In our last letter, we reflected on how rhythms of exile and return, diaspora and homecoming, have always been a part of Christian life. And that’s true.
It’s also true, though, that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a season of separation like no other we’ve ever known. As we look ahead to United Christian Church’s next chapter, we may never appreciate the power of gathering together in person more than we do today.
The beauty of worship — gathering together in the midst of a world full of distance. The wonder of music — singing together in the midst of a world full of silence and loneliness. The sweetness of sacraments — sharing of one common loaf of bread in the midst of a world full of division and hunger. And the joy of service — working together in the midst of a world full of broken systems and broken hearts.
In short, if the world is full of exile, United Christian Church is a community of return. A place to come home to, again and again. A congregation in which we can tangibly experience God’s ancient promise to “bring you back to this place,” and “give you a future with hope.”
And here’s one more thing that’s true: even when this pandemic is a distant memory, the world will still be full of need. Still longing for home, for community, for reunion, for return.
That’s why we’re here. That’s who we are: a waystation of hope along life’s way. It’s the same reason God chose to be born with us as Jesus of Nazareth, to help us build bridges of connection and companionship — so that everyone might experience a homecoming to God’s new world of joy, justice, and love.
So we hope you come home to church in-person or online on Giving Sunday, October 10th, when we will dedicate our pledges (9 and 11 AM), welcome new members (11 AM), and celebrate our “future with hope.” We invite you to bring your pledge card (if you are not pledging at uccaustin.org/pledge) and/or something to place on our communion table in worship that represents a ministry of our church. (For example, you could bring a book for Christian Education, Animal Crackers for Children’s Ministries, a prayer shawl for Caring Ministries, canned goods for Social Justice, a youth mission trip T-shirt for our Youth Ministries, a piece of music for our Music Ministry, a loaf of bread for Worship, etc.)
In the meantime, keep praying and giving thanks for all the ways things like our progressive faith, our community garden, our hybrid worship, our Christmas pageant, our social justice work, and our life together help bridge the gaps in Austin and the world, longing for connection and mending.
Rebecca Molis (Treasurer), Jan Keeling (Financial Secretary), Andrea Larson (Council Chair), and Rev. Anna Kreisle
If it’s good to be together, it must be bad to be apart.
And yet: the truth is that life has always been a rhythm of separation and togetherness, exile and return. We may prefer the “return” bit, the “bring you back to this place” bit, but that doesn’t mean separation isn’t part of the story.
Experiences of separation are at least as old as the ancient stories of the Garden of Eden, the Israelites’ exile in Babylon, and the parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus and his followers were separated by betrayal and death, and then reunited by forgiveness and newness of life. Even on our most “normal” days, our lives are a rhythm of gathering and dispersing, coming together and going apart, calls to worship and benedictions.
These past 18 months have been another profound experience of this ancient pattern, and as challenging as it’s been, we take solace in the knowledge that our ancestors, too, experienced seasons of exile. And here’s the point: thanks to this history, over time our faith — and our church — have been built to help us live through such seasons with grace and hope. And just look around at our church! We are brimming with such promise and hope, even during these difficult days!
At our core, United Christian Church is a community of reunion, homecoming, and return. Now more than ever, in a world full of exile, our congregation stands as a beacon of hope, welcome, and radical hospitality rooted in love.
With all of this in mind, we invite you to join us in giving thanks for all the resources — spiritual, theological, physical, and financial — that have brought us through this difficult time with such exceptional grace, and promise us a future with hope. And as we look ahead, we invite you to pray daily over the coming weeks and to bring the enclosed pledge card (or go to uccaustin.org/pledge) to our in-person or online worship on Giving Sunday, October 10th. Together, we’ll dream new dreams for this next chapter in our life together, and with our gifts, we'll celebrate God’s beautiful gift of “a future with hope.”
Rebecca Molis, Jan Keeling, Andrea Larson, and Rev. Anna Kreisle
Welcome home! This Sunday is the big day. We invite you back to church whether that be online or in person. We will have services in-person at 9 AM, a BYOPicnic on church grounds at 10 AM, and a hybrid service online or in-person at 11 AM. You wont' want to miss our 10 AM festivities because there will be a Snow Cone truck, arts and crafts activities for all ages, lawn games, a photo booth, music, fellowship and fun.
