the Vision Proposal Discernment Exercise (below) that the Rev. Elissa Johnk recorded for you HERE – or – to watch on your TV – look in the “Vision Process Updates” playlist on our FirstChurchBTV YouTube Channel.

    • If you missed the March 19 Vision Proposal Gathering – please watch the live stream of it HERE – or to watch on your TV – look in the “Vision Process Updates” playlist on our FirstChurchBTV YouTube Channel.


Please watch the video above featuring: Vision Team member Susan Saunders & the Rev. Elissa Johnk discussing:

  • the importance of the March 19 & 26 post-worship vision gatherings;
  • where we are in the vision process & discerning next steps together;
  • some important “how to’s” for March 19 & 26.


The March 2023 Vision Group Projects are ready for you!

A March 8, 2023 letter from our Vision Team:

Dear Friends –

Wherever you are with whomever you find yourself from church, exchange HIGH-FIVES or elbow bumps as best you are able. There is much to celebrate!!

After many months of hard work, the very detailed, thoughtful, creative, well-researched proposals have been submitted and are now HERE in your inbox! Please take the time to read through them thoroughly, noting any questions you may have about the proposals. Please allow plenty of time for working through them. They are rich with information.  The five proposals are linked individually below this letter.

On March 19th, the questions that you have identified will be addressed by the individual proposal teams in preparation for our discernment balloting on the 26th. The congregation will have an opportunity to offer more feedback on this plan before it moves to implementation, so we ask that Sunday the 19th be dedicated to any questions generated by the proposals only.

Please note:
The “voting” that will take place on Sunday, March 26th is a discernment ballot. We will be listening for the voice of God that will, through the participation of each individual, guide us towards a collective discernment of where we, as the Body of Christ called to serve in this time and place – are being called. This is the first step towards the realization of all the hard work done by the Vision Team, the proposal teams and this congregation and staff.

Post Easter:
Based on the information gathered after the ballots are sorted on the 26th of March, and over a six-week period, the Vision Team will dedicate themselves to developing and articulating a high-level strategic plan (a task with which they were charged in 2020) that will identify sequencing, and any additional research that needs to be done.

The Strategic Plan will go to the Trustees, who will study and prayerfully discern the best ways to move forward, including funding and strategy, before presenting to the congregation.Again, the congregation will have an opportunity to offer more feedback on this plan before it moves to implementation.

The Congregation will gather in an all-congregation meeting to consider the proposal made by the Trustees and to begin the refinement, sequencing and project management that will move our dreams and visions, informed by the call and will of God, into reality.

There will be updates and notes from the Vision Team every week in March.
Printed copies of the proposals and supporting documentation are being mailed to those on our “print newsletter” list this week.  You are welcome to request a printed copy from the Church Office.

With gratitude and in faith –
The Vision Team: Rob Backus, Tony Hall, Jennifer Jorgenson, Susan Saunders and Charlie Smith

NOTE:  The March 17, 2023 Building & Renovations Report LINKED HERE includes edits and new information.


CLICK HERE to read Church President, Susan Ellwood’s March 3 letter about the next phase of our vision process and more about the March 19 & 26 after worship gatherings.

Each Vision Project Teams will report in more detail to the congregation in a presentation following worship on March 19 with an anticipated gathering on March 26 (also after worship) to determine congregational priorities. 

CLICK HERE to read the early February 2023 updates from our Vision Project Groups.

During the summer of 2022 – the Vision Team invited all to participate in a Vision Project Team – and promised it would be a fun and interesting ride!

The Vision Team published expanded descriptions of the six Vision Projects that received the most votes from the congregation in late May 2022 – including the preliminary proposals that support each of the six areas.  The Vision Team made some change to the process timeline in mid-July – keeping the Vison Project Team registration open through September 15.

