One of the greatest privileges of being a pastor is the privilege of holding stories. From my various calls in ministry over the past decade, I have been humbled to be entrusted with incredible stories of many saints along their journey. Each story bears the image of God.
Layered upon these stories are the stories of our ancestors of the faith -- the stories we come together each week to hear, Sunday after Sunday, season after season, year after year. Our stories become intertwined with their stories, until we become part of God’s one sweeping arc of redemption.
For example, when we face an unknown future, we find strength in Mary’s trust in God. When we want to cut and run, we remember Joseph’s courage to stay by her side. When we tremble with fear like the shepherds, we hear their consolation from the angels: “fear not.”
Narrative theology holds that Christian theology should blossom from the stories of our faith and the great narrative arc of God’s redemption, rather than from a set of propositions or doctrines. Basically, narrative theology says, “look beyond the literal meaning of the text, down to the deeper meaning of the stories.” It emphasizes Biblical storytelling and the use of parables as the strongest tools for spiritual formation over reasoning and indoctrination.
This is one of the reasons I’ve been telling stories as sermons for the past three weeks. Through these stories, I have been amazed how you have easily been able to make connections with your life, your faith, and this strange world we are living in now with so more theological depth than I could ever do for each of you personally. And you will have an opportunity to do this again on Sunday, as we will hear the Christmas story again in a new way through our children in our first digital Christmas pageant.
Stories. Songs. Art. These are the angels getting many of our Spirits through a Covid Christmas.
And the days we are living in now will one day be stories told by generations to come. So let us make them good stories.
Rev. Anna Humble
Friends in faith,
We are once again in the season of waiting and the season of giving. United Christian Church has a very long history of giving time, talents, and funds. This year, our Christmas Eve service collection will be going to Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM). The United Church of Christ (UCC), in partnership with the Disciples of Christ - Christian Church (DOC), help support Global Ministries (GM). Global Ministries is a project that involves over 270 partner churches and organizations and is involved in 70 countries. The OCWM and Global Ministries support many functions within our denominations. It promotes local church ministries to encourage licensed, ordained, and commissioned ministers to strive for ministerial excellence. Congregations are nurtured by Local Church Ministries through the educational materials that Global Ministries and Our Churches Wider Mission help provide. These funds also help support the Justice and Witness Ministries to encourage a peaceful and compassionate world that honors all of God's creation. Part of these funds are set aside for disaster relief. The OCWM/Global Ministries (OCWM/GM) responded with assistance in Puerto Rico after the earthquake and the following hurricane. They responded with financial aid and supplies immediately after the hurricane that devastated south Texas.
The Justice and Peace Action Network is a UCC grassroots advocacy effort to educate and engage church members and friends to shape public policy. These are but a few of the benefits of the OCWM/GM. There are many bible verses about why you should give, but it comes down to one simple reason. Love. Love of your neighbor, love of the world, love of others, love in Christ. 2020 has been a year when things have been stretched for many families and may continue to be so. My prayer is that you will search your heart and find what you can give to our denomination's vital mission on Christmas Eve.
Prayers and blessings,
Last Sunday, Rev. Anna told a story about a pastor who was less than thrilled about entering the 2020 Advent/Christmas season, and of a congregant, Connie, who gifted the pastor with a handcrafted Advent calendar. The calendar was filled with daily gestures of hope and kindness, some for the pastor to receive and others for him to offer. During the waiting time of Advent, the calendar served as a lifeline of hope for this pastor who, after weathering everything 2020 had to offer, really did not start off the season with much hope. At the conclusion of her story, Rev. Anna posed the wondering question "I wonder what it means to wait well during this season of Advent?"
This question has been on my mind a lot this week especially as we (clergy and staff) continue to re-imagine how to mindfully live well into the season Advent and tell the Christmas story in 2020. How do we hold the grief of what cannot be safely experienced this year while also tapping into the excitement, anticipation and even celebration of the coming of baby Jesus?
A related wondering question that seems particularly salient this year is "what does it mean to live well?" My social media news feed is full of comments like "I refuse to let this virus keep me from living," or "I will not live in fear." So, I wonder if part of contemplating what it means to wait well during this season also includes what it means to live well?
