Six weeks have now passed since we first began social distancing here in Austin, and this coming Sunday will mark our seventh livestreamed worship service! I can hardly believe it’s been that long, and yet in some moments, I feel like I have accumulated every second of it.
This first month and a half of our new normal has been characterized by adaptation and improvisation from UBC staff and lay leaders as we have tried to keep functioning as a church body and institution. We’d like to fill everyone in on some of the ways we’ve been trying to “cope with COVID” at UBC, and you’ll find in the paragraphs that follow a note each from Paul, Lily, and Jonathan on how their work has been affected.
As we move forward into the weeks ahead and gradually assess when it will be safe to begin holding in-person services and gatherings again, we hope to hold on to some of the changes and adjustments that have been prompted by this coronavirus crisis. We believe that God is still calling us to be and to do something of service to our community and beyond, and we want to be nimble enough to follow the call.
One of the things I am most excited about is the development of our new UBC COVID-19 Benevolence Response Team, comprised of Ron Cockroft (Mission Coordinator), Larry Deuser (Trustee), and Beverly Gavenda (Deacon Officer), with Paul Taylor and I serving as staff liaisons. This new team met (virtually) for the first time on Tuesday and developed a strategy for UBC to expand our benevolence ministry to assist folks whose health and livelihood have been damaged by COVID. The approach will be two-fold: 1) A way for members and non-members alike to seek assistance with bills, 2) A way for UBC to donate to other non-profit organizations that are providing criss-intervention resources in the community. Stay tuned for more specific details about how all of this will work, but for now, I hope you’ll celebrate with me just how much potential good we can do through these gifts!
We have survived six weeks, y’all! As we move ahead, I am beginning to ponder how we might shift from survival mode to a framework of sustainability. In other words, how do we encounter this new normal from a posture of hope and strength? How do we regroup and renew when things get particularly exhausting? What does it look like to thrive, not just survive, even in the midst of all that is painful, disorienting, and sad?
We’ll be asking for your feedback to these questions, too. In fact we want to continue this “Coping with COVID” series with weekly installments of music, stories, art, and personal anecdotes from our members about how you are getting by, getting creative, and getting what you need during this unusual time. Read about how you can participate at the end of this email.
You all are in my thoughts and prayers. I see you in my mind’s eye regularly and look forward to seeing you in the flesh as soon as we are able.
May the peace of Christ be with you,
Designated Senior Pastor
Paul Taylor, Director of Finance:
UBC’s employees are continuing to carry on the work of the church while observing guidelines for distancing and isolation, in most cases working from home except for a few hours at church. With the approval of our leadership (including the moderator, deacon chair, treasurer, and Church-Staff Relations), all employees are being paid their regular wages, regardless of the extent to which they are able to work. In particular, the choral scholars are being paid through the end of the semester, as usual, even though choir rehearsals and worship services have been suspended.
God’s Family Dinner, our ministry to the hungry, also continues in a modified form. We can no longer prepare a hot meal and invite our guests to gather in Fellowship Hall, but we are handing out bottled water and boxed meals from Jason’s Deli on Thursday afternoons. We have asked our regular volunteers not to come, since many of them are at higher risk of complications should they contract COVID-19. The meals are being distributed by one or two UBC staff members, with the assistance of our APD security guards. We have been averaging about 130-140 meals each week. We appreciate your prayers as well as your financial support to keep this vital ministry going.
We have made some modest investments in technology to support online meetings and the live streaming of worship services. The staff members operating the technology have relatively little prior experience, but we are learning quickly. We are investing significant time in improving our online presence not merely as a stopgap during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as a way of extending our outreach even when we return to face-to-face meetings. Our online services are being attended by members who were unable to come to church even before the pandemic, as well as visitors who aren’t in our current records. We want to maintain and strengthen those connections when we eventually resume worshipping in person.
Jonathan Castillo, Minister of Music & Outreach:
I’ve been working closely with Paul to develop a quality live stream platform for UBC. While continuing to strive for improving the stream week after week, we are excited at how far we’ve come over the last month of live streaming out worship services to you! Broadcasting our services is a wonderful outreach tool, and I have every intention to continue streaming after we are able to meet in person again. This will allow us to continually reach a broader audience.
In addition to the technical side of the stream, I’ve been heavily involved in planning and coordinating the worship service week to week with all of the staff at UBC and with Tom from CCA.
Lastly, I’ve been in communication with the camping association that we partner with for our children’s and youth camps. Due to the health crisis, Youth Camp has been canceled this year and we are still waiting to hear about children’s camp and VBS. There is talk about still trying to do something special for the kids and youth, though! I’ll be sharing more information as I receive it!
Lily White, Director of Hospitality:
Our deacons have ramped up their contact with the congregation. They’re spending some extra time in this self-isolating period to call, email or write members to make sure they’re doing well and know how to find our worship services and gatherings online.
Although the office is closed, I am coming in every week to maintain the mail-outs to our homebound members. I have also temporarily added some members to this list who don’t have or aren’t comfortable with technology so they know the church is still gathering and are thinking of them. I send copies of Sunday’s worship bulletin and announcements, copies of Midweek Messages and Pastor’s Pens, and a pamphlet specifically designed for the homebound, which goes out each week.
In addition, I have sent out battery-operated candles to some of our members and all on our homebound list. This way, we can light a candle during our worship service if we’re unable to light a real one or can’t find one easily. I am also mailing out several copies of the children’s bulletins to our children so they can continue reading the messages usually found in the children’s worship bags in the sanctuary. Our children’s Sunday School teachers, Bill and Kari, put together some materials for Easter to be sent out, as well.
Another way we are gathering together is via our weekly ConnectUBC Happy Hours. I send out a link to a Zoom meeting and everyone is invited to log on or call in to talk to anyone who stops by. This is a great time for our members who want to check in on each other and catch up. I’ll continue this gathering until we’re able to meet again face to face.
How are you coping? Let us know.
Now that you’ve seen how our staff is coping during this time, let your UBC friends know how you are coping with these challenges.
On our social media pages, post a picture or video of your workspace, school area or study nook. We’ll all want to see how you’re working & learning during this time of COVID. Make sure to use the hashtag #UBCcope19 so we can find it.