The church is led by a dedicated group of professionals and a talented group of lay leaders.
Pastor Greg Watling
Meet the New Pastor
I am a native of Owosso in downstate Michigan. In fact, I have family all over the state (including my in-laws) in Traverse City, Saginaw, Durand, Grand Rapids, Marquette, and Houghton…and numerous cousins and other family in the Detroit area. After 30 years of “wandering about” it is wonderful to finally be back home in lower Michigan. I look forward to moving into
our new home on Leelanau Trail in Gaylord sometime in late October/early November. My wife, Cindy Goller, and I met at Michigan State and were married in 1991 at Edgewood UCC in East Lansing, where I served on the staff while attending MSU. Cindy and I have three children, Ryan, 23, a 2019 graduate of Northern Michigan University, Robbie, 22, a senior at Michigan Technological University, and Sarah, 19, a freshman at Northern Michigan University. Cindy and Ryan will be staying in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the foreseeable future, as Cindy is employed by American Foods Group and loves her employment there. Ryan has recently begun a position at Scholarships, Incorporated, working specifically with sixth and seventh grade students as they prepare for post-high school vocational/technical school, or college.
They will visit regularly, but we’re going to have a long-distance relationship for the time being. Hopefully, you’ll be able to meet Cindy over the Christmas season.
Cindy and I married the weekend I graduated from MSU. I earned a degree from James Madison College at MSU in American Public Affairs. That same weekend, we moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where I attended Saint Paul School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary, and I served two churches, St. Peter’s UCC in Kan- sas City as Director of Children and Youth Ministries, and then at Country Club Congregational UCC as Ministry Developer, and then as Associate Pastor. In 1998, we decided to move home, and as the joke goes, “we got lost at Chicago” and moved to Wisconsin. I served First Congregational UCC, De Pere for six years, then started a new congregation (which never quite got off the ground) and then served as interim Pastor at Zion UCC, Dale, Wis- consin. In 2007, I became the Pastor and Teacher at First Congregational UCC, New London, Wisconsin, where I served for 13 years before coming to Gaylord.
I love innovation and challenge and look forward to both of those things happening while serving here. Cindy and I hope that the home we’ve purchased is our retirement home, so we plan to be here for a long, long time. It has been a dream of mine to live in Northern Michigan since I was a young child spending up north time at our family cabin near Cadillac.
I also love to learn. I have done many continuing education events throughout ministry, but two have been most important to not only my spiritual growth, but my professional growth as well. One is through Illuman, a men’s ministry started by Father Richard Rohr. I have attended the Men’s Rites of Passage in Sandstone, Min- nesota, completing my Rites in 2017. I’m hoping that several men of any age may take an interest in Illuman, whether or not they attend the Rites. If you are interested, I hope you’ll contact me. The second continuing educa- tion event meaningful to me has been the Living School for Action and Contemplation. I am in the 2021 cohort
of the Living School and cannot describe all the ways Living School has impacted my life and ministry. With the congregation’s support, I hope to complete the Living School curriculum and “ascend” (rather than graduate) in summer 2021. I’ve been exposed to so many areas of church, ministry, spirituality, world religions, poetry, con- templative prayer, and a host of other immeasurable, life-changing experiences at Living School. I hope to share many of them with you.
I also very much love to be involved in the community and will be looking for your help in finding the best places that I might serve. I presently serve as President of the Board of Samaritan Counseling Center, a spiritually based, fully licensed counseling center in Appleton, Wisconsin. I have also served on the ThedaCare Foundation – New London, the local food pantry, youth sports coach and partner with the School District of New London. In addition, I’ve served in many, many roles in the Wisconsin Conference and before that in the Missouri Confer- ence of the United Church of Christ. I am presently a member of the Wisconsin Conference Catalyst Team, which resources congregations for innovative ministries, and was the staff person overseeing our conference coaching program for the last year. I hope to also be involved in the Association and Conference here in Michigan.
All those things being said, my number one joy is serving with a congregation of engaged, innovative, faithful, courageous people, who would like to partner with me as together we learn and grow into what God has in store for us. I don’t have a specific plan in mind in Gaylord, but I was drawn here by not only your location, but your willingness to be open and affirming and progressive – continuing to open yourselves up to and welcoming those who are traditionally marginalized by the church. I believe that we best model Jesus’ ministry when all of us feel welcomed, included, loved, challenged, supported, and engaged. There is much for us to do, but more impor- tantly, for us to be in a time such as this. I look forward to being your pastor!
Rokko’s career as a music composer and performer cross a wide variety of genres and settings. A long-time UCC member and former Chicago resident, Rokko currently makes his home in Gaylord while continuing to serve as a composer for The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. He, along with Toby and Joanna, is a regular performer on Sunday mornings, and he is the conductor for the annual Advent and Lenten Choir.
Jessica Benoit, Communication Coordinator
Jessica Benoit (prounced Ben-wah) is our new Communications Coordinator. Jessica is married and a mother of two young girls – Vivien age 3 and Eva age 20 months. She attends the Methodist Church here in Gaylord. She has an extensive background in both retail and office management. Most recently, she was the chief receptionist at the Brighton Vision Center in Brighton, Michigan. Her recommendations from all previous employers were absolutely stellar. She will continue to help us improve our communication both within our church family and with the wider community.