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Pastor/Head of Staff

Reverend Bruce Ballantine

Rev. Bruce Ballantine began serving as the Interim Pastor of First Presbyterian Church April 1, 2017. Prior to coming to Ridgewood, he has served as an installed or interim pastor in Oakmont and Burgettstown, PA; Weirton, WV; Wellsville, Youngstown and Wooster, OH; and most recently, in Morrisville, PA.


Bruce has sensed in recent years that God has called him to specialize in interim ministry. In his own words, “I believe God has wired me to be an Interim Pastor. I am energized by meeting new people, entering into new situations and meeting new challenges. I enjoy working with congregations during seasons of change, and I look forward to working with and serving the members and friends of First Pres!”

As Bruce begins his service to First Presbyterian Church, it is the fifth time he has served as an Interim Pastor. In February 2020, Bruce was called to become a full time Pastor/Head of Staff at First Pres.

He is a graduate of Grove City College, Grove City, PA, and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. His experience within the Presbyterian Church (USA) includes ordination as a Deacon and Elder (prior to entering seminary); serving as the Pittsburgh Presbytery 1992 World Mission Intern in Zomba, Malawi; serving as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate to the 1993 General Assembly; as well as service on a number of presbytery committees and commissions.  Prior to entering ministry, Bruce worked as a reporter-photographer for a small newspaper; as a portrait photographer for a pictorial church directory company; and as a sales representative, sales manager and branch manager for an insurance company.

He spends his free time working out and walking; hiking, canoeing and kayaking; and reading fiction and non-fiction. His favorite authors include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eugene Peterson, Frederick Buechner, Anne Lamott, Philip Yancey, Ann Weems, Barbara Brown Taylor, Barbara Kingsolver, Edwidge Danticat, Michael Connelly and John Grisham.

Administrative Manager:

Dana Feeney

Dana has been the Administrative Manager since 2012.  All roads led her to this position as she received her B.A. in Communications and a Public Relations Minor and is a graduate of Kutztown University.  She was a Meeting Planner in the tri-state area for 12 years and traveled a great deal.  She is the face and voice of the Church Office.  She manages the daily flow of the church during the week and works closely with the many committees of the Church, First Presbyterian Church Nursery School and Session.


Dana is an active member, wife of Mike and mom to Collin and Hudson.  She loves working in the community in which she lives.  She values the impact our church has on the surrounding needs of many organizations.  She loves to run, cook, and write when she is not attending sporting events involving her sons. 


Tom Carozza

Tom joined First Pres in March of 2017.  Tom is originally from Washington Heights, NY and moved to West MIlford NJ in 1969.  Tom has lived in the area since then. He worked in the construction industry for most of his career before he retired and has found work after retirement as our church caretaker.  Tom brings fresh ideas and a burst of energy to our church.  We are happy to have him as part of our team!

Director of Children & Family Ministries:

MaryEllen Castaldo

MaryEllen Castaldo attended Bergen Community College, majoring in Early Elementary Education; she served as Director of Children and Family Ministries at First Pres from 2002 to 2011; and she worked at Montessori Learning Center in Ridgewood as a teacher from  2013 to 2018.  She and her husband Peter live in Hawthorne. They have two sons, and a grandson who will be joined by a sister in October of 2018. Her passion is teaching and working with children of all ages.  Her pastimes include art, cooking, baking, reading and spending time with friends and family. Regarding her return to First Pres, MaryEllen says, “Working with children has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.  Though I enjoyed my time as a teacher in a classroom setting, I felt God wanted me to change my course and return to ‘my roots’ in the church. God directs our steps, if we trust in Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). God’s call was an answered prayer.   Working as Director of Children and Family Ministries brought me tremendous joy not only to be part of a great ministry, but I was among a warm and wonderful community of people. The church family at First Pres helped to grow my faith to new levels by their love and support and their unity in Christ. In teaching God’s word, I plan to encourage the children by helping to make learning exciting, inviting and fun, emphasizing the importance of the message and leading them to know, love and serve Jesus Christ.  I bring to the church a deep faith and commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ. I am looking forward to serving, to sharing the gospel and to glorifying God. “

Youth Leader

Jessica Strader

Baptized and Confirmed in our church, Jessica has been leading the high school youth group since early 2012.  She has a Bachelor's of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Boston University and currently works full time in the lighting industry.   At 13, Jessica became the youngest Deacon in the history of our church and the youngest Elder at 24.  She currently is Chair of Christian Education, fulfilling her second term on Session, and a member of the Transition Team, searching for an Interim Pastor.

Able to relate to the tumultuous time of being a teenager, struggling with classes, peer relationships and conflicts, college applications, and parents, she has dedicated her time to being a leader to the youth.  Jessica holds Youth Group every week after worship in the church Minnema Room, allowing the high schoolers to have a safe, judgement free place to talk about school, life, family, and God.  No topic is off limits and no prayer is too big for God.  

Director of Music:

Dr. Edward Schmiedecke

Dr. Edward Schmiedecke received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in choral conducting and music education from Florida State University and the University of South Florida, and his Doctorate in vocal performance from the University of Miami. As an educator, Dr. Schmiedecke serves as chairman of the Governing Committee of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Master Teacher Collaborative and has served on the executive board of the New Jersey Music Administrators Association. He was a member of the New Jersey Department of Education team which developed and wrote the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for Fine, Visual and Performing Arts Frameworks. He has taught on the faculties of Barry University, William Paterson University, the University of Miami, and is a guest lecturer at New Jersey City University.


