Ministers and Staff

    The Rev. Angela Herrera

    Senior Minister

    Angela has served on First Unitarian’s ministry staff since 2010, and was called as our Senior Minister in September 2017.

    Angela is originally from Oregon, where she was raised in a working class neighborhood in the Willamette Valley. She writes, “In that time, the UU faith of my childhood was tested against some of society’s harder realities, and I developed an early passion for social justice, and a deep love for life and for people.” These experiences continue to inform her ministry and theology.

    “I am humanistic in the sense that I believe humans have the ultimate responsibility for what must be done in the world,” she says. “I also draw inspiration from our Judeo-Christian roots. I want not just to think about God but to experience God: in relationship with other people, in prayer, in the arts and in nature. God as love, as yearning, as the stillness, peace, or power that can erupt into the world even when it seems least likely. I also accept that there are many paths to meaning and ultimacy, some very different from mine, and I honor those.”

    Angela holds a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University. She has completed a chaplaincy internship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and a parish internship at First Parish in Concord, Massachusetts. She is the author of the Skinner House meditation manual, Reaching for the Sun, and co-creator of Lifting Our Voices: Readings in the Living Tradition.

    Angela and her husband Carlos have two grown children, and are a bilingual, bi-cultural family. When they are not at church, they can often be found biking, hiking, running, or putting green chile on things.

        The Rev. Bob LaVallee

        Associate Minister

        Before coming to First U, Bob served as a chaplain and as Interim Minister at South Valley UU Society in Salt Lake City, UT. A graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School, Bob’s first career was in non-profit management.


            Susan Peck

            Director of Music


            Susan Peck moved to Albuquerque in January 2016 to accept the position of Director of Music. She has been a Unitarian Universalist music professional since 1997, serving as music director in three congregations in Oregon. Susan has been an active member of the UU Musicians Network since 2000, serving on the UUMN board of directors in several roles. She was the Music Coordinator for UUA General Assembly in 2015 (Portland) and 2016 (Columbus). Her background includes piano and voice studies, teaching privately and in college classrooms, songwriting, arranging, performing and directing opera, choral music, music theatre, cabaret, and a few rock bands. Susan recently joined the New Mexico Women’s Chorus as Associate Director.

                Mia Noren

                Director of Religious Education


                Mia came to Albuquerque with her family in 2009, and she and her husband Skip have been members of First Unitarian since 2010. Following careers in banking and museum administration, Mia has held a number of positions at First Unitarian, allowing her a unique perspective on church operations. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA and was awarded the UUA’s Religious Educator Credential in 2019. She is also serving our District as the Chair-Elect of the MDD Liberal Religious Educator’s Association (LREDA).

                    Laira Magnusson

                    Director of Membership & Communications


                    Laira joined the staff of First Unitarian in January 2015 as the Church Administrator. In the fall of 2018 she moved into the Communications Coordinator position, and in September 2019 she became First U’s Director of Membership and Communications. With a background in arts administration, PR, and volunteer management, the combination of these two portfolios is a perfect fit for her. Laira received her BA in Fine Arts from the University of New Mexico in 1997 with an emphasis on theatre and still acts in community theatre productions (when she has the time!) She and her husband Blake are church members and have three delightful children: Shane, Miranda, and Esme.

                        Cherri Japhe

                        Director of Finance & Operations


                        Cherri moved to Albuquerque in 2016, following a 40+-year career in Real Estate, Finance,  Audit, Forensic Accounting, Risk Control, and Regulatory Compliance. She is a Certified Fraud Examiner, Certified in Information Systems Audit, and Certified in Information Systems Risk and Control.  Cherri was born and raised in Central California, but moved throughout the United States during her 23-year career with a multi-national energy company. Her posts took her to Houston, Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland, and Frederick, MD. Her last post was in Durango, Colorado, where she and her husband fell in love with the Albuquerque area.  While not a member of the First Unitarian congregation, Cherri and her husband Jon’s beliefs and convictions are in line with those in practice by the church, and both look forward to taking a more active role in church volunteer activities. Cherri and Jon live on Albuquerque’s west side with their four cats.

                            Jess Bess

                            Church Administrator


                            Jess Bess is an Albuquerque native with a BA in Communication from UNM. As a creativity-inclined professional with 10 years of experience in specialized customer service and the non-profit sector, she feels confident in her ability to perform as your congregation’s Church Administrator. Jess loves to travel, cook, write, participate in social activism, learn new languages, and take her two dogs on long walks. As a life-long student with a passion for learning, she plans to further her studies in ASL, Marketing, and Environmental & Human Rights Law. Should you ever require a helping hand, you’ll find hers outstretched.


                                Phillip Robinson



                                Phillip Robinson has over eleven years of experience in business and accounting. This experience includes non-profit, healthcare, school finance, and public accounting organizations. He received a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree from UNM and an MBA from New Mexico Highlands University. Phillip enjoys the outdoors and has a passion for New Mexico, with ancestral roots dating back over 200 years. Phillip is married with two adorable dogs. They love traveling and visiting new places together.