Thank you for participating in this important step toward forming a faithful future for First Church!   – The FCCB Vision Team: Rob Backus, Mandy Grace, Tony Hall, Jennifer Jorgenson, Susan Saunders, Charlie Smith, Kipene Tabu, and Claire Bamberg, Consultant


May 2022:

More than 125 votes were submitted for 9 preliminary Vision Proposals in late May 2022!  Our Vision Team writes:  “Please share a big “Thank You” from our Vision Team to all who took part in online and in person vision voting during the last week of May.  We will have an update for you soon!”

Recent phases of our Vision Process are described below.  They lead up to online and in person voting at the end May.  Vote tallies will determine areas of  study for groups meeting over the summer months to formalize specific proposals to be presented to the congregation at a fall meeting.

You can watch the live stream of  the May 29 after worship Vision Proposal Presentation, Discussion and In Person Voting gathering here:



Welcome to the next phase of our vision-to-reality work!  In this phase you will find proposals that are balcony-view, with broad parameters articulated.

As indicated throughout the process, your Visioning Team has carefully, thoughtfully, and comprehensively reviewed the submitted proposals and grouped them according to topics and populations served.

  • Who was able to vote?  All members and friends of First Church.
  • In person voting took place at First Church on Sunday May 29 following the 10am worship during the Vision Team’s Vision Proposal Presentations, Discussion and In Person Voting.
    • The recording of the live stream of the gathering is posted above and is linked HERE
  • Online Voting (now closed) was open and promoted in late May. The online voting information included descriptions of  9 Preliminary Vision Proposal Descriptions.

Vote for one proposal:

  • This was intentionally not a ranked-choice voting system, but a caucus system, that the proposals might be quickly narrowed down to a few finalists.
  • These finalists will move immediately into development of formal proposals, that will take a good deal of research over the summer, to be presented to the congregation for a final vote in the fall.
  • More than 125+ people voted!

Thank you!
       – The First Church Vision Team


Learn more about our Vision Process…

  • Read the Rev. Elissa Johnk’s April 29 letter updating all on our Vision Process HERE
  • Read the Rev. Elissa Johnk’s May 6 letter on our Vision Process HERE



The Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg, Vision Consultant

SPECIAL PROGRAMS were held after worship on April 24, May 1, May 8 & May 15: With our Congregation’s Listening SessionsCommunity Listening Sessions, and Lenten Book Study Groups concluded, we turned our attention to reflecting and sharing ideas as all are were  invited to craft vision proposals (due Sunday May 22) for the whole congregation to consider as we seek to make a difference in the world, in God’s name.



Catching Up on Visioning?

  • CLICK HERE to watch the 5/8/22 Vision Gathering – Week 3
  • CLICK HERE to watch the 5/1/22 Vision Gathering – Week 2
  • CLICK HERE to watch the 4/24/22 Vision Gathering – Week 1
  • CLICK HERE to watch all or portions of the recordings of the April 24, May 1 and May 8 worship services.  These services included leadership from our Vision Team, our Vision Team consultant the Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg, and participants in the three Lenten Book Study experiences and highlight our visioning process.
  • Vision proposals were due on Sunday May 22. Proposals were invited – and online and printable templates were provided.


Getting caught up with visioning at First Church – here’s more about the process we started in 2020:

We started by asking what you thought in a series of cottage meetings during 2021. 
Here’s what the congregation had to say:

  • “What Brought You Here?” –  CLICK HERE
  • “Why Have You Stayed?” –  CLICK HERE
  • “What is your vision for First Church, 3-5 years from now?” –  CLICK HERE
  • “What do you think it will take to get from where we are today to your vision of ourfuture?”CLICK HERE


In response to your feedback, we selected these books to read as a congregation.
Check them out to catch up:

