ABOUT US

First Congregational United Church of Christ was organized in 1856 and is the oldest Protestant church in Eau Claire. We have nearly eight hundred members and are known for our outstanding choir and music program. We have joined in covenant with the United Church of Christ, which stresses freedom of faith and practice for the individual, autonomy for the local congregation, and service to God's cause of love and justice.Members, who are elected on a rotating basis for numerous committees each June, govern our church. All members are welcomed to participate in the nomination and volunteering process. Committees and their corresponding responsibilities include:

Our Beliefs

We Believe God is the Creator and God's "Compassion is over all that [God] has made" (Psalm 145:9)

We Believe

Jesus embodied God's living presence in creation revealing what it means to be fully human. In Jesus' resurrection we witness to and celebrate the life-giving power of God overcoming all forces contrary to God's purposes.

The Holy Spirit gathers the faith community together and empowers us to continue Jesus' ministry in the world.

The church, at its best, is "the body of Christ" through which God's presence continues to be revealed in word and sacrament, and, through loving deeds which further God's causes of justice and peace in the human community and throughout creation.

Ultimately all things will be reconciled to God and we look forward to that day with eager longing.

We know that the fullness of God is beyond our complete grasp and savor the mystery of the Divine. We are convinced all creation is precious to God and we celebrate life in all its diversity. We recognize that all people are on a spiritual journey and so we seek to love, respect, and learn from each other as we strive to faithfully follow Jesus the Christ together, growing in faith and learning the meaning of community.

You are welcome to join with us in this process of discovering what it means to be the people of God.

Our Staff

Senior Minister

It is a joy for me to be in ministry with First Congregational United Church of Christ in Eau Claire. A remarkably high percentage of our membership participates in the worship, mission, education, hospitality, and pastoral ministries of our congregation. We have been richly blessed with people and with resources allowing us to be a real presence in people’s lives and a transforming force in the community.

As it happens, I have a particular love for classic church music and have sung in church choirs all my life. Some years ago I prayed that during the course of my ministry I might have the privilege of serving a congregation with an excellent music ministry. My prayers have been answered at First. The wonderful relationship we have with the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire campus, allows us to benefit greatly from the musical gifts of faculty and students which, coupled with the talent in our congregation allows us to enjoy high quality sacred music involving our church choir, youth choir, and a variety of instrumental ensembles. In addition we have commissioned choral works annually for the past eight years by outstanding American composters of sacred choral music including Lloyd Larson, Dale Grotenhuis, James Fritchel, David Cherwin, Kenneth Jennings, John Ferguson, Eric Barnum, and James Mulholland. What a joy!

As a preacher and teacher I find this congregation particularly exciting. People listen carefully, inquire fearlessly, read widely, pray fervently, and genuinely seek to discern how God is at work in their lives and what God would have them do as faithful disciples. These disciplines have led us to dramatically expand our local and global mission ministries over the past several years. Our newest endeavor is to be in partnership with the people of Okora, Uganda who are now returning to their village and rebuilding following a twenty year exile in an Internally Displaced Person’s Camp. Together we will work to reestablish housing, infrastructure, agriculture, education, and publie health services.

Finally, one of the most exciting aspects of my ministry here is to welcome more and more younger adults in our congregation, many households bringing young children with them. the desire these households bring for both spiritual enrichment and opportunities to engage with others in endeavors which bring meaning to their lives and God’s love to others is a source of inspiration for me giving me great hope for the future of the church. Truly our best days are before us.

Statement on the Nature of the United Church of Christ

Ron Buford, former coordinator of the United Church of Christ’s God is Still Speaking Campaign writes:

I am forever changed by the public reaction to the God is Still Speaking television ad that featured bouncers working on a velvet rope line outside a church. The bouncers admitted all the “right” people and turned away others who didn’t seem to fit the profile. The tagline said it all: “Jesus didn’t turn people away, and neither do we. The United Church of Christ.”

The hallmark of our denomination is its extravagant welcome of all people into the household of God insisting that the communion table is open and advocating justice for all. We try to remain attentive to God’s still speaking voice, and, as a consequence, embrace a variety of communities and ways of thinking. Trusting in God’s grace and following God’s guidance we seek to be a transforming presence in people’s individual lives and in the life of the world.

Learn more about us at www.ucc.org and check out a United Church of Christ congregation.

Director of Elderlife

I have been a part of the UCC since I was born. My dad was a UCC minister serving small churches in Wisconsin. I loved to play the piano for worship services at local nursing homes and loved getting to know the older members of our churches.

I have a Master’s of Science in Social Work degree and worked initially with older folks in nursing homes and the community. Then I worked in the adoption world for over twenty years until the position of Director of Eldercare came open. For the past four years, I have loved serving in this role. I feel that I have come full circle in my professional life. My responsibilities are to visit our homebound members and maintain a relationship with the church.

I recruit and support volunteer visitors as well. We have a monthly group that meets called Primetime Friends providing a lunch and program for our retired members. We have many ways of reaching out to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area. Pumpkin caroling, Bingo at Dove, Children’s Choir singing (Heart to Heart), birthday party at the Severson Home, worship at Milestone Senior Living. A chicken noodle soup ministry and prayer shawl ministry provide tangible comfort to those who have experienced health issues or painful losses.

