How fully are you living?
This is not a question we usually ask during Lent. This time of year, we usually ask ourselves, “What should I empty from my life? ”, “How might I fast from what I don’t need?” or “How might I pour out my heart to God in prayer?”
We do not usually ask ourselves, “how can I lean in?”, “What could I take up?,” or “how can I fully embrace the blessing of this life?” Personally, I’m embracing God’s abundance as I take up the calling to be your senior pastor, and my cup overflows!
But the truth is, we’ve mostly been living in a world of Lenten abstinence and decrease since March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. Ever since, we’ve cut back on everyday joys, sacrificed gathering with others, and relinquished easier ways of living. So we don’t need another season that leads to more emptying; instead, we need a time for embracing God’s outpouring love until our lives are full to the brim.
We will begin our Lenten journey this Wednesday when we will impose ashes to passers-by in a simple “Drive-by” service from 12-1 PM. Later, we will hold an Ash Wednesday service in-person and online at 7 PM.
Like the ancient catechumens (converts to Christianity in the Early Church), we will take the following 40 days to eagerly ask all our faith questions, to feast on God’s word, and to fill our lives with Christ until they are full to the brim. So we pray you take advantage of our printed Lenten prayer cards, devotional booklets, and life assessment worksheets, as well as our weekly Zoom Meditative Coloring Class on our Lenten Artwork Wednesdays at 7 PM, our Lent Blessing Bags for kids, our Holy Week worship services, along with our social media inspirations, and our Lenten prayer text messages. Our cup is truly overflowing with resources to guide you on this journey!
So give this new take on Lent a try. See how your life might be transformed by pouring in God’s love until it’s full to the brim. Examine the ways you could embrace God’s gifts in all areas of your life. Feast with your friends at the table of Love. And rather than giving one more thing up, may you take up the Way, loving and serving Christ with all of your heart.
February 18, 2022
A note from Rev. Elsa Anders Cook:
For clergy like me, installations mean that we get to pull that gorgeous red stole from the back of the closet. Mine has flames to remind us to the movement of the Holy Spirit moving among us and it’s one I only really get to wear on Pentecost when the whole church understands each other in a whole new way. For me, installations also mean I get to pull out my red heels which are important because I’ll be robed all in black but that doesn’t mean that my feet won’t be ready to party.
I won’t get to wear this attire this time. On February 27 at 4:00 p.m. your time, I'll be tucked into bed here in Germany as the party begins in Austin but I hope and pray that it does feel like a party as you celebrate this new covenant together.
Covenant is what we are all about as people of faith. We make promises to each other and God without ever really knowing what the future holds. We set intentions and declare our hopes for what we pray will be.
An installation is kinda like a wedding in that way. It’s a worshipful moment where we make promises to each other as the new pastor and the church. That circle of care extends beyond the people we see in weekly worship to the people that pray for us and minster by our sides in our denominations. We are all part of this promise and this hope and together we join in making bold declarations about what we believe is possible in this new relationship.
It is an occasion where we recognize that the Holy Spirit is moving through us, and you know from Pentecost, that means things will change. We will understand each other in new ways and our ministry will shift as we share in each other’s gifts and talents. Let me emphasize that because we tend to think that it’s all about the pastor. That’s not true. The promises the local church we makes are just as big and overwhelming.
It is a service of covenanting between pastor, church and the wider church with whom we share our work. No one part is greater than the whole. Each is important. Each has ministry to offer. Each has reason to celebrate with red shoes and loud, boisterous alleluias!
I’ll be tuning in on YouTube the following morning — as I always do — to share in your joy and to wonder how this new relationship will change who and what the United Christian Church of Austin is called to become next.
February 11, 2022
It is called the “boyfriend loophole.” Our law prohibits domestic abusers from having guns, but only if they have been married to, lived with, or had a child with the victim. It doesn’t prohibit an abusive dating partner from having a gun. This gap in the law is known as the “boyfriend loophole” and has become more and more deadly. The number of homicides committed by dating partners has been rising for three decades, and now women are as likely to be killed by boyfriends as by husbands.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group announced they had finally reached a deal to renew the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark legislation that expired in 2018. The legislation, however, was unable to pass with a provision that would have closed this “boyfriend loophole.” The National Rifle Association strongly opposed it, threatening to crater the GOP support. And so, women’s lives have been supplanted again, this time by abusive boyfriend’s rights to bear arms.
