The most sacred week of the Christian year is almost upon us. Recently, I learned that the first Christians saw all of Holy Week as one long worship service, so no benediction was given, no postlude played, and no words spoken as worshippers left the sanctuary from Palm Sunday all the way until Easter morning. This makes sense to me because each day's liturgy builds upon the next, advancing the passion narrative like an act in a play. And in the same way the end of a play cannot be understood unless all the prior acts are seen, the dramatic arc of Holy Week is hard to appreciate unless we're there to experience it through worship. Otherwise, we jump straight from the high of a Palm Procession to the high of Easter Morning, and the surprise of resurrection is lost on us. To truly experience the miracle of resurrection, first, we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Because it is only by darkness we can recognize light, by grief we can experience the fullness of joy, and by the tomb we can appreciate the gift of life.
So I invite you, this Holy Week, to experience the miracle of resurrection for yourself by participating in the entire story of Jesus' last week. Through waving of palms, the breaking of bread, the washing of feet, and the stations of the cross, we take on up our cross and participate firsthand the miracle of resurrection.
March 25, 2022
There are 23 days left until Easter, but resurrection has already been begun sneaking up on us. The tree outside my office window is beginning to bud. The sunshine has been inviting me to sit again on my back porch. Most surprising of all, however, is that “normal life” seems to be resurrecting herself too. As of yesterday, the city of Austin officially lifted all COVID orders and restrictions as case numbers and hospitalizations reach early pandemic lows. The city is no longer requiring masking in city facilities, with a few exceptions, such as the airport, clinical settings, and jails. And for the first time since March 2020, when COVID-19 arrived in Texas, Austin hospitals reported no new COVID related hospitalizations. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Beloved, there were times over the past two years when I was convinced that joys like parties, travel and group singing were all dead and gone. To my delight, however, my faithlessness has been met by God’s grace.
Even so, I admit that part of me hesitates to get “too excited.” I remember that this time last year, our Lenten theme was “cocooning” because we assumed that, by the time Easter arrived, we would all be busting out of our confinement to flit and fly around the post-COVID world. But things didn’t turn out the way we expected.
And yet, I dare to hope again. I vow to jump back into the world with joy, fully knowing that my heart may be broken once again by another surge or another loss, but at least if it does, this time I will take solace in the fact that I lived my life full to the brim while I had the chance.
This must be God’s dream for us, to live our one, precious life full to the brim. Why else would God have created delights like bluebonnets, stumbling fawns, fresh watermelon, and baby belly laughs? Our lives are simply too short to abstain from the joys God has laid at our feet.
Through the abundance of Spring rising up all around us, Creation invites us to rise to new life. Through the outpouring of grace we hear in scripture, God invites all of us to fill our cup to the brim at the welcome table. Through the love that abounds in the spaces between us, the Trinity invites us to join in the divine dance. The only question left for us is, do we dare answer God’s invitation to live our life full to the brim? Do we dare dive in with a holy “yes?”
To Those with a Heart for Social Justice,
The Social Justice Team is responding to the many local, state, national, and international situations that seem to be rocking our world right now and we want to update you on what is going on.
After a lengthy time of planning, preparing, collecting, and postponing our Period Party, action has been taken. It is not quite what we originally planned, but nonetheless, we are helping the community we have wanted to serve. A huge thank you goes out to Olivia and Katherine Griffin-Erickson who have taken this project under their wings and have expanded it beyond our wildest imaginations during this difficult time. We had so many products and felt the community need was great so we switched gears, cancelled the Period Party, and donated all the products to the Austin Diaper Bank, Flo Code, and the youth to make period packets. The youth produced packets will go to Leander ISD Title 1 schools and into our Little Free Food Pantry. The $400 donated will be split equally between the YWCA and Austin Diaper Bank. These donations were multiplied by giving them on Amplify Austin Day. Our project has inspired many outside our church to either give products and money or start projects of their own. We will try to get the Period Party back on track in its normal September time slot.
The team is rightly concerned about the recent executive orders and attorney general opinions concerning trans children and their families. Thank you to Andrea Pena-Curran and Patrick Curran for wanting to get accurate information for families especially those who are now thinking of relocating their families because of these orders. We have many resources for accurate information including Texas, Out Youth, and Equality Texas which we will post for the community as we find them. Texas Impact also has lobbying training each year and we will find out the date for that so that those interested can learn to effectively lobby our legislature. Equality Texas has an upcoming training and other actions and you can find them at https://secure.everyaction.com/p/eQOu4QtQP0i19Rk7OjbMZw2. Four organization are supporting a website with accurate information at https://www.txtranskids.org/toolkit.
Our apartment setup with Refugee Services of Texas has been postposed until later in March or in April due to a family commitment by our primary contact with Refugee Services. In the meantime, Refugee Services of Texas says that they have been so successful in settling Afghan refugee in apartments that they have run our of twin bed frames. If you have a twin bed to donate, contact Lauren Rizzo, Community Engagement Coordinator, 512 640 2972, firstname.lastname@example.org or you can order one for them at https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/24VJEHW19YK7O?ref_=wl_share.
Our Little Free Food Pantry continues to be used regularly – so much that it often is empty. Caitlin Oliver is making a collection box for Fellowship Hall so we can replenish items as needed and Meghan Dever will store overflow in the risers in the youth room. This way we can space out the offerings to those in need of food.
