Pastor Chad Oyer, along with his wife Angie, and 4 children, came to First Congregational from Birmingham United Methodist Church, where he served for 7 years as Associate Pastor. His prior pastoral experience includes associate pastorates at the Church of Nazarene in Roseville, Michigan, at Jarvis Memorial United Methodist Church in Greenville North Carolina, and as church planter and lead pastor at New Heights Community Church. Pastor Chad's ministry has been distinguished by team-oriented, hardworking, mission-focused, loving environments. Pastor Chad received a B.A. degree in Philosophy and Religion from Olivet Nazarene University and continued his education at Nazarene Theological Seminary. Most likely, you can see Pastor Chad and his family enjoying downtown Traverse City, swimming at a local beach, picking apples at an orchard, racing down ski slopes, and always playing games in the backyard.
Dr. Gary Hogue
I arrived at FCC in 1984 with my wife Karen and sons Mike and Jeremy. Over the years we have experienced God‘s faithfulness through the joys and burdens of church and family life. We are blessed to participate in God’s work at FCC. Currently, I preach occasionally, consult with church leadership, and provide pastoral care to the congregation. We have eleven grandchildren and many friends in the church and community.
Karen and I met at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio where we received Bachelor‘s’ degrees in 1968. I went on to pursue a Master of Divinity from McCormick Seminary, earning credits also at Chicago Theological School and The University of Heidelberg, Germany. While serving my first pastorate I pursued graduate courses at Ohio State University, and later at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio where I earned my Doctor of Ministry. I served 3 churches in Ohio prior to FCC, and I’ve done sabbatical work with Max Stackhouse of Princeton Theological Seminary and Jean Elshtain of the Chicago Divinity School.
I believe we live and work in perilous times that are yet filled with the Triune God’s presence and unfolding promises. I believe the church exists to provide environments where the Holy Spirit creates, renews, or deepens faith in Jesus Christ. May God bless you as you explore what God is doing through FCC.
My name is Ben Royer, and I am the Family Pastor here at First Congregational Church. My family and I come to Traverse City from Pella, IA. My wife (Darlene) and I have been working with families and children and teenagers for 13 years together. I have 3 children and have over 15 years of experience as a Youth Pastor, Associate Pastor, and Family Pastor. I have my B.A. in Theology from Illinois Bible College and currently working on my Masters of Divinity through Grand Canyon University. As a Family Pastor, I teach relevant messages for the teenagers and kids and create an environment of family and allow kids space to own their faith. In my free time, I enjoy photography, grilling, hanging out with my family, watching the Chicago Bears and White Sox, and playing video games.
Sanctuary Choir Director
Russ Larimer is the Sanctuary Choir Director of Traverse City‘s First Congregational Church, a position he has held since 2005, and also serves as Director for the Mel Larimer Concert Series. He is Emeritus Director of Choirs from Traverse City West Sr. High, having recently retired from public school teaching after 33 years of service. Russ’s high school choirs toured and performed frequently throughout the U.S. and Europe. He directed Michigan high school Honors Choirs on 3 occasions and was recently recognized as the 2014 Teacher of the Year by the Michigan School Vocal Music Association.
Russ is a graduate of Albion College and taught for 7 years on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and in the Black Hills of South Dakota prior to returning to Traverse City in 1987.
Russ married his wonderful wife Deb in 1981, and they have 2 delightful daughters, Ashley and Allison.
Dr. Carole Halmekangas
Shortly after retiring to beautiful Northern Michigan with my husband, Rich, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was offered the opportunity to succeed FCC’s beloved organist, Sally Lewis, whose talent, wisdom, and multiple gifts the congregation enjoyed and depended upon for 60 years! Sally left mighty big organ shoes to fill! I am honored to step in, recognizing the grace of God in the synchronicity of the events that led Rich and me to relocate at this unusual time.
Back in 1967, while a student at the University of Michigan, I was invited to be the organist at Ward Presbyterian church in Detroit. It was my joy and privilege to serve this growing, dynamic congregation for 45 years, both as Organist and then as Director of Music. I retired in 2012, but shortly thereafter, I “flunked” retirement! Within just a few months, I had the opportunity to serve at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, and shortly thereafter to join the staff at First Presbyterian Church of Northville as Organist/Director of Music. Additionally, I often subbed at the organ at First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, where Pastor Chad served as Associate Pastor before being called to FCC.
Over the years, I earned three degrees at the University of Michigan: a Bachelor of Music in Organ Performance; a Masters in Organ Performance; and a Doctorate in Organ and Church Music.
Rich and I are parents of a daughter and two sons, and grandparents to two wonderful granddaughters. We are both Real Estate Brokers, having had our own small business, AAA Real Estate in Northville, for many years. We enjoy working together to help people through the buying and selling process, and we hope to have opportunities to continue to do so here in Northern Michigan.
It is my desire to nurture and support FCC through music, liturgy, Scripture, and prayer. I am grateful to be a part of this church family, and I look forward to experiencing God’s grace and goodness with you here at First Congregational Church of Traverse City.
