Do you love Vacation Bible School at Covenant? Do you appreciate weird animals? Do you get a kick out of teaching kids about God’s unconditional love? You may be the perfect person to lead Covenant’s 2014 VBS team! Covenant’s children and preteen ministry team is looking for a few individuals to step up and provide the leadership for this year’s VBS. While the need is prompted by Covenant’s smaller children’s staff, the shift to lay leadership running bigger events is a positive move. “This is an opportunity for people who have these gifts to use them and put their mark on VBS,” said Children and Preteen Interim Director Stacey Grooms. “They can bring their perspectives and their talents to the job.” Specifically, the VBS lay leadership team should consist of a director (or co-directors), an assistant director and a registration/admin person. “The director should be someone who loves VBS, “Stacey said. “The person needs to be able to juggle multiple responsibilities and tasks, and be very positive and excited about the week.” Stacey added that Covenant already has all the information in place. “We have a system, we have volunteers who have been leading key stations every year, and we have the materials. This lay leader will be responsible to recruit the right people and then manage them.” Covenant staff will support the person in charge. Stacey said she will provide all the resources and advice, and show the team how it all works. She and the rest of the staff are also willing to be at any station where the leader needs help. VBS is the first recent, major children’s event that will be run by lay leadership. “We are going to start using lay leadership teams for all of our events. We’ll also recruit help for Advent Event, and Trunk or Treat.” Stacey pointed to Upward Basketball as a good example of a program that went from staff-run to volunteer-driven. The program, in its second year of lay leadership, is stronger than ever. “Lay leadership makes programs better. It encourages people who might not otherwise to step up and take a leadership role in areas where they are super qualified. It will be fun to see the positive changes this shift produces.” To volunteer or to learn more, contact Stacey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 334-3005.
Since seeds were planted in 1994, 170 different members and staff of Covenant Presbyterian Church have participated in a total of 267 person trips to our sister church, The Presbyterian Reformed Church in Luyanó, a poor barrio of Havana. During October and November 2013, new member Barbara Worley went to Cuba for her first time. Upon the conclusion of her trip she wrote the following poem, My First Time: Church bus, bumpy ride Open windows, hot breezes. Elegant buildings, disrepair. Cars and carts People walking everywhere. Luyanó barrio Presbiteriano. Smiling greeters Hugs and kisses. Friendships renewed. Cuban food Rice and beans, Beans and rice. Filtered water, Living water Sewing circle, taiche. Old Havana, artist studio. Bible study, prayers Devotionals, discussions. Home visits, seminary visit Matanzas, Varadero. Casa de Cariño, Loving Care Home. Sandy beaches, warm waves. Music, concerts violins, chimes. Worship service, Sunday School. Art and architecture Musicians and dancers. Games and laughter Young and old. Finally ending… Hugs and kisses Tearful good-byes. THANKFUL For competent leaders Experienced old timer, Excited new timers. Anxious and unsure then Now, safe and assured: God’s in Cuba God’s in Luyanó God’s in the people. Covenant’s 30th trip to Cuba will occur from late October to mid-November. Perhaps you could write the next poem about your trip to Cuba this year. For information, contact Jack Kern at email@example.com.
