Aki Amai, Organist
JoJo Bernardo, Security Custodian
Gina Esguerra, Security Custodian
Jeff Kunkel was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was a salesman, his mother a nurse. His many relatives included farmers, preachers, teachers, and business owners. As a child, he attended the Evangelical United Brethren Church, where he learned the stories and songs of the faith. As a teen, he left the church, convinced that church was for kids and old people and that God was for other people.
The many fine storytellers in his family gave Jeff an interest in story and writing, and he became an English major at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Not long before graduating, he had an unexpected spiritual awakening and God's presence became real to him. This began his conscious relationship with God and rearranged his thinking and his life. He attended and graduated from Garrett- Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, where he learned the breadth and depth of the scriptures and tradition, and where his faith and call to be a pastor took shape. He was first ordained in the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church but soon transferred to the California-Nevada Conference in 1979 and began serving at Shoreview UMC in San Mateo, California, where he became familiar with life on the peninsula and with many folks at Burlingame UMC. In 1984, he married Mary Ellyn Bahlert, who was just graduating from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.
Jeff's early experiences as pastor included leading congregations through many challenges, such as bridging multicultural divides at Shoreview UMC, funding and building a new sanctuary at Lynnewood UMC in Pleasanton, leading staff as Senior Pastor at First UMC in San Leandro, and collaborating as co-pastor with his wife at First UMC in Tracy. His interest and gifts in leading congregations through change led him to be one of the first in our denomination to seek specialized training as a transitional-interim pastor.
In that role for the last ten years, he has helped six Bay Area congregations — large and small, United Methodist and Presbyterian — move through such transitions as the loss of a beloved pastor, pastoral misconduct, articulating identity and vision, and resolving congregational conflict. Jeff brings a seasoned trust in God's goodness, a calm presence, a lively imagination, a collaborative spirit, and a sense of humor to all that he does. His first prayer each morning begins, "Thank you God for this most amazing day. I turn my will and life over to your care. Help me be present to all that you bring into my life today." He agrees with the poet, Robert Frost, who wrote, "Earth's the right place for love. I don't know where it's likely to go better."
Jeff is an engaging preacher, writer, and artist. After creating a thoughtful sermon outline, he tears it up, preaches without aids, and keeps his attention on the people and the Spirit. He has published two collections of short stories, four picture books for children, two books of Alaska history, and many stories, articles, and sermons. He has curated several museum exhibitions, studied drawing and painting at California College of the Arts in Oakland during a sabbatical year, and occasionally exhibited his own artwork. He also loves being with children, singing, cooking, and gardening. Learn more about Jeff's literary work on his website: jeffkunkel.org.
Jeff and Mary Elyn have lived in Oakland for sixteen years and been married for 27 years. Mary Elyn is in her fourteenth year as pastor of Lake Merritt UMC in Oakland.
Director Contemporary Music, Worship Leader
Born in Luzerne, Switzerland in 1957 Ursula was raised in Millbrae, CA. and was the third of what would become a family of seven children. A graduate of Mills High School, Ursula attended the Bryman School and was employed as a Medical Assistant before accepting a position at Peninsula Hospitals Radiology department. She married in 1980 and had the first of her three children in 1982. Shortly thereafter, Ursula left the work force to devote herself to raising her children. When her children started school full- time she went back to school to study floral design and became an accomplished floral designer running Morninglory Floral Design. Surprise! In 1991 baby #3 came along. 7 years later... the obligations of driving to soccer games, piano and guitar lessons, serving as PTA president, keeping house, managing her husbands business and running a floral business was rewarding but demanding. In 1998 with her children all in school and on their way, Ursula decided to re-enter the work force. Her timing was perfect, as the position of Office Manager at BUMC had just opened. Her application was accepted and Ursula began a new career that has evolved into a ministry.
Like many of her generation, Ursula's spiritual journey began as a child, attending weekly Sunday School at both Lutheran and Methodist Churches. After leaving the church in her 20's although never loosing sight of God's presence, she renewed her faith as she began to attend BUMC in 1991. At first Ursula came primarily to give her children the same experience she had as a child. But God had other plans and Ursula found herself becoming more committed to her church as God took center stage in her life. Ursula served as a Stephen Minister, completed the Disciple I and II in-depth Bible study program, taught Sunday School for several years, served on the Missions team, Church and Society teams, Council on Ministries, Vision Board and currently serves on the Church Council and the Finance Team.
After almost 14 years at BUMC, Ursula finds her job rewarding and challenging.
Ursula and Kevin just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary. Son Matthew is 29, and daughters Danielle and Hailey are 27 and 20 respectively. They are the joys of her life. Others joys include biking, gardening, and spending time with Kevin.
Aki was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, where she began studying music at the early age of four taught by her mother, a piano teacher. She attended Santa Barbara City College and met her husband there in a World Music class. After earning her A. A. degree, she transferred to San Francisco Conservatory of Music for a B.M degree. Since graduating, Aki has deeply rooted herself within the Bay Area as a piano teacher, performer, accompanist, and organist. Aside from working for local schools & churches, she also occasionally performs as a swing accordionist in a jazz band with her husband.
In 2013, Aki welcomed her first baby daughter Olina (which means "joyous" in Hawaiian). Like her name, Olina is bringing so much joy to her life. And since Aki started working at BUMC, she is studying organ with Angela Cross Kraft, to refine and develop her musicianship skills further and continue to grow.