Solitude. Community. Service. These three practices are the cornerstone of how God wants us to be shaped and formed, and it is important to engage in all three. First, we need solitude—to pray and to pay attention to ourselves and God. Second, we need a community—a group of people that knows our true selves. Finally, we need to engage in service—to reach out to neighbors with helping hands, an act that improves their lives and our own. Chances are that even at your best, you practice two of these well and avoid the other one completely. Maybe you feel uncomfortable sharing your life with others in community so you tend toward solitude and service. Or maybe you’re so busy serving others and investing yourself in your community that you rarely take time to pay attention to your own spiritual life. Whatever the case may be, our invitation to you is to examine your life and see how you might need to change to live a more balanced and intentional spiritual life. The rule of life is one of the oldest practices in the Christian tradition to recover balance and intentionality. Go to covenant.org/ruleoflife for a complete guide to creating a rule for yourself. If you have never created a rule for your life, we invite you to begin there. Every few months we will publish a new Community Life Guide to help you as you seek to practice solitude, community and service. In the following pages, you will find different opportunities to engage in these practices with the Covenant community. Download the Community Life Guide, Fall 2017 here, or find it in the latest issue of Cornerstone!
Covenant’s Congregational Care team offers care and support to members and friends in several ways. The group will kick off three classes and/or groups in September. Career Transitions will be offered on Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. from Sept. 7 to Oct. 5. Career Transitions is a five-week program for those seeking new jobs. The curriculum takes participants through a new stand-alone topic during each class. Topics have included LinkedIn tips, resume and interview pointers, managing the emotional impact of career transitions, social media and networking. Participants are invited to attend one or all of the sessions. Each week is a working session to build skills and create a plan of action. The Christ-centered program enables those involved to gain confidence and strength from the foundation of faith. Fall 2017 Career Transitions topics and presenters Healthy Boundaries, a new class, is being offered Mondays from 6:30 to 8 p.m., from Sept. 11 to Oct. 9. Healthy Boundaries will study the need to protect ourselves and others from emotional harm. The group will discuss how to establish healthy psychological boundaries. The primary resource will be “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The group will meet on Mondays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. beginning Sept. 11. To register (there is a 12-person limit) or to get more information, contact Donald Zappone at email@example.com. Walking the Mourner’s Path starts at 6:30 on Thursday, Sept. 28 and will run until Nov. 16 Walking the Mourner’s Path is a Christ-centered, spiritually-directed grief support group for those who are mourning the death of a loved one and are experiencing the pain of grief. Group members become aware of God’s presence and healing comfort as they share their own stories with each other. Participants learn ways to honor loved ones, seek spiritual direction and discover Christ’s promise of comfort as they move forward. Walking the Mourner’s Path is not a psychologically-based therapy group. Two trained group leaders and a Covenant pastor serve as facilitators. For more information on any of these, contact Kay Austin.
Covenant’s mission partner, Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN) is leading the community in rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey. ADRN continues to support Harvey recovery with Love Port Arthur weekends. The next weekend is Jan. 19-21. Get more info here. Find other ways to volunteer with Harvey relief here. Sign up as an ADRN Volunteer. ADRN volunteers must be trained. A full list of all sessions can be found at ADRN.org/events. The next opportunity is: Orientation and Preparedness Training: After training, volunteers are notified by text or phone and can be deployed to areas needing relief. You could be deployed to a disaster site for clean up or other needs Please check back for January dates. The last training for 2017 was Dec. 12. Questions? Please contact Covenant’s ADRN liaison Steve Bissell at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kay Austin at email@example.com. Manos Donations are Scarce Due to Harvey The Manos de Cristo food pantry is nearly bare! Manos is critically short on food and clothing as its usual resources are closed to Manos clients due to Harvey. Key items needed include juice, shelf milk, beans (canned and loose), canned soup, macaroni and cheese, and cereal. Clothing is needed too. Covenant has a collection place in Eaton Hall for Manos donations. Contact Cheryl Banks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Covenant is working hard to find opportunities to support victims