First Congregational Church | Where God is Still Speaking

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Posted on December 18, 2009 - Filed Under |

Rev. Nathan Dannison
Senior Pastor

Nathan Dannison is a seventh-generation Michigander, born and raised in Alto, Michigan. He graduated from Western Michigan University in 2005 and completed his Masters of Divinity Degree with honors at the Chicago Theological Seminary in 2009. It was during this time that he met the love of his life, Heather. They share a passion for serving people in need through the church and a common love of music, the arts, and the outdoors.

Nathan has previously served God as a community organizer, an intentional interim pastor, and as an Emergency Medical Technician with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.

He is an old-time fiddle player, he fishes when he’s able, and he is the adoring Uncle Nate to three brilliant nieces and two awesome nephews. He is a tireless laborer for the Kingdom of God, an advocate of the historic church in America, and a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

Dave Smullen
2016 Moderator

I moved to Kalamazoo along with my wife Merri and daughters Ella and Sydney from Gainesville, Florida, where I was on faculty with the medical school. We love having four seasons, cool summers, soft grass, and long summer evenings. When not working as a Neuroradiologist, I enjoy gardening, camping, and being with the family. If undergraduate, graduate, and medical degrees weren’t enough, I am enrolled at Chicago Theological Seminary working on a Master’s in Divinity degree.

We visited First Congregational Church upon moving to the community, and we became part of the FCC family. Merri is currently on the Faith Formations and By Laws Committees. Ella and Sydney enjoy being a part of the youth choir.

FCC sits on the original town square that Titus Bronson set aside on March 12, 1831 for churches. It is not the location that has allowed our church to survive and thrive, it is God’s message. At FCC, everyone has a personal conversation with God, and adds their unique voice to the chorus. It is the grafting of multiple voices, backgrounds, and visions into one body for Christ that makes FCC relevant to the community. We cherish that FCC is a unique church that is vital to the Kalamazoo community.

Becky Ramsey
Church Administrator

Becky was born in Nebraska and she and her family moved to several other states before finally ending up in Michigan. She graduated from Northwest High School in Jackson and then received a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Michigan University. She fell in love with Kalamazoo (and her husband, Rick) while attending Western and, after a brief move to Oregon shortly after they got married, has called this area home. They have three adult sons: Chase, Kellen and Tucker.

Becky and Rick joined First Congregational Church in 1984. She has been a member of the church staff since 1993.

She loves First Congregational Church and feels honored to be a part of the staff and congregation of this wonderful community of faith.


Michael Palmer
Director of Music Ministries

Michael Palmer is a native of Michigan and, has lived in and out of the Kalamazoo area since 1978. A church musician for more than 25 years, he has served congregations in California, Florida and Michigan. In addition to his ministry here at First Congregational Church, Michael works in the non-profit sector as Finance Director for International Child Care-USA, Inc. based here in Kalamazoo and, since 2004, has been Music Director/Conductor for the Kalamazoo Male Chorus. Michael has taught in the public schools and performed in operas and musicals – both on stage and as conductor. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California, Western Michigan University and the Methodist Theological School of Ohio. Michael, along with his wife Barbara, reside in Portage and are the proud parents of six wonderful children.

Kory Heitzig
Organist/Children’s Choir Director

Originally from the historic Mississippi River town of Alton Illinois, just north of St. Louis, Kory Heitzig moved to Kalamazoo in late 2008. Alton is the home of the world’s tallest man, and is just a stone’s throw from Wicks Organ Company, the builder of First Congregational’s beautiful instrument. Kory has been active as a church musician for more than half his life, having accepted his first position at the age of 14 at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception’s Wicks Opus 2611 (1949). Since that time, he has held the positions of pianist, organist, accompanist, and Director of Music at churches in both Illinois and Michigan.

Kory has a passion for live performance and musical theater, which developed through high school and during his time at University of Illinois and Western Michigan University. Kory has stayed active locally, performing frequently as pianist, keyboardist, and accompanist for theater productions at the Kalamazoo Civic and Farmers Alley Theatres, and at Portage Central High School. Currently, Kory serves as accompanist for the Kalamazoo Male Chorus, and spends his days working full-time as an Officer and Associate Banking Advisor at a large local financial institution.

It is a great honor and privilege for Kory to serve here at First Congregational.


Sonja Elsholz
Director of Children’s Ministry

There is much to be said for the saying “it takes a village”.  Sonja loves her village here at First Congregational Church UCC in Kalamazoo.  She and her family joined the church in 2010 and she has worked in the Director of Children’s Ministry position for most of that time.  She is thrilled to be back on the church staff.

Sonja is the mother of four boys, ages 7-20.  Her Husband, Roy is an overhead Lineman and together they try to keep a handle on the circus that is their home.  At present they have (in addition to their kids) two dogs, two cats, a bird and three turtles.

Sonja and her family have lived in Kalamazoo since 2007 and are very happy to make it their home.  Sonja has lived in various parts of Michigan her whole life and loves it here.  She graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with a degree in Secondary Education in English, with a minor in Communications and Theater Arts.

