Our Staff’s Mission Statement:
The staff of Union Church are called to serve God by using expertise, energy, and attention to facilitate the ministries of the congregation. We support members of the church in their many tasks and projects bringing our individual gifts and modeling a cooperative spirit. We strive to “make smooth the path” for the whole community, and to interact with others in ways that improve the spiritual health and joyful service of volunteers, other staff, and guests of the congregation.
Meet the Team
Love Demands Caring People!
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Rev. Kent Gilbert, Lead Pastor
Pastor Kent is an ordained pastor in United Church of Christ and since 1997 has served as pastor and teacher to Union Church. When he was called, he was the youngest pastor called in the church’s history (aged 32), and now has become the second longest to serve (exceeded only by founding pastor, John G. Fee who served for 41 years. Just for history nerds, and in service of symmetry, Rev. Fee was the second youngest to be called at age 34).
Kent is a native of Denver, Colorado, and graduated from Whittier College, Whittier, CA, in 1987 with a B.A. in Religion and Culture. In seminary he was educated at the University of Chicago Divinity School and at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA receiving his Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree in 1991. Before moving to Berea, he served parishes in Chicago and Idaho as a student and took his first called position at Ingle Chapel United Church of Christ in Milton-Freewater, Oregon.
Rev. Kent sees the body of Christ as a living, active expression of God’s ongoing work and love. As such, the bible is not a text of historical memory, but rather the pattern and inspiration for our own unfolding stories with God at the center. Both pastoral and prophetic, Rev. Kent has lifted the ministry of all members, and called us to both justice and joy as disciples of Jesus. Following in the footsteps of many of our pastors before, Rev. Kent continues to help us struggle against the white privilege and patriarchy that have too often limited God’s people.
Rev. Kent also has a deep love of music, dance, artistic expression and community, and they remain strong metaphors for his sense of partnership and harmony within the work of Christ, including the ways we speak truth to power and tend our wounds. Beyond pastoring the congregation, Rev. Gilbert also serves in the wider community. He currently serves as chair of the Justice and Advocacy Commission of the Kentucky Council of Churches, coordinating efforts across the commonwealth on matters of health, social well-being, and criminal justice reform. He serves on the board of the Madison County (Kentucky) International Committee, the body that administers the 3-decade relationship between Madison County and Hokuto City, Japan. In his own denomination he has twice been elected Moderator of the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the United Church of Christ. Numerous other writing, editing, and speaking projects occupy his “spare” time.
In the summer of 2017, Kent married the Rev. Diana Hultgren, oncology chaplain for the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington. Together they have one giant dog, two cats, and about 90,000 honeybees. Only the dog and cats are allowed to sleep on the bed, though.
Rev. Carla Gilbert, Pastoral Support
Rev. Carla has a Bachelor of Science in medical technology and worked in research over 20 years before making a turn into church ministry. She was ordained in the United Church of Christ in January 1984 and served as a pastor in several churches mostly in the western United States for many years. She has also served as a hospital chaplain in various places, and just finished seven years of chaplaincy at St. Joseph Hospital, Berea.
Rev. Carla first served Union Church as Director of Christian Education from 2006 to 2009 and has served as Pastoral Support since early 2018. Her tasks include:
- Making pastoral calls
- Counseling individuals
- Teaching a Bible study class
- Leading our Memory Keepers group
- Serving as a Stephen Minister and on the leadership team of Stephen Ministry
- Serving as liaison to the Nurture and Care Board
- “Whatever Kent asks me to do!”
