The Rev. Dr. Charlene Han Powell

Senior Pastor & Head of Staff

I am a second-generation Korean American, honored daughter of immigrants Wha Lim Han and Dr. Hye Kyung Kim. I am the beloved wife of my high school sweetheart, Jordan Powell, and the adoring mother of two daughters, Amelie Han Powell and Noa Han Powell.

I grew up in the East Bay, but journeyed east to study for the ministry and accept my first call. I spent ten years at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City—first as Associate Pastor, leading adult education and community groups, family ministries, and young adults; and later as Executive Pastor, overseeing the programming and administrative operations of the church. In October 2020, I was called home, and it is my honor now to serve as the Senior Pastor of First Pres.

As a pastor, my passion is helping people understand and articulate their faith in our diverse, multicultural, multifaith world. This passion informs my work on the strategy team of Next Church, the national movement that is envisioning the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA). And it is one of the guideposts of my ministry at First Pres as together we live into our mission to “love…serve…and pursue God’s restoring justice.”

Hometown
Alamo, California

Education
Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (minor in Dance), University of California San Diego
Master of Divinity, Princeton Theological Seminary
Doctor of Ministry, New York Theological Seminary

Reading
The Book of Ecclesiastes, C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

Watching
“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Office,” “The Americans”

The Rev. Tom Elson, PhD

Mission Pastor, Temporary Supply

I have had, and continue to have, an interesting and adventurous life. I was born in Kirkland, Washington, but grew up in places scattered around the United States and Mexico, including Vera Cruz, Ithaca, Sulphur Springs, Oklahoma City, and Seattle.

After serving churches in Salinas, Lindsay, and Exeter, California, I retired from pastoral ministry while continuing to teach at our community college (College of the Sequoias) in Visalia and at Cal State Fresno. Our two boys and their families live in northern California, so when the opportunity arose in 2017 to work at First Pres, Janie and I agreed that this was our time to see what living in the Bay Area would be like. We quickly came to love the church and living here, so we sold low and bought high (that’s the way to buy a house, right?) and now live in a beautiful community in Richmond.

Janie and I have been married for more than 50 years. In addition to our two sons, we have four grandsons and one granddaughter, and we love our enlarged family. I love backpacking in the Sierras, which has been life-giving for me, and the adventure of Biblical studies. Connecting with a church I have known and admired from a distance has opened me to deep wells of grace and joy, and I continue to love being a part of this community of faith and serving with its staff.

Hometown
I have lots of them! But if I had to pick just one, it would probably be Oklahoma City. I went to high school there, and it was a formative place in my growing up.

Education
Bachelor of Arts in History, Westmont College, Santa Barbara
Master of Divinity and PhD (New Testament), Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena

The Rev. Mark Stryker

Associate Pastor for Caring

My three brothers and I grew up in the Garden State—New Jersey—in a family that ran a prosperous paint and wall-covering retail store. I went to college in Virginia and did my seminary work just outside Chicago. Prior to ordination, I worked in campus ministry in the New York/New Jersey area, at Drew University, Columbia University, and New York University. I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1995 and went on to serve two large congregations, first in New Jersey and then in California.

I was the Associate Pastor for Christian Formation here at First Pres for ten years before taking over our Caring Ministries in 2020. I currently serve on the Committee for Preparation for Ministry as a member of the San Francisco Presbytery. My wife, Karin, and I have two adult children (Scott and Brendan), two cats (Luna and Checkers), and one very active Australian cattle dog (affectionately known as Savannah). We live in sunny Pleasant Hill, California.

While I remain a diehard New York Mets and New York Rangers fan, the Oakland A’s are my adopted team on the West Coast. I love going to San Jose Sharks games when they play the Rangers and sitting with all the New York fans. I enjoy long trips on the open road and any excuse to go to Montana, as well as hiking, walking the dog, and ice skating (when I can find a rink).

Hometown
Flemington, New Jersey

Education
Bachelor of Science in Religion (minor in Greek), Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia
Master of Divinity in Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois

Reading
Historical fiction (all things medieval!), medieval spirituality and mysticism, and any novel by Michael O’Brien

Music
Stevie Wonder, the rest of the 1970s, and anything Pat Metheny does!

The Rev. Michelle Vecchio-Lyzenga

Associate Pastor for Christian Formation

I was born and raised in California’s Central Valley but have long-time roots in the East Bay, where my father served as a fire captain for over three decades and my beloved, boisterous extended Italian-American family still resides. To great bewilderment of friends and family, I forsook California’s sunny skies and temperate weather to attend Calvin University in western Michigan. There, I discovered three important things: 

“Layers” do not mean the same thing outside California.
Love can find you even when you’re not looking for it.
Beware general education requirements. They just may change your life.

Graduating with degrees in English Literature and Religion, I realized that what had begun as guilty pleasure courses in biblical studies, theology, and the sociology of the church had developed into an emerging call to Christian community development and formation. I journeyed further east to pursue a Master of Divinity with a focus on Christian education and public theology.

An accidental Presbyterian and pastor, I’ve been facilitating missional spiritual formation in diverse congregational, community-based, and academic settings for over a decade. I am passionate about fostering Christian community that is radically welcoming, intellectually engaged, and socially active. This passion drew me to the First Pres Berkeley staff in 2015 before receiving a call to serve as the Associate Pastor for Christian Formation in 2021. I believe that story has the power to transform us. The great privilege and joy of my work is hearing others’ stories (preferably over a cup of coffee) and exploring the intersection of our stories and God’s through narrative teaching and preaching. 

My husband and college sweetheart, John, keeps me laughing and reminds me daily what grace looks like embodied. Together, we have the joy of parenting our son, Samuel, and our giant labrador Hildie (affectionately named after the church mother Hildegard of Bingen). After triangulating the Bay—from Martinez to San Anselmo to San Francisco—we are now enthusiastic residents of San Leandro. 

Hometown
Modesto, California

Education
Bachelors of Arts in English Literature and Religion (minor in Congregational and Ministry Studies), Calvin University
Master of Divinity, Princeton Theological Seminary

Reading
19th-century British literature, historical fiction, public theology, and cheeky (i.e. honest) spiritual formation.

Watching
Anything by Taika Waititi. That man can make me laugh and cry like no other.

Contact

Rev. Dr. Charlene Han Powell
[email protected]

Rev. Mark Stryker
[email protected]

Rev. Tom Elson
[email protected]

Rev. Michelle Vecchio-Lyzenga
[email protected]