of Hurricane Harvey. Thomas Daniel writes below about a key way that members and friends can immediately step up: Give online here Dear Covenant Family, On behalf of the Session, we are writing to let you know some of our plans for responding to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. In the coming days, you will hear about various opportunities for our community to respond. We know that some of you are already giving and volunteering, and we encourage you to continue to do so! Due to the weather, we did not meet corporately for worship this past Sunday. One result is that we did not collect a weekly offering. This coming Sunday, September 3, we invite you to bring two separate offerings to worship — one for August 27 and one for September 3. The Session has decided that the entire offering collected for August 27 will go directly to a disaster assistance fund rather than to the operating budget of Covenant. You can designate this offering by writing “Disaster Relief” on your check or placing cash in an envelope with the same designation. We will immediately turn 100 percent of monies collected for the August 27 offering to the Mission Committee for disbursement. Alternatively, you can donate this offering before Sunday by giving online (please select “disaster assistance” from the drop-down menu), texting (512) 599-9828 with the dollar amount you wish to donate, mailing a check to the Covenant Business Office (3003 Northland Dr., Austin, TX 78757) or dropping off your contribution in person at the office. Friends, we will be mobilizing in various ways over the coming weeks and will invite you all to participate. For now, we hope you will respond immediately with the extravagant generosity called for by the Scriptures. In Christ, Thomas Daniel Senior Pastor Melanie Williamson Clerk of Session
Covenant has been monitoring the weather and due to the severity of the storm, we will NOT be holding worship services tomorrow, Sunday, Aug. 27. Our goal is to ensure the safety of our members, visitors and staff. Below is a letter from Thomas Daniel: August 26, 2017 Covenant Family, As all of you know, Central Texas is coping with the remnants of Hurricane Harvey. While predicting the weather is always an inexact science, it seems increasingly clear that our area will be dealing with significant wind and rain on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Therefore, we are canceling all on-campus activities for Sunday, August 27. This is for the safety of our visitors, members, volunteers and staff. We hope that you will stay home and stay safe. We encourage you to worship using a previous sermon, reading scripture and praying. Our vision statement is “encouraging one another to follow Jesus wherever we live, work and play.” This Sunday, may you be uniquely encouraged to follow Jesus where you live through an intentional time of worship. In the days to come, we will share opportunities for you to give assistance to our neighbors throughout Central Texas and especially on the coast. For now, let us hold them up in prayer. In Christ, Thomas Daniel
As summer quickly winds down, I am getting so excited for fall at Covenant! Hopefully,the past few months have enabled you to slow down and recharge your batteries. Now, when things speed up again, I wonder how God wants us to faithfully approach the coming days. Will we be busy with the right things? Will we be busy with the things that help shape and form each of us and our families into people of joy and hope … or will we once again settle for being busy, frantic and hurried? As people of faith, it is critical that we say “yes” to the right things and “no” to others. What will this look like for you? In our sermon series “Formed,” which starts Aug. 20, we will ask these questions. How does God form and shape us, and how do we prioritize our calendars for God’s work to happen? In Luke 6, we see that Jesus actively engages in three distinct practices. The text says that He first seeks solitude. In verse 12, Jesus goes up to a mountain to pray alone and be with God. This practice is essential for Jesus, and for each of us, to know that we are God’s beloved children. There is no other way that this identity is created in His people. Therefore we will invite our entire community into deliberate practices of solitude and prayer. One example of this is a half-day silent retreat on Saturday, Dec. 9. (More information coming this fall.) After spending time alone with God, Luke 6:13 13 finds Jesus returning to the community of disciples and choosing 12 among them who will serve as His apostles. These are the primary individuals with whom Jesus will spend time over the coming years of ministry. It is clear that each and every one of our lives needs to be shaped and formed in deliberate community. Covenant offers many avenues to explore community and we hope everyone will take seriously the invitation to invest in others. A primary opportunity for this is our small group ministry. Over the past 18 months, Covenant Groups have exploded and we are so excited about what God is doing in these pockets of community. Our hope is that if you are not yet deeply involved in the lives of others here at Covenant, you will