  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) by Robert D. Lupton, 2011  Toxic Charity shows us how to start serving needy and impoverished members of our communities in a way that will lead to lasting, real-world change.”
  • Praying with Our Feet: Pursuing Justice and Healing on the Streetsby Lindsey Krinks – 2021   “Readers looking for ways to get involved in their communities will find plenty to motivate them in Krinks’s personal testament.”  Publishers Weekly
  • An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz – 2014  “The first history of the United States told from the perspective of indigenous peoples.”
    • Check at the Church Office if you are interested in borrowing a copy – we are circulating a few copies of each book: [email protected]
  • The Rev. Elissa Johnk’s 2022 Lenten Sermon Series: Discerning a Communal Vision” – March 6 through April 10 lifted up the responses to the four questions from our many Vision Cottage Meetings – and introduced the three books selected for our Lenten Book Study.    Similarly – the worship services led by our Vison Team on April 24, May and May 8 – also lift up the themes of these three books.
    • You can find these worship services using this LINK to our website’s Sermons Online page.


What is the vision process?  

  1. Our Vision Team was formally commissioned and charged* by the congregation in late summer of 2020.  The Team meets regularly, collaborating with consultant, the Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg, church leaders, the congregation, and community members – to engage us in developing a plan for the future mission and ministries of First Church that will include a set of goals and a strategic plan to guide us over the next decade.

* To read the Vision Team’s original charge, and documents such as their 2020 and 2021 Annual Reports – use this LINK to go to our Vision Team website page and scroll down.


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Give to First Church: Giving, Pledging & Special Offerings

STEWARDSHIP is GIVING to FIRST CHURCH: The ministries and missions of First Congregational Church UCC of Burlington rely on the pledges and support of all of our members and friends.  See below for information about giving online and via check – about any current special offerings – and about making a pledge to support First Church during 2022 and about how to make a 2023 pledge.  Thank you.

Online/E-Giving & Giving by Check: One-time donations & recurring pledges  – all of your donations fuel the missions and ministries of First Congregational Church.

TO GIVE ONLINE – connect to First Congregational Church’s secure Online/E-Giving system by clicking here.  Use the drop-down menu provided in “Fund” to designate your donation.YOU CAN TEXT A DONATION to FCCBUCC to 73256 – standard text message rates apply.

Or… GIVE by CHECK – made payable to First Congregational Church (to designate a specific use – such as the Pastoral Care Fund – or a special offering – use the MEMO line on your check) and mail to: First Congregational Church, 38 South Winooski Avenue, Burlington, VT 05401


Current Special Offering:

  • October is Neighbors In Need Month in the UCC
  • Learn more about NIN – Neighbors In Need HERE
  • Contribute online using Realm and selecting NIN from the giving options.
  • Or, contribute to NIN by check to First Congregational Church, MEMO: NIN


2023 Stewardship Campaign: The First Congregational Church Stewardship Campaign – which began in November 2022 – supports building a missions and ministries budget for 2023.  To date we have received 126 of a hoped for 130 pledges from members and friends of First Church.

Pledges for the 2023 year are invited now as our leaders work to prepare an operating budget for First Church to present to the congregation for vote on February 5 during our Annual Meeting.  Of course, pledged giving is needed and invited throughout the year and new pledges are always welcome.  Please join in supporting the ministries and missions of First Congregational Church UCC of Burlington – CLICK HERE online pledge information.

  • CLICK HERE to read the Rev. Elissa Johnk’s Dedication Sunday letter to the congregation.

Welcome to Stewardship 2023:

Stewardship Team Chair, Steve Hyde welcomes the congregation to “Stewardship 2023 during worship on October 30 (video: 3 minutes). 

The Rev. Elissa Johnk’s November 2022 letter to the congregation:

Faith, without works, is dead. 

At least, so writes James, brother of Jesus in his letter to the earliest Christians. If you have faith, but it is not shown in your life, what is the point? If it serves only you, is it really faith – of the Jesus-following kind – at all? These are the questions of our stewardship season, and they are the questions of the Gospel itself. If it is in God we trust, then how is it that with God we do? …  CLICK HERE to read more

PLEDGING for 2023:  Our church leaders and Stewardship Team are inviting your 2023 pledges in support of the ministries and missions of First Congregational Church.

