If you weren’t aware, our church building has seen quite a bit of use over the past 5 weeks! Reach Beyond Mission has been using our space to run both in-person “day camp” style mission trips for local youth groups, and online “virtual” mission trips for churches from Kentucky to Connecticut.
Local youth groups have served at the Round Rock Area Serving Center and right here on our property, as Reach Beyond Mission and United Christian Church partner to build a community garden. Virtual groups are serving in their communities, with food banks, Habitat For Humanity, Meals on Wheels, and more. Evenings for both in-person and virtual groups have consisted of small group discussions and presentations from speakers about advocacy and social justice work.
While I love working with youth and seeing them grow through these mission trips, a huge source of joy for me during the summer is my role working directly with the college summer staff of Reach Beyond Mission. Our staff this year is smaller, made up of five college students from Texas and California. Three of the staffers are from Austin, two of them participated in the youth group at University Christian Church and one participated in our youth group. All of them are very passionate about social justice work, and how their faith plays into what they choose to do to serve others.
This Sunday, we will hear from two of our staffers about their experience in youth group, in church, on mission trips, serving on staff with Reach Beyond Mission, and how those experiences have shaped who they are today. I invite you to come and hear them speak, whether in person, or online. Hear how they are working towards a more just world, and why that matters to them. And if you come in person, head outside after worship and check out the progress being made on our community garden! We have one more group coming next week, and after that we will be calling on church volunteers to help us (alongside our youth group) plant, and maintain, our garden.
Not to be a major buzzkill, but I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and suffering lately, and you can probably guess why. There is no escape from the suffering of this life. Not for Christians, not for anyone. If there is anything I have learned from my first ten years as a pastor, it’s that each one of you carries a unique and beautiful story, and each story is laced with both joy and suffering. And so many of your stories begin like this: “I never imagined this would happen to me…” Suffering is never part of our plan.
So we often try to escape the suffering -- convincing ourselves that if we just cut and run, we can surely find a place where the grass is greener, the deal is sweeter, and life is easier. Other times we try to numb it, so we keep pouring the wine, keep scrolling, keep buying, keep eating, and thereby we bypass a chance at growth. For the caterpillar to become a butterfly, she must first let herself disintegrate into absolute mush inside the safety of the cocoon. She must die to her old life before rising to the sky.
Most importantly, the cross teaches us there is only One suffering. Whenever we suffer, we participate in the One suffering of Christ -- the God who was, and is, and will always be close at hand when we are in pain. And this pain, as we learn through the holy scriptures, is always transformed. God promises a rainbow after the flood. God promises resurrection after death. Our suffering will not be erased, but it will be transformed, either in this life or the next. Ultimately, all things will integrate into Love: this is the dynamic of salvation.
What a joy it was to see so many of your faces again in person last Sunday at 9 and 11 AM! It was so wonderful seeing 13 children at 9 AM, ready to go outside and play with Emily. And those of us in the sanctuary at 11 AM could feel all 42 households who were present with us in Spirit, worshipping at home via Livestream at 11 AM. It was so good to be together.
This past Sunday we began a three-part series on the Holy Trinity. We spoke about how God, at God’s very core, is a loving relationship among three. The ancient Cappadocian theologians called God’s Trinitarian essence the “Circle Dance” or the “Divine Dance.” They believed that God was a loving flow, a radical relatedness, or a waterwheel of love that has been turning since the beginning of time. You can learn more about trinitarian theology in Fr. Richard Rohr’s book, “The Divine Dance,” or you can just attend church the next two Sundays for the completion of our three-part sermon series.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from these 15 months of distance, it is that God made humanity for community. Community is something we need as surely as we need water or bread. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from times of deep suffering or pain, it’s that we need the comfort found in those who love us. So now, as we cautiously return to community after 479 days of exile, let us meditate on the meaning of community through the theology of the Trinity in this sermon series, Divine Dance.
Hello, dear friends!
This week, our Sunday morning schedule will be changing. As I'm sure you all can understand, we are working with an ever-evolving situation and are needing to accommodate and adjust our plans, as needed. Therefore...
Starting THIS Sunday, we are very excited to be able to offer in-person OUTDOOR activities for children during the 9 a.m. Worship Service. These activities will be available for children ages 3 and older and masks will be required.
9 a.m. - Worship in the Sanctuary
In-Person Children's Activities will be available outside in the church yard.
Should children wish to remain with their families, in-seat activities will also be available for each child.