strongly consider joining a Covenant Group. There are opportunities for individuals or couples to participate. Visit covenant.org/covenantgroups or contact Kathryn Sedberry (email@example.com) to ask questions and sign up. Finally, in Luke 6:17, Jesus and His disciples engage in service to those around them who are sick and hurting. We must not just be consumers of Christ, we must also participate in His mission in the world. So much is broken in our families, friends, city, nation and world and we cannot ignore the call to get involved. Acts of service change the lives of those around us; often we ourselves are changed even more. One opportunity to do this is during Shaped to Serve, our annual day of service, on Saturday, Nov. 4. Many of our fall activities are organized around opportunities for you to be formed in each of these three practices, and all are essential to becoming the men and women that God intends. My hope and prayer is that this fall, your calendar gets busy with the right things. God wants to use these coming days to form you and your family. Will you say “yes” to this invitation? Joyfully, Thomas
Sign up for volunteer shifts here: IHN Volunteer Sign Up On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 3, a white cargo trailer will be towed around Covenant’s circular driveway and brought to rest next to Eaton Hall. Inside will be what amounts to all the earthly possessions of three families who have been left temporarily homeless and found refuge in the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN). Over the next seven days, family members will eat and sleep in Eaton Hall. Covenant volunteers will bring meals and offer friendship, companionship and supervision in the evenings and early mornings. It will be the first hosting week this year for Covenant, one of 15 churches and synagogues participating in the IHN network. Covenant has participated since it began in 1993. During the days, the families will be bused by the sponsoring Foundation for the Homeless to pursue whatever they need to live independently again—usually a job, often a vehicle, sometimes training or ID cards, or other forms of assistance. Daycare is provided for children. All return each evening. The three families currently in the network are a single mom with four kids ages 12, 8, 5 and 4; a married couple with three kids ages 13, 9 and 4; and a single dad with a 7-year-old child. By the time they get to Covenant, most of them probably will have spent weeks at First United Methodist, St. Matthew’s Episcopal, Hope Presbyterian, Congregation Beth Israel and St. Ignatius Catholic. A family’s average stay in the network is 8 to 12 weeks. Since 15 churches make up the network, these families have a different, temporary church home nearly every week. Either a single catastrophe or a combination of factors left each in need of help. It’s difficult for Covenant volunteers to track their families once they leave, but we do know about two of them—the Thomases and the Kennedys. This video from the Foundation For the Homeless website shows the testimony of Darryl Thomas, who brought his wife, Alexia, and five children for help during spring 2012. A combination of medical bills and the 10 percent unemployment rate during the Great Recession left them homeless. Years later, the family is thriving, and Darryl has started a program for at-risk youths called “Size of a Man.” “My message to the IHN is, first and foremost, thank you,” he said. “You stepped up and helped in amazing ways. We wouldn’t be where we are today if not for your help. We are a family of faith, and we truly believe the Lord allows us to face certain obstacles, only to bring the best out of us.” The Thomases returned to independent living in May 2012. How do we know? Movin’ and Groovin’ delivered what was cryptically described on an old run sheet as “a trailer full” of furniture to their apartment on Dessau Road on May 3. Darryl is an honorably discharged Marine, as is Stacey Kennedy, who entered the program in 2010. She was injured prior to her discharge, then battled additional medical issues plus abusive relationships with the fathers of her two children. She lived with friends and relatives before ending up on the streets in Austin in 2010. Her life began to turn around when she called the 211 help line, was connected to the Foundation and accepted into IHN. The Foundation also nominated her for the Statesman’s Season for Caring program that Christmas, and she was accepted. Ever thankful for all the help she received, Stacey went on to volunteer periodically with the Foundation. “I’ve been there, so I try to encourage people,” she told a Statesman reporter doing a follow-up story on Season for Caring recipients in 2011. “For me, being homeless was not a negative thing. It helped me slow down. I stopped running around in circles. I was able to think about a plan of action to better my life.” Andrew Bucknall, IHN director and a Foundation employee, helps individual IHN churches develop volunteers. “The power of faith and hope can start with a cry for help and an answer from a stranger waiting to become a friend,” he said. “Please answer the call for help and volunteer for the Interfaith Hospitality Network.”