Kickoff Sunday each year marks the beginning of our faith formation programming for all ages: children, youth, and adults. Your Education Team has been in consultation with your Coming Together Team (which includes select Executive Committee Members, Education Team Lead Logan DeCleene, and church member Caitlin Oliver of Austin Public Health) to come up with a plan that is safe and serves the faith formation needs of all.
For Elementary School children, Emily and education volunteers will be holding outdoor faith formation during both worship services after the Children's Message. There will be no programming between services at 10 AM for the time being, however, in order to minimize the exposure time and to allow volunteers to re-set and sanitize.
For Youth, youth group will re-commence Sunday evenings with a murder mystery Party Sunday night! See Meghan's email or contact her for all the details.
For Adults, we will begin a brand new series called "Saving Grace" Monday evenings at 7PM on zoom about financial planning for people of faith. You can buy the participant booklet in paperback or kindle online, but don't hesitate to join if you haven't gotten your book yet. This is a practical course with a spiritual foundation that is sure to be useful to anyone with a wallet!
For the time being, nursery care is on hold due to infants and toddlers being both unable to be masked or vaccinated. We look forward to a time when we are able to safely welcome them back into the nursery! In the meantime, we still have books and busy bags available in Fellowship Hall for in-seat activities during worship.
This Sunday is a great Sunday to bring a friend who might be looking for a spiritual home or more community in their lives. We hope to see you in person or online as we celebrate new year of Faith Formation!
I’ve been reading up recently on the work of Dr. Kristen Neff, a psychologist working out of the University of Texas who has been pioneering research on self-compassion. When I and many other millennials were growing up, our parents, along with the rest of society, were caught up in the “self-esteem movement.” Children were told they were “special,” “unique,” “gifted,” and “talented,” in an effort to construct happy adults who felt good about themselves. Unfortunately, it backfired: many millennial children were pumped up to believe that they were uniquely gifted. When they eventually flew the nest, they found that there were many other birds who were equally - if not more - gifted, special, and unique. On top of that, there was no longer a mother bird to cushion their inevitable falls. The internal dialogue then flipped completely; “I am not special, therefore I must be boring.” “I am not gifted, therefore I must be unworthy.” “I am not talented, therefore I must be a failure.”
Dr. Neff says what is much more important than self-esteem for all of us to learn to make it through the difficult times in life, and much more important for parents to teach our children, is self-compassion. Self-compassion means seeing ourselves through the eyes of love, or in other words, through God’s eyes. Self-compassion means talking to ourselves the same way a loving friend would, who serves as an angel-messenger of God saying things like, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You did the best you could. We all make mistakes.” Self-compassion means intentionally cultivating lovingkindness, beginning with ourselves, and then radiating it outwards. As Christians, we must extend love, compassion, and respect to ourselves because all of us carry the image and likeness of God. This is the heart of worship and praise -- honoring the image of God in us, each other, and in the world -- and it can happen any day of the week, any hour of the day, any place on earth.
You may feel selfish loving on yourself. When I first began practicing Buddhist metta meditation, I found it difficult to begin by saying, “May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be safe. May I awaken to the light of my true nature. May I be free.” It would have been much easier to begin with my children or some other beloved. It is still difficult for me to practice self-compassion. I often feel I have accrued so many failures in my life that my instinct is to take up pennances rather than self-compassion. Excessive penance, guilt, and shame, however, always lead to bitterness, which bleeds into the world. Self-compassion, however, always expands, glowing outward to God’s people, God’s creation, and finally to God herself. Again, this is the very essence of worship.
I don’t talk about self-compassion because I have mastered it. In fact, most of the things I preach and write about are things I’m currently fumbling with. Pastors are as flawed and as human as you in the pews. Perhaps together, however, we can become a people who remember, especially in these hard times, to cultivate more love and grace not just for each other, but also for ourselves.