As a little girl, I was told that I could be and do anything. I know now that that isn’t true. What I have experienced in 37 years could fill a book. And today, an adolescent victim of rape or incest would be unable to terminate a pregnancy in the state of Texas. What’s more, anyone who might try to help a girl in such distress could face prosecution. We live in one of the most progressive countries in the world, and yet, not one of our 46 presidents has been a woman. Women’s Rights, however, are not a political issue. They have to do with justice, equality, and yes, faith.
If we believe that each human being was indeed created in the image and likeness of God as we read in Genesis -- if we remember that Jesus touched, included, and upheld women -- then we know what our sacred calling here is. It is not to protect the rights of the abusive boyfriend to own a gun. Our call is to continue to protect the widow, the orphan, the persecuted, the alien, the abused.
Friends, I know you are tired. We have had so much pain laid at our own doorsteps these past two years that it’s hard to conjure up concern for the other. It is only through Love for the other, however, that we can ever lift ourselves out of darkness and build the kin-dom of God.
February 4, 2022
To my friends who like to feed hungry people,
We have so many new members who are not familiar with some of our long-standing social justice efforts and are probably wondering what this Austin CROP Hunger Walk is all about. Let me try to explain. The Austin CROP Hunger Walk is part of bigger effort around the country which includes over 1300 local walks to raise money for Church World Service (CWS) and selected local agencies which reflect the same values as CWS. United Christian Church was the sixth largest fundraiser for the Walk in Austin last year and the Austin Walk is always in the top 10 Walks around the country.
In pre-pandemic times, between 500-1000 people joined together at a selected site - recently Camp Mabry - to walk with folks from 5-7 different religious traditions in a community effort to relieve hunger. Many years ago, Church World Service began as a way to connect US farmers with surplus crops to hungry people around the world. Now, they have expanded into all sorts of arenas such as building schools and water wells, teaching people how to grow or raise food/animals, assisting refugees, helping during natural disasters, and much more. In the last few months, they have resettled 5000 Afghan refugees as an approved agency by the US government. Our Disciples Refugee organizations have assisted them in this goal. If you would like to learn more about Church World Service, go to https://cwsglobal.org/.
Twenty-five percent of the money raised at the WALK stays right here in Austin and will help our local partners with their missions. This year’s recipients are Central Texas Food Bank, Refugee Services of Texas, Sustainable Food Center, Manos de Cristo, Bread for All Food Pantry, Hope Food Pantry, and Mt. Olive Baptist Church Food Pantry. To see videos from some of our local recipients, go to the Austin CROP Hunger Walk YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT9HZYUiEvSaVWYXRhuQ1XA. If you would like to see a video about Manos de Cristo and how their dental clinic has adapted during Covid times, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lM_LS4cpwdM.
We hope to have an in-person Walk at Camp Mabry this year on March 6th with protocols in place to make the Walk as safe as possible during these times. A decision about the in-person walk will be made in mid-February and will depend on the community Covid levels at that time. We are offering an open start to reduce crowding, so folks can come and start walking anytime between 1 -2:30 pm. While some things will have changed about the walk for safety, there will be a new route which goes through a beautifully wooded part of the property and there will be a scavenger hunt designed by First United Methodist Church, refreshments, and RESULTS letter writing. No matter whether we have the in-person walk or not, all are invited to participate in their own way by walking in their neighborhood park, dancing in your home, practicing your favorite sport, or working on the grounds of UCC like our youth group did last year. To join our team, go to https://events.crophungerwalk.org/2022/team/united-christian-church-of-austin. If you would like to go the traditional route with a donation of cash or check, make the check out to Church World Service and write Austin Walk/United Christian Church in the memo line and give it to Diane Baker or any of our team members. You can also donate through any of UCC’s methods and write “Austin CROP Walk” in the memo line. Thank you for your support.
Social Justice Team Lead