Handbell Choir Director
I’m Jim Seidel, and I am honored to be following in Sally Lewis’ footsteps by directing the Handbell Choir. Sacred music has always been one of my deepest joys, whether I am conducting groups, doing solo work, or participating in groups.
I grew up in St. Louis MO, and after living in Streator IL, my wife, Carol, and I moved to Traverse City in 1991. We are the parents of three children. Our son, Tony, was profoundly disabled and passed away at age 35. Our daughter, Julie, and her significant other live in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and our other daughter, Katie, and husband live in Lafayette, LA. My faith has always been nurtured and increased by my involvement in church life wherever I have lived. This involvement came from my directing groups, serving on committees, or fellowship with dear friends. Church participation has always been at the center of my and my family’s life.
I have a B. Mus. Ed. degree from Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington IL., and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Ohio University, Athens OH. In Illinois, I taught music in various positions while directing church choirs, and in addition to my involvement in the church, I served and held leadership roles on education committees, community boards, and organizations. In January 1994, I became the Director of Music at Traverse City Presbyterian Church. I retired from that position in August 2016. Since the fall of 2017, my wife and I have enjoyed being active in the FCC Sanctuary and Handbell Choirs. We became members of FCC in February 2018.
Contemporary Music Coordinator
Gretchen Palmer is our Contemporary Worship Leader, leading music on the Northside of First Congregational Church every Sunday morning at 10 am. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Northwestern University, Gretchen brings over 20 years of music experience to our team. In addition to her work at FCC, Gretchen also directs the worship bands at Traverse City Christian School, training middle school and high school students to serve their school as well as their home churches in corporate worship experiences. You may see a student sit in on a Sunday morning with The Northside Band from time to time. Gretchen is originally from Chicago, IL, but has lived in Traverse City since marrying TC native James Palmer in 1998. Besides a 5-year stint in Wilmore, Kentucky where James received his Master of Divinity and was ordained a pastor, the couple has been in Traverse City ever since. James and Gretchen have three daughters in Middle School and High School. You will likely see the girls around the church, but James serves another congregation in town as Associate Pastor. Besides music, Gretchen loves all kinds of art and has a pottery studio and kiln in her home. She also loves to enjoy our beautiful city, biking, swimming, or skiing with friends and family. She’d like to take up golf next if you want to invite her for a round? Gretchen feels incredibly blessed to serve the First Congregational Church and looks forward to how the Lord will move in our community. Come Holy Spirit, Come!
Cheryl Chism, Church Administrator, has been on the church staff at FCC since 2009. With a Business Administration degree from Central Michigan University, she enjoys helping church members and ministry leaders with accounting issues and office needs. She and husband, Randal, have a son, Christopher. Cheryl enjoys working on quilt hangings, playing guitar, and making crafts. A favorite hymn for her is “If We Never Meet Again” sung by Selah. She feels very blessed to be a part of such a special team!
Facilities & Media Director
David Russell feels supremely blessed to be able to do something he dearly loves, in service to God. He has always been interested in recording: from mono open reel audio in grade school to digital multi-tracking, from 1inch black and white video to digital camcorders. Since 1987, he’s been able to help spread the Good News through the technical arts programs here at First Congregational, designing, installing, and maintaining audio and video systems, training and organizing volunteers, and editing the finished products. His passion is creating the best possible technical support for worship here at FCC and then sharing worship excellence with people throughout northern Michigan.
David reads mostly trade magazines and equipment manuals and loves the quote from Mackie’s mixer manuals, “If, after all your best efforts, your sound system insists on humming, try teaching it the words.” In addition to all the technical things, he also loves watching things grow (farming) and building things, especially with wood.
One of David‘s favorite Bible verses is Ephesians 6:19-20, “and (pray) also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” David’s prayer for First Congregational is that we learn to open our mouths boldly to proclaim our faith in God and the redemption through Jesus Christ to the world.
Kate Attwood is the Communications Coordinator, and has been on staff at FCC since 2011. Kate was born and raised in Traverse City. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from Grand Valley State University in English and Elementary Education, and previously served as the Director of Community Children's Center at FCC for nine years. Kate is married to her high school sweetheart, Kyle, and they have 2 little boys. Kate is grateful to be a part of the wonderful staff team at FCC!
Community Children's Center Program Director
I am thrilled to become a part of the CCC family and continue to bring you the same excellence in care, safety, and child development you have come to expect and enjoy!
A little bit of background on myself: I have been in Early Childhood Education for over 10 years. My first experience being at a child development center as an aide, and then a lead teacher. My next experience was as an education specialist in a head start setting supervising 3 classrooms and staff. And my latest experience has been as a Center Director at a head start center for 2 years. Along with my working experience, I earned my Master’s Degree in education in 2016.
Education has always been my passion and especially with the younger children as I believe these are in many respects the most crucial and impacting years of a child’s life. For this reason, I thoroughly love what I do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else that is so rewarding and purposeful.
Thank you for the privilege to serve you and the Church!
To email Vladimir: click here
Vladimir has provided dedicated service since December 2010. His willing attitude and warm smile have blessed our church! He and wife Valentina have four children and three nieces. Vladimir participates in choir and the men’s vocal group. He enjoys working with his hands, fishing with his sons, and spending time with family.