Dearest Church Family,
Back in March of 2020, I gave my very first Children’s Message on Zoom. I wore a big, floppy hat and talked about how things would be “different for a while.” Who knew that the “a while” time would stretch on for 16 months.
I wonder how you felt then and how you may feel now. About 4 weeks ago, I will admit that I was feeling so tired…exhausted, and weary from doing things differently than what I would have preferred. I have really missed hugs, in-person conversations, and all of the beautiful and interactive moments of theological brilliance that come from our children at UCC.
I remembered something that I shared about 3 years ago and thought this might be a good time to share it again. Back in November of 2018, during the Time for Children, a young friend wondered so thoughtfully, and her parent agreed to let me share her beautiful words:
“I wonder if God is like the air around us.
God is with us everywhere we go.
And since God is love, love is all around us.
Love is what we breathe in and out.
And even when we have to hold our breath,
That air – God – love – is what fills our lungs.
We breathe in the love of God.
And as we exhale, that love will spread out into the world.
"How can we remain tired when we breathe God’s love in and out? While we have been apart, we have still been breathing. We breathed together on Zoom and through Facebook. We breathed in connections through phone calls and emails and texts and hand-written cards. This time of being “different for a while” didn’t mean we stopped breathing. It certainly didn’t mean we stopped connecting.
Children are tender, thoughtful, and inspired theologians and philosophers. What incredibly beautiful connections they make about God and the world. I am grateful beyond words for the privilege and honor of working with such important people.
As we begin to come back together for in-person opportunities, let us remember to keep breathing, friends.
With love, always,
Emily Jamison Guerrero
On May 18th, at our executive council meeting, the recommendations for In-Person practices were approved! What does this mean? Well, it means our church doors are going to start opening more and more for various activities, including hybrid worship in July.
On Sunday, June 13th, we will have a zoom town hall meeting after worship, where we will hold space for anyone to ask questions about our coming together in-person plan. While a lot is packed into one plan, we thought we would take the time to highlight 3 specific things that were included, based on feedback from the congregational survey.
1) Masks. Inside the building, those over 2 years of age and without a precluding medical condition will be asked to wear a mask that covers the mouth and nose. Masks will be provided for those without. One fully vaccinated worship leader at a time may remove their mask when speaking (or singing) on the chancel but must put it back on when not speaking or singing.
2) Children and youth volunteers. Any volunteers working with youth and children must be fully vaccinated. If you are not fully vaccinated but want to volunteer with children or youth, we will be happy to find other ways that you can contribute that don’t involve contact with children.
3) Seating. Pews will be temporarily moved out of the sanctuary to allow for better social distancing. As a temporary solution for seating, we will use our metal folding chairs and the blue choir chairs. We ask that the blue choir chairs be reserved for those with mobility issues. Households will be asked to leave two empty chairs on either side of their household. Up to 50 worshippers may sit in the sanctuary, additional seating can be provided in the fellowship hall if needed.
To take a look at the full recommendations for returning safely to in person worship, go to https://www.uccaustin.org/indoorworship.html. We look forward to discussing this in more detail during our town hall meeting on the 13th.
A Poem for Trinity Sunday by Pat Bennett
God be the road on which you travel:
She the mountains
on which you are tested and challenged
He the wells
at which you find healing and peace.
Christ be the light by which you travel:
He the vision
which informs and enlarges you
He the lodestar
shining in your darkest nights.
The Spirit inspire you as you travel:
She the restlessness
driving you onwards
She the stillness
leading you to the heart of God.
The Trinity, the Three,
go with you as you travel;
and may your journey
in the One.
Such. EXCITING. News! First and foremost, we have a tentative date and plan for us COMING TOGETHER AGAIN IN THE SANCTUARY AT 3500 W. PARMER LANE!!!! Your In-Person Team listened to you in the recent survey, the CDC documents, guidance from our denominations, and developed a plan that was presented to the Executive Committee on Tuesday night. That plan was approved!
We will need the next month to install and test our hybrid equipment as well as finish out some of our virtual worship plans. The 8:30 AM outdoor worship will remain as-is for the foreseeable future. Our 10 AM service will continue to be streamed online, however, it will be broadcast live from our sanctuary beginning in July -- the first Sunday being the 4th of July! That means that in short, worshippers who are masked and socially distant will be welcome to our indoor hybrid worship service in person.
I’m sure you have a lot of questions about all the details, and there are a lot. Your team and Executive Committee has thought through them all. They will be published very soon and we will also have town halls ahead of our June 27th congregational meeting where you can ask all of your questions.
Another equally exciting piece of news is that your Executive Committee voted to sponsor Meghan Trout as she goes through the process to become a licensed minister in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ!!! As many of you know, Meghan has been working on her Masters’ Degree this year and discerning her call to ministry. So start practice saying the name “Pastor Meghan” because it’s a name I think you’ll be using in the near future! Please congratulate Meghan in this exciting new step in her vocation.
There are so many other exciting things happening right now around your church home, but I will spare you all the details. All that is to say, the future for United Christian Church of Austin is looking bright thanks to you.
