Updates About this Weekend

Beloved Big Red Family,
With very heavy hearts, Council leadership and I have decided to cancel and reschedule this weekend’s special events, and to make significant modifications to our worship services. We will not be holding our Pot ‘O Gold Pantry Fundraiser Friday evening, and my Installation will be postponed and rescheduled once we know we can do so safely. Worship on Sunday morning will be moved to the Fellowship Hall, and adapted to limit physical contact. Our Wednesday evening Lenten Soup Suppers and Learning Circle will be cancelled until further notice. Please, if you feel sick with any symptoms, or are in an especially high-risk group, please stay home and let me know. I would like to check in on you. 
These decisions were not made lightly, and with much awareness of our shared anticipation for these events, and with shared grief for our volunteers who have poured so much time, effort, and resources into these events. To do our part to limit the spread of the Coronavirus, we are following the directives issued by Gov. Newsom, in conversation with our NCNC Conference leadership, and after speaking directly with Fresno County Public Health officials to confirm the importance of following these protocols locally. You can find their specific guidelines and recommendations for limiting the spread here
Like many challenges of today—climate change, mass extinction, racism, environmental destruction, resource inequity—the Coronavirus threat is both personal and collective. On the one hand, we fear for ourselves and our families. We want to insulate, isolate, protect. On the other hand, solutions to challenges like this one come in community. 
  • The Whidbey Island Institute 
Church, our task is to care for each other both individually and collectively. I know that we can follow the directions of social distancing while not spiritually distancing from each other. It is in this spirit, and out of concern for our members, community, and loved ones in higher-risk groups and with compromised immune systems, that we decided to support the larger Fresno community in being proactive and to avoid putting people at risk. 
In this moment of increased concern and anxiety, let’s use this as an opportunity to actually strengthen the fabric of our community. Could this occasion actually build up our spiritual life together? Even if not in person, we are still connected through the Body of Christ, and we still need our community and collective resources. Please call and check in on your elderly neighbors and those whom you know having underlying conditions, or who have self-quarantined. If you’ve self-quarantined, please let people close to you know, so that we can support each other. Let us all remember the community we have here and the covenant that we share. Let this moment be a time to build up the Body of Christ.
With Love, 
Pastor Raygan 

Getting to Know You: The Big Red Foodies Group

A column dedicated to the folks in the pews.

Written by Dale Buchanan

There is something about eating together. Your “From the Pews” reporter is basically a meat and potatoes man. When my buddy Gayle suggested we check out the Foodies Group, I was reluctant. After vigorous negotiation she sold me with, “Maybe you will find an interview for The Grape Leaf.”  

Friday evening, September 28th, I found myself gathered with the “Foodies,” as they shall henceforth be identified. We had assembled at 6 p.m. in a restaurant called Fasika. Gayle, much more knowledgeable and sophisticated than I, had warned me that we were going to dine in an Ethoipian restaurant.

There were about twenty of us gathered in the dining room and the atmosphere was immediately festive. Tables were shoved together and I began to relax. Conversation was spirited and laughter went around the table spreading a sense of congenial camaraderie.

No one was in a hurry. The pace was slow. Our water was turned into wine. Eventually menus appeared and we were ready to order. I found no prime rib or T-bone, and finally allowed Gayle to order for me. It was delicious. I ate with my fingers as is the Ethiopian custom.

Twenty diverse people meeting around a common table. Most of them I recognized from Sunday morning at Big Red. What I realized as we ate and drank and conversed was that sure enough I recognized them but most of them I did not know.

It dawned on me that this was not a moment to solicit interviews for The Grape Leaf. It was an opportunity for me to engage in that old church word fellowship. In this pleasant room we had let our hair down and were enjoying each other’s company. There was no structure to our gathering. I sat next to a young man I had not met before and found that we enjoyed much in common.

Fellowship gives birth to friendship and builds social networks. This is what your reporter witnessed. I watched amazed as the “Foodies” without structure or rules, without a budget or committee just got together and enjoyed each other’s company. This is fellowship in the purest sense of the word.