  • CLICK HERE to open the 2023 Stewardship Brochure
  • CLICK HERE to make your 2023 pledge to First Church online  – OR – you can pledge thru your First Church Realm Account.  If you have yet to access your First Church Realm Account – please contact our Office Manager, Caroline Catlin at [email protected]
  • Or… MAIL in your pledge using the pledge card linked below – or – please request a printed copy from the Church Office (802 862 5010, ext. 4).
  • CLICK HERE to access a printable copy of the pledge card to print and mail.
  • CLICK HERE to complete a Time & Talent Pledge Card for 2023. We are also inviting you to pledge your time/talents in support of the missions and ministries of First Church.

Thank you!

2022 Stewardship Messages


2021 Stewardship Videos


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Discipleship Then & Now: Celebrating the Promise – Lent Sundays at 11:15 a.m.

March 8 thru April 5 at 11:15 a.m.

During Lent we will gather after 10 a.m. worship, looking to our history for inspiration to form a vision for the future… what has our discipleship looked like here at First Church? How will this history lead us forward?

The first three sessions – at 11:15 a.m. – are:

  • Sunday March 8: the Rev. Elissa Johnk on Discipleship.
  • Sunday March 15: Lucy Samara (and friends!) on Discipleship and Mission. 
  • Sunday March 22: Hilah Clarke on Discipleship: Youth and Faith Formation.
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Hannah Sachs: Director of Creative Ministries

Our new Director of Creative Ministries is: Hannah Sachs

On Sunday March 1, 2020, Caroline Crawford (Church President-Elect for 2020-2021 and Chair of the Search Committee for Director of Creative Ministries) announced that Hannah Sachs has been selected to serve with us at First Congregational Church.

Hannah is a theatre director and arts educator who is passionate about serving God in creative ways. Originally from Virginia, she graduated with highest honors from Smith College with a degree in theatre directing, religion, and social change. Hannah then spent a year teaching in the Czech Republic on a Fulbright, during which time she met her wife, Renata.

In addition to more conventional theatre and art education work, Hannah has been blessed with many opportunities to use the arts in diverse ministry contexts–including serving in refugee camps, leading workshops for survivors of trafficking, and creating programs for individuals experiencing homelessness. In May, Hannah and Renata will both be graduating from Yale Divinity School. Hannah will have earned a Master of Divinity degree, along with certificates from the Institute of Sacred Music and Andover Newton Seminary.

Hannah Sachs will begin her work as our Director of Creative Ministries in June.  She is absolutely thrilled to be joining First Congregational Church of Burlington’s vibrant community and is looking forward to collaborating with all of you in the beautiful work of creatively embodying God’s extravagant love.


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I & Thou: Creating Sacred Relationships – Sermon Series & Discussion Groups


Link HERE to watch videos of the  I & Thou Sermon Series




Sermon Series: I & Thou – Creating Sacred Relationships

January 26 – February 23:

Discussion Group Opportunity

         Based on a sermon and study series originally crafted by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, “I & Thou” is designed to help us engage one another in conversation about how the lessons and stories of our faith can teach us about the most important relationships of our lives.

Using both scripture and scholarship, I hope “I & Thou” helps you delve into one of humanity’s deepest mysteries – that we are made in and for relationship.  And discipleship, like faith – and life itself – is born from awe, from encounter.

Attend worship on Sunday, and then enjoy this journey in free-form discussion with a small group (whenever your small group decides to meet throughout the week) and discover the power of faith in relationship.

To sign up to host a small group, or to indicate your interest in participating in a group, email Caroline: [email protected].                 – The Rev. Elissa Johnk

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Epiphany Sunday – January 5 at 8 & 10 a.m.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 5  –  “Epiphany”

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”    – Matthew 2: 1-2

We’ll celebrate the arrival of the Magi at the manger during “Epiphany Worship Services” at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Sunday, January 5.

