As the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 continues to spread around the country, including the city of Austin, I am writing to let you know that the staff and lay leadership of UBC have determined prayerfully that it is in everyone’s best interest for us to discontinue in-person meetings and worship services through the end of March. Jonathan is still determining how the choir will proceed, so choir members should stay tuned for a message from him.
As you already may be very aware, this is in keeping with many other cancellations around the city and the nation, including churches, schools, concerts, conferences, and sporting events. A colleague of mine posted this insight in a letter to his own congregation: “As a people of faith and as a nation, we are confronted with a paradox. At a time when we need community the most, the tangible practices of being community must be adapted or suspended to slow the spread of the virus.”
I feel this paradox deeply. If you have been present in worship in recent months, you know that I had been encouraging folks to sit closer together, to feel the energy of the Spirit moving among of us. And now we are being asked to physically distance ourselves to protect life and health. I had been planning to preach on barriers to community during Lent, and this seems like a much too heavy-handed object lesson.
And, yet…I am hopeful. I am hopeful because this season of self-quarantine also offers to us some precious opportunities—to slow down, to think more intentionally about how we will connect, and to recognize our fundamental dependence on God and each other.
Though we will not be having in-person worship beginning this Sunday, let me tell you all that will be happening:
Our Lenten Book Study on The Powers That Be will be convened through the online technology of Zoom at 9:30 AM on Sunday mornings. Use the link by clicking on this sentence. You can also join the Lenten Book Study by phone by dialing 1-669-900-6833. Meeting ID: 531 902 474. You can even come to class in your pajamas!
Jonathan and I will be leading an online worship experience, including elements for the whole family, at our usual worship time of 11:00 AM on Sundays. We hope that you will join us live and engage with each other in this time. A recorded version of this will also be available for watching later. Use the link by clicking on this sentence to find us on YouTube.
God’s Family Dinner and the Street Youth Drop-In will continue to serve our neighbors at the usual times and places, with some slight modifications to promote the health and safety of our guests.
We are still offering pastoral care to our members. If you have a need, please do not hesitate to reach out to me, to another staff person, or to a fellow member. We will still be responding to email, phone calls, and text messages, though staff will most likely be working from home when possible over the next few weeks. I especially encourage you to reach out if you are feeling anxious, depressed, or isolated. No doubt there will be difficult days ahead, and no one is expected to be cheerful all the time.
We can still be priests to each other. Baptists often talk about our commitment to the priesthood of all believers. I encourage you to live into your calling over the next few weeks and months. Check in with each other on the phone or FaceTime, check on members who may need assistance with picking up groceries or prescriptions, find ways to bring each other joy and levity and a break from the onslaught of news updates.
For all the anxiety and upheaval that are being injected into our social systems, I also see a hint of possibility: Systems and institutions that so often seem static and resistant to change can, when pressed, adapt. When our lives depend on it, we can be flexible, dynamic, creative communities, just as Christ calls his Body to be.
Another one of my wise colleagues put it this way: Though we have to cancel church, our God cannot be canceled or quarantined.
May we lean into this Truth and lean on each other in the coming days.