Rev. Carla says: “After being a very active lay person in the United Church of Christ, doing Youth Ministry, Ministry with the Arts including Sacred Dance, and Christian Education, I made a career switch from Medical Researcher to Pastor, extending my commitment to Christian ministry as well as my involvement in Ecumenical Ministry. Relationships and community have always been an important part of my values, so my experience with persons of all genders and sexual orientations drew me to serve on the several Human Rights committees of the cities in which I served as pastor. Healing and wholeness have been an important part of my commitment to “Love God, with all my heart, soul and mind, and others as myself”. Thus, now that I am retired from serving as a pastor, my position at Union Church as Pastoral Support allows me to continue sharing those long-lasting values of openness, compassion, and understanding, leading to hope and transformation for our beloved community, individuals, and myself. I am honored to serve at Union Church.”
Rev. David A. Jones,
Faith Development Coordinator
David grew up Southern Baptist in Greenville, South Carolina where he graduated from Furman University in 1986 majoring in Religion. He then went on to Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, graduating in 1990 with a Master of Divinity in Religious Education. Rev. Jones was ordained by American Baptist Churches USA in 1993. Since then, David served two churches in Indiana, First Baptist of Sullivan, IN (3 1/2 years) and First Baptist of Muncie, IN (14 years). Following that he worked to help students re-envision and rebuild an American Baptist Campus Ministry at Ball State University called The Baptist House (serving there 5 years) which continues today as The Oasis Campus Ministry. He also served as an interim Campus Minister of The Found at Purdue University. He and his wife, Betsy Whaley (who is also an ordained minister), have been married over 30 years and have two adult children, Ben and Julia. They also have 3 cats and a dog.
His tasks include:
- Developing/ordering curriculum for all ages as needed.
- Working with the Faith Development Board for intergenerational curriculum
- Teaching children’s church
- Recruiting and training volunteers for Children’s Ministries
- Reaching out to Berea College Students
- Leading College Student/Young Adult Ministry
- Working with the Community Life and Growth Board that serves to welcome and follow-up with visitors, and help the congregation build strong personal relationships with one another and the community.
- Work with Pastor Kent, and Rev. Carla Gilbert on establishing special book studies in addition to Bible Study opportunities
David says, “I grew up Southern Baptist but by the time I was in high school I had too many questions to feel like Southern Baptists would be a fit for my more progressive Christian views. American Baptists provided a little moderation on this and I had more latitude in supporting Women in Ministry and other controversial issues at the time. When I became more openly supportive to and an ally for the LGBTQ+ community, I knew even American Baptists would not as a denomination, and particularly local churches, support me in this. After moving to Berea, KY for my wife’s job at Mountain Association, I discovered Union Church and felt immediately at home. Although we joined the church early on after moving to Berea in 2016, it was not until 2021 that I was fortunate enough to join this team who are an inspiration for what I believe the Christian faith should be all about. Love Demands a lot from us and this congregation is doing all it can to make Christ’s love and action the prevalent force in our church, community, state, country, and world,
Dr. Bernardo Scarambone,
Director of Music
Originally from Brazil, Dr. Bernardo Scarambone has been Union Church’s Director of Music since 2018. He is also Professor of Music and the Keyboard Division Coordinator at Eastern Kentucky University. He has served various churches in several states in music ministry, ever since he came to the US in 1998.
Bernardo obtained his undergrad degree at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, his Masters in Music at Indiana University, and his doctorate in Music at the University of Houston, where he also minored in organ. (He had no idea at the time that this minor would be important to his future.) He is now in the midst of obtaining a second Masters’ degree, an MBA, from Eastern Kentucky University.
Bernardo lives in Richmond with his wife, Desiree, who is piano professor at University of the Cumberlands, runs a successful piano studio at home, and is completing a doctorate in musicology University of Kentucky. They are the parents of three children: Leilani, Nico, and Giovanni. Bernardo’s tasks include:
- Overseeing the entire music program at Union Church
- Working with the worship teams to choose music to complement the Scripture passages and themes of each service
- Directing and accompanying the choir
- Playing organ and piano for all service
Dr. Scarambone says…”Being the music director at Union has been a unique and special experience. Music is the art form that not only connects people from completely different backgrounds, but also expresses what it is to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We are all ‘misfits’ trying to find our places, and the choir, orchestra, and bells at Union Church provide us with that special island where we can say ‘We belong!'”
