Originally from Pocomoke, Maryland, Lynaya holds two Master's degrees; one in Higher Education Administration from George Washington University and the second in Theology from Wesley Theological Seminary. Lynaya served and lived among students as an Area Coordinator, Residence Director, and later a Career Coach. Lynaya enjoys not just the science disciplines and theology, but also creative endeavors such as baking, painting, knitting, comedy, and listening to music. Lynaya is currently living in Toronto, ON Canada with her husband Luke as he pursues is doctorate in Political Science at the University of Toronto.
LaTayna grew up in the church as a preacher’s kid in South Texas. She has worked in and around education and faith communities her entire life. Her research focuses on intersectionality and how faith communities can support individuals in underrepresented and marginalized groups, mainly black transgender siblings. She is completing her national UCC Sacred Conversations to End Racism facilitator coursework. LaTayna studied at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Maine and received her Doctorate from Indiana University. She graduated with a Master of Divinity from the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. She is pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry for the Pacific School of Religion. H., where she led and created the United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) student group and co-founder of the Student of Color Caucus. LaTayna’s recent work interning with AllianceQ was a meaningful opportunity to bring awareness to the need to support the LGBTQ+ community within and beyond church walls. The experience further inspired her desire to help shift the growing edges of more congregations toward becoming a truly beloved community.
LaTayna is moving to Hyattsville, MD, with her wife, Cindy, two sons, Myles and Jonah, and two pups, Bodhi and Puck.
Kemmesha is from Wisconsin and moved to Maryland to pursue a Master in Public Health in Health Equity at UMD College Park. One of her interests in Public Health is how housing instability impacts health, which is why she’s glad to be working with the church as a liaison for those without a home and pathways. Some fun facts about Kemmesha: she is the second oldest of 5, loves the outdoors but can definitely sit inside and get lost in a book or a good TV series, she is a vegetarian who does not like fruit or seafood (so in her words she is picky). As an undergrad she was part of the women’s track and field team where she competed in seven events as a heptathlete. Her favorite was javelin.
A fifth generation Washingtonian, Jarred is deeply passionate about DC’s youth and families and has committed his life and career to learning and growing in communities committed to transformational change. Jarred comes to us with experience serving in local, state and federal agencies to address structural inequities, and has leveraged his skills to effectively co-advocate for meaningful change. Of all his diverse experiences, Jarred finds his work as a middle school STEM teacher to be most rewarding and life-changing. Presently, Jarred uses his passion and knowledge of education policy to help DC families build a more accessible, more affordable and higher quality early childhood system in the District.
As an advocate and bridge builder, Jarred is eager to use his broad skills and experience to build deeper connections with unhoused youth and their families in the Drop-In Center, and to make it a space where all families feel safe and valued. Jarred holds a B.S. in Government, Politics & History from St. John’s University and a Master’s in Urban Education from the University of Pennsylvania. He lives close to his early-childhood home in Riggs Park, and is excited to be a part of the First Church Community.
Whitney joined First Congregational UCC as the Administrative Assistant in February 2023 and is thrilled to be supporting the life and mission of the church. She studied classical voice at Ithaca College (B.M.) and Boston University (M.M.) before moving “behind-the-scenes” to work in arts administration. She worked in fundraising, personnel management, and production for organizations including Chorus America, Washington National Opera, The Choral Arts Society of Washington, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Whitney grew up in the United Church of Christ denomination and is currently the soprano choral associate and a member of The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband Adam and their daughter Maddie.
Byron devotes his church hours to building relationships with a variety of organizations in the Greater Washington region (including Ford’s Theater, Washington Bach Consort, The Thirteen Choir, New Orchestra of Washington, Choral Arts Society, and many others) who use the church’s space for concerts, lectures, forums, classes, and more. His service on the Site Development Design Team and a career in marketing and event management gives him a unique perspective on how the building can be used and promoted to build the wider community in the heart of the city. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and has studied Spanish through immersion language training in Chiapas, Mexico and San Jose, Costa Rica. Building Manager Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 8:30 AM – 4:30PM.