For example, my advent wreath this year may be made with toilet paper rolls, construction paper, and hot glue but that does not diminish the meaning around this holy season. I can still tape my construction paper flame each Sunday of Advent and maybe, just maybe, hear new meaning or assurances of hope, peace, joy, and love.
My children won't get to participate in our usual annual Christmas pageant, but they will be able to tell the story in a new way in the Greatest Digital Christmas Story Ever!...and maybe, just maybe, hear something that they never have before.
And even though I miss the Christmas carols in church, I have the opportunity to ask myself what about them is so special to me anyway? -- other than "we always sing that at Christmas." There is the bonus of being introduced to other variations of these beloved hymns online and in worship. In both thinking about the why and being exposed to new arrangements and sometimes even words, maybe, just maybe, I might wade deeper into meaning to these Holy Days.
So I guess, when people say things like "I will not let this virus keep me from living" my answer is "neither will I!" It just looks a little different this year, and just because it is different does not mean it is not good. In fact, maybe, just maybe, in some ways, even better?
I recognize that this can be a time of immense grief and loss - even more so this year. But even in hard times, we can focus on what it means to wait and live well. To that point, I hope you consider attending our Longest Night Service on Monday, December 21. Pastor Arlene will be leading this set apart time with liturgy written by Rev. Elsa Cook that names our grief and sadness even in the midst of what is supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year."
Friends, I encourage you to seek out ways to both wait and live well during this season of Advent. Whether it be through one of our church activities (Advent at the Movies, Stations of the Nativity, Reflecting on Advent Devotionals or Advent/Christmas worship services) or through your own re-imagined traditions, I pray you do it well.
With you in hope, peace, joy, and love,
At the very beginning of this pandemic journey, way back in March, I gave my very first Zoom Children’s Sermon. I talked about how things would have to be different, just for a little while, so that we could do our part to help keep each other safe. I had no idea that we would be separated for such a long time, but here we are, about to begin Advent, and we are still doing things differently.
This year, our Christmas Pageant will indeed be different. And while I will miss seeing a crowded chancel full of sheep and cows and monkeys, I actually think we have an exciting opportunity. Because of our need to stay apart, we must think differently about how we can present the story that we know by heart using technology that some of us (that would be me) are still trying to figure out. We have an opportunity to be creative, flexible, and supportive of our children and youth in a new way. We have the chance to make something really beautiful during this challenging season in the life of our world and our church.
Filming will take place over the next few weeks, and we’ll present the Greatest Digital Christmas Pageant EVER! movie on December 20th in Worship. The story of the birth of Jesus, the same story that we hear every year, will still be the same story this year. We will just tell it in a different way. I wonder if that means that we might also come to understand it in a different way. And what a year to understand things differently.
We are all invited to be a part of sharing God’s word in a new way…so let’s choose to embrace the adventure, together. Let’s choose to accept change, to continue to learn technology (hey, after 8 months, I might just be getting the hang of it…), and let’s create, together, the Greatest Digital Christmas Pageant EVER!
I hope your family will participate in this adventure. Check out our website for more information: https://www.uccaustin.org/christmaspageant.html
With love and thanks,
Emily Jamison Guerrero
Each day Thanksgiving grows closer, the numbers of Covid-19 cases multiply. The Center of Disease Control is now urging all Americans to rethink their Thanksgiving plans. A crushing thought, because we are just so tired of living apart, and yet, we still feel an obligation to keep those we love safe and to flatten the curve as global citizens.
The holidays will indeed be different this year. But different, as we have found at United Christian Church, doesn’t have to mean less meaningful -- so many of you these past months have told me you’ve been surprised at how meaningful online worship has been to you.
Even so, there is still something about embodied worship: like breaking bread around a table or standing to pray in a sacred space. We are a people of the incarnation after all! For this reason, your church will be offering two safe ways for you to have a meaningful and embodied holiday season this year, even amid viral spread.
