Discernment Update from the Committee

UBC Past, Present, and Future

In order to post a job opening for a senior pastor, we need to prepare three written statements: our shared vision, a profile of the church, and a job description. The Discernment Committee, drawing on many conversations with church members, has been working on the first two of these. Below you will find the committee’s best description of UBC as we are and as we hope to become. We invite you to read these statements prayerfully and consider the following questions:

  • What do you hear that energizes you? What gives you hope for the future of UBC?
  • What makes you uncomfortable, and why?
  • What would you say differently? What would you add?

On June 30 everyone is encouraged to stay after worship for lunch and a discussion of these statements. If you can’t attend that meeting, feel free to offer your feedback to anyone on the committee (Lisa Cauble, Jody Joyner, Richard Moore, Anna Strickland, Paul Taylor). We hope you will be part of the process as we seek consensus on our identity and vision.

Who We Aspire to Be (Vision Statement)

Guided by Christ’s example, we build relationships to transform lives and our community through divine love in action.

Who We Are at Our Best (Commentary on Vision Statement)

University Baptist Church exists to nurture the spiritual journeys of our members and our university neighbors so that together we work for the good of our community. We shelter those wounded by rejection or indifference, and we step out into our neighborhood to build relationships with everyone who lives nearby or passes through—students, professors, merchants, artists, workers, individuals experiencing homelessness. We partner with churches, academics, government agencies, and others with a heart for justice in order to help our neighbors, which in turn enriches our common life. We open our doors for Christian worship, spiritual formation, and holy friendship; we open the same doors to benefit our neighbors by meeting basic human needs and by fostering social innovation. Every day we seek to be the body of Christ at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe. We believe our community will flourish as church and neighbor grow together in justice, kindness, and mutuality.

Who We Are (Profile of UBC)

University Baptist Church was founded in 1908 to serve the spiritual needs of the students, staff, and faculty at the University of Texas (UT). Members of the UT community have contributed their specialized knowledge and skills to help UBC members worship, grow spiritually, and better serve those in our neighborhood. UBC, in turn, has both supported the university and confronted it in times of controversy. The university and the neighborhood have changed greatly over the past century, and the church has evolved in response to changing needs. The university has grown much larger, dense student housing dominates the skyline, businesses have multiplied, and a significant homeless population inhabits the area. These changes have provided new opportunities for alliances and ministry.

We have a long history of ever-widening inclusiveness, inspired by the example of Jesus. In the 1940s we challenged the university and the state legislature by advocating for racial equality. In the 1970s we began to ordain women as deacons. In the 1980s we became increasingly focused on social justice for the marginalized in our community, working to provide housing, food, and clothing to those in need. In the 1990s we extended deacon ordination to LGBTQ members and affirmed the right of people to enter committed relationships without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. In all of these areas we have fallen short of our ideals, but we have continued to strive forward, listening to Christ’s teachings to cultivate a love that encompasses everyone.

Our neighborhood now includes a significant number of people experiencing homelessness. We started a food pantry in the 1990s, then helped to form a coalition of churches called Micah 6, which took over the food pantry as its primary ministry. Also in the 1990s we began God’s Family Dinner, a program that serves a hot meal every Thursday to anyone who wants to come. We host a drop-in center for street youth on Saturdays and Sundays, providing computer access, food, and clothing to young people who are homeless. We helped to found and continue to support Labyrinth Progressive Student Ministry, a church for students, many of whom would not feel welcome in more traditional churches because of their gender identity or their approach to Christian beliefs.

UBC, like many churches, has grown smaller in recent decades. We currently average fewer than 65 in worship services. Most of our members live far away from the church. In terms of traffic, Austin is one of the most congested cities in the country, making it hard for members to travel to church at times other than Sunday morning. We are also an aging church, with many older members who find it increasingly difficult to participate. Still, we do have families with youth and children, as well as young ministers who ensure strong programs for our families.

We have formed many partnerships with others to strengthen our communal life and to extend our ministries to those in our neighborhood. Nationally, we belong to the American Baptist Churches USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. These organizations share our commitment to diversity, the autonomy of the local church, women in ministry, and social justice.

Locally, we partner with other progressive Baptist churches in camping associations for our children and youth. We combined our youth ministry with University Christian Church (UCC) and the Congregational Church of Austin (CCA), sharing activities, ministers, and lay leaders. We launched Labyrinth Progressive Student Ministry in cooperation with UCC, CCA, First Baptist Church, and several other churches. Our Thursday meal, God’s Family Dinner, is supported by volunteers from Hope Presbyterian Church, Congregation Agudas Achim, Nueces Mosque, and student organizations from UT. We have allied with Habitat for Humanity and Interfaith Action of Central Texas to build and maintain affordable housing in our city, working alongside University Presbyterian Church and other religious organizations.

Thanks to the foresight of church members in the past, we are blessed with valuable property adjacent to the university. Since our membership is much smaller than it was in the past, we are unable to make full use of all our buildings for church programs. We currently lease some of our space to a church, a sorority, and a construction company. We also worked with a student housing company to build a high-rise dormitory on our former parking lot, with a parking garage to serve both the church and student residents. These relationships generate significant revenue to support the ministries of the church. We are actively exploring different ways to use our buildings for social ministries and innovation, and we are eager to partner with others who will bring expertise, energy, and new financial paradigms.

UBC exercises a democratic form of self-government; it is an imperfect system, but we believe it to be the best way to make decisions as we discern and respond to God’s will. We elect lay leaders to plan and carry out the work of the church through a system of committees and coordinators. We also choose deacons to focus on the spiritual life of our members, supporting and sustaining the congregation through direct personal connections. Our ministers and other staff meet regularly with the lay leadership to ensure that our efforts are based on a common vision.

We are a Baptist church, but our members have diverse spiritual backgrounds. We value open and honest inquiry, learning from each other as we share our experiences. We borrow practices from other traditions to enrich our worship. Our services are generally formal, with organ, choir, hymns, the lighting of candles, and ministers who wear robes. We follow the common lectionary and observe the liturgical calendar. We value prophetic proclamation in which scriptural exegesis calls us to put our faith in action, helping our immediate neighbors and working for systemic change to bring about a more just society.

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