Leela Koilpillai came to the United States at the age of six, eventually returning to study medicine in Pune, India. While in college she was offered an opportunity to lead a girls' choir and loved it so much it switched to a music major. She holds degrees in piano and vocal performance and has studied choral conducting under Robert Shaw, Helmut Rilling and Don Neuen. She has sung with the Washington Opera, and performed extensively in the Washington, D.C. area. Her soprano voice was favorably reviewed by the Washington Post as “… beautifully crystalline.”
Leela has taught and conducted every age group and level of experience, from Kindergarten to Elderhostel. Her high school choirs (Fairfax County, VA) have sung at the White House, Kennedy Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC. She is skillful as at developing, motivating, and inspiring musical groups. She formed and directed a chamber vocal ensemble in Portland, Maine, "Northern Lights," which focused on contemporary choral repertoire with an emphasis on Scandinavian and Russian music.
Leela’s organ teachers include Ray Cornils and David Maxwell. In the summer of 2016 she had the honor to be one of the organists in the Kotzschmar (which boasts 102 ranks, 6,862 pipes in eight divisions) Organ Day festival. She has taken organ coaching with Ray Cornils and David Maxwell (State Street Church, Portland, ME).
In Maine, Leela taught at Waynflete School, coached musicals at Greeley HS, in Cumberland, led the "Rocka' My Soul" gospel ensemble in S. Berwick while maintaining a private piano and vocal studio. She has led tours in the Eastern U.S and Europe. She loves to cook, draw, paint and write in her spare time.
Sam is grateful to serve alongside the First Church community as Associate Minister. He feels called to create a space to help all ages, from infants to adults, sense God’s presence in their lives. Sam desires to make the church more about how we relate to God and with one another than a static adherence to tradition, creed, or even our history. He believes God is still speaking, and through Sunday school, service, story sharing and song, prayer and acts of solidarity with the marginalized, that we are provided opportunities to hear God’s call and act upon it. Sam is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, the University of Kansas, and Haverford College. He is joined by his wife, Lauren, and their two sons, Brendan and Ryan. Sam loves the Nationals, playing baseball, and living in DC!
The Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss joyfully serves the community of First Church as the Senior Minister. Raised in a suburb of Detroit, working for the Appalachia Service Project cultivated a love for the mountains that compelled her to move south. There, she initially worked with those living with HIV/AIDS and fell in love with the United Church of Christ, an open and affirming denomination. As a Woodruff scholar at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Amanda earned her Masters of Divinity with certificates in Black Church Studies and Church and Community programs. In Atlanta she coordinated the Georgia chapter of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), organizing anti-war protests and educational programs, as well as authoring a new curriculum, Faith Seeking Peace, on redirecting federal budget priorities to meet human and environmental needs.
Amanda was ordained in the western North Carolina Association of the UCC in 2006 while serving as a Minister of Faith Formation. In 2009, Amanda co-founded the thriving community of Land of the Sky United Church of Christ in Asheville, NC, where she served as Co-Pastor for eight years in an intentional, power-sharing model. Her vocation as a pastor is shaped by Amanda’s particular calling to racial justice. At Land of the Sky UCC she launched a racial justice ministry in which she co-led dismantling racism training, engaged in a racial justice audit of ministries, created programming for children and youth to highlight the testimonies of local leaders of color, and launched conversations about reparations. In August of 2017, she engaged in sacred activism in Charlottesville where she served as an on-call chaplain to those impacted by the tragic violence of white supremacy. Amanda recently completed a yearlong training as part of the first cohort of UCC leaders equipped to facilitate Sacred Conversations to End Racism 2. She consistently seeks new opportunities to learn and grow on the lifelong journey of dismantling racism within and without.
In 2017, Amanda relocated to northern Virginia with her spouse, Seth, and boys, Myles (13) and Simon (7) to enter a reflective season of ministry. A lover of words and contemplative spirituality, Amanda has served in recent years as a freelance writer, Spiritual Director, and Co-Facilitator of a clergy Community of Practice in the Potomac Association. She enjoys hiking, baking, running, reading, and snuggling her adopted dog, Ginger. Perhaps most importantly, she seeks to honor the sacred in every person she encounters and the well-being of the Earth’s family of all living things.