By ELIZABETH CHRISTIAN More than half of the businesses that are members in the Austin Chamber of Commerce employ fewer than 50 people and are considered “small” businesses by the federal government. Many Covenant members run businesses in this category. However, as the owner of a public relations agency with 18 employees, I can tell you that my business does not feel small at all. It is of enormous importance to my family and me, and thus to my estate. As a baby boomer, the reality of passing years can’t be denied. Although I fully intend to work at least 10 more years, I consider it my responsibility to think through what happens to my firm after I’m out of the picture. Thus, I’ve made a commitment to tackle the often-tough job of succession planning head on. My friend and experienced tax and estate attorney, Frank Leffingwell of Round Rock, has been a key advisor in this exercise. With Frank’s guidance, I am working through a number of scenarios with a big (if somewhat morbid) goal in mind: If something happens to me – or if I simply decide it’s time to retire – I want to find a way to protect my employees and to ensure that Elizabeth Christian Public Relations can continue to thrive well into the future. It turns out that the vast majority of founder-owned businesses, sometimes called mom-and-pop operations, simply have to close the door when the original owners retire or die. Employees lose their jobs, and the estates of the owners never benefit from decades of hard work. With Frank’s help, I’m working to make sure that does not happen. I hope my experience will be of interest to those of you at Covenant who may be in the same situation. Here are my biggest takeaways from the succession planning process I’ve been going through: Start the process as early in the life of your business as humanly possible. Unless you are in a tech startup with an “exit strategy” that involves building the business and then selling it in its early years, you are probably creating a business that you intend to maintain for the rest of your working life. As you work on staffing, hire with eye to finding a person or persons who can eventually take over the business when you’re ready to retire. This means hiring folks 15-20 years younger than you are and finding them early enough in their careers that they can grow with you and be poised to assume a leadership role. This is harder than it sounds. Most of us are more comfortable with people of our own generation. But if everyone in your management structure is your same age, where does that leave you when retirement beckons? Begin with the end in mind. Leffingwell recommends beginning with the end in mind. Decide what results are important to you and what you want to happen with your business. As the business owner, you don’t need to know how to reach a particular succession goal, but you do need to know what goal it is that you want to reach. No advisor can tell you what you want—only you know that. Create a structure that separates the business from your overall estate. Frank Leffingwell suggests that you might consider creating a separate trust for your business. “A business is usually fairly illiquid but nonetheless valuable,” Leffingwell says. “Putting it into a silo of its own allows you to make good succession-oriented decisions that build value for your children but that keep the business out of the morass of probate.” Your children may very well NOT be the perfect “next” owners of the business. If your child or children have been working with you for years, they very well may be the logical successors to you. However, most of us are not in this situation, and most of our kids have careers different than the one we’ve built with our companies. “Talk to your family early and often about your plans,” Leffingwell says. “They often don’t really hear or process the first conversation because they don’t want to think about you being gone. I don’t usually recommend giving your children copies of your will because wills change over the years. But they sure need to know where your estate documents are, including the business-related ones, and they need the comfort of having discussed these important decisions with you.” Make sure your will and your business documents are totally coordinated. These important documents do not exist in separate worlds. Your will needs to contemplate everything you plan to do with your business, and your business structure must be compatible with your estate-planning documents. Do not rush this process. It can take a year to fine-tune your plans. Speaking from experience, I needed to see things in black and white before they really became concrete for me. None of this can or should be done quickly, and it all needs to be done with a strong advisor on your team. For more information about Covenant Presbyterian Foundation, please visit covenant.org/foundation/ or contact Duane Dube or any Trustee: Elizabeth Christian, Everard Davenport, Larry Faulkner, Megan Poore, Helene Maham, Kristin Schell and Scott Ream. Covenant Presbyterian Foundation supports Covenant Presbyterian Church by assisting donors to be Faithful to Generations, during and beyond their own lives, by receiving and growing their gifts, and using them to help fulfill the donors’ glorification of God. One generation will commend your works to another…Psalm 145:4