11 a.m. - Worship in the Sanctuary
Children will remain with their families. In-seat activities (coloring/activity pages, crayons/pencils, small manipulatives) will be available for each child.
6 p.m. - Worship&Wonder - Online using Zoom
We will be continuing our evening worship time LIVE on Zoom through August.
Emily Jamison Guerrero
Children's Ministries Coordinator
Your church misses you. Who would have thought 15 months ago, that it would be this long until our greeters would swing open the doors to our sanctuary again on a Sunday morning? I am dreaming of greeting you all again face-to-face. What a celebration it will be on July 4, 2021 when we come back together in person at our 9 AM and 11 AM services! Between services, we will be having a time of fellowship outside with popsicles and single-serving drinks for all.
On July 4th, you will have 3 different options to join us in worship. You may join us at either of our two indoor worship services at 9 AM or 11 AM. Alternatively, you may join our 11 AM service online as we stream live from our sanctuary to our website, to our Facebook page, to our Youtube channel, and to our Twitch channel. To find any of these online options on Sunday morning or afterwards, you can simply type uccaustin.org/live into your search bar. There will no longer be a 10 AM service.
Your In-Person Team has worked so hard to create the best possible in-person worship experience for you -- one that is safe, comfortable, and accommodates the number of people we anticipate returning to our building. They have also had to continually adapt their plans as the situation on the ground changes. Most recently, given several changing variables, they, along with your Council’s approval, have decided the best way for us to foster social distancing will be for us to move to two nearly identical indoor services at 9 AM and 11 AM, rather than trying to temporarily remove and store our pews. This means we will be asking you to social distance yourselves, keeping 6 feet between you and those next to you in the pews, and doing your best to stagger yourselves front-to-back so that there is six feet of distance between you vertically. We encourage our 11 AM worshippers to consider attending our 9 AM service to spread out our numbers, and we hope to foster that by making the two services very similar.
Two weeks ago we held a Town Hall meeting for those interested in learning more about our plan for coming back together. If you missed that Town Hall, you can go to our website at uccaustin.org/indoorworship. In short, you will be asked to mask, social distance, and refrain from singing for the time being. Our Nursery Care and Sunday School will be on hold for now, but two vaccinated children’s volunteers will be available to take children outside after the children’s sermon. Hymn lyrics and prayer responses will be on two flat screens hung on the pillars on either side of the sanctuary. Bulletins will, therefore, be optional but accessible on your mobile device. We will continue to use single-serve communion for now and refrain from passing the offering plates.
We return to worship as different people. Worship too will look a little different. Our practices will continue to evolve, however, as the situation evolves, and especially as our many children become vaccinated. If there is anything we have learned from the last 15 months, it is how to adapt. So thank you for your grace and understanding as we prayerfully balance your need to be together, to worship God, to be safe, and to feel comfortable.
Even though most of you have not yet returned to our physical sanctuary, there are SO MANY big and great things going on here right now that I don't know where to begin: VBS, Youth Mission Trip, Town Halls, Updated Website, Congregational Meeting, Playground Planning, building updates... but let me aknowledge first that even good change is change, and change can be hard.
Church, you have done amazing and hard things with such grace the last 14 months while we have been physically apart. Now we are doing the hard work to come back together, but we are not the same people we were before. We may go back to our sanctuary, but there is, dearly beloved, no going back to before.
When you come back, worship is going to look different. There will be cameras, screens and digital bulletins. For the time being, to foster social distancing, and especially while are children are not vaccinated, we will be using chairs. We won't be singing together just yet. Plates will not be passed around.
So we ask you to arrive at worship in July early, filled with grace, and with an open mind, knowing that everything we are doing is in the great prayerful effort to balance your comfort and safety. Also keep in mind that our worship practices will continue to change and evolve with time, the guidance of the CDC, and with the vaccination availabillity to all ages.
We also want you to know that if you choose to continue to worship with us online, you are not a second-class church member. We are doing everything we can to fully include you in our worship services. On Sunday mornings, simply go to uccaustin.org/live to view our worship service on our website, or click the buttons to view our services on Facebook or Youtube where you can interact in the comment box. You do not need a Facebook account or a Youtube account to view our public livestream on either one of those platforms. Thank you for your understanding that we unfortunatley will no longer be able to also manage a zoom room on top of our livestream platforms and in-service technology.
For all the information about our coming back together plan, please go to uccaustin.org/indoorworship.
I hope to see you at our town hall Sunday after worship and our Congregational Meeting next Sunday, and on July 4th, either in-person or online.
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.