In his most recent book, In The End--The Beginning, theologian Jurgen Moltmann observes that "every child that is born and accepted represents a new beginning of life, a beginning we do not immediately comprehend because it is original, unique, and incomparable."
We often compare children to their parents. Matilda's just like her father. Willie's a chip off the ol' block. Rudolph's the spittin' image of his dad. It's hard to tell Henrietta from her mom. By comparing children's characteristics to the ones we see in their parents, we also discover what is new, unique, and original in every child. With each child an element of novelty is born. And therein lays one of our most fundamental hopes. Hope for fresh, innovative, ground-breaking, pioneering change in this world. Hope for straining beyond the constraints of the status quo. Hope for redefining ourselves in relation to God. Hope for a new creation.
The trick is to recognize what is new, unique, and original in every child. We can only recognize their novelty if we truly love the children in our midst. Loving children means keeping their futures as wide open as possible. Expanding their horizons means keeping hope alive for humanity. Moltmann writes, "a society which presses its children into the existing patterns of the adult world is robbing itself of its own future. With every child something new comes into the world, and from these renewals of life we can expect something for the hoped-for kingdom of peace and fulfilled life."
During the Christmas season, we celebrate the manner in which God entered our world as a child. A child named Jesus who brought something new, unique, and original to our world. A child whose future was kept open by those who loved him. A child who learned the traditions of his people and mastered his culture's social skills, but who did not uncritically submit to the established patterns of his time and place. A child who matured into a man who brought a fresh, innovative, ground-breaking, and pioneering approach to interpreting the Jewish Law and living out the Jewish faith, who pushed beyond the constraints of the status quo to redefine our relationship with God and creation, who invited people to follow him into a lifestyle creating a new, more God-centered, more humane world, and who willingly suffered pain and death at the hands of those who resisted the changes he brought about.
For me, God is the spirit of creativity who seeks to bring into existence that which is brand new in our already created world. God not only creates something out of nothing, but something new out of that which already exists, that which resists change, and that which often employs fear, intimidation, and violence to oppose change. In the words of theologian John Cobb, God addresses us as the call forward. God calls us to discern and respond to "the possibilities for intensified life, heightened consciousness, expanded freedom, and more sensitive love." God calls us to become what we have not yet been. But this liberating creativity must often go by way of the cross.
It's in children that God's call forward is perhaps most evident. Tragically, adults often don't notice, deny, or resist God's self-revelation through childhood. Powerful forces too often press children into the patterns of the adult world, be they patterns of poverty and survival that compel children to labor like adults, or patterns of competition for success that drive children to prepare incessantly for what they're going to be when they grow up. But even in the face of these pressures, God's spirit is still with us in our children, rebelling in subtle and not so subtle ways against the status quo, shining through with bursts of creativity, confronting us with the incomprehensible, and offering us something brand new. This Christmas season, let's celebrate the way God chose to be revealed in a child, and the way childhood reveals something about God.
OPEN AND AFFIRMING
FORUM ON SUNDAY, JANUARY 9
VOTE ON DECEMBER 30
In the past several months, the Open and Affirming Committee, consisting of John Burlinson (Chair), Paul Deisler, Lynne Lemley, Ellie Nash, Tommie Pinkard, and Tom VandeStadt, organized three forums on the issue of human sexuality with a particular focus on homosexuality. The first forum featured personal testimony on the experience of being gay, the second forum provided some reflections on homosexuality and scripture, and the third forum offered some current perspectives from the field of psychology.
In the fourth and last forum, to be held on Sunday, January 9 after worship, we will reflect on what it means for a local congregation in the United Church of Christ to declare itself "Open and Affirming." To what does such a declaration commit a church? If the Congregational Church of Austin, UCC, were to declare itself an Open and Affirming church, how would we fulfill that declaration? This forum will provide you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have about being an Open and Affirming church. To help you prepare for this forum, we have enclosed some additional information regarding the meaning of Open and Affirming.
Additionally, when a church becomes an Open and Affirming church in the United Church of Christ, it must declare itself as such with an Open and Affirming Statement. The Open and Affirming Committee will present a draft copy of an Open and Affirming Statement during the January 9 meeting. At that time, you'll have an opportunity to respond to the statement with questions or suggestions.
This will be a very important meeting in our Open and Affirming process. Perhaps the most important. Please make every effort to attend. Be sure that any questions or concerns you have are voiced and responded to by the time we vote on this matter at our Annual meeting on January 30.
As we have with our past forums, we'll have a pot lock luncheon with easy finger foods. Please bring in sandwiches, vegetables, cookies, shrimp, caviar, pigs in a blanket, Powerbars....whatever you'd like to share.