First, this Thanksgiving Thursday at 6 PM, you are warmly invited to participate in a Virtual Thanksgiving Feast, modeled after our popular Maundy Thursday Feast earlier in the pandemic. You may log on for all our part of the Thanksgiving Communion liturgy followed by breakout discussion dinner parties. Though we may have fewer chairs at our tables this year, we will fill our homes with our church family as together we physically light the candles, set out the plates, wash our hands, and break the bread. For more information about our virtual feast and to see the “discussion menu,” go to uccaustin.org/thanksgiving.
And just the day before Thanksgiving, (in addition to hosting our first Advent at the Movies Zoom Discussion at 7PM on The Muppet Christmas Carol led by Meghan Trout) we will also be posting our first station of our Advent Stations of the Nativity, authored by Rev. Elsa Cook. Two paths of yard signs will be posted on church grounds for your devotion throughout the season of Advent through Epiphany: a shorter purple way along paved pathways, and a longer blue path through the outdoor sanctuary. Each stop on this walking devotional includes a yard sign with a scripture reading, reflection, prayer, hymn and an action. New stops will be introduced via livestream Wednesdays and Sundays for the longer path, and on Sundays only for the shorter path. More information is available at uccaustin.org/stationsofthenativity. We warmly invite you to come and pray over these stations whenever and as often as you wish.
Friends, love came down at Christmas, incarnate in a human child. We too are incarnate beings, who yearn for human connection and to touch holiness, especially during the holidays. So I hope you will join your church family in these embodied practices this Thanksgiving and Advent.
Peace be with you,
noun the action or fact of joining or being joined
Watching the election results last week, I was reminded that there is still so much work to be done. There are more people who need to know that they are loved by God and that others are loved by God just as much. And that we are all created in God's image and called to be co-creators with God for our world.
In order to do this work well, we must be joined together. To be a union. In our current sermon series, we have been considering how our liturgical practices join us together, challenge us, and even change us.
This Sunday we will focus on the liturgical practice of singing, with a hymn-sing service focused on our songs of justice. In addition to singing, we will explore how our singing forms us inwardly and outwardly for the work of justice.
Our Virtual Family Re-Union immediately follows are worship service. And although we cannot be together physically, we will come Together for Joy to celebrate the many accomplishments of 2020. I think you will be amazed (and possibly surprised) at all the good things happening!!
After we celebrate, there are a few business items to address and you can find information about those on our website.
Members, to be able to fully participate, please join via the worship zoom link. We will also be streaming live in our in-house FB group. For those who are not members, although unable to vote, you are welcome to attend.
I look forward to being with each of you in worship, in celebration, and even in doing the work of the church through our votes!
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” - Matthew 19:14
What a nail-biting week it has been for us adults. For those of us fortunate enough to live in households with children, however, we are reminded that life goes on whether or not we worry about it. They continue to play and fight and lose their shoes. So for our children, we must get out of bed, pour the coffee, and keep on.
Even if your own children have flown the nest, or even if children have never lived in home, you are part of a church family that cherishes and raises our children together in an intergenerational community -- that is something truly unique and special in this world where more and more, we live in silos segregated by age. In our church, we cherish our children not because they’re cute, or sweet, or even because they’re “our future.” We value children because they are full human beings right here, right now. That’s why we go to great lengths to make them feel welcome in our building, in our worship, and in our community. And that’s why we voted recently on their behalf -- to build for them a more just and peaceful world.
This week, we have published a new resource at www.uccaustin.org/holyconversations so that our children and youth can more easily participate in the strategic planning and visioning process that will build the future of our church. There you will find 2 downloadable forms: one for pre-writers and one for children and youth. These forms prompt children and youth to respond to the themes of our Holy Conversations. You can use these forms or your own paper; download them yourself or pick copies up at the blessing bag pickup this Saturday; drop them back off at the next blessing bag pickup or scan them in and email them to the church office. These forms are perhaps the most important contribution to our Holy Conversations, because they build the church we will leave for our children.
I also hope you engage in our next Holy Conversation on identity beginning November 22nd, as well as in the other points of entry that are popping up on our Facebook page, such as the wonderful history photos our church historian Carol Barrett has been posting. Our Search Committee is currently working hard to pull all these rich conversations together into a report on our history, and we’re so excited to share it with you soon.
