Our Staff

The people of first church are its ministers. Meet the folks helping them in this holy work.

The Rev. Julia Burkey

The Rev. Julia Burkey

Pastor

The Rev. Julia Burkey represents a new generation of leadership within the United Church of Christ (UCC) who’ve been called by the Spirit to bring new life and energy into the church. Julia was raised by a formerly Catholic, now Buddhist mother and a Protestant, Philosophy professor father, who encouraged her seek a life of meaning by working out her own way of truth and of life, outside of the church. Although Christian in her heart long before, Julia was baptized in a lake in Ivoryton, CT in 2011. By dipping herself in the waters of Christianity, Julia covenanted both to acknowledge the ways in which Christianity has hurt people in the past and to dedicate herself to redeeming the healing and transforming messages of Christianity for all people in our contemporary context.
      Julia loves exploring Biblical texts and relating them to contemporary and historical contexts. She is honest when a text doesn’t make sense, and you will feel her passion and excitement for texts when they break open in new ways. Julia has a strong dedication to creating and providing radical welcome to all people, wherever they are on life’s journey—no matter their age, race, marital status, sexual orientation, economic status, gender identification, physical ability, or creed.  In 1993, First Church was among the first in Connecticut and in the country to publically declare itself  an “Open and Affirming” congregation, which unequivocally affirms this radical welcome.
      First Church has a long tradition of engaging arts in worship, and, as an artist and dancer, this makes Julia’s heart sing.  She earned her Master of Divinity with a special focus on the Bible and Arts & Worship from Union Theological Seminary. Upon her graduation, Julia was awarded the Karen Ziegler Prize “for exemplifying the highest ideals for feminist and liberation theology in preaching.” After First Church extended a call to Julia to become the first settled female pastor in the church’s long history, she was ordained at Judson Memorial Church, in New York City, in April of 2013.
           Julia has a passion for hearing people’s stories and encourages you to reach out to her and make an appointment for coffee, a meal, or a walk in the woods.  

Shari Lucas

Shari Lucas

Minister of Music

Shari Lucas is a graduate of the Baldwin-Wallace University Conservatory of Music in Berea, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland) and the Yale School of Music.  Her major instrument is organ, but she has also studied piano, harpsichord and African Drumming.  She even played trombone in her High School marching band.  Shari is a New Jersey native and has called CT home for many years, coming to First Church in 2003.  Shari also plays keyboard in her husbands band, the Heartbeat Dixieland Jazz Band.
Kortney Balsamo

Kortney Balsamo

Office Manager

Kortney resides in Meriden with her two children and her husband.  She loves to spend her spare time exercising, reading and spending time with her family.  She attends St. Joseph of Arimathea in New Haven.  Kortney currently volunteers there as co-treasurer, and heads parish administration. She oversees the parish E-Bulletin, registration, and social media outreach. Kortney comes to First Church with an education and degree in Business Management.  She worked for Curves for Women as a Manager of two locations for 7 years.  Her favorite part of that position was assisting women to improve their health and their quality of life.  She is very much a people person and loves working with all kinds of people. Here at First Church, Kortney manages the office and takes care of many administrative tasks to support the life of the church.  She is willing to assist anywhere she is needed to help members of the church or committees. She also handles rental of church spaces for events and meetings to organizations, businesses and individuals for events and meetings.

Mahogany S. Thomas

Mahogany S. Thomas

Youth Ministry Intern

We welcome with joy, Pastor Mahogany S. Thomas as our Youth Ministry Intern! Mahogany will be co-leading the Initiates and teaching Sunday School for the year.

Born and raised in Columbia, MO., Mahogany S. Thomas has always felt a strong sense of call to the church. After writing her first sermon at the age of seven, Mahogany began exploring ministry through liturgical dance, then as a children’s church leader and later as a bible study teacher. Mahogany formally accepted call into ministry at the age of eighteen, at Fifth Street Christian Church (DOC) in Columbia, MO. Since then, Mahogany’s time in ministry has included, participation in several youth revivals, leadership roles in outreach ministry, missionary experience in the United States and the Philippines, as well as ministering in the Garden of Gethsemane in Israel.

In May of 2017, Mahogany was ordained into ministry at United Community Cathedral in Columbia, MO., under the direction of Bishop Russell L. Freeman. At United Community Cathedral, Mahogany served as a co-leader and teacher for the Youth Department, financial administrator for Voices of Power and Glory, and teacher of Minister’s Fellowship. Her experiences in ministry reach far beyond her time at United Community Cathedral, also including internships at Rock Bridge Christian Church (DOC) in Columbia, MO., and Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco, CA.

Mahogany received her Bachelor of Arts in December of 2016 from Westminster College-MO, and double majored in Religious Studies and Self-Design Queer Theology with a minor in Elementary Education. Throughout her undergraduate studies, Mahogany held multiple positions in the banking industry, leaving as an Assistant Branch Manager at Central Bank of Boone County, before deciding to come to graduate school. Currently, Mahogany is a first year Master of Divinity student at Yale Divinity School Her interest of study includes Black Theology, Womanist Theology, and the intersections of sexuality and gender within the Black Church. Back home in Missouri resides the majority of Mahogany’s family, including her only sibling, Langston Thomas who is an eleven-year-old fifth grader, who is her world!