Pastors & Staff
Lead Pastor — Mark Sturgess
Rev. Mark F. Sturgess is the son of Presbyterian preacher, raised in the small church tradition of rural Missouri. Mark graduated from Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, where he received Bachelor degrees in Computer Studies (B.A.) and Pipe Organ Performance (B.M.). At Northwestern, Mark specialized in 19th and early 20th century French organ repertoire and period keyboard technique of the Baroque era. Mark has appeared in recital at the RLDS Auditorium, Independence Missouri, Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago, Christ Church Cathedral of St. Louis, and for the mid-Missouri chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Mark is a singer—bass baritone—and has been a devoted member of the Camerata Singers of Long Beach for over a decade. After graduating Northwestern in 1991, Mark was hired by a Chicago based consulting firm and was promptly transferred to Southern California. Mark’s first career was in database design and systems analysis for major manufacturing companies. In 2002, Mark was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in June 2014 was admitted as a full Elder in California-Pacific Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Rev. Sturgess served as associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Torrance, CA for six years, and as Sr. Pastor of Riviera United Methodist Church of Redondo Beach, CA from 2008-2016. Mark's gifts and passions for ministry include preaching, teaching, and worship; coaching congregations to spiritual vitality and wholeness; advocacy for the full inclusion of all in the life of the church; post-modern biblical interpretation; and advocacy for full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in the life of the church.
Pastor of NEW Ministries — Melinda Teter Dodge
With a passion for Christian ministry with today’s young people and families, the Rev. Melinda Dodge has served the Los Altos United Methodist Church under appointment since July 2011. She has a heart for welcoming all of God’s people into relevant ministries that empower gifts and nurture spirituality. Previously, Melinda was the founding Executive Director for The Work of Angels Group, a 501(c)3 serving transitional-aged foster youth; the Community Youth Pastor for the First United Methodist Church of Canoga Park and the Director of Youth
Ministries for both the Atascadero and Westwood United Methodist
Churches. Additionally, Melinda has worked in international theatre and
opera production on all sides: administrative, creative/productive and
technical. She has experience onstage with the Los Angeles Opera, San
Francisco Opera and Houston Grand Opera, among others, producing
well over 350 performances of some 70+ operas. Melinda holds a Master
of Divinity from the Claremont School of Theology and a Master of Arts
in Theatre from the University of Michigan. She resides in Long Beach
with her husband, the Rev. Johan Dodge, and two children. She is fond
of a good cup of coffee, yoga, baking, and is always up for an adventure!
Church Administrator — Lee coduti
Lee Coduti serves as Church Administrator. Lee brings to us over 20 years of administrative, artistic, budgeting, project management, communications, social media and marketing experience. As the Executive Director of the Southern California Brass Consortium, he helped build the organization (a 501(c)(3)) from the ground up. Mr. Coduti also has a multi-faceted career as a performer, vocal coach, mentor, musicologist, and is a nationally published arranger and orchestrator. Mr. Coduti was a member of the Opera Pacific Chorus for 17 seasons, performed with the Pacific Chorale for 14 years, and served as Musical Assistant to Artistic Director, John Alexander. He earned his B.A. in music from Cal State Fullerton and his M.A. in Musicology from Cal State Long Beach.
Family Ministry assistant – maribel gordon
Maribel was born in Mexico City and raised in Southern California. She attended Citrus College and is fluent in Spanish, both verbal and written. She was a recreational leader at St. Frances Catholic school in Azusa, CA. She has also been involved in her community as a liaison between parents and schools and linked families to benefits and resources. While working for Pacific Clinics, she managed cases for mentally-ill adults and helped with their reaching independence by gaining education and job placement.
director of caring ministries and membership care —
Florence was raised in the small town of Paw Paw, Michigan. While in high school she became an active member of the local Methodist youth group. She participated in many activities and helped fundraise for the summer youth trip at the Redbird Mission in Kentucky. Florence graduated from Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. She has over thirty-five years of experience with diverse populations such as: The Greystone Foundation (group homes for adult severely autistic men ages 35-60), The Beacon Hill Friends House (summer manager for an Intentional Quaker Community), Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center (formerly known as the New Hampshire School for the Deaf), The Menninger Foundation (Psychiatric Hospital and School), Willoughby Group Home for severely autistic teenagers, Kennedy Memorial Children's Hospital (as a Inpatient Milieu Counselor for 2-9 year-old emotionally and physically abused children ), and Department of Aging/Senior Care (working with at-home seniors placing services in the home and later as a Supervisor for the Case Managers). At night she also pursued a Master's degree in Organizational Communication. During the weekends, she square danced at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she met her husband, Douglas E. Ferguson. They now live in Cypress, California and have two daughters, Schylar and Landry. Over the years, Florence has taught Sunday school, been the Director of Vacation Bible School and been a Girl Scout Leader for Daisies, Brownies, Junior, Cadets, and Senior Girl Scouts. In her free time she likes to read, do crafts, swim, and knit/crochet. As Director of Caring Ministries and Membership Care, she oversees the five small group caring ministries of our Los Altos UMC family. Florence visits our homebound and hospitalized members. She also delivers donated chancel flowers when they are available
Director of CHORAL Music — joshua palkki
Dr. Joshua Palkki joined Los Altos UMC as our Director of Choral Music in 2019. Josh is currently the Assistant Professor of Vocal/Choral Music Education at Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at California State University, Long Beach, where he leads the University Choir, teaches courses in music education (including choral repertoire and pedagogy), interfaces with the College of Education, and mentors graduate students in music education. He received his B.S. from Ball State University in Muncie, IN, his master's degree in choral conducting from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ, and his PhD in Music Education (Choral Conducting cognate) from Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI. Josh is passionate about teacher education and preparing preservice teachers to be competent and caring teachers with the knowledge and skills to address issues of social justice through music education. He currently serves as LGBTQ Perspectives Repertoire and Resources Chair for the California Choral Directors Association (CCDA) and Artist-in-Residence with South Bay Children's Choir in Torrance, CA. We look forward to having Josh lead our Sanctuary Choir and coordinate choral events here at Los Altos UMC.
