John Vertigan is the Conference Minister in the Florida Conference and a member of First United Church of Christ in Orlando. He began serving as Conference Minister on Jan. 1, 2015.
Rev. Vertigan was licensed for ministry in 1989 and ordained in 1995 in the New York Conference of the UCC. He holds a Master of Divinity Degree from Bangor Theological Seminary.
He served local church settings ranging from small-church rural to suburban multi-staff in New York and Illinois before being called to judicatory leadership in 2008 in the Indiana-Kentucky Conference.
John's values are those of a life-long member and lover of the United Church of Christ. In the Florida Conference, he wants to build on those values of extravagant welcome, continuing testimony, and changing lives. The United Church of Christ in Florida will strive toward multicultural and multiracial community building, advance the just cause of the ONA movement, and recognize the growing need for churches and buildings that are widening their welcome to the developmentally challenged while expanding their accessibility to persons who are physically able in ways other than the majority population.
Engaging the community beyond the church is vitally important, and John is building on our relationships with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Fair Food Program, Equality Florida, NextGen Climate Change, and other wider church and community partners with whom we can advocate a just peace for all people and for the earth.
"I also recognize that not everyone in the UCC clings to these particular values with the same tenacity as I do," John says. "My greatest hope is that the Florida Conference will embody a covenant of welcome, mutual respect and engagement across the spectrum of social and theological understandings. When we come to the table vulnerably and willing to greet each other with Christ’s peace, we build the beloved community and further the realm of God."
John serves as a member of the United Church of Christ Board and on the Board of Directors of the United Church of Christ Insurance Board.
Rev. Leslie Denney Etheredge is an Associate Conference Minister for the Florida Conference.
She began her ministry with us in August of 2015. She is mom to three adult children and seven precious grandchildren, all of whom live in Alabama. She is an avid sports fan and a ridiculously dedicated Auburn fan.
Leslie is an Alabama native, a graduate of Auburn University (education), UAB (Masters in Counseling) and Memphis Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity). Her 20 years as an educator and counselor provide a rich history from which to draw in forming significant relationships and a concern for wholeness and wellbeing for persons and institutions alike. She describes herself as a “people person” and is passionate about helping churches, meaningful worship, nurturing clergy and open and affirming ministry to all.
Raised in the United Methodist Church, Leslie discovered the UCC while in seminary, knew that she had found a new denominational home and never looked back. Ordained in the Missouri Mid-South Conference, she spent two years as a hospital chaplain and six years in parish ministry with the Southeast Conference before coming to Florida.
Leslie has embraced ministry in the Florida Conference. She notes, “The staff, BOD and numerous dedicated servants work very hard for the good of our local churches and our pastors, to provide resources, perspective, guidance and support in a wide variety of ways. There’s nowhere I’d rather do ministry than in this Conference with these amazing people.”
Neal Watkins is the Minister for Community Life of the Florida Conference of the United Church or Christ. He and his wife, Pam, live in Vero Beach, Fla., with their children, Casey (9) and Caleb (6). Neal grew up as an active member of Coral Gables Congregational UCC in Miami and would later move to the Tampa Bay area, where he attended the University of South Florida and majored in religious studies while working as a member of Chapel on the Hill UCC and as the Faith Events Coordinator for the Florida Conference.
Before returning to the Conference in the Spring of 2018, Neal worked for the Community Church of Vero Beach as youth minister, and later, the ministry associate for youth and families, where he helped design and lead “C2”, an attempt at emerging and engaging worship styles that embrace dynamic energy, informal structure and progressive theology. While working at CCOVB, Neal attended Chicago Theological Seminary, where he successfully defended his thesis, "Millennial Ecclesiology: Merging and Reconciling the Church's Latest Great Divide.”
Neal believes that transformation in individuals and the world takes place through the local churches, and he embraces the opportunity to be a supportive partner in ministries that follow the discernment of local church leadership and the vision of its pastor(s).Often times this has occurred through workshops and retreats that center upon strategic discernment, capacity building, millennial cause engagement, small group bible studies, or local church fellowship retreats. However, these processes often begin with the question, “I wonder what we are capable of doing together?”
Additionally, for the Florida Conference, Neal serves as liaison to the Youth Ministry Task Force, the EcoJustice Ministry Team, the Anti-Racism Ministry Team, the WISE Ministry Team, and the Justice Advocacy & Action Network. He is also participating in the Sacred Conversations to End Racism Facilitator Training under the direction of the Rev. Dr. Velda Love.
In his free time, Neal enjoys playing fetch with his dog (Tillich), doing logic puzzles, and eating French fries with his exercise buddies.
God is still speaking