Dearest Church Family,
Just about the time we had figured out all (or most) of the technology needed for online and virtual Vacation Bible School, things started to look better (yippee!) for some in-person possibilities. Our amazing VBS team started working diligently on figuring out how to make it happen and now…we are so excited to be offering a Hybrid VBS-2021!
Festivities will be happening online AND in-person from June 13th-June 20th. Just like last year, we will offer two ONLINE LIVE sessions daily: a morning greeting on Facebook and a closing worship time on Zoom. We will also have videos to share throughout the week, including Bible stories, Crafts, Books, Music, and Snacks.
In addition to the fabulous online content, we will be hosting in-person Open House evenings AT THE CHURCH!!! These evenings will offer self-paced, interactive, and child-centered activities for your family from 5-8 p.m. on the following dates: Sunday, June 13th, Wednesday, June 16th, and Saturday, June 19th.
Throughout the week, there will also be asynchronous activities available AT THE CHURCH: Storybook Strolls, Community Art Projects, Games, and other activities.
Families are invited to attend any activity at the church wearing masks, and distancing from other families. If attending in-person events is not yet comfortable or otherwise does not work for your family, we hope that you'll participate in some of the asynchronous activities at church and join us for the online events throughout the week. ALL are welcome to be a part of our VBS week no matter what your level of participation!
Thanks to the creativity of our fantastic VBS Planning Team, and the flexibility and grace of this loving and supportive congregation, our Hybrid VBS-2021 week will be a beautiful and spirit-filled week for our entire church community.
Won’t you join us in the celebration?
With a heart full of gratitude,
Emily Jamison Guerrero
Children's Ministries Coordinator
I’ve always known we are part of an incredibly generous congregation. Your heart for this church and all that we do shows in so many ways. The past 12 months have been no exception, through a pandemic we had a great stewardship campaign, and even ended up with a surplus at the end of the year! Well, thanks to your generous giving, we are able to put several important projects into motion.
I don’t know if (pre-pandemic) you’ve ever had a chance to be in the building on a Sunday evening while the youth are meeting. If you have, you’ve seen the wonderful problem we often run into: we can’t fit all of the youth into the youth room! When you try and get 20-25 metal folding chairs in the youth room, along with shelves for storing supplies, and a tv/stand combo, you quickly run out of space.
Well, thanks to generous giving and faithful pledging, space in the youth room is much more plentiful! Mark Simoneau, along with the help of youth Timothy, Chase, Patrick, and Gabriel, have worked to build new seating for the youth room. This two tier seating will allow for us to easily seat 18-25 youth. The seating also serves as handy and easily accessible storage of items that were previously housed on shelves. And finally, the seating can be rolled out of the youth room and into the sanctuary to be used for special events!
Another great project underway is our planning for hybrid worship. Chris Pascoe has been diligently researching much needed equipment for our sanctuary that will help us provide an inclusive worship both for those choosing to worship in person and those who choose to worship online. We have begun to purchase the all important items, and look forward to getting everything installed and ready for hybrid worship.
When you give to the general fund, you help not only make sure the lights turn on and bills are paid, but you help make sure the ministries of this church are as welcoming and inclusive as possible. And remember, if you would like to give online, or increase your pledge, you can do so here - https://www.uccaustin.org/give.html Thank you for giving generously!
Summer is rapidly approaching! With it comes longer days, warmer temperatures, a break from routine for many, and sadly, an increase in food insecurity for many children that rely on school breakfast and/or lunch as their most consistent form of nutrition. One positive of the pandemic is that school systems have recognized this need, and have creatively found ways to help get meals to families that need it, continuing to swizzle and reinvent to meet the needs along the way.
Our church exists in a food desert. A food desert is an area where access to food supplements for those in need are non-existent. For many years, we have talked about ways to help address this need in our community. This year, the Social Justice Team and Council are working hard to put words into action. We have received donations to pay for a Little Food Pantry, and are currently planning to build this on May 15th (or May 22nd, weather dependent)! We will be working with local schools, communities, and other community resources to reach out to our neighbors to let them know of this resource. The pantry will be stocked with non-perishable food items, as well as toiletries and baby items. During the winter, we can add items such as gloves, scarves, and other cold-weather items. We hope that the community garden in the works for the church grounds may be able to provide fresh vegetables in the future, as well. A list of items that can be stocked in the pantry include:
- Canned vegetables
- Canned fruit
- Dry pasta
- Canned pasta
- Pasta sauce
- Bottled water
- Canned meats
- Body wash
- Femine hygiene products
- Baby wipes
- Baby diapers
Since the pantry will be open for all, it can be utilized or refilled by anyone in the congregation or community. We are so excited to see this mission project come to fruition!
Dear church family,
As we come to the end of another busy week, let us pause to catch our
breath, to remember the good and the bad, and the work yet to be done: in
the world, across our nation, amongst our church community, in our
families, and deep within our own hearts.