Organist/Principal Pianist — Derek Gordon
Derek Gordon, Organist/Harpsichordist/Pianist, holds degrees from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and Oberlin College. He won several performance competitions including: the American Guild of Organists (Chicago), the Society of American Musicicians (Chicago), and the King’s Choirliers in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has accompanied services at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, and in the Chapel at St. Francis of Assisi. Other international performance venues include recitals on Holland’s F.C. Schnitger organ in Alkmaar, the renowned Müller organ at St. Bavo in Haarlem, the Willis organ in Winchester Cathedral, the Arp Schnitger organ at St. Jacobi in Hamburg, and the Hill organ at the Sydney Town Hall in Australia. Derek is curator/organist of the historic Wm. B.D. Simmons organ in Long Beach. Built in Boston in 1852, and sent by ship around Cape Horn to San Francisco, it was California’s first pipe-organ. In 1977, the instrument was renovated and moved to Los Altos United Methodist Church. The Simmons instrument is featured on Derek’s CD with Arkay Records, Sunday Masterworks, available at Amazon. The program features the organ in a variety of liturgical settings, including anthems with the church’s Sanctuary Choir, and an assortment of literature spanning 400 years. Derek is also a vocal/choral accompanist at Cerritos College, and at Rio Hondo College in Whittier.
Director of Handbells – Debbie Shaw
As Director of Handbell Ensembles, Debbie oversees four handbell groups at LAUMC. These groups include the Carillon Ringers, an adult & youth handbell choir, Exultation! an advanced level small ensemble, Jubilation! a beginning children’s handbell choir, and new this year Agape Bells, a small group of ringers who bring handbell music to the homebound of the church. Debbie has been involved in handbells since 1977, has been a member of several community based handbell groups including; Pacific Bells, South Coast Handbell Ensemble, and worked to found L.A. Bronze Handbell Ensemble. These experiences have provided the opportunity to ring bells with the William Hall Master Chorale, Pacific Chorale, the Pasadena Symphony, at Knott’s Berry Farm, and at the San Diego Zoo. She had the privilege of ringing under the baton of Maestro David Davidson, Dr. William Payn, Fred Gramann, and Tim Waugh. Debbie served on the Board of Directors of Area 12 in the Handbell Musicians of America as the LA Metro Regional Coordinator, and Events Director where she coordinated the educational conferences and training workshops in California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Guam. Debbie has earned two associates degrees from Long Beach City College, and is currently working on completing her B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Phoenix. She owns a small handcrafting business Three Hounds Crafts. Debbie is married to John, and they have an adult daughter, Shannon who also rings bells. As time permits Debbie enjoys her
three dogs, a good book, sewing, crochet, and most things Disney.
worship band leader — emilio tello
Emilio was born and raised in Southern California. His faith journey has included 11 years at a Lutheran school, 4 years at a Catholic school, international Nondenominational Christian missionary work, and involvement with the United Methodist church for the past 5 years. He completed his Bachelor of Arts in Music from CSULB with a primary emphasis on voice and a secondary emphasis on cultural anthropology. Emilio has been playing in and leading bands for the past 12 years as a guitarist and vocalist in styles ranging from jazz to classical, and pop to blues. Outside of Los Altos UMC, his work includes recording, performing, and teaching locally. When not working, he most enjoys outdoor activities like camping and hiking.
preschool director – wendy FLINT
Wendy has served as the preschool director at Los Altos UMC since 2008. She has 36 ECE units, a Certificate in ECE and nine Adult Administration units. She spent six years teaching ages 1-4, two years as a private nanny, one year as a Kindergarten teacher, and one and a half years as an Assistant Director. Wendy has an amazing mom and dad; and three brothers that she enjoys spending time with! She was born and raised in this great city of Long Beach. She enjoys watching movies, traveling the world, creating new ideas, organizing things and taking pictures!