Our staff are competent, friendly, and ready to help connect you with the ministries of the church!
Rev. Dr. George Edd-Bennett, Pastor
Pastor George will join our community on July 1, 2023! He is currently the Pastor of Lodi United Methodist Church, where for the past five years he has had a very fruitful ministry. He has excelled in leading the church to embrace a more outward focus that emerges from disciples who are growing in Christ and inspired to share God’s love. He is a strategic thinker and creative visionary who is deeply committed to the Wesleyan way of rooting spiritual practices with community action. Pastor George has also served the Merced and Sanger United Methodist Churches. Prior to entering the Ordained Ministry, George was the District Supervisor for Tires Plus in Nevada and Colorado. He also has experience in managing restaurants prior to this work. Pastor George is married to Sonja, who has a long history of service in the church. Most recently, Sonja was the Disaster Response Ministry Director for the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. They have a daughter who lives in Reno, another daughter who lives in Lodi, and a son who is attending UCLA.
Andy Sonnemaker, Music Director
Andy holds a BA in Music from Earlham College and an MM in Choral Conducting from the University of Oklahoma. As a music educator, he has taught at the elementary, middle school, high school and university levels in Indiana, Oklahoma and Nevada. Currently, he teaches Choir I, Choir II, Chamber Choir, Concert Choir, Musical Theatre, and Guitar at Carson High School. As a church musician, he has directed chancel choirs in Friends Meetings and at United Methodist churches since his college days in Richmond, Indiana. Andy began directing choirs at Reno First United Methodist Church during the 1991-92 school year when he first moved to Reno.
Aren Long, Organist
Aren Long is a long-time member of the Northern Nevada and California communities and has been working as the organist of Reno First United Methodist Church since 2014. Aren initially started his music career in high school, playing as a section violinist for orchestras, as an organist at an Episcopal church, and as a multi-instrumentalist for a touring folk band. He received his Bachelor’s of Music Education in 2019. After discovering a passion for collaborative performance, he went on to receive a Master’s of Music in Piano Performance in 2021, both degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno. Aren is currently on faculty at the university, teaching and playing as a pianist in the music/theater departments and he continues to tour as a soloist, performing on stages such as Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, San Francisco’s Warfield Hall, and in rural areas such as Quincy, CA and Elko, NV. Aren also serves as the keyboardist for the California Arts in Corrections Program, the Reno Philharmonic Choir, and the Nevada Gay Men’s Chorus. In addition to his professional work, Aren has a deep passion for creative independent music; in 2022, he released his debut studio album On Greenwich Way, which was co-produced, written, and engineered both at the church and his home studio. **Note: Aren is too cool for bitmoji, but he’s just as cute as the rest of us.**
Melissa Godwin, Children’s Ministry Coordinator
Mrs. Mel is our enthusiastic, creative, and joyful Kids Connection Children’s Ministry Coordinator. She provides a fun, safe and spiritual adventure that invokes thought and enrichment to all the kiddos. On “Special Sundays” quarterly, usually around holidays, she helps us host different games, activities, snacks and social hour after the 10:00am service. Melissa’s education background includes studies in early childhood education, biology, English, and most recently, neuro and microbiology. She has worked in childcare as a private nanny for nearly 18 years, and joined Reno First United Methodist Church March of 2022. So far, it has been a magical swirl of positivity, enlightenment, acceptance, and fun! Melissa’s family includes many fur babies, her husband, and two adult children she loves more than cake and unicorns. She is a fanatic movie watcher, regularly over-indulges in Disneyland adventures and Halloween festivity, crochets perfectly imperfect blankets, and LOVES LEGO, Star Wars and Harry Potter! Keep the gluten away from her, and let the fun begin!
Ben and Linda Brown, Bells Choir Directors
Ben and Linda took over the bell choir in 2000, back when Ben was 16 years old. Ben was chosen as the the only person in the church who had rung bells for more than five years and could explain the difference between a martellato and thumb damp. Linda, with her Masters degree in Music Education from Fort Hays State, was a music teacher of wide renown, who actually knew how to conduct a 4 pattern. Between them, the mother and son team made one very competent bell director. Since then, they have only improved in their handbell directing ways! Ben has played that entire time in Tintabulations Handbell Ensemble, has gone on to teach music classes himself, and is occasionally called on to clinician in nearby handbell festivals. Linda is a retired music teacher who taught for 33 years in Reno (and in Spartanburg, South Carolina for six years before that).
Linda grew up in Kansas, then moved to Reno sight-unseen in the 1980’s and has lived here ever since. While church shopping, Linda brought baby Ben to Reno First UMC and absolutely fell in love with the church. Ben grew up in Reno and in the congregation. He was confirmed here, has attended his whole life, was married by the Pastor of the church (*at UNR in a totally not flash mob-esque ceremony), and will likely be here for the foreseeable future. Outside bells, both Linda and Ben play in the Reno Pops Orchestra on Violin and Cello respectively, enjoy a good mountain hike with their respective dogs, and enjoy a good slice of pizza from their favorite local pizza shops.
Jennifer Smith, Office Administrator
Jennifer Smith has been working with Reno First UMC since 2018, managing communications, day-to-day finances, supplies, facilities, and helping keep our church engine running in the background. Jennifer’s favorite thing about working at the church is hearing the stories of love that people share, whether in weddings, funerals, baptisms, or fellowship. Our quirky office administrator is always willing to pitch in a hand, and has a creative streak a mile wide! Jennifer is a carer. She takes care of the church, her family, three cats, two dogs, a number of turtles, birds, ferrets, and other critters. She is multi-talented, in that she cooks amazing food, rebuilds engine, sews fabulous evening gowns, and recycles old crayons into beautiful candles… and any other crafty thing you can name.
Ben Brown, Tech Guru Extraordinaire
Ben Brown graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science, followed by a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s the technology manager at Davidson Academy Online, where he was teaching people to live stream on Zoom before everyone in the world suddenly found themselves in the need of a video conferencing tech. Though he has been referred to as a tech wizard, guru, and robot overlord, you can trust that the church’s technology is in good hands with Ben around. (Yes, he’s the same Ben as the Ben above, pulling double duty as the hand bell director.)
Jim Gerbel, Building Manager
Jim Gerbel has been the building manager at Reno First United Methodist Church for over 29 years! He was also the Site Facilities Coordinator for Washoe County School District for 29 years before he retired. Jim says, “I love taking care of this beautiful old building, and being part of this church family where I have also created some incredible friendships.” If you see Jim around, ask him about how the Las Vegas Golden Knights are doing this season, or if he’s managed to get out and play 18 holes recently — he’s friendly!
Kayt Kruk, Wedding Coordinator
Kayt Kruk has been with Reno First UMC since September of 2011, when she joined staff at just the right time! She has worked in many areas of ministry over the years, and now helps nervous brides and grooms feel at home and ready to share their celebrations with their families and friends. Kayt resides in Reno with her two teenage sons and is trying to make the most out of life before they both head off to their “adult lives.” Kayt has always been a helper, and tries to find all the ways possible to help the community around her both personally and professionally. In her spare time she loves to read, attend concerts, knit, and has recently found an affinity for yoga.