I am able to use my social work skills to help our aging members or families find resources to meet their needs. I am a licensed lay minister and am able to bring Communion to our homebound members. I feel richly blessed to work as the Director of Elderlife and am thankful to the 85+ members who volunteer in the elderlife program.

Director or Faith Formation

I am a lifelong resident of Eau Claire, having grown up and attended school on the north side. I went on to complete my undergrad in elementary-middle school education degree at UW-Eau Claire. Upon graduation, I accepted my first teaching job for the Black River Falls School District, first as its gifted and talented program director and later as a first-grade classroom teacher.

My husband, Manish, and I were married in June 2007. Two years later we welcomed our oldest son, Liam, to the world; in 2010 we completed our family with our younger son, Eli. With the start of our family, I stepped away from my career to take on the role of stay-at-home mom, a role I loved and cherished for eight years.

While searching for a new church home, we were impressed with how First Congregational welcomes people of diversity wherever they are at on their spiritual journey. After actively visiting for a year, we became members in 2014. In fall of 2016 I took on the role of Director of Small Group and Family Ministries and then became the Director of Faith Formation in May of 2017.

In my spare time I enjoy cooking, biking, reading, and spending time outdoors with my family.

Director of Music

Gary R. Schwartzhoff, Professor Emeritus, served as the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire from 1991 to 2016. Schwartzhoff received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Central College in Pella, Iowa and a Master of Music Degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa. A recipient of the Helen Kemper Doctoral Fellowship Award, he received a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Conducting at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, Missouri, where he studied conducting with Dr. Eph Ehly.

In 2016-2017, Schwartzhoff marks his forty-third year as a music educator. He has been active throughout his professional career in the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) where he served as President of the North Central Division from 1992-94. In 2010, the Wisconsin Choral Directors Association (WCDA) bestowed the Morris Hayes Award for lifetime achievement in the choral art to Schwartzhoff. In 2007, WCDA named Schwartzhoff the Outstanding Church Musician in the state of Wisconsin. Schwartzhoff has presented choirs on over thirty conventions before the state, divisional and national levels of ACDA, Intercollegiate Male Choruses and The National Association for Music Education (NAfME). In 2009, Schwartzhoff was inducted into Alpha Lambda Delta and Phi Eta Sigma in recognition of scholarship, service, and commitment to student success. In 2011, Schwartzhoff conducted the Minnesota Men’s All-State Choir and Wisconsin Choral Directors Association Men’s Honor Chorus. Schwartzhoff has conducted choral festivals honoring former Presidents of the United States in Washington D.C. in 2009 (Lincoln), 2013 (JFK) and 2016 (FDR). Schwartzhoff has a choral series in print with Colla Voce Music, Inc. Schwartzhoff is a contributing author to a book released in 2015, entitled Brothers, Sing On! published by Hal Leonard. He presented The Singing Statesmen at the 2015 Wisconsin Music Educators Convention and at the 2016 National Seminar of Intercollegiate Male Choruses. In 2017, Schwartzhoff will conduct the Oklahoma All-State Chorus.

In the community, Schwartzhoff conducts The Master Singers and serves as Director of Music at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Eau Claire, where he conducts the Chancel Choir. Gary is married to Nancy Schwartzhoff and they have two daughters, Jenifer Morgan (Jerry), and Rebecca Johnson (Andy), and grandchildren Brady, Alex, Anna, Emma, and Clare.

Organist
Office Manager and Nursery Coordinator

The UCC faith has been part of my life since birth. As a child living on the family farm, I attended St. Peter’s UCC in Grant Park, Illinois, which was also my grandparents’ church home. After my family moved to Wisconsin, I attended and was confirmed at Immanuel UCC in West Bend.

My husband, Paul, and I were married in June 1991 and discovered the warm hospitality of First Congregational UCC a couple of years later. Our two children are growing up at First Congregational, a congregation that welcomes and supports families.

I have been the church’s nursery coordinator since fall 2002 and became office manager in June 2017. I love children and have been a Sunday School teacher or assistant since high school. My ministry at First Congregational UCC now includes all ages while offering support church-wide.

My professional credentials include a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and operations manager of our family’s summer mobile ice cream cart business, 9 Degrees. Both have given me communication and management skills that help the church connect effectively and compassionately with people.

My volunteer passions include the Good Neighbor Project, a partnership of First Congregational and neighborhood churches that provides what low-income students need to participate in school, covering the cost of necessities like meal account shortfalls, snacks, field trip fees, clothing, and shoes. I’ve also volunteerd with our church’s Community Table serving team.

Financial Secretary
Custodian

Have been here at First Congregational UCC 5 years as of August 1st!

I love my job!

I enjoy working with our staff and interacting with members!

I’ve been married 28 years to my beautiful wife Karen. We have two kids, Brooke, 27 and Brandon, 23.

We also have a beautiful granddaughter Kayleigh, age 4, and son-in-law Adam.