Peace be with you,
As you have heard so many times in recent months, our church doors may not be open, but the work of the church continues. I am so excited to have the opportunity to celebrate all of the amazing accomplishments of our congregation when we gather (virtually, of course) for our Annual Family Re-Union on Sunday, November 15.
Among the many accomplishments we will be highlighting will be the proposal for a trial restructuring of our council. As part of our interim strategic planning work, an ad hoc committee was formed in March of 2020 to review the current structures of our church leadership. As our church continues to grow and the demands on all our time continue to increase, it has become clear that the lay leadership structure that was outlined many years ago has now become cumbersome and often inefficient. We know that we have a lot of good and important work ahead as we move toward calling a new pastorate. We want to have effective structures in place to support that work.
The ad hoc committee reviewed our current structure and studied best practices for churches of our size. A report that included proposed revisions to our structure was presented to the council in April. Rev. Anna, Rev. Nikki, Vice Chair Milena Thompson and I reviewed that proposal and designed a new streamlined lay leadership structure based on the work of the structural review committee. The new structure which allows for a functional separation of governance and mission was brought before the full Council in September. After discussion and further streamlining to incorporate suggestions from other council members, the new structure was unanimously approved by the council and will go forward for a congregational vote.
I am proud of the work of the ad hoc structural review team, our council, and our pastors who continue to show courage and enthusiasm toward doing new things for the benefit of our congregation. It is our hope that this is a more sustainable division of labor that will prepare our congregation to navigate its upcoming duties of governance, ministry, and visioning and strategic planning without over-taxing its leaders and volunteers.
We are a congregational church, and that means that you all play an integral part in this, too. At our congregational meeting, the provisional structure will be presented for a vote. It is our intention to have a trial period of one year with the option to revise or continue in 2022. At that time, we should be working with our called, settled pastor(s), and together we can work to revise the bylaws as necessary to reflect structural changes.
On Monday, I shared a presentation with you to explain our process and proposal. On November 1, members of the council will be holding a Congregational Town Hall meeting during our virtual coffee hour to answer congregational questions about the new structure, budget considerations, and any other questions you would like to ask. Please join us at that time, and/or feel to contact me directly with any questions or concerns (email@example.com).
Thank you for your continued support of and participation in this congregation. It is an honor to serve and to Be the Church with you all!
In Peace and Joy,
Council Chair, 2020
As we approach the 2020 Election, we have been discussing the intersection of faith and politics in a nonpartisan way on Sundays. Last Sunday, I referenced that the United Church of Christ has a published a comprehensive toolbox online at ucc.org/ourfaithourvote, in which they encourage the following in our political dialogue:
What a world we are navigating! A global pandemic. An unprecedented presidential election only days away. A racial reckoning. These can be hard things to talk about, but they are conversations worth having.
Rev. Anna Kreisle Humble
Co-Bridge Pastor for Music and Worship
It is hard to believe that it has been 7 months since our world was turned upside down. Despite having to do and be church differently, we have accomplished so much. We plan on celebrating those accomplishments at our Annual Family Re-Union Sunday Nov 15th* at 10 am. (*Please note this is a change in date).
We will begin with a short worship service and then this virtual re-union will serve as our congregational meeting where in addition to celebrating, we will vote on our 2021 leadership and budget. More information on this exciting event plus an upcoming pre-townhall meeting (Nov 1) after church coming soon!
Between now and then, we hope that you seek out opportunities to participate in October's Holy Conversations focused on History. This week we are focusing on Question #2 (What is an example of a time you felt most connected to the UCC Community?) but there is still time to go back and answer Question # 1 or move on the Question #3. So call up your best church friend, talk with your partner and/or children, find ways to participate in dialogue. Tell your story and listen to other's stories. You can participate more than once! Don't forget to record themes from your conversations at uccaustin.org/holyconversations.
Our church profile for pastoral search will be richer and ring truer the more people participate. Plus it's a great way to strengthen relationships and foster community.
With you on the journey,