Pastor: The Rev. Vicki Kemper
Maybe you’ve seen her at the local Pride Parade, or down the street from the church, or even in Jerusalem or Washington, D.C.: smiling and standing silently beside a sign that says “Blessings to Go” on one side and “Ask me for a blessing” on the other. Blessings to Go is a thing—and just one of the ways that Vicki takes the love of God outside (sometimes far outside) the walls of the church. If you haven’t seen her offering blessings, you will.
You might have also seen her participating in ecumenical services and leading interfaith prayer vigils. She believes strongly that all people are beloved of God, and she is committed to drawing people of faith together during times of crisis and celebration. If you haven’t seen her leading a public action, you will.
You may have also seen her writing on the UCC website—or in your email inbox. Since January 2016 Vicki has been a writer of the UCC’s Stillspeaking Daily Devotionals.
At First Church you’ll see and hear her planning and leading moving worship services; preaching powerful sermons that encourage us to make connections between the life of Jesus, the gifts and challenges of our own lives, and what’s happening now in the world; hosting an annual church campout in her backyard, welcoming the homeless and the hungry into the hospitality of our building; leading Bible study and book groups; and otherwise ministering to the young and old, the sick and the hurting; the unchurched, the doubters, and the so-called pillars of the church.
A former journalist for the Los Angeles Times and other publications, Vicki came to First Church in February 2008 by way of generations of fundamentalist preachers in Texas, intentional Christian community and house church in Washington, D.C., and a long and rich spiritual journey that continues still. She holds degrees from Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and Wesley Theological Seminary.
Vicki loves travel, music, words, fun times with friends, and all things out of doors, especially hiking, rowing crew and training with the Northampton Community Rowing Club, kayaking, and cross-country skiing. She and her rescue dog, Scout, live just over the Amherst line in Belchertown, steps away from the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail.
Minister of Music: Richard S. Matteson
Dick came to First Church in April 2008. A graduate of Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford, where he majored in organ and liturgical music and minored in voice and choral conducting, he started taking piano lessons at age 4. At age 12 Dick began studying organ and played for his first church service shortly thereafter; he has been at the organ ever since!
Prior to moving to Western Mass in 2006, Dick served a number of churches in the greater Hartford (CT) area for 39 years. He was director of one of the children’s choruses at the Community Music School of Springfield for six years and director of music at Old First Church, Springfield, until its closing in December 2007.
In addition to his position at First Church Amherst, Dick is President of the Board of Black Cat Theater, a community theater based in South Hadley, serves as a member of the Board of the South Hadley Chorale and has been musical director for Black Cat Theater’s fall musicals since 2013.
In his spare time, Dick enjoys walking, reading (currently all the books in the Harry Potter series), working in his yard, arranging music for choir, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying the company of his rescue cat, Lena.
Director of Youth and Family Ministry: John Aierstuck
John joined the church staff in November 2014. He is passionate about working with kids, as they learn about God and faith, strive to live meaningful lives, and have fun in the process. John’s career working with kids has included being a youth minister, public school teacher and residential counselor for at-risk teens. He was Youth Minister at the First Congregational Church of Leverett; taught English at Mohawk Trail, Amherst Regional, and South Hadley High Schools; and worked as a residential counselor at Boy’s Village in Milford, CT. His educational background includes a BA from Franklin and Marshall College, M. Div. from Lancaster Theological Seminary, and MS from Southern Connecticut State University. John lives in Shutesbury with his wife Sara. He enjoys taking in nature while bicycling, cross-country skiing, lake swimming, and hiking with Sara and their dog Lucy. He is also an avid tennis and volleyball player.
phone number: 413-259-2090 (Please leave message.)
Administrative Assistant: Ruth Morse
Ruth is a member of First Congregational Church in Hadley. There she chairs the Music Committee and directs the bell choir, and her husband, Kurt Betchick, is a deacon. Ruth is active in Girl Scouts — after leading her daughter’s troop for 12 years, she now leads outdoor activities with high school troops and is a trainer of leaders. A former gymnast and coach, she is now a judge, and spends many of her weekends judging gymnastics meets of all levels. She has recently taken up figure skating and ice dance; she now competes both individually and as part of a Theater on Ice team. An accomplished seamstress, she currently uses her talents to make costumes for her skating team. Ruth and Kurt have a 22-year-old daughter, Rachel, who attends art school in Nova Scotia.
Office hours: Monday through Friday, 9:00-1:00
Sexton: Dennis Szuhay
Dennis became the church’s sexton in October 2011 after retiring from 32 years of federal service at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. He and his family moved to South Amherst in 2006 so his daughters, Terra and Sylvana, could attend The Hartsbrook School in Hadley, and so they might enjoy the beauty and vibrancy of the Pioneer Valley.
Dennis enjoys serving on the board of directors of the Hartsbrook School for the past seven years. His wife, Rosamond Reed Wulsin, is a health, nutrition and lifestyle coach. Terra is now a studying at Oberlin College, and Sylvana is a junior at Hartsbrook. Life is sweet!