Handbell Ensemble Director
Pearl Marshall earned a B.A. in Music Education K-12 from Grove City College, Pennsylvania. She had an unexpected introduction to handbells while in college, when her piano professor needed a substitute for her ensemble. Pearl played with them for a semester, and was hooked for life. She has been active for many years in handbells, directing ensembles of both adults and children and leading or participating in numerous handbell festivals, seminars, and workshops. Her credentials in Maryland, California, and Kentucky are too numerous to list, including being an associate director at the 2020 Area 5 Handbell Festival in Louisville, KY. She has been the director of the Union Church Handbell Ensemble since September of 2014. Her tasks include:
- Working with the worship committees to choose music that will fit with themes and lectionary passages
- Selecting and buying the music
- Rehearsing with the ensemble, including the sometimes complicated task of finding substitutes for people who cannot fill their spot
- Directing the ensemble, both at church, usually once a month, and in outside events such as Hospice Remembrance Ceremonies and handbell festivals.
Pearl says: “There is an amazing endorphin rush in playing together in a group of handbells that becomes one single instrument. There is a real psycho-chemical and spiritual sense of well-being, trust, and community that we create for ourselves, and through us, the congregation. To my mind, creating a space for these connections is an important part of our handbell program.”
Church Administrator, Dave Kobersmith, began his service with Union Church June 1, 2011. His qualifications are legion: 18 years in nonprofits, 28 years managing projects and supervising staff, 25 years of budget experience in government and nonprofit spheres, and 15 years as a missionary and 18 years in ministries prior to coming to us!
Dave’s tasks include:
- Work with personnel relating to Finance, Property, and Admin boards
- Attend each of those boards’ meetings
- Assist with budgeting and oversee the bookkeeper and financial secretary
- Help manage the offices, especially in terms of office equipment such as copier, computers, etc.
- Assist other boards as requested.
- Dave is the Get-it-done guy, and has taken a huge load off Rev. Kent’s shoulders (and many others’) in his years here
Dave says:“One theme that has been part of my life is also in the Church’s mission, ‘Risk-Taking Mission and Service.’ Some years ago, I sensed the need to follow a yearning to do more in the church and answered an opportunity to be a missionary in Alaska where I ran a United Methodist Church camp. It was here that I met Kim, who was also a UM missionary. Together we shepherded the ministry of Birchwood Camp and started our family (now including sons Sayer and Cavan). It was also here that we grew in our understanding of what it meant for us to live in community and care for God’s creation.
“Another part of the mission statement that stands out for me is ‘Extravagant Generosity and Care in Our Stewardship.’ I find that phrase sums up much of my work here at the Church. I am one of the people you can turn to when you see something in our building or grounds that needs to be addressed. Also, if you need to get a bill or a reimbursement request ready for the treasurer, or you would like to talk about a donation you have made or want to make to the church, I can help.
“Ministry is first; that’s my heart for what I do. One day I was working on a project on the church’s electric circuits. A family came in needing help for funeral plans. The task went out the window and I gave them all the time they needed. That’s why I wanted to work in the church; even though I’m a detail person and can organize things, I need to be able to stop and help whenever I’m needed.
“I look forward to walking this journey of faith with you. You can generally reach me at the church Mondays and Thursdays, Wednesday mornings or at evening meetings.
Joan English, Office Administrator
Have questions like these?
- “I’d like to get married here at Union Church – what do I do?”
- “May I make an appointment to speak with the Pastor?”
- “Can you help me get in touch with the Youth Director?”
- “My Girl Scout troop needs a place to meet – who do I speak to?”
- “Is there a quiet room here I can use to meditate or pray for an hour or two?”
- “Do you have Trustee Meeting minutes from 1985?”