Trustees: John Moore & Pam Tucker
Deacons: Liz Nash
Christian Education: Marilyn Vaché
Christian Outreach: John Goff
STUDY AND REFLECTION SERIES
Because January is so booked up with after church events, we'll begin our study and reflection series on the Sabbath on Sunday, February 13, after worship. We'll begin our discussion with some reflections on Abraham Joshua Heschel's book, The Sabbath. If at all possible, please purchase a copy of the book and begin reading it by our first meeting. Heschel deals with the temporal dimension of holiness. Later in the series, we'll read from the works of Ched Myers and perhaps Robert Lowery, who have written on the subject of Sabbath and justice. I'll provide these readings.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 30
Our Church's Annual meeting will be held Sunday, January 30, following worship. Our big items for discussion and vote will be the 2005 budget and the decision on whether to become an Open and Affirming Church. Our Centennial Committee will also make a preliminary report on the work it has accomplished thus far regarding improvements to our building.
Board and Committee Chairs, please have your reports to Trish by Sunday, January 16. An e-mail attached Word document is the most helpful way to send your report. Please DO NOT include headers, footers or page numbers.
FROM THE BOARD OF DEACONS
This Advent Season, we are excited about the prospects for our church and its ministry. We are beginning to hear from people who have found out about us because of the "God is Still Speaking" television ad from the United Church of Christ, along with the controversy CBS and NBC have generated by refusing to air the ad. At our December meeting, we made plans to have people at worship early to greet visitors, and we encourage (as always) everyone to welcome new people among us. Also, the Cadeau has recently granted our church sole use of their parking lot until 1 p.m. on Sundays. Tom is in the process of exploring a number of options for signs we can set out on Sunday morning to reserve the parking lot for the use of our congregation and visitors. When we get these, we will need volunteers to set those signs out as soon as anyone arrives and to bring them in after worship. We are excited, too, about the first midweek worship and lunch that is coming up this Friday, December 17. The Deacons have been discussing and planning for an event like this for the past several months as a ministry to who can't often make it on Sunday mornings, as well as to any who want to attend. Finally, we are working on our membership outreach. We have sent postcards out to people in selected zipcodes who have just moved to the area, and we are looking at ways to advertise in community and neighborhood newspapers (which would offer less expensive and more targeted than advertising in the Austin-American Statesman.) If you have an area newpaper or newsletter you believe would be a possibility for this, bring it to Tom or to Liz Nash. We'll be looking at the possibilities early in the new year.
FROM CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
RESOLUTIONS FOR 2005
1. Eat better
2. Exercise more
3. Arrive ON TIME at church on Sunday mornings
4. Attend the church retreat at Slumber Falls!
Dates: April 15-17
Activities: for every age group.
SAVE THAT DATE -- more info on the way.
Front Porch Lunch
The Front Porch Lunch program has experience highly fluctuating attendance - a high of 34 two months ago but only 10 in December. This seems to be a result both of a high turnover of the local homeless youth population and only occasional success in getting the word out to the newer ones in our area. The Outreach board will make a sign announcing the lunch to Lifeworks clients and place the sign at the Lifeworks entrance in the days preceding the lunch.
Fair Trade Coffee/Chocolate
Sales of the Fair Trade coffee and chocolate were very brisk, and we anticipate continued interest and demand for these products from our members. The Outreach board will continue to purchase these items and we'll try to sell them on a monthly basis to members. Profits from the sales will be dedicated to our developing Border Ministry.
We continue to request donations of items for the Freeze Night shelter: large casseroles (enough to feed up to 16), snacks, hot chocolate, pop tarts and socks.
On January 23, Micah 6 has planned a luncheon and Joint Worship Service for all the Micah 6 church congregations. Our choir will be participating, and a special guest speaker has been secured. Add a free lunch to that, and it's quite a deal!
All are invited.
It will be at St. Austin Catholic Church on Sunday, January 23, starting with lunch from 1:15 - 2:15, volunteer appreciation/ recognition program from 2:15 - 2:45 and silent prayer in the church at 2:45 p.m. Worship Service at 3:00 pm until 3:45 or 4:00 pm. So, we have our own Sunday worship service, visit just a few minutes, and then walk down the street to St. Austin's.
Mark that date -- January 23, 2005.
A big THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed to the windows restoration project. The fundraising is going very well and Frances should have more Christmas cards and even calendars with pictures of our windows on them available. Everyone please take a moment to look at the new sink and faucet installed in the kitchen downstairs. It is fitted with a backflow preventer and a sump pump so it should NEVER back up! We are also installing a new (to us) dishwasher in the nursery room, and it should be working by December 19th. Many thanks to Ben White for installing the slip guards on the outside steps up to the third floor! We continue to have water penetration problems in the Appel Room and also in Trish's office and we are working on it. We have not been backing up our records from Trish's computer for a long time now, but we will soon have the hardware to do it properly. Finally, the Budget Committee is working on the difficult task of trying to cut/reduce budget items to stay within our expected revenue for 2005. If you ever have questions about what the trustees are doing, please contact any of us.