They call themselves The Big Red Church Foodies Group. I recommend that the next time they step out of the pews and announce a gathering—you join them. You will not regret it.

Dale Buchanan is a member of FCCF with a passion for stories and writing. In between penning his own memoirs, he is helping us get to know our members, one pew at a time.

Cabaret Chef Spotlight: Chef Daniel Blake Oftedal

As the Cabaret nears, we’ll be highlighting the amazing and talented individuals who will be providing our entertainment for the evening.

It’s really no surprise that Chef Dan would one day be an executive chef for one of Fresno’s finest restaurants, Dave Fansler’s Yosemite Ranch.

As a young boy, Chef could be found standing in the kitchen on a step-stool, helping his Nana and Papa make foods like French toast, rigatoni, or chopping horseradish until his eyes were beet red to make the family’s famous sauce. Starting as a busboy, Chef worked his way up to a line cook. There he learned many secrets and tricks of the trade. It was then he realized he loved cooking, so in the spring of 2003, Chef Dan headed to San Francisco, where he attended The California Culinary Academy. In 2005, Chef Dan graduated with an Associate of Occupational Studies degree at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts.

The Cabaret will take place on September 7th at 6:00 pm. Tickets are available in the church office or after church on Sunday!

Cabaret Performer Spotlight: Trent Barry

As the Cabaret nears, we’ll be highlighting the amazing and talented individuals who will be providing our entertainment for the evening.

Trent Barry grew up in Visalia in a musical household; all six children were expected to and did study piano. He found his singing voice and began vocalizing recognizable tunes before he could speak a word. By age five, he was playing Mozart by ear; subsequently starting formal lessons which launched into what would be many years of rigorous study of classical piano. He studied in Fresno with Dr. Bob Bennett (CSUF) until graduating high school, and continued his study of piano at Occidental College, while majoring in art history and the visual arts.

Beyond the classical music that surrounded him and compelled him to practice long hours as a child, Trent loved Broadway, and learned entire scores from beginning to end, listening for countless hours of everything from the Sound of Music to Les Miserables. At age 8, he became involved in community theater. and performed numerous roles as a child and young adult.

Trent considers it a great pleasure and unexpected turn of events that he has found himself living the life of a professional musician. After 37 years of musical theatre, various choirs, seven seasons with the Tulare County Symphony, three seasons with the Fresno Philharmonic, recitals for Occidental College, UCLA, and CSUF, accompanist, and wedding and funeral musician, and church musician, Trent still enjoys sitting down at the piano and finding ways to make it new again. His favorite musical experience  with friends around the grand Yamaha in his living room, singing and playing whatever comes to mind, sharing an intimate bond over music and song that elevates the human experience and brings people together, through the universal language of music. 

The Cabaret will take place on September 7th at 6:00 pm. Tickets are available in the church office or after church on Sunday!

Cabaret Performer Spotlight: Daniel Townsend

As the Cabaret nears, we’ll be highlighting the amazing and talented individuals who will be providing our entertainment for the evening.

Daniel graduated from the Smittcamp Family Honors College at Fresno State in May 2017, where he studied music composition as well as voice and opera. Since then, he has started working for Visalia Unified School District as a 2nd grade teacher at Crestwood Elementary School and music director for the musical at Green Acres Middle School.

He is also on the music staff for the Good Shepherd Catholic Parish of Visalia, through which he regularly cantors and plays the piano. Through involvement with Green Acres, Redwood High School, and the Tulare County Office of Education, he has appeared in over thirty productions, most notably as Lord Farquaad in “Shrek: The Musical”, as well as the operas “Carmen” and “Albert Herring” at Fresno State, and has directed and appeared in cabarets with the Visalia Players at the Ice House Theatre.

He has also performed with the Fresno Philharmonic several times as a member of the Fresno Master Chorale and additionally as a co-host of the Link Up children’s concert series. As a composer, he has written and had many works performed, and is in the process of creating an original musical. He soon hopes to pursue graduate degrees in music and/or education.

