The Rev. Emily C. Goodnow, Senior Pastor

Image of Emily Goodnow smiling

Emily is a New Hampshire native who moved from Oregon to Bridgton to be our Pastor in September of 2016. She is passionate about creative worship, intergenerational community, counter-cultural and gospel-centered living,  and church as vehicle for social change. Emily was ordained in the United Church of Christ in 2013 in Dover, New Hampshire, and served as the Associate Pastor at the First Congregational Church of Salem, Oregon until 2016 when she and her husband, Noah, drove across the country and joined us here in Western Maine. Emily received her Master of Divinity from Yale University and her BA in Creative Writing and Religious Studies from Colby College. Between Colby and Yale Emily worked in Bamako, Mali with Save the Children and on a small grant-funded project called Awn Be Se, and then taught creative writing at The Telling Room, a nonprofit storytelling center in Portland, Maine. Emily also spent 5 summers working at the Maine UCC Summer Camp Pilgrim Lodge, first in the Craft Cabin and later as the Assistant Director.

Emily is honored to be a participant in the United Church of Christ’s Next Generation Leadership Initiative, a program for young clergy who have been identified by the UCC as transformational leaders with an important role to play in leading “the Church of the Future.” She grew up in the UCC and loves the denomination both for the ways in which it is rooted in tradition, ritual, and history, and for its courage to speak truth in love and stand for justice in the world.

Emily’s joys beyond church include camping, hiking, music, dance, theater, reading, learning the ukulele, making pickles, and roasting s’mores. Emily is partnered with Noah Garrison, a native of Minnesota who is a carpenter, potter, runner, banjo player, and beekeeper.

Sandy Wissmann, Christian Education Coordinator

Photo of Sandy Wissmann

Our children run down our church walkway on Sunday mornings to see Sandy, and Sandy loves every one of them!

With a background in Elementary Education and art and a love for little people, Sandy is always turning our church into a pirate ship for Vacation Bible Camp, learning a new song for Sunday School, or trying out a new craft to teach our church’s youngest.

Her artistic talents, compassionate heart, and gifted classroom skills are a blessing to our whole church community, though her focus here is with children, youth, and young adults. Sandy holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Stetson University.

Before moving to Lovell, Maine, and beginning at First Church in 2004, Sandy worked at St. Thomas Episcopal Day School in Coral Gables, Florida, as a teacher and, later, as the Director of Religion Education.

Debbie Owen, Music Director

Deborah has directed various church choirs for over 20 years, but also wears many other hats in order to share her love for the gospel of Jesus: choir director, singer, violinist, spiritual director, coach, educator, presenter, author, and podcaster.

Debbie has Masters degrees in Choral Conducting and in Library and Information Science, as well as certifications in Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction, and coaching certifications in the Enneagram, Strategic Intervention, parenting, life, and mindset. Debbie is passionate about the profound power of disciplemaking to grow the church and change lives; her forthcoming book is Inside Out; Experiencing New Life in Christ Through Integrated Discipleship with the Enneagram. 

While raising their three children, Debbie was a public school library teacher for 12 years, achieving National Board Certification. These days, when she’s not singing with the Cantata Singers in Boston or directing the FCC choir, she splits her time between writing marketing content and copy, coaching clients with the Enneagram, and working as a spiritual director. She has written and led retreats and hopes to do more of that in the future.

Debbie and her husband Arch – who is an engineer – moved to Stoneham full-time in December, 2021. They have three millennial children, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter. They love to go hiking with their two flat-coat retrievers, and they love to ski at Sunday River and hang out at the lake. They enjoy being with family more than just about anything else, as well as traveling, reading, watching movies, and playing Settlers of Catan and Splendor.

Oren Varess, Pianist & Organist, Junior Choir Director

Oren grew up in Maine and has played piano in churches since the age of 10, accompanying hymns, choirs, and chamber music. They hold a degree in piano performance at the University of Southern Maine where they studied with Dr. Laura Kargul. They are currently continuing at USM working towards their Masters in performance. They focus primarily on classical music, especially enjoying the works of Schubert, although their skills branch widely.

Oren has been teaching piano lessons privately at a studio in Yarmouth since 2017, and is passionate about accessible and empowering education in music for people of all ages. They especially enjoy teaching classical music and mentoring high schoolers through their personal pursuits of professional music careers. 

Oren currently lives in a big farmhouse in Norway with their two partners, Aster and Selaine, their friend Celeste, Nyn the dog, Inara the cat, and 8 chickens who graciously provide plenty of eggs. They love hiking all throughout the Western Foothills area, baking bread, making herbal concoctions, and tending to a variety of land and garden projects at home.

Theresa Sawyer, Office Manager

Theresa began attending First Church while visiting with her son and his family in Bridgton.  She continued attending First Church’s online services during COVID.  After becoming a member of First Church in 2022, Theresa decided to retire but wanted to keep active and do more for the church she had grown to love.  When the Office Manager position opened up, she knew this was God’s plan for her so she applied and started the beginning of the 2023 new year.

Theresa is a Maine native who grew up in South Portland. She attended Westbrook College and received an Associates Degree in Accounting and Business Management.  While working at UNUM in high school, she started her career as a 401(k) Retirement Plan Administrator/Consultant and continued until she retired in 2022. Theresa married her best friend and lived in various Maine towns until 2004 through 2021 when she and her husband lived in Arizona.  Deeply missing time with family, they decided to move back to their real home, Maine, in 2021 and settled in Casco, close to family and church.  Theresa enjoys being outdoors whether hiking or just walking, needlecrafts, and landscape photography.