Welcome Two New Staff Members: Rev. Kelly Colwell & Rev. Riana Shaw Robinson

Dear Congregation of First Church Berkeley UCC, 

After an exhaustive search for our new Acting Associate Pastor, we are pleased to announce that, Reverend Kelly Colwell will be joining the church as as the Acting Associate Pastor. 

Seventeen candidates from across the country applied for the position. We screened almost all of the candidates. Then we narrowed the candidates down to six that the entire search team interviewed. Out of those six, we further narrowed to three finalists. Molly and Kit interviewed the finalists and came back with their recommendations. With so many amazing candidates, it was a tough decision.

Concurrently to this process, we were introduced to the ministry of Reverend Riana Shaw Robinson and began exploring partnering with her for both worship leadership and teaching racial justice and storytelling in a multiracial congregation. We are delighted that Rev. Riana will join us this fall as our “Public Theologian in Residence.” We feel the combination that Kelly and Riana bring to First Church will help us grow, be challenged and held in Christ’s love.

Many of you already know Rev. Kelly Colwell and her wife, Sheryl Johnson. Both are members of the church and have worked in different capacities for the church. Kelly and Sheryl live in South Berkeley and rumor has it they have an amazing garden. Kelly was ordained at First Church last February. She brings a rich and varied background to her role. She’s worked with Young Adult groups, bilingual Spanish/English congregants, worked in an intentional community with people with developmental disabilities, and served a church in Toronto, Canada. She most recently worked as an associate minister at the Congregational Church of San Mateo (CCSM) and as interim minister at St. John’s UCC in San Francisco.

Rev. Kelly Colwell, Acting Associate Pastor

Kelly has a rich and diverse educational background. She received her BS in Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She has her Master’s of Divinity from Emmanuel College, University of Toronto. And she’s currently pursuing her PhD as a Doctor of Philosophy in Religion and Practice from GTU. She hopes to compete her degree spring, 2021.

In ministry, Kelly loves playful and heart-opening worship, being present with collective and individual conflict and loss, and helping people find ways to share their deepest gifts with each other. She believes wholeheartedly that God dances among us, both in the churches and outside of them, and that joining that dance is our greatest challenge and richest joy. Her primary spiritual gifts are fearlessness, hospitality, and joy.

Kelly is formulating plans to provide opportunities for the congregation to virtually meet and become acquainted with her. She will begin her tenure with us on August 1, and continue through the end of Rev. Molly’s sabbatical in late August 2021.

Reverend Riana Shaw Robinson will join First Church as our “Public Theologian in Residence” for Fall 2020, and perhaps beyond. She will preach monthly and facilitate workshops for the congregation in racial justice and reconciliation, among other activities.

Rev. Riana Shaw Robinson, Public Theologian in Residence

Riana is the Minister of Formation at Oakland City Church (OCC), a community that seeks to be “People Who Don’t Belong Together, Gathered Around Jesus, For the Sake of Those That Don’t Belong.” Riana expanded the church’s city engagement partnerships and spearheaded efforts to help the community live more deeply into its anti-racist values through teaching, relationship building, and deep listening. She feels called to name the work and abiding hope that is necessary to create the Beloved Community.

Riana is ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion and a B.A. in Ethnic Studies from Mills College. Before stepping into vocational ministry, Riana worked at various non-profits focused on racial, social, and environmental justice. She served on the Steering Committee of the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy and is passionate about faith-rooted advocacy. She lead the first church conference on anti-racism, “Race, Power, Privilege and Faith,” with 130 attendees.

Riana is an East Bay native and currently lives in Oakland with her husband, 8-year-old son, and three-year-old twins. She is extremely proud of her oldest daughter, who is a senior at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Riana has preached, led small groups, and taught new member classes with an approach that invites questions and encourages action. Riana feels called to be a both a prophet and a pastor, which means speaking the truth in love, offering a constant invitation for people to see themselves as beloved, and providing various ways for a person to respond to the command to love God, self, and neighbor.

I want to personally thank the members of the Search Committee: Molly Baskette, Kit Novotny, Julie Greer, Sol Chang, Emma S, Hope Hilton, and Zhekun Luo. The committee worked many hours and attended countless Zoom meetings to push the process forward quickly and professionally. Additionally, thanks go to Kit Dunbar and Ron Elsdon who assisted in conference questions and/or benefit questions. It truly takes a village.

Elizabeth Driver-Bucholtz
Chair, Acting Associate Pastor Search Team
First Church Berkeley