                                    Beth Welt

                                    Associate Accountant


                                    Beth Welt is an Albuquerque native who has spent the years of her working life primarily in non-profit management, with a strong draw to creative pursuits. She has worked with diverse populations of people ranging in age from elementary aged children to seniors; in locations from the desert pueblos of the Jemez mountains to Explora! Science Center & Children’s Museum; and,most recently, a local program teaching visual and performing arts to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has worked as an archaeological field tech, theater director and stage manager, after-school program educator, informal science educator, volunteer coordinator, and quality assurance manager – to name a few! She holds her BA in Anthropology, concentration Archaelogy with a minor in Theater Arts.  While not a member of the congregation here at First Unitarian, Beth’s philosophies are in line with those in practice by the church: she is an ally and advocate, and is pleased to be in service here. Beth and her husband Ray live on Albuquerque’s west side with daughter Maddie and son Nicholas.

                                        Alana Rodriguez

                                        Youth Programs Coordinator & RE Assistant


                                        Alana grew up in Albuquerque and became a member of First Unitarian in 2013. About a year later, she was hired as the Religious Education Administrative Assistant. Since then she has evolved in the position, becoming involved our UU Kids Camp as part of the leadership team. In September 2019, she took over the role of Youth Programs Coordinator. She graduated from Central New Mexico Community College with a degree in Early Childhood Multicultural Education with a Program Administration concentration in May 2020 and was accepted into the College of Education at the University of New Mexico. Alana and her husband Patrick have a wonderfully blended family with three children: Alex, Alyssa and Mariah. They’re also the proud and doting grandparents to Alyssa’s son, Blake.

                                        • Tel:

                                          Arianna Coriz

                                          Religious Education Aide


                                          Arianna serves as a support for the Religious Education Department. You will often see her rushing supplies from building to building for the various elementary, youth, recreation/volunteer, and young adult programs we offer. When not at church, Arianna has an additional full-time position as a case manager for a technology company in Rio Rancho– her hometown. Outside of that, Ari can also be found cuddling her new baby, in the garden, and near water. Her latest passion is figuring out what to pursue for her Master’s degree. She received her BS in Family and Child Science from New Mexico State University in 2016. Arianna finds great joy in deciphering human ecology.

                                              Chris Paul

                                              Technical Arts Director


                                              Chris is a long-time church member who met his wife Valerie while part of FUUN, a First U singles group. Valerie is the professor of flute at UNM and the endowed chair of flute in the New Mexico Philharmonic. Chris has worked in film, video and television production for 35 years and runs his own company. His work includes documentaries on behavioral health, water conservation, and homelessness. He also edited the long-running New Mexico documentary series “Cavalcade of Enchantment.” He has twice won the Life in New Mexico award for editing and recently won the Adobe Creative Jam. His son Liam attends UNM and is active in state politics. He is very excited about what he can bring to the congregation in the new position of Technical Arts Director!

                                                  Gabriel Longuinhos

                                                  Church Pianist

                                                  A native of Brazil, Gabriel Longuinhos began learning the piano in 2005 at the age of 17 in his hometown of Santos, Brazil, where he performed in his first recitals. He earned his B.A. from the University of Campinas in 2012 under the guidance of renowned Brazilian pianist Maria José Carrasqueira; he also worked as the resident vocal pianist, a position which he held for two years, playing in the studios of Profs. Adriana Kayama and Luciano Simões. In the interim, he performed in numerous concerts, including a solo recital in the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture (MuBE) as well as a voice and piano recital with Dr. Simões, both in São Paulo city. As of 2017, Gabriel has finished a dual Master’s degree in Collaborative and Solo Piano under Juilliard alumna Pamela Pyle, during which he held an assistantship as a resident collaborative pianist, working intensely with the great chamber, vocal and solo piano literature; he was also a recipient of the Friends of Music scholarship. Gabriel was part of the NM New Music contemporary music ensemble for two years and worked as a collaborative pianist at the New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


                                                    2 Responses

                                                    1. Chalice Singer Bass Dean Strassburger says:

                                                      Jane Davis – Your February 24 sermon on interdependence was powerful and personally hit home. I took notes and have reflected upon them several times; will do so more. Thank you for sharing your story and for giving me good ideas how I can personally better contribute to the world. It was heartening to hear how your career change has brought you more peace in your life. Thank you for sharing a most positive self-examination and for sharing it with us.

                                                    2. Anonymous says:

                                                      Really enjoyed my visit with this vibrant congregation. I’m bringing some good ideas home to our UU church in New Braunfels, Texas. I especially loved the music and the natural nature of the various presenters. – and the humor. Also enjoyed the Explorations class on Emerson.
                                                      Mary Hitch (husband was in the Senior Games)

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