On a recent Tuesday morning on the first floor of Covenant’s Fellowship and Education Building, a large group of people were singing happy birthday and eating tres leches cake. Hugs and smiles of delight were shared. The occasion was Maria’s birthday. Maria was one of the 50 students signed up to take an ESL (English as a Second Language) class at Covenant that morning. Each week, 27 Covenant members teach ESL classes to about 64 students from all over the world. The program has grown from five students and two teachers in the fall of 2014. “This is a community for the students,” said ESL teacher Ann Brown. “It’s a safe place for them to gather and make friends. I think our students feel very welcomed and are surprised at how much of a community develops. It’s more than just English, it’s a huge mission in ways that people can’t imagine.” Mission Collaboration Ann, a leader in Covenant’s Refugee Ministry, got involved with ESL when she recognized many refugees being helped by Covenant teams needed better access to English classes, a requirement of refugee resettlement. “Some refugee women were taught by AmeriCorps volunteers in their homes, but there are not enough volunteers to accommodate the many refugees who find it difficult to travel downtown by bus, often with multiple kids,” Ann said. “That’s when I started to wonder if we could offer daytime classes at Covenant. I talked to the people at Manos and they said they were looking to add more Level I classes. “Offering the classes at Covenant was a solution,” Ann said. “I knew it could happen if I’d volunteer to teach.” Manos de Cristo (already partnering with Covenant on ESL classes) assessed the prospective new students’ English skills and last summer, Ann began teaching Level I ESL classes on weekday mornings to seven refugee women. “We started with a small number and quickly expanded to include these women’s husbands, who often work nights. Eventually, we had 15 students, which is where we like to cap it,” Ann said. It has been challenging to limit class numbers, though, because the students are eager to include others. “Once they came and saw that Covenant was such a welcoming and safe place, they kept inviting their friends,” Ann said. “Whenever a new family moves in, they bring them on the bus and say, ‘Come with us to Covenant.’” Covenant’s ESL History Frank Sheppard brought ESL to Covenant in 2014 when he and fellow Covenant member Sue Roberts were the first two teachers in the program. Frank was taking a lay leadership course and needed a project. Other class participants were doing projects that met the needs of smaller churches, such as building maintenance or leading small groups. Frank felt called to do something different. That’s when he saw signs about ESL classes at a Plano church, sparking an idea for Covenant to do the same. He thought teaching ESL would be an ideal way to use the Fellowship and Education Building as a bridge to the community. He contacted Manos de Cristo as a first step, aware of the organization’s ESL classes and knowledge of community needs. He learned that they needed more class space. “I didn’t want to re-invent the wheel or spend a lot of time developing the curriculum, so I suggested Manos and Covenant jointly sponsor ESL at Covenant,” he said. After working out logistics with Manos and getting Mission Committee and Session approval, Frank recruited Sue to teach. Both Frank and Sue had teaching experience and became the first ESL teachers at Covenant in the fall of 2014. “I discovered that teaching ESL is not difficult; neither is it easy,” Frank said. “Using the Manos-approved curriculum, we had access to excellent teacher guides and were able to get advice when we had any problems.” Frank, still teaching ESL at Covenant, has enjoyed the challenge. “The advent of the refugee program led to a major change in the demographics of the program,” Frank said. “We needed to have a Level I class, which we had shied away from due to not having Spanish bilingual teachers. We have now found that you just jump in and hope that our acting ability will convey the meanings when we can’t find another way to communicate the words.” He said the need for higher level ESL classes has also contributed to program growth. “From a single ESL class on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and one citizenship class on Monday and Wednesday evenings, we grew to offer Levels 2, 3 and 4 in the evenings and Levels 1 and 2 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. We have had students from nearly all the countries of South and Central America, Russia, Myanmar and the Middle East.” One person Frank recruited this past year is Cheryl Banks. “Frank asked me to consider assisting, so I prayed about it last spring and summer,” Cheryl recalled. “I decided to help on Tuesday mornings and soon realized I loved working with Ann and loved working with and getting to know the students.” When Ann went to Cuba this fall, Cheryl and Frank team-taught her class, and Cheryl felt even more invested in the program. “There was so much joy in teaching that it didn’t feel like working!” she said. And Cheryl echoed Ann’s earlier revelation. “A side benefit, but very important, is that we are becoming a small group community for each other. Several of the women teachers were recently invited to one of our student’s baby showers. That was such a wonderful time together with many of our Iraqi students out at their apartment complex.” Frank, who had been the Covenant ESL coordinator for three years, asked Cheryl to consider taking over, which she did in January. “One of our goals as teacher and coordinator is to mentor/disciple others to continue the work and bring their own gifts to this table of ministry and fellowship,” Cheryl said. “We have actively done that this year by […]
Join us at Alamo Drafthouse Village, 2700 West Anderson Lane, on July 12 and 26 at 6 p.m., for this summer’s Reel Ministry film series! Reel Ministry has been a part of Covenant’s summer educational offerings for more than 20 years, engaging us through thought-provoking, relevant films which explore issues of faith and culture. We will be screening: July 12: Sacred July 26: True Conviction After viewing the documentaries, we’ll have a discussion about the themes represented in the show. There is no admission fee, but come hungry and thirsty to enjoy Alamo’s delicious food and beverage offerings! Space is limited for these events, so please let us know you are coming! RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.