UCC DeKalb


Our People




Rev. Joseph Gastiger, Pastor


Joseph Gastiger

We called Joseph M. Gastiger as Pastor of this church on August 1, 2001.

We celebrated his Ordination and Installation in the sanctuary on October 20, 2001.

Joe entered Chicago Theological Seminary in January of 1998 and graduated in August of 2000. He worked at First Congregational UCC as a Student In-Care of the Prairie Association during his studies, and was mentored by Rev. William Moore, Rev. Jane Ann Moore, and Rev. Robert Meissner.

Joe was baptized and confirmed at Saint Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in Westbury, NY, where he grew up. He completed his undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y Stony Brook and at the University of Iowa, and then attended Colorado State University for graduate studies. He came to DeKalb in 1980 to teach English at Northern Illinois University, where he later earned his doctorate.

He met his wife Jean, a nurse practitioner, through a mutual friend and they married in 1982. They have one adult son, Michael.

The Gastigers joined First Congregational UCC in July of 1994, when Joe noted that he was "led to this church by [his] son, Michael, whose own spiritual questions—which came up while he was playing with toys, or while [Joe] and Jean would read to him at night—whose own innocent and profound questions had reawakened deeply felt concerns" in Joe. He turned to ministry as a quest for a greater challenge in life and a growing interest to learn more about Christianity and the Bible.

As Pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Joe says he would "like to do whatever we can, in big and small ways, to learn to live in the Kingdom of God, in the ways we look after each other and look out for each other."



Chicago Theological Seminary
Master of Divinity, 2001

Northern Illinois University
Ph.D., 1992

Colorado State University
Master of Arts, 1980

University of Iowa
Bachelor of Arts, 1976

S.U.N.Y Stony Brook
1971 - 1973



Rev. Judith Harris, Pastor


Judith Harris

We called Judith C. Harris as Pastor of this church on November 4, 2002.

Judy and her husband Tom have three grown children, five grandchildren. and a great-grandson. Their daughter Sarah and her husband Adam live in East Dundee with their daughter. Son Mike also lives in Wisconsin with his wife Andi and their three children and grandson. The Harris' s have another son, Jeff, who lives in Colorado with his wife, Kim, and their daughter.

Judy graduated from Raytown High School in Raytown Missouri, which is just outside Kansas City, and she received her B.A. degree from Drury College in Springfield, Missouri. She met her husband at Northern Illinois University while she was attending graduate school and Tom was earning his teaching certificate. Following their wedding, they lived in Richmond, Illinois, where they began raising a family. More recently, Judy attended Chicago Theological Seminary and was awarded the degree of Master of Divinity in June 2002.

Judy has had a variety of careers in her life.  Upon graduating from college, Judy taught French to fifth-and sixth-grade students.  When her children were young, she created and directed a church-sponsored pre-school.  Sometime later, she was trained and served as lay minister in her home church, the Community Church United Church of Christ in Richmond.  She also served as administrative assistant at her church for twelve years. At the same time she worked at Anderson’s Candy Shop dipping chocolates by hand. Judy enjoys knitting and spinning natural fibers, photography, reading, and being with her family.

Before being called to our church, Judy worked as director of youth ministries at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Crystal Lake.  She worked hard to make church involvement fun and meaningful for the youth.  

Here at 1st Congregational, Judy leads worship, teaches confirmation classes and adult studies, and works with the Ministry Teams.



Chicago Theological Seminary
Master of Divinity, 2002

Northern Illinois University

Drury College
Bachelor of Arts, 1968





Travis Erikson, Organist and Choir Director

Choir Director and Organist

Travis Erikson

Travis Erikson earned his baccalaureate degree in piano from Whitman College in Washington and the Master of Music and Performer's Certificate in piano from Northern Illinois University, where he studied with the late Donald Walker.  In addition, he did graduate work in music theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While pursuing his graduate degrees at NIU Travis also completed the requirements for Illinois public school teacher certification.  He is currently the choral director at DeKalb High School.


Northern Illinois University
Master of Music

Northern Illinois University
Performer's Certificate, Piano

University of Wisconsin

Whitman College
Bachelor of Music, Piano



Office Staff


Julie Grendahl, Office Manager

Office Manager

Julie Grendahl

Julie is a life-long Sycamore resident with her husband Gary and their two cocker spaniels.

Julie was the Office Manager at a Lutheran church for four years. She also worked with Pastor Kathy Lawes, serving as the Christian Education Director in Elburn. She has a background in insurance and a degree in Human Resource Management. Recently she has been a substitute teacher in Sycamore and DeKalb schools.





Amanda Bengford-Breneisen, Nursery Director

Nursery Director

Amanda Bengford-Breneisen

Amanda first joined the nursery in 2005.  She loves creating a safe, supportive, play based environment for the children to learn and grow.  Throughout the years, she has enjoyed watching the many kids that have come through the nursery.  She appreciates the many people who have helped, and presently assist in the nursery.

Amanda and her husband have three sons and one daughter.  She enjoys doing many things including spending time with friends and family, traveling, trying new things, taking pictures, scrapbooking, meeting new people, and finding adventure.  Amanda loves the community at First Congregational UCC, and the many different people she has met there.


Aurora University George Williams Campus
Master of Arts in Teaching, 2009

Briar Cliff University
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Speech Communication, English minor, 2004