This past July while our Zambia mission team was in Kaoma, Rev. Lovemore Nyirenda invited me to come back to Zambia to attend and speak at the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), Synod of Zambia, Christian Women’s Guild Conference on the Role of Women in Church and Society. I was both honored and terrified at the prospect of speaking at a national conference for more than 400 women. My comfort zone involves hands-on service and one-on-one or small gathering speaking. I spent several anxiety-filled weeks struggling to find just the right words to share with my sisters in Zambia. I’m pretty sure that God was chuckling as He watched and prodded me along. I soon realized that God called me back to Zambia for what He wanted to offer to me. The unexpected blessings came one after the other. On the 18-hour flight from Washington, D.C., to Johannesburg, South Africa, I sat next to a young woman on her way to Cape Town for her very first mission trip. She was from Austin, worked for an educational company and by the end of the trip volunteered to meet with me to discuss how her company could help Manos de Cristo with the Back-to-School event this summer. God’s hand was in the seat assignments! The first Sunday I worshiped with the CCAP pastors and wives who had gathered from all over Zambia for the Synod meeting. The first hour of worship was filled with singing and dancing. I was even pulled up to sing a song with Rev. Nyirenda. I met Rev. Gift Nyirenda, who is in charge of the translations at the Bible Society in Lusaka. He offered to help our team acquire Bibles in the correct translations for our Zambia missions. I met the pastor of the church, who is also the moderator of the Synod of Zambia, visited the CCAP offices and had lunch at the home of the CCAP general secretary. The Synod of Zambia, made up of 12 presbyteries, hosted the conference. The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian is composed of five synods, three in Malawi, the Synod of Zambia and the Synod of Harare (Zimbabwe). Every presbytery in Zambia sent women representatives and one pastor. Zambia has 72 CCAP pastors; five are women, three attended the conference. Malawi sent 14 women; two were ministers. Two women from the Synod of Harare attended. At the conference, we sang, danced, prayed, studied and worshiped. The Holy Spirit wasn’t just present but as palpable as an electric buzz. God lavished me with a weeklong spiritual spa! Ministers from all over Zambia spoke about the important role of women in marriage, the home, being a witness in the community, and being leaders and teachers in the church. The general secretary of the Council of Churches Zambia, a female Methodist minister, spoke about education for women. Two PC(USA) missionaries also spoke. Rev. Kari Nicewander is in Zambia to write a children’s curriculum for Sunday school and help with the translations. Nancy Collins is the liaison between PC(USA) and the Presbyterian churches in Zambia, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda. Nancy spoke about available programs and grants. She also explained about the Grain Bank and Village Savings & Loan programs that can be started locally in Zambia. As the week progressed, several CCAP ministers from Zambia and one from Malawi came forward to find out how to become involved in the mission work our team does. I invited all to join us this summer in Mufulira and learn more about church planting, raising up and discipling new church leaders, and training leaders in children’s ministry. God had gone before me, bringing us all together for some master networking! While in Lusaka, I was able to begin planning the mission for July 2014 with Rev. Lovemore Nyirenda, and Abel and Meyer Zulu. Rev. Nyirenda invited us to work with him and three other pastors in Mufulira. We plan to plant four new churches, provide medical clinics in surrounding communities, and provide a teacher training program for children’s ministry for the mother churches. Our mission trip is planned for July 2– 16. Anyone interested in participating may contact Larry Rieber at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cheryl Banks at email@example.com
Nineteen cups of rice flour, eight cups of sorghum and two cups of potato starch are the dry ingredients that two Covenant members chase down every three to four months as they prepare to make the church’s gluten-free communion wafers. Paulette Kern and Brynn Anderson work for three to four hours in the Covenant kitchen to ensure that the church has enough wafers to serve communion to congregants on the first Sunday of each month. They bake more often during holiday seasons. Paulette said that she was in the kitchen one day when Chef Mark Toussaint was preparing the wafers. He told her the church was supposed to have a volunteer do the baking. “I knew that was something I could do,” Paulette said. “We can give a little of our time to help the church. A lot of little bills add up to big bills.” The first time Paulette made the wafers, she did it alone and spent close to seven hours on the project. Paulette quickly realized she needed help and recruited Brynn, making the project more efficient and more fun. While the bakers get quicker each time they bake, the infrequency of the baking means it takes them a while to remember all the tricks they learned the time before. Paulette outlined the steps: “The first thing we have to do is find all the gluten-free flours. Often the stores only have small bags of the specialty flours so I have to go to multiple stores.” Once all the ingredients are purchased, they measure all the flours and add butter and ice water until they get a consistency they can work with. “Then the fun starts,” Paulette joked. “We do the rolling, the cutting, the baking and the re-cutting. We store them in baggies in the freezer and track how many we have after the communion services.” “It’s kinda like a game,” Brynn said as she popped a large tray into the oven. “We work well together. We have a good time catching up and talking while we bake. And we’ve had a big learning curve.” Covenant moved to all gluten-free wafers a couple of years ago. “I think serving all gluten-free wafers just simplifies things,” Brynn said. “Anyone receiving communion can take it from any of the servers.” And thanks to Paulette and Brynn, Covenant has gluten-free wafer servings for all!