We can express gratitude for steps in a positive, healing direction for issues
of racial injustice while we continue to pray and to advocate for much more
progress to occur in our nation, our neighborhoods, even in our very own
The environment and issues surrounding it are more in our newsfeeds and
hopefully on our hearts and minds this week as we celebrate Earth Day. I
invite you, if you haven’t done so recently, to recommit to taking personal
steps to contribute to healing our planet and to become involved in
advocating for healing change at a larger level.
“Heart” is a word that seems to pop up repeatedly as I write today. Perhaps
that’s because I’ve been reading Christine Valters Paintner’s Earth: Our
Original Monastery, upon which our current sermon series is based. In this
book, Christine writes in depth about “cultivating wonder and gratitude
through intimacy with nature.” She discusses the interconnectedness of all
of Creation, but with an emphasis on us learning from, rather than
dominating or destroying, nature. With each page that I’ve read, my own
heart has felt recognized, comforted, included in that huge web of God’s
good Creation. And taking her advice and visiting my neighborhood park
with no agenda, no plan for what I was going to “accomplish” is one of the
most heart-healing things I’ve done in awhile.
So friends, please consider pausing, breathing, praying, and contemplating
in nature sometime soon. One way to do this is to join us in outdoor worship
on the 2nd and 4th Sundays at 8:30 am at the outdoor sanctuary. Your heart
might just be glad that you did!
Monday is usually my "sabbath day off," but this past fateful Monday, I decided to come up to church with the pups because Rob had an important zoom meeting, and my furbabies are known to be unwelcome contributors to Rob’s meetings.
As I was tidying up some blessing bag debris in the Fellowship Hall, Diane came in to tell me that there had been a phone call and an email over night about a semi truck crashing into the North side of the building.
"The North side of the building??" I asked. "But there's no road there. Certainly its a mistake."
Diane and Meghan went to go investigate while I continued tidying with the pups. Then Meghan popped her head back in, "You better come look at this."
I walked around to, yes, the North side of the building to find Meghan and Diane gazing up at a high hole clear through the building the size of an Xtra large pizza box (yes this is the first gauge of size that comes to mind for me).
Friends, I won't tell you what said in that moment because, as my mother would say, it's not a word that's befitting a "woman of the cloth."
All that is to say, if you haven't heard, there was a bit of an... incident at the church on Sunday night at around 11:04 PM. My best guess is that either a toddler or racoon driving a semi-truck hit our building, a tree, a sprinkler head, and a couple of light poles while trying to find an exit near our shed.
Here’s the good news: first of all, in no time at all Diane Baker was on the phone to insurance companies and roofers. Bryan Thornhill, Meghan Trout and Rebecca Molis came soon after sawing and patching up the hole for any weather. Emily and Jane assessed the damage, which in comparison to the flood, was far less traumatic. Our insurance company, with tips from our neighbors, is sleuthing down the driver of the truck. Your leadership is discussing shifting gears and rolling the inevitable roofing repair into the planned steeple repair project, hopefully now hitting two birds with one stone.
Most importantly, thanks to YOU and your incredible generosity, even during this past difficult year of transition and Covid-19, surprises like this one and the burst sprinkler pipe after the storm don’t send your finance committee into a panic. So remember that when you give to your church family, you’re not just giving to our planned expenses, you’re also giving to these unplanned expenses as well, making sure that our sanctuary is ship-shape and ready to welcome you home again hopefully very soon.
Speaking of welcoming you home, your “In-Person Coming-Together Team” is polishing up recommendations on how we might accomplish that in a way that is safe and inclusive for all in the months to come. So I pray that while they do this good work, you do your work too and get those vaccinations! Please contact the church if you need any help finding an appointment!
Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
In the Texas Hillcountry, springtime seems to last only an instant. The benefit of its brevity here, I think, is that from the moment we spot the first bluebonnet, I try to savor every all springtime has to offer before the oppressive heat of a Texas summer sets in.
This spring, however, I want to savor even more than usual, given all that we’ve been through the past year. We have been, like the Easter hymn sings, like buried grain. We have been holed away behind closed doors, hidden away from the sunlight. But now, as more and more of us taste the small freedoms that come with vaccination, we can step out of our front doors and enjoy all that God’s Creation has to offer.
This Eastertide we will explore in our worship both outdoors and online, “Earth as the Original Monastery,” guided by the book from Christine Valters Painter. Together we will revel in Creation as our original sanctuary, our original scriptures, our original sacrament, and more. Through our appreciation of Creation - or “forest therapy” as many are calling it today - comes a deeper faith in the Creator, and a call to care for all with which we have been entrusted.
In addition to worship, you will find opportunities to deepen your faith through an appreciation of God’s creation, such as hikes on your own or with church friends, eco-stewardship ideas from your Social Justice Team, outdoor prayer stations, and earth poetry for prayer and meditation posted on our social media platforms. Feast your eyes on the nature photography of our outdoor sanctuary from Logan DeCleene and the earthy media designs of Kelley DeCleene in our online worship.
So come join us in the garden this Eastertide, as we deepen our faith in God’s original sanctuary.