The UCC family enthusiastically supported the 2022 Virtual Austin CROP Hunger Walk this year with donations so far of $2084 making us the 9th largest donor church team in Austin. So far the Walk has raised $58,000 but that total will grow as cash and checks are tallied. Not only did we donate, we walked on our grounds on Sunday, March 6th after worship! People of all ages joined in a walk down to our outdoor sanctuary where we had a prayer and shared some information and many stayed to walk the grounds and the labyrinth in prayer for the hungry. It is never too late to donate to our team at https://events.crophungerwalk.org/2022/team/united-christian-church-of-austin or by any of our other means of giving to UCC. Make sure you note that gifts are for the Crop Walk.
Meghan Dever reported that action for the community garden is in full swing. A master gardener from the dental office in our complex will be working with the youth to plant and maintain the garden this spring. The fall garden produced 3 offerings of fresh lettuce to local food pantries. Isn’t it wonderful that in many of our projects we are able to engage folks in our wider community?
The situation in the war in Ukraine is disturbing and frustrating. It is hard to know what to do. Right now the best way individuals can help is to donate. Donations to Church World Service (through the Austin CROP Hunger Walk), Global Missions, Disciples Home Missions Refugee and Immigration Ministries are vetted ways we can help.
Please join us at our next meeting on March 28 at 7 pm on Zoom, where we are going to plan out our action for the rest of the year. We love new and imaginative ideas.
Diane Baker, Social Justice Team Lead
Words fall short when I try to tell you what the installation this past Sunday meant to me. I confess that as the day approached, my anxiety wished we could just skip the whole thing. I was worried that too much of the focus was turning on me rather than on the 4-way covenant we were forming among our congregation, your pastor, our denominations, and God.
My anxiety, however, was unfounded. The only way I can describe that day is that it was a joyous celebration of all of us. The myriad of musicians, worship leaders, and contributors celebrated the beautiful and resilient people of our congregation. The presence of our denomination families celebrated those who have supported us all along the way. The palpable Spirit of joy among us celebrated our God who has poured an embarrassment of riches at our feet. And my heart celebrated that God has answered my prayers and entrusted me with the church I had always dreamed of: a people who are open and affirming, who treasure children and youth, who are generous in Spirit and passionate about justice, and who welcomed me with open arms despite all failures and faults.
I felt a bit like a bride on her wedding day, over the moon in love -- and installation is like a wedding in many ways too. We both covenant together with God to walk together and support each other on the road ahead. Most installations, however, are a bit like arranged marriages. The church usually only knows what they have gathered from the pastor's profile, a couple of interviews and reference checks, and a trial sermon. The pastor also knows little of the congregation; he or she has most likely done some research and visited once.
In our case, however, we both enter this covenant with eyes wide open, knowing full well each other's gifts and growing edges after 6 years of life together. You have shown such incredible love to me, despite the fact that I am terribly forgetful and that I have been limping through a divorce for almost a year. And I can say without hesitation that I love this church... despite the fact that our sanctuary may not have windows and that we still squirm sometimes when talking about money!
So with open eyes and an open heart, I am grateful to you, United Christian Church of Austin, for loving me, choosing me, and most of all, being you.
I want to thank everyone who traveled this long road with faith and hope, especially all the members of our Council the past 3 years, and in particular Andrea Larson and Milena Thompson.
I want to thank our Pastoral Search Committee who faithfully did all 5 steps of the Intentional Interim Process, completing the developmental work that has laid the groundwork for a long and healthy pastorate. They (and our council) could have easily skipped this hard work and passed it off to the next pastor, but instead, they rolled up their sleeves during a global pandemic: Clark Thompson, Chase Larson, Miguel Flores, Lydia Tomosulo, Cherie Hinch, and Bryan Thornhill.
I want to thank everyone who made our celebration Sunday so joyous, especially our talented musicians Liz Myrick, Melissa Jamison, Emily Jamison Guerrero, Mark Simoneau, Pastor Meghan Dever, Julie Stiles, and Ann Vanderschaaf. I want to thank our lectors Clark Thompson and Wendy Heckler; our deacon Diane Baker; our AV technician Ethan Roberts; our officiant Pastor Meghan Dever; our denominational representatives Pastor Cark Schwartz-King, Rev. Al Walker and Rev. Phil Hodson; communion celebrants Rev. Dr. Jenny Veninga and Rev. Dr. Sarah Hensler; our preacher Rev. Mariah Furness Tollgaard; and our liturgist Rev. Elsa Cook, who wrote our beautiful liturgy.
I also want to thank the Installation Team, again Pastor Meghan, Wendy, Clark, Rev. Elsa, who were in our worship service, along with Sam Myrick, and our Administrator Kelley DeCleene, who amazes us with her ability to make all things run smoothly.
And I want to thank our Staff Team, our new members who knocking our socks off: Ethan, our bookkeeper Paula, and our sexton Jose, and Kelley. They have turned our staff into "the dream team" -- the most amazing church staff I have ever seen or heard of. I also want to thank Diane for stepping in and stepping out of retirement when we needed someone to fill in.
Last but not least, from the very bottom of my heart, I want to thank Emily and Pastor Meghan. These two ladies have been through it all with me. The three of us have laughed together, cried together, and worked together through staff transitions, a global pandemic, and personal struggles. Through it all, these ladies stayed loyal and dedicated to the church they love. They have been the consistent thread of love keeping your staff together.
This week hasn't been a ministry minute, but a ministry hour because I have so many people to thank and so many things to be thankful for. My cup overflows, and my heart is full to the brim.