There is no greater pleasure for Sonja than helping someone discover something new that will make their lives better — that’s why she loves working at the church and especially with children.  She would love to help include you as a part of the village in which we all belong.


Rev. Sarah Schmidt-Lee
Director of Children’s Ministry

Rev. Sarah Schmidt-Lee is a Presbyterian pastor with nine years of ministry experience. Sarah grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and Kobe, Japan, and has since spent time in North Carolina, Vancouver, BC and rural Central New York. She moved to Kalamazoo in 2013 with her spouse (Rev. Barrett Lee, of North Presbyterian Church) and two children, Susanna and Adam. Sarah is delighted to join the staff at First Congregational Church and support the youth in their ministry. In her free time, Sarah enjoys knitting, spinning yarn, gardening and canning the variety of fruit she and her children pick in Southwest Michigan


Penny Schmidt
Associate Director of Children and Youth Ministries

Penny was born in Earl Shilton, England where she grew up until she moved to the Grand Rapids area as a teenager.  She graduated from Thornapple-Kellogg High School.  Penny then went into the hospitality field and later opened and operated a home-based daycare.  This is where she truly found her passion for working with children.  Her family relocated to the Kalamazoo area last fall for her husband’s job, where she found and quickly fell in love with First Congregational Church. Penny is very excited to join the Children’s and Youth Ministries Team.

She and her husband Rob have two young daughters, Sophie and Ella, who love exploring our historic church.


Dianne Roberts
Director of Parish Care

Hospitality for Dianne is not just a “job”, but it is a way of life.  She  believes offering welcome is basic to Christian identity and practice.  Knowing that in welcoming visitors and strangers we may be entertaining angels or even the Christ, is an awesome thought.  The Bible is rich with accounts of hospitality and with encouragement toward its practice.  Whether we open to the story of Abraham, Sarah and the angels or to the account of the widow of Zarephath and Elijah, we cannot miss the blessing and mystery that accompany the practice of hospitality.  A quick review of Jesus’ life and ministry finds hospitality at the center.  Jesus is both the guest and host, dependent on others for welcome and startlingly gracious in His welcome to outsiders, seekers, and sinners.

“I am grateful for the confidence the Personnel Committee and the Deacons have placed in me and I humbly ask your assistance and cooperation as we minister together to extend FCC’s extravagant welcome with grateful hearts in response to the love and gratitude for God’s love and welcome to us.”

Dianne is here to make visitors and members feel welcome. Part of the extravagant welcome that Dianne provides is working with wedding parties to make sure everything goes smoothly on their important day.  She is available for any questions you might have about First Congregational Church UCC. Feel free to contact her

Polly Blowers
Church Secretary

I’m thrilled to be returning as your Church Secretary on a permanent basis!  I previously have worked for two other area churches, and most recently served as Administrative Assistant at Gryphon Place. But church work must be in my very DNA, so I am pleased to return to FCC and the Church Secretary desk. My husband Scott and I live right in Kalamazoo. We have three grown children who all live in the area, and a delightful one year old granddaughter. (I will gladly share pictures!)

Deborah Zandt

Deb has worked as our Housekeeper since 2008 and is a valuable member of our staff.  She is here on Sunday mornings to assist you. Please let her know if you need anything related to the building.


These are the values which our ministry team tries to incorporate in our lives in our work here at First
Congregational, and in our daily lives. We affirm these in one another and hold one another
accountable, as well, as we minister in our own special ways.

Devotion/Worship- We, as a ministry team strive to have a variety of worship experiences that will
inspire all people no matter where they are on their faith journey.

Creativity- We believe that creativity is a key aspect in the planning and implementation of our
ministries. Creativity expands the experiences of those we minister to and helps link them to a deeper
relationship with God.

Dedication- We are a ministry team that is committed to God and we are committed in putting our
whole hearts into serving.

Flexibility- We understand as a ministry team that we need to be willing to bend and change according
to God’s will. We know that being flexible will allow for more growth in our church, ourselves, and

Quality- We recognize the importance of always doing our best and we attempt to be accountable to
each other. Accountability is the best means to achieve quality in our work.

Humor- We think that laughter is instrumental in building strong relationships, finding happiness, and
alleviating stress. God gave us each other to help find this type of joy.

Integrity- We always try to be like Dr. Suess’ character, Horton. “I meant what I said and I said
what I meant, an elephant’s faithful 100%.” Having integrity establishes trust and builds warmth in

Compassion- We embrace the belief that Jesus was the most compassionate person and we believe that
we should strive to live by his example.

Respect- We value each others’ differences and commonalities and we have the goal of listening with an
open heart to those around us. We protect and honor the spirits of other people.

Humility- We know that God is responsible for all that we have accomplished and we fully give the
credit of our successes to God.

Questioning- We trust that there are questions that are unanswered and beyond our understandings. As
a ministry team we feel that questioning is a great way to grow in our faith and to learn more about the
power of God.