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The Pits

The Reverend Matt Gaventa
Genesis 37:1-11, 18-28

A Reading from the Book of Genesis Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding …

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COVID-19 Response July / August 2020

July 30, 2020

Dear friends,

Back in May, I wrote to you to communicate that, as a result of our current pandemic, your session had committed to a summer of online church, and that the earliest we would consider reentering the sanctuary for worship would be Rally Day, August 23rd. Today, I write to update you on UPC’s plans related to reopening the church building and reentering into sanctuary worship. Over the past few months, your Safety & Security Task Force has been hard at work creating a phrased reentry plan that would give us signposts at which we could resume a variety of the in-person activities to which we are accustomed. That plan was adopted unanimously at the July session meeting, and is now available for your reading on the church website — but I’d like to take a bit of time today to walk you through some of its key points.

Each of our planned phases is keyed to particular community indicators related to the spread of the virus, such as quantifiable declines in the number of new diagnoses or the reduction of municipal “Stay at Home” orders.” At the same time, each successive phase requires session approval, which gives us the flexibility to adjust details of each phase as we learn more. Regardless, Phase One would allow for the resumption of some small group gatherings at the church, subject to local ordinances. Subsequently, Phase Two would broaden the number of permissible group meetings at the church to include mission and outreach opportunities, which would (among other things) allow our in-person UPLift ministry to resume operation, with modified protocols in place.

Phase Three enables public worship in the sanctuary. Sunday worship is the foundation of our community life, so obviously this is the big one. However, as you will see when you read the plan carefully — Phase Three also looks for significantly more drastic community indicators before we are likely to put it into place. Most notably, in Phase Three, we will require the widespread availability of a COVID-19 vaccine before recommending a return to sanctuary worship. Of course, it’s possible that circumstances on the ground could change and allow for alternate arrangements. However, for the sake of the health of our whole community, what seems clear is that we are going to live into this new reality for some significant time yet to come.

There’s no doubt that this is hard news. There’s no doubt that the season of pandemic has stretched so much longer than we once imagined possible, and I know the longing for the sanctuary that moves in the heart of this congregation. But even though we will not be in that space together on Rally Day, I do want to let you know that Rally Day is still absolutely happening, on August 23rd. On that Sunday, we are going to celebrate our entry into a new year. We are going to bless all those backpacks for such a once-unimaginable season. And we are going to give thanks for the many and various ways in which our church has remained healthy and open — even as our building remains closed. After all, there are lots of #signsoflife in our church right now, and coming up through the fall, and I’d love to give you a bit of a sneak preview of what you might expect:

  • On Rally Day, August 23, Christian Formation will kick off a full slate of programming
    for the fall, including the debut of a new Take-Home Church Curriculum for children’s Sunday School.
  • Christian Formation is also teaming up with our Social Witness and Congregational Connections Committees to provide a whole series of opportunities this fall related
    to how UPC can respond to the legacies of racism in our communities.
  • Congregational Connections is also exploring small group opportunities related to all kinds of other interests. If you’re looking for a virtual group to join — for book groups, recipe sharing, current events, or just chatting about the Astros — we are going to get
    you connected, and find new ways of being church together in this distanced moment.
  • As I’ve already written, UKirk is driving into the fall focused both on pastoral care for our returning students — now in the capable hands of our new Seminary Fellow for Campus Ministry Julia Burkley — but also on researching and imagining what the future of campus ministry at UPC ought to look like.
  • Finally, and at long last, we are about to have a new UPC website, and I can’t wait for you to see it! It’ll even work on your phone!

You’ll hear more about each of these in the coming weeks. For now, I simply want you to know that your leadership has been hard at work adapting and adjusting and trying to ensure that this fall at UPC will be as meaningful, sacred, and spirit-filled as we can hope for. There’s no doubt that 2020 has been an exhausting year, and no doubt that it will continue to be so, particularly as the anxiety of an election looms. And yet. I know the resolve of this congregation — to worship God with integrity and to love one another with abandon — and I know that we will rise to the moment of doing both, with courage and with grace, even if it does involve a lot of Zoom meetings.

I’m profoundly grateful for the work of a whole slate of church leaders that have buoyed us through this moment — the aforementioned Safety & Security Task Force (Rey Legett, Tommy McReynolds, Julie Miller, and Karl Spock, staffed by John Leedy); the chairs and members of so many church committees working to re-imagine their ministries in unprecedented times; the entire Session, for its wisdom in shepherding us so safely through uncharted waters; and, of course, my colleagues on the staff at UPC, each of whom have brought such creative and passionate energy to this moment. It is a pleasure to work alongside them, and to worship God alongside each of you. I will “see” you in worship, and soon.

Yours in Christ,

The Reverend Matt Gaventa
Senior Pastor, Head of Staff
University Presbyterian Church
Austin, Texas


UPC CPCP Response Reduction Plan approved July 15 2020
Click the link above to view the Session approved Response Reduction Protocols.

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