Joan English, our faithful Administrator at Union Church since 1993, can answer these questions and a million more! She is likely to be the first (always friendly) face you see if you enter the church on any weekday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. She is a graduate of the State University of New York, Plattsburgh, and has run our office and extended the unbounded hospitality of Union Church for many years and will, we hope, for years to come.
Joan’s tasks include:
- Greeting visitors during the week and offering hospitality and a helping hand
- Answering the phone and doing innumerable office tasks: typing, letters, etc.
- Guiding callers to the person they need for a given situation
- Managing Rev. Kent’s appointment calendar
- Managing the church event calendar
- Doing the bulletins – online and paper copies
- Producing weekly electronic mailings to friends & members
- Engaging on social media
- Maintaining membership lists
“I have one wonderful son, a wonderful daughter-in-law and a grand-cat. I live in Berea with my dad. My parents moved in with me after a long happy retirement in Florida and my mom passed away in January of 2021, and my dad in March ’22. The household includes our dog Pumpkin. I’m an avid reader and gardener. I’d love to extend our hospitality to you! If you’d like to stop in and take a look around the building, just come to the office and we’ll take a walk. If you need to know what our Boards do, use the copier, or spend a little time volunteering, come see, call, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Rina Tanaka, Video Production Manager
Rina is a current Graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University, pursuing her Masters in Instrumental Wind Conducting. Previously, she obtained her Bachelor’s in Music Industry-Recording Arts and Piano Performance. At the EKU School of Music Department, she has been involved with a variety of projects assisting faculty and large ensembles through recordings and live streaming concerts. Projects include EKU Wind Ensemble’s recording of Rhapsody in Blue and Dr. Bernardo Scarambone’s Recordings of Ludovico Giustini’s Complete Sonatas. She hopes to impact people’s lives through her musicianship and recording skills. You can find some of her performances on her YouTube channel. Rina enjoys listening to podcasts and watching movies and TV shows with her family and friends.
Her tasks include:
- Assisting the AV Tech Crew
- Coordinating with Union Church Pastor and Staff to compile media, sound, media together into various formats for service
- Managing worship participants for live church broadcast
- Training volunteers to work with Union Tech Crew
Chris McKenzie, Youth Director
Chris McKenzie coordinates youth ministry programing at Union Church. As a youth himself, Chris was involved in youth ministries and leadership in the Presbyterian USA tradition in Alabama. He moved to Kentucky to attend Berea College where he got involved with the Baptist Campus Ministries program. Chris started attending Union Church his junior year at Berea in 2007, fell in love with the community, and has been a member ever sense. In addition to his role as Youth Director, he is a staff member at Berea College with the Grow Appalachia initiative. He is passionate about the idea of beloved community, as well as food systems, the outdoors, and working with youth to help them lift their voices and to support the important transition from adolescence to adulthood. He has served as our Youth Director since 2012, and his passion for youth shows. Chris lives in Berea with his wife, Grace, who has been a tremendous supporter of Union’s youth ministry herself His tasks include:
- Leading weekly meetings
- Organizing retreats and summer mission/camp activities
- Individualized ministry to youth and their families
- Coordination of fundraising and overseeing yearly budget for youth ministries
- Coordinating service activities and recreational weekend activities for youth
- Running confirmation classes and retreats
Chris says: “As human beings, our teenage years are formative and tumultuous. I know this was the case for me and I am continually grateful for the caring adults that supported me and served as good role models in my life. It is my turn to do this for our youth and I am passionate about creating a safe and welcoming space for young people from all different backgrounds and circumstances. The Youth Group of Union Church is a ministry for the youth of our community and by building them up, we can create a better future for them and for the community as a whole.”
Maggie Park, Assistant Youth Director
Maggie Park began volunteering with the Faith Development Board in 2013 with Sunday School, Children’s Church and Vacation Bible School, transiting in 2015 to work with the Youth group, and stepped into an official role as Youth Group Assistant Leader in 2017. Her qualifications stem from an early dedication to peer leadership. From her early teens, she was a peer Youth Camp Counselor with an environmentalist-minded Montessori school, an activity that continued into her upper collegiate years.