The 10 a.m. service will include K-5 Church School, Middle, and High School youth meetings (starting at 10 a.m.) before all ages gather in the Sanctuary for the “in person” arrival of the wise ones, followed by Communion.

Both worship services will include Communion – for all ages – with gluten free bread and un-fermented grape juice.

The Nursery/Toddler/Pre-School room will be open at 9:50 on the 5th for our youngest children.  All ages are invited to be in the Sanctuary for the re-telling of the great story of Epiphany.

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Star Sunday with VT Folk Artist Patti Casey – January 12

Star Sunday – January 12 – worship services at 8 a.m. & 10 a.m.

  • Get your star for next year—where will it lead you?
  • Don’t know what this is all about?  You’re in for a treat!
  • Our new minister, the Rev. Elissa Johnk will lead this innovative, joyful worship for all ages.
  • Vermont folk artist and singer, songwriter Patti Casey will be our special guest, leading music, during the 10 a.m. – January 12 – “Star Sunday” multi-generational worship service.
    • The nursery/toddler room will be open and staffed from 9:50 through the worship service.
  • There will be an 8 a.m. worship service on Sunday January 12.

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Advent, Christmas & Epiphany at FCCB – All are Invited!


The Rev. Elissa Johnk invites the congregation to invite family, friends, neighbors and the wider community to participate in Advent, Christmas and Epiphany at “First Church” – all are welcome and invited!

All are welcome and invited to all worship services at First Congregational Church of Burlington – an Open & AffirmingCongregation – of the United Church of Christ.
The Second Sunday of Advent – “Peace” 
Sunday, December 8 at 8 am & 10am with Janet Green, cello.
The Rev. Elissa Johnk’s sermon will focus on “Peace.”  All children and youth are invited to rehearse for next Sunday’s (December 15 at 10am) Christmas Pageant.
The Third Sunday of Advent – “Joy”
The Christmas Pageant! Sunday, December 15 at 10am: Young musicians, a timeless story of hope with costumes and carols aplenty. Followed by a reception with sweets and treats for all and our Annual Christmas Wrap.
     – The Annual Christmas Wrap, Sunday, December 15 at 11am: After the pageant, stay for cookies and punch and quickly wrap hundreds of simple, practical gifts for local children and adults!
The Fourth Sunday of Advent – “Love”
  • Blue Christmas: Sunday, December 22 at 8am. The holidays aren’t always joyful. This service, with Simon Jorgenson on Blues guitar, is a sacred space for people living through challenging times, seeking healing and hope.
  • Christmas Sunday: Sunday, December 22 at 10am. Celebrate with love and joy the coming birth of the Christ-child.  Followed by a special Christmas Reception for all!
Candlelight Christmas Eve Services:
Tuesday, December 24. Childcare available at 4 and 7:30.
 4:00pm Family Service of Lessons and Carols  
 with the Children’s & Youth Choirs,
the Austin Chimers & the Hobbs Family brass

7:30pm Traditional Service of Lessons and Carols

           with the Bell Choir, Sanctuary Choir & Strings
10:00pm Intimate Service of Lessons and Carols
with the Sanctuary Choir & Harp


12 days of Christmas! Sunday December 29 at 10am: Did you know Christmas lasts 12 days? Come celebrate with favorite stories and carols during this multi-generational worship. Our Worship Team is gathering “favorite Christmas stories” to compile and share. To participate, email Wendy Scully, [email protected], by Dec. 26 and in a few sentences describe a favorite Christmas memory. (One worship service this Sunday.)

The Star Service: Sunday, January 12.  Get your star for next year—where will it lead you? Don’t know what this is all about?  You’re in for a treat!  Vermont folk artist and singer songwriter Patti Casey will be our special guest, leading music during the January 12 “Star Worship Service” at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.


Use this LINK for the full detail of Advent through Epiphany worship services, happenings, missions, ways to connect and offerings
at First Congregational Church UCC of Burlington!


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