Brita Jenquin has a new cell phone number. It is 631-521-0476.
Bill Phillips wrote from Panama, "I just want you to know how proud I was when I saw the new UCC commercial on CNN (Aaron Brown) last night. I felt like Francis Scott Key must have felt when the smoke cleared, and day broke, and there were the tattered rags of the Stars and Stripes. It is so right and so wonderfully foolish and so typical of the UCC. But, it is clear that we have reached a time when we must speak with a very clear voice. God is love. That is not something that we can equivocate in anyway." Bill reported that their plans to move back to Austin have changed. The University of Panama has convinced Betty that she should remain through next year. They will be in Austin for most of the month of January and hope to see folks in church on those Sundays.
Both Pat Oakes and Suzanne Bradford lost their mothers within days of each other. Pat's mom, Lois Winter, died at home in North Carolina on Dec. 2 after a fourteen-month-long struggle with cancer. Her sister Nancy was there with their dad when Lois died. Pat and her 3 siblings took turns helping their folks over a 7 week period while their mom was in hospice care. Mel and Pat joined 24 family members and many friends at a memorial service and celebration of a life well-lived on Dec. 10 in North Carolina. Suzanne's mom Anita Bradford died on December 8 at her home in El Paso after a 6 month battle with cancer. Suzanne, John, Sarah, and Travis all traveled to El Paso for the memorial service. Suzanne had also spent a great deal of time in the past months going home to help her mom and her dad. Their family also found hospice care to be a wonderful group of caring people who helped them along on a difficult and sad journey.
Clark Hubbs has been diagnosed with colon cancer, but it is hoped that it has been caught early. Clark, having taken his chemo and radiation faithfully Monday through Friday in early December, was unhooked from his chemo for the weekend and allowed to do what he loves most: field work. That meant going out with a student, sitting by the banks of the stream, checking water chemistry and examining the fish population in the stream and in the spring. He really is doing very well, Cathy reports. Clark, we are all wishing you well and keeping you in our prayers.
Mary Charles Williams is recuperating from an accident she had on the evening of Dec. 2. No one is quite sure exactly what happened, but she was found badly banged up in the parking lot of her apartment complex. It is thought that perhaps she was hit by a car, but we know that no one stopped to help. She has been staying with her sister and brother-in-law, Carolyn and Charles Peck. She had a black eye, stitches were required in her head, and a rib was broken. Cathy Hubbs has visited her several times as Mary Charles' sister lives just up the block from her on Marilyn Drive. Mary Charles is looking forward to a visit from her daughter Meredith and son-in-law Graham (who live in England) for several weeks in January. For the moment she will be staying with the Pecks until she is fully recuperated.
Congratulations to Karl and Andrea Putz. They are expecting a baby on June 9! We wish all three of you well.
Sunday, December 19, was a special day at the church. Not only was it the day for the annual Christmas pageant staged by the children and their teachers, but Harrison Vee Tucker, son of Pam Tucker and baby brother of Savanna, was christened. Everyone enjoyed a piece of the beautiful cake except for Harrison. Just wait until next year!
The Pinkards had a lively Christmas with a house full of relatives. Son Chris and his wife Rizza came from California with new daughter Kiana and son David and his girlfriend Suzanne came for the holidays from New York.
Former long-time members Garry and Judy Cole who now live in Toledo, Ohio, spent the holidays in England visiting with their youngest daughter Allison and son-in-law Chris and three-year-old granddaughter Hazel. Hazel will become a big sister in April. After their trip to England they will make several others, including a trip to Panama for a meeting. It looks like they will be there while the Bill and Betty Phillips are here in Austin. Heather, the Cole's eldest daughter, and her husband Ivan Fernandes have had a particularly difficult year as Ivan was diagnosed with liver cancer last January. He almost died in June, but amazing new drugs and Heather's care have helped, and Ivan just returned from a trip to Wales, London and Rome and is back working half-time. We are starting out the New Year with a long prayer list, and Ivan has just been added to it.
K.C. Towery, son of Ches and Maggie Towery and a junior at Pflugerville High School, recently returned from L.A. and the Addidas Soccer Tour Division I Playoffs. K.C. was selected Team Player of the Tour--congratulations! Christmas night he was off to NC for another collegiate scouting tournament.
