Our Staff

Rev. Cheryl Cornish
Senior Minister
Rev. Cornish has served as Senior Pastor of First Congregational Church since 1988.  A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Cheryl served Ebenezer UCC in Augusta, Missouri, for five years prior to being called to First Congregational.   Active in the wider church, she served as Chair of the Board of Women’s Ministries for the Missouri-Midsouth Conference, was a member of the Board of Directors for the Board for World Ministries (UCC), and served on the St. Louis Association Committee on Ministry.  She served on the Alumni Board of Yale Divinity School and has been a seminar participant and leader for the Yale Institute of Sacred Music’s “Congregations Project”.

Pastor Cheryl has been an active community voice here in Memphis.    She has served as a Trustee of Lemoyne-Owen College, is a past President of the Memphis Ministers Association, and was Chair of the Board of Directors of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.  She was on the founding board of RAIN (Regional AIDS Interfaith Network), served on the Board of Directors of MIFA and was an officer of the Mid-South Workers Interfaith Network.

In 2004, she received the Women of Achievement award for “Courage” for her ministry of inclusion, diversity, peace, and social justice.  In 2008, Yale Divinity School awarded her the alumni award for “Distinction in Congregational Ministry”.  A quote of Pastor Cheryl in the Commercial Appeal at that time highlights the foundation of her pastorate:  “It creates a tremendous amount of joy and energy to know we’re about something meaningful, positive and healing.  I’ve always cared a lot about how we transform society.  I think that’s what being a Christian is all about:  bringing healing to the world.”
Rev. Sonia Louden Walker
Associate Pastor
Sonia Louden Walker joined the First Congo Family as a seminary student in 2007.  Following her graduation from Memphis Theological seminary and ordination at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, (Disciples of Christ), she was called as  Associate Pastor at First Congo. Her late life call and ordination were no surprise to those who knew her on her other career paths.

Pastor Sonia’s professional and civic pursuits include service and leadership roles in education, and social work in agency, medical and religious settings.  At First Congo, she uses her gifts in worship services, congregational nurture, outreach ministries, and community network and collaboration.

She came to Memphis with her late husband, Dr. Walter L. Walker, former President, LeMoyne-Owen College, and their young children, for a “short stay.”   Her adult sons, Noland, Aaron and Marcus, live in California, Delaware and the District of Columbia with their families.  Pastor Sonia delights in creating creative ways to be engaged with her six, out of town, grandchildren.
Julia Hicks
Director of Mission
Julia Hicks became our Director of Mission in 2001, when First Congregational Church moved from our historical and much smaller building in Central Gardens to this 83,000 sprawling square feet of space in the popular and eclectic Cooper Young neighborhood. At that time these old and very damaged church buildings looked beautiful with potential for creative stewardship and growth of our congregation's worship and fellowship experiences.
  
A native of Memphis, a former school teacher in the Memphis City Schools and health educator at the Church Health Center, Julia had nearly 20 years’ experience developing and implementing innovative programming, and had been an active member of this congregation for 12 years.  As Director of Mission, Julia manages the renovations and care of our buildings, our relationships with shared space community partners, the hostel and retreat center, Freedom Journeys and youth programming, special events, and communications through our weekly Congo Beat newsletter.  
Steph Rollen
Director of Food Justice Ministries
Steph graduated from Georgia State University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She worked in Juvenile Justice and Social Security just out of college.  After her daugher, Audrey, was born.she switched gears and went to Culinary School because she LOVES cooking!   With her husband, Scott, son Justin (21), and daughter Audrey(17) , Steph moved to Germantown from Atlanta in 2005 and started a personal chef business soon thereafter where she's been catering, teaching and most recently coordinating the hospitality at the Germantown Performing Arts Center.   

Steph is excited about taking her background in cooking and teaching and applying it in this setting where she can serve so many--and work with a fabulous group of volunteers!

Dennis Whitehead
Minister of Music
Dennis holds a BFA - Musical Theatre, MA - Theatre and MFA - Directing (Spring 2018) and has called Memphis his home since 2005.  With a background in Musical Theatre, Dennis has freelanced in the Memphis area as a Theatre Director, Music Director, actor and was the Resident Music Director for Playhouse on the Square.  Dennis also holds a teaching certificate from Union University and has worked as a Director of Choral Arts for the Memphis City Schools, Shelby County Schools and more recently St. George's Independent School.  Dennis began his journey as the Minister of Music at First Congo in the Fall of 2012.
Brennan Villines
Pianist
Brennan Villines is a gifted pianist, singer, and recording artist who has performed with award-winning artists including Grammy-nominated Susan Marshall, Joyce Cobb, and Nashville’s Eric Lewis.  Brennan’s band, the “Brennan Villines Trio” was nominated as Memphis’ “Best Local Band” by the Memphis Flyer poll in 2011 and he was nominated as the “Best Local Singer” in the 2010 poll.  He has been a regular performer at the Mollie Fontaine Lounge, Lafayette’s, and Bhan Thai, and records in Memphis and New York City.

He received his Bachelor of Music from the University of Memphis.  During that time, he won the Herbert Herman Award for Excellence in Music Performance and was a finalist in the Memphis Symphony concerto competition.  
Sylvia Crum
Director of Revolutions Bicycle Cooperative
Sylvia Crum became the Director of Revolutions Bicycle Cooperative in August of 2014. Sylvia loves to ride her bicycle!   Her preferred type of riding is for transportation. She likes to ride to the park and library with her kids or to one of Memphis’ new breweries or the grocery store. To encourage others to join her, Sylvia added “Women’s Bike Chats,” SLOW group rides and “Bike to Dinner” rides to Revolutions’ calendar of events.
 
A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in Chemistry and minored in Africana Studies, Sylvia also completed coursework at United Bicycle Institute that resulted in her certification as a Professional Bicycle Mechanic. Sylvia has lived in four states and three countries. And though she still loves to travel, she and her family love that they found Memphis for their permanent home!  “Wave if you see us out on our bikes. And we hope you’ll come riding with us, soon!”
Nikki Jones
Bookkeeper
Nikki brings a wealth of experience and skill to our ministry by helping us match our financial resources with the many dreams for ministry that we carry!  With 10 years of experience prior to joining the staff at First Congo, Nikki’s commitment to making a positive difference in the world is clear.  She brings a love of detail, communication skills and the organizational skills that enable us to thrive!
Brenda Joyce Nichols
Office Administrator
Brenda partners the skills of an administrator with a deep commitment to ministry.   An ordained minister, Brenda graduated with a BA from Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies.   She has written four books (Heaven Must Be like This, Heavenly Portions, Journal Your Testimonies, and Blind But Now I See:  Living with Keratoconus), she started Blessed and Favored Publishing Services and mentors aspiring authors.
Mark Allen
Building Maintenance
Mark has worked as a contractor and carpenter in Memphis for years, taking care of many midtown homes and businesses!  He married into the First Congo family in 2006, becoming the husband of pastor Cheryl Cornish. A flamenco and Latin guitarist, Mark helps maintain our buildings on a part-time basis.