In addition to over a decade’s worth of dedicated volunteer service to a variety of religious and spiritual organizations as a Sunday School teacher and Sunday School superintendent, Vacation Bible School leader and organizer, and Deacon, she felt a call to continue her service. From the time she was a student of History at Berea College to employment with public library services and on to alumni and student support in higher education, she has sought out additional training and certification in Title IX rights, civil rights, suicide prevention, youth mentorship, and community activism especially in LGBTQ+ issues. Her tasks include:
- Helping to lead youth group meetings and assisting the Youth Director in all his tasks
- Acting as safe transport for some students from across the county to attend meetings and activities
- Mentorship through daily and unique stressors
- Giving advice on everything from fashion to spiritual resiliency
- “Being a simple example of navigating the imperfections of adult life with hope.
Maggie says: “I began my Youth Group leadership with the personal goal of building experience towards my own future child rearing. However, I found, along the way, that my hope for the future of humanity was built on the heartfelt faith of children in the trust of tomorrow. Being part of this community has given me an opportunity to lend a hand in being responsible for that trust and nurturing the faith we all need to support our futures.”
Nursery Care Provider
Ashley Hammond has been serving as a Nursery Care Provider at Union Church since 2019. She has double qualifications: she holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and she has a little one of her own.
Her tasks include:
- Caring for children from infancy to five years.
- Implementing a safe, Faith-Development-Board-Approved check-in procedure.
- Cleaning and sanitizing the nursery [Covid-19 note: nursery care during the pandemic is changed; parents may take small children to the nursery and there will be an attendant to assist them, but they must stay with their little ones.]
- Providing time outside when possible, in Union Church’s fenced playground.
- Helping our youngest members adjust to being away from their parents.
- Whenever possible (between meltdowns, diaper changes, etc.), she finds developmentally appropriate activities aligning with scripture and God.
- Maintaining First Aid and Infant-Child CPR certification
Ashley says :“I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion that is unforgiving and casts out members. Since starting my family, it has been important to find a church that accepted me, and my family. I have found that love and acceptance at Union Church.”
Cansas Dowell, Nursery Provider
Hello! My name is Cansas Dowell. I am a student at Berea College. My major is Biology with a minor in Music studies. I am also a chaplain at Berea College. I am passionate about my music and how it intertwines with my faith. I am also very passionate about teaching children how to love one another and their selves.
Denis Burton, Custodial Support
Denis Burton has had a long and varied career, including many years of custodial and institutional maintenance. Now that he is on disability, there are physical limitations on what and how much he can do. Since he lives within walking distance of the church, he has been walking over and keeping a general eye on things since 2019.
His tasks include:
- Making sure the community room is clean and ready for use
- Walking the building and checking on trash containers
- Noticing when something needs painted or repaired; he may be asked to do this, or the actual job may be passed on to someone hired for the purpose, depending on the size of the task
- Opening and closing the building before and after Sunday worship services, and being on call to do so for other events
- Making sure ice melt is in place when needed in the winter
- Right now, since the church has no in-person services or events, he is not unlocking and locking, but he is running all faucets in the church for a few minutes on a regular basis, since Legionnaire’s Disease has sometimes shown up in the water of unused buildings.
Denis says: “I’m a Berea College grad from way back, though it took me a long time to get through. I started in 1974, and then life got busy! I went away, studied ballet, did all kinds of things, and finally graduated from Berea in 2004. I was always struck by the dignity and equality of actual labor. People who work with their hands are doing something important. Union Church attracted me because it always seemed to have a lot to do with Jesus. A lot of the churches I ran into just didn’t seem interested in the teachings of Christ, in terms of how they conducted themselves and what they supported. To me, it’s always been about simplicity and common experience and connection.”