On Friday, December 17, the Deacons hosted an Advent lunch at the church and invited our older folks who often don't make it to church for one reason or another--and, oh, we had such a good time!! Also there were folks who picked the non-drivers and those who help set up and clean up. Attending were John Towery, Mathis Blackstock, Cathy Hubbs, Pat and Mel Oakes, Liz Nash, Suzanne Bradford, Tom VandeStadt, Graylin Grissett, Ben White, Dave and Sara Ross, Tommie Pinkard, Florence Castle (who played the piano for the worship service before lunch--so good to see her there!), Jean Decker, Weldon and Marie Scheel, Rizer Everett, Ben White, 8th graders Olivia Grissett and her friend Lindsay Grace (they had gotten out of the Waldorf school early for the occasion), Stella Morrison,Jen Howicz and 7-year-old Emily, Liz Spencer, Liz Nash. Sorely missed were Dennis Murphy and Jim Tomasek who were both under the weather (happily they were both better on Sunday and were in church on Sunday." Lunch was generously provided by Southern Care Hospice where Liz Spencer is the chaplain. Tom led everyone in a communion service and we enjoyed singing Christmas carols. We then adjourned for lunch and everyone chatted and visited, catching up with one another. It was such a success that the Deacons plan to have another lunch get-together as we get close to Easter.
There was standing room only for the annual Christmas pageant which was held during Sunday's service on Dec. 19. It was truly an extravaganza with sets (designed by Jeri Winter and executed by the junior high class), wonderful costumes, music by the choir and our pianist Aaron Carter-Cohn, and a cast of--more than a dozen! It was the story of the donkey who is chosen to carry Mary to Bethlehem. Sarah Kirch starred as the donkey and Julia Adams was the donkey's owner. Other participants were Emily Howicz, Jeffrey and Katie Lemley, Cameron and Megan Goff, Waamene Yowika (Mary), Ellie, Annie, and Becky Nash, Alex VandeStadt, Travis Moore (Joseph), Jeff Lemley, Chester Rosson and Joe McMillan. Many thanks to Robin Chapman, Liz Nash, Lisa Kirch (costumes), Jennifer Howicz, John Goff, Nodie Murphy, Reuel Nash, Marilyn Vaché and Jeri Winter who helped with all of the rehearsals and costumes.
At the beginning of the pageant there was a heartfelt thank-you given to Jeri Winter who has completed her degree at UT and will be returning to Illinois. We will miss you, Jeri! Thanks for the lovely dinner on Monday, the 20th. It was great to visit with your family and share their pride in your achievement.
From Rizer Everett: On 13 November I enjoyed attending the reunion of staff, patients, and alumni board members of the Peoples Community Clinic located in the 2900 block of the frontage road of IH 35. On 20 November I was joined by my son and daughter-in-law for a visit to the Spicewood and Becker wineries in the hill country of Texas. On 25 November I was a guest for Thanksgiving dinner in the home of the Householder family. On 8 December I attended the luncheon for the members and their guests of the Exxon Mobil Retiree Club of Austin. The attendance was l58 at the Barton Creek Country Club where the Chamber Choir of Lake Travis High School choir provided seasonal music that was appreciated by all attendees. Perishable foods donated by attendees were collected by the Hill Country Ministries and distributed to needy families after the luncheon.
Friday, January 7th Melanie Wilkinson and Terry Heller are combining talents again for an "end of Christmas" concert. Festivities will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a light dinner. After the concert we will consume cookies and/or fruit and draw numbers to exchange gifts. (Please keep the gift cost under $5,) The donations collected at the concert will benefit Melanie and Huston-Tillotson College
1 Bob Breihan
18 Brad Ferguson
22 Mary Masters
23 Danny Masters
28 Yoshikuni Kaneda
30 Robin Chapman
31 Joe Nordstrom
Get Your Act Together!
Yes, it's back by popular demand--the CCA Talent Show! We raise money for a good cause while having a great time. This year, we're going to support Tom as he goes "Pedalin' for a Purpose." He'll be joining three other nut cases who'll be riding their bikes from Austin to Biloxi as a fundraiser for Back Bay Mission (see enclosed flyer). We'd like to help cover some of Tom's personal expenses on this trip. Additional money raised may go directly to Back Bay Mission or to support our church's mission trip to Back Bay in June.
Mark your calendars for 6 p.m., Sunday, February 6, 2005--and start practicing!
BACK BAY MISSION TRIP
JUNE 26 to JULY 2
It's now winter, which means summer's just around the corner. You can see how my mind works! We need to begin thinking more seriously about our Back Bay Mission trip at the end of June. Here's some information that may be helpful. We can bring anywhere from 12 to 24 people. The mission work is housing rehab with a lot of scraping and painting. There is also some recreational time scheduled. We stay in dorms, and the cost is $50.00 per person for the week. Our group must purchase and prepare its own food. Our church must pay a $150 registration fee. The camp experience is geared toward High School youth and their adult chaperones. However, Junior High youth may participate as long as they are mature, willing to work, and do not consist of more than 25% of the total group. Please keep your eyes and ears open for our next information and planning meeting.