The Cabaret will take place on September 7th at 6:00 pm. Tickets are available in the church office or after church on Sunday!

Cabaret Performer Spotlight: Matthew Mazzei

As the Cabaret nears, we’ll be highlighting the amazing and talented individuals who will be providing our entertainment for the evening.

Matthew Mazzei has been studying, performing, and teaching the violin for more than twenty years. Born and raised in the Central Valley, Matthew attained both a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree in Music from California State University, Fresno.

He has been a contracted first violinist in the Fresno Philharmonic for more than a decade, and has performed with such names as Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Renee Fleming, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Audra McDonald, and Kristin Chenoweth. Matthew has been a featured soloist on many occasions, performing concertos with the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra, the Fresno Community Orchestra, and the Kings County Symphony. His musical passions also include teaching, and he has more than twenty years of experience teaching individual lessons, chamber ensembles, and string orchestra classes.

Matthew currently plays on a Bartolomeo Tassini violin made in Venice, Italy in the year 1750. He feels incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to play on such a fine instrument, and hopes someday to pass it on to a deserving student.

Matthew provides music ministry for St. Anthony’s of Padua church in Fresno on Saturday evening, as well as churches within the Good Shepherd Parish of Visalia each Sunday. He is encouraged every week by the kindness shown to all the musicians, and is thankful for the privilege of his role in facilitating worship.

The Cabaret will take place on September 7th at 6:00 pm. Tickets are available in the church office or after church on Sunday!

Pride Parade Recap

As always, we had a blast at the Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade. It took place in the Tower District on June 3rd—but we’re congregationalists, so we’re ready to make anything a celebration, so really, it started on June 1 & 2 while we were setting up the float. On behalf of the Ministry of Outreach, we want to thank everyone involved in the parade. Because of you we were able to spread God’s message of love for all people and bring light, love, and hope to our Fresno LGBTQ+ family and friends.

Here are a few photos from the parade, taken by church member Lori Todd. 

Did you miss parade? Local photographer Howard Watkins took photos and has a gallery up on his website

Hearts on Fire and the Big Red Church present: Abbey Road

Oh, Darling!, you won’t want to miss this!
You’re invited to
Come Together for a memorable night featuring the music of The Beatles’ iconic album, Abbey Road, performed by Hearts on Fire. This is truly
Something you won’t want to miss,
Because it’ll combine delightful music, unrivaled talent, and the incredible acoustics of our sanctuary. 
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window-funds raised will benefit the less-than-glamorous, but absolutely essential purchase of new commodes for the women’s restroom.

Don’t be a
Mean Mr. Mustard, grab up your tickets! At $10 apiece, we’ll never be able to say
You Never Give Me Your Money, and you’ll be able to sleep with
Golden Slumbers all night, instead of having to
Carry That Weight of not making it to this fun event! 

May 5th, 7:00 PM

Broadway On Van Ness 2016

Broadway on Van Ness

Sunday, March 13, the next edition of the Fresno Grand Opera Chorus’ Broadway on Van Ness will be presented in collaboration with our church. Tickets are available online at http://fresnograndopera.org/tickets (service fee involved); or ordered through their box office at 559.442.5699. Tickets also can be ordered at church during coffee hour. All gross tickets sales will be evenly split between FGO and First Congregational Church’s general fund. A pre-concert reception and silent auction, as well as post-concert dessert come as part of the ticket purchase. All proceeds from the Silent Auction go straight into our general fund- one of the primary fund-raisers to support our 2016 budget.

4:00 pm – Pre-concert reception and Silent Auction
5:00 pm – Broadway on Van Ness performance
6:15 pm – Post-concert dessert and close of Silent Auction

This year we are also asking First Congregational members and friends to help identify sponsors in underwriting this event. The “Broadways on Van Ness” planning team led by Ben Ewell have prepared forms which are available in the church office, or can be sent electronically from the church office, for use with potential sponsors. They encourage our members and friends to help in this vital aspect of
supporting this significant cultural and fund-raising event.