For seventeen years, Dr. Schmiedecke was Director of Music at Emmanuel Church in Ridgewood, and during that time led the Chancel Choir in a variety of works from diverse musical periods, earning the choir a reputation for musical excellence and superior choral singing. Dr. Schmiedecke has also served as Director of Music at First Presbyterian Church in Las Vegas, Miami Springs Presbyterian Church in Miami, and Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, Florida.  A mainstay in the musical life of New Jersey for the past twenty years, Dr. Schmiedecke recently retired from his position as Supervisor of Music, Dance, Visual and Applied Arts for the Ridgewood public school system. As a judge/adjudicator and clinician for Performing Arts Consultants, he works with choirs from all over the United States, and has been invited to present choral clinics and conduct festival choirs in Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Wisconsin by the American Choral Directors Association and the Music Educators National Conference (MENC).


Linda Sweetman Waters

Linda Sweetman Waters’ keyboard talents have provided her with a multi-faceted career as a piano soloist, chamber musician, accompanist and organist. She has performed in New York City at Carnegie Hall, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Weill Recital Hall, Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium, Merkin Hall and WQXR’s “Listening Room.”  Linda has also performed as guest soloist with the North Jersey Philharmonic and the Williamsburg Symphonia in Williamsburg, Virginia. She has been guest artist with the Ridgewood Symphony and premiered the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra which was composed for her by Richard Lane. She was guest soloist with the Tianjin Symphony Orchestra in China and performed at the White House and the National Gallery of Art in DC.  She performed in Vienna at The International Haydn Festival,in the famed  Musikverein and in Beijing at the Forbidden City Concert Hall and in Shanghai at the Oriental Arts Center in celebration of the XXIX Olympiad. Linda is an alumna of Die Akadamie  Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna, Austria and a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University. In addition to her music studio, she has served as an adjunct faculty member at William Paterson University. She is presently the pianist\organist for both the New Jersey Choral Society and the Connecticut Chorale Society. For a number of years, Linda served as Organist at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Ridgewood. Regarding her new position at First Pres, she says, “I am excited about joining the staff at First Presbyterian. I have been an organist for many years and committed to the church. A few years ago, I felt the necessity to take a break and worship with my husband, Don, as I pursued my career.  The presence of God in our lives is of upmost importance to us, as is a consistency in our worship. That time together was important.  However, when the opening became available at First Pres, Ed called me to sub and I was available. As I arrived each Sunday, I felt more and more that God was calling me to get back on the bench at First Pres. Also, First Presbyterian has a wonderful organ and piano to enhance worship. Finally, I worked with Ed and Carol for 10 years at Emmanuel, and it feels good to come full circle and work with them again! Looking forward to the year ahead.”

Handbells/Youth Music Director:

Carol Andrews Schmiedecke

Before coming to First Presbyterian, Ridgewood, mezzo-soprano Carol Andrews Schmiedecke served as alto soloist at Emmanuel Baptist Church for 14 years and has also served as church soloist and choir section leader at First Presbyterian Church in Miami, Florida, Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, Florida and for many other denominations in New York, New Jersey, Florida and Nevada. She has lead workshops and masterclasses in Solo Singing for the Church at the Fellowship of American Baptist Musicians conference in Greenlake, Wisconsin, and is an avid handbell enthusiast, having studied handbell conducting and ringing technique with Kathleen Ebling-Shaw at Westminster Choir College.


A professional performer since the age of 16, she has studied and worked with some of the most distinguished names in opera and on Broadway.  She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and appeared there professionally in the national companies of Mame, Sweet Charity and Fiddler On the Roof.  Mrs. Schmiedecke also holds a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Miami where she was also a leading singer with the Greater Miami Opera company.  Other classical appearances include concerts with the Miami Philharmonic, the AIMS Orchestra in Graz, Austria, Miami Beach Symphony, Las Vegas Philharmonic, and leading roles with Opera Delaware, Palm Beach Opera, Opera Northeast, DiCapo Opera Theater, the New York City Opera, and the Manhattan Philharmonic, with whom she made her Carnegie Hall debut during that venue’s 100th anniversary. As a professional stage director, she has directed and supervised productions across the northeast and for DiCapo Opera, the Ridgewood Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company and Opera at Florham, among others.  


Mrs. Schmiedecke recently retired as Music Specialist for Allendale public schools where her special programs, concerts and innovative teaching style earned the district national honors as one of the “100 Best Districts for Music Education in the United States” as recognized by the NAMM Foundation, and a nomination for Disney Teacher of the Year in Music.  Carol was formerly Professor of Voice at Barry University in Miami and now maintains a private vocal studio in Allendale where she is deeply committed to providing a positive performing experience to each of her students in a positive, encouraging and secure atmosphere.

Director Weekday Nursery School

Julia Bolt

Julia is honored to serve as the Director of First Presbyterian Church Nursery School. Deeply rooted in the community as both a Ridgewood native and former Ridgewood Public School teacher, Julia strives to ensure children are at the center of learning at First Presbyterian Church Nursery School.

Interacting with children has always been a huge part of her life. After receiving an undergraduate degree from William Paterson University with a BA in Elementary Education, Julia immediately went on to teach First Grade at Willard Elementary School in Ridgewood.  For the past thirty-four years, twenty-six of which have been right here at First Pres., Julia has continued fulfilling her joy of teaching.

She is excited to continue on this adventure, looking forward to partnering with parents and children to ensure a rewarding First Pres. experience.

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