Meet Our Staff

Rev Brad McDowell – Pastor

Rev. Brad McDowell (“Pastor Brad”) grew up in Nashville, TN. After finishing high school, he attended Duke University, where he met his wife Lisa, and he earned his B.A. in English in 2004. After Duke, Brad spent a year taking part in a fellowship through Duke’s Chapel that allowed him and three other Duke grads to explore community and ministry together.During that year, he interned at a United Methodist church, got to take some amazing trips to Mepkin Abbey, South Africa, and Taize, France, and God made Brad’s call to ministry all the more clear. Brad answered that call by enrolling at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. Brad earned his Master of Divinity and graduated in May 2008. He was ordained as a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in August 2008.


Brad lives in Wilmington with his wife, Lisa, sons Isaiah, Bennett , and daughter Clara.

Rev Courtney Hickman – Associate Pastor

Courtney joined the staff at First Christian Church in September of 2016. She received her undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2004 and her Masters from Wake Forest University Divinity School in 2008. Prior to coming to FCC she was the Director of Youth Ministries at Grace UMC in Wilmington NC, and Area Director for the Brigade Boys & Girls Club (also in Wilmington) for 3 years. Courtney was ordained, at First Christian Church on July 8th, 2018.

Courtney is originally from Wendell, NC. She is married to Bryan and they have a son, Ethan, and a daughter, Harper.  In her spare time, Courtney enjoys being outside, running, reading, and following Tar Heel athletics.,

Courtney wants to help our youth and children grow in their faith and help them discover the unique gifts God has given them so they might follow Jesus throughout their lives.


Duke Ladd – Organist

Duke Ladd has always been known for excellence in both music and entertainment.  He began piano lessons at age seven playing for family sing-alongs and worked with various bands through high school in his home town of Wilmington, NC.  At 17 he started his professional career with the Spurrlows, an established show band touring North America.  Duke was also a backup musician for country entertainer Roy Clark.  Duke, in a promise made to his family, entered college at ECU earning his music degree and subsequently attended North Texas State University for graduate work in music composition.  Upon completion of his graduate studies, Duke once again turned his attention to his professional career. 

Duke has performed in some of the nations premier hotels in cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas and Atlantic City.  During the early 1980s, in order to pursue his own composing career and start his own band, Duke made Wilmington his home.  Since then, he has been a top call musician in regional theatres, clubs, hotels, and for special events and recordings.  In the studio Duke has recorded three albums for renowned folk singer, John Golden and has recorded a jazz album with legendary saxophonist Robert Williams.  In 1989 Duke traveled to New York where he composed and recorded his own first album, Duke Ladd In Paradise

Duke has served as musical director for theatrical shows such as Guys And Dolls, The Sound of Music, Damn Yankees and Possessed: The Dracula Musical.  As a pianist, he has given outstanding performances in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The King and I, and Tommy.  Major fundraising productions continue to enlist Duke’s musical direction.  Duke has served for 3 years as the musical director for the Junior League “Follies“.  Using his talents as both a pianist and composer, Duke continues to be called upon again and again where people demand the best.


Andrew Hirst – Music Director

Andrew is a singer, composer, director and music educator from York, Maine. He received his B.M. in Vocal Music Education from the University of Maine.

For over a decade, Andrew has been performing with, and directing choruses across the country. From children’s choirs to community and barbershop choruses, he places emphasis on the joy of making music, encouraging all to join in and make a joyful noise.

As a composer, Andrew strives to make his music accessible for singers of all ages, with a style heavily influenced by a background in barbershop and contemporary choral music. He has had his music performed by choirs around the world, and in venues such as Carnegie Hall.

Andrew is SO happy to call First Christian Church of Wilmington his home, and is humbled to be a part of such a welcoming, open minded, and understanding community.

Brad Dean – Turning Point Music Director

 Brad is originally from Roanoke Rapids, NC.  He plays the drums and guitar and does vocals.  His formal drum lessons began at age nine.  Brad continues to expand his background with many different music styles, especially Christian. He is a founding member of the Uncle Hairy band. He also plays with the Duke Ladd Trio, The Other Guys and Last Word, a contemporary Christian band with his wife, Jennifer.

Brad is well known on the local music scene.  His energy and unmistakable chemistry brings a unique feel to all his music, which in turn brings a fresh new style to the music scene!  He has performed in the Pleasure Island area, Airlie Garden’s Concert Series, plus many other various locations, weddings and private functions in the Wilmington and surrounding area.  The Turning Point Band at First Christian Church under his direction did a Christmas concert at Bitty and Beau’s on a December Sunday afternoon.

 Brad feels that his talent is a gift and hopes that by sharing it with others, they too may be encouraged to seek their own personal gifts.

Brad is married to Jennifer Dean and they have two sons, Zach and Matt.

Tammy Connell – Nursery

Tammy absolutely loves all the children that come through our church.  She has always loved working with children and was a preschool teacher for 22 years.   She enjoys spending time with her family and her 5 grandboys.

She also participates in a random acts of kindness card exchange with grandparents that raise their grandchildren.

Tammy’s daily goal is to share God’s love and kindness to others.

At First Christian Church, she is a Nursery worker on Sunday mornings and special events.

Natalie Bellezza – Church Administrator

Natalie joined FCC in December 2016 as the Church Administrator. Natalie is a native New Yorker, but loves the Carolina coast lifestyle. Natalie has extensive experience in both corporate and non-profit working environments and thrives on keeping everything organized at FCC! Her previous experience includes being the Program Director for a non-profit community services agency, a Resource and Referral Specialist for a state-subsidized public service agency, and, most recently as the Program Coordinator for Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Pottstown, PA. Natalie has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and plans on pursuing her Master’s degree in Public Administration in the near future. In her free time, she and her family enjoy the beach, attending sporting events, and taking their two Poodles with them on family road trips.