When you have a drinking problem, you have three choices, according to an informed source representing Allandale Alcoholics Anonymous, a group that meets at Covenant 16 times during the week. “You can get sober, be confined by the state or in a mental institution, or you can die an alcoholic.” For 10 years, members of this AA group have strived to help each other accomplish the former. Covenant organizers estimate that between 500 and 700 people come to the church to attend AA meetings each week. This number has grown from just one meeting with about four participants when the group started. This month, Allandale AA is marking its 10th anniversary with a dinner and program at the church on Feb 8. Organizers have room for 240 people but suspect that may not be enough. Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.” Step one of AA is admitting you have a problem; it is the only one of the 12 steps that mentions alcohol. The only requirement for participants is a desire to stop drinking. The source explained: “You don’t have to walk in and say I’m an alcoholic, but very few are mistaken about their problem if they come.” The first step for Covenant in opening its doors to AA came when former Senior Pastor Jim Singleton heard about a Florida mega-church’s support of recovery groups. Four people met in January 2004 and decided to start a group. The first meeting was Friday, Feb. 6. Anyone is welcome to attend AA meetings at Covenant; only alcoholics may chair the meetings. Ministerial staff members and nursing students often visit. Step 2: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.” According to AA-provided materials, the program is focused on spirituality and God having an impact on changing a person’s life. The informed source clarified, “AA is not a religious program. It is a spiritually based solution. The difference is that there is no theology. It’s up to each individual to work out his or her own conception of God.” At a recent Covenant-hosted meeting, AA members shared stories and struggles they’d experienced during the week as they worked to become and/or stay sober. God was central to the discussions. As one member said, “If you don’t put God first, you don’t stand a chance.” Step 3: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” AA started when a New York stockbroker and an Ohio surgeon, self-described hopeless drunks, met in 1935 and worked together to stop drinking. Their goal was to help others who suffered from alcoholism and to stay sober themselves. This remains the purpose today. AA has no membership dues or fees; it is self-supported through its own contributions. In the beginning, Allandale AA at Covenant had many meetings attended by just four people. The group expanded, adding days and changing locations. Over the years, the group has been in the Sanctuary building, Covenant Hall, Eaton Hall and finally in the Chapel of the Fellowship and Education Building. The group started meeting three times a week at noon, then every day at noon. Night and weekend meetings started, as did targeted meetings for men, women, first-year members and more. Steps 4-11 All AA steps are powerful, and the group that meets at Covenant is full of amazing people who have made the bold step to admit they have a problem. According to AA’s website, Allandale AA is one of about 114,000 groups supporting more than 2,000,000 members in 170 countries. In addition to the 12 steps, there are also 12 chapters in “The Big Book,” which was written by the founders and the first 100 people to become and stay sober. Chapter 5, which explains how the program works, is the most important chapter, according to the source. The group reads from it in almost every meeting. It reminds members of the steps taken to reach sobriety. Step 12: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” The source commented, “For every person in one of our AA meetings, there are at least 20 people who need a meeting.” But he said, “AA is not for those who need it, but for those who want it. “We hear what a great group this is, how welcoming it is. Our meetings are focused on the solution,” said the source. “It’s important to know that help is just a phone call away.” Those in need can call the church at (512) 454-5231 or (512) 452-3673. AA is completely confidential; all participants remain anonymous.
When a baby is baptized at Covenant, everyone “oohs” and “aahs” as the baby is introduced, and agrees to help raise the child in the church. New parents realize the gravity of this responsibility but struggle to know some basics of infant care. My decision to set aside my career to care for my baby left this capable professional a wrung-out mess. How this sweet baby turned our orderly house upside down was bewildering. I managed a successful career, but this 8-pound bundle of joy made me sleep-deprived and clueless about how to “manage” this project. That’s when I joined Covenant’s MoMs Group. With this group, I went from carrying a purse to a diaper bag; from networking at meetings to play dates on the playground with other moms in my situation. Together we helped shepherd each other through the infant and toddler years to the grade school stage. Since many of us didn’t have family in town, those weekly meetings navigated us through child rearing as we supported one another logistically and emotionally. Our group’s game night served as free therapy to help us in our marriages as well. We stayed connected at Covenant as our children grew and participated in children’s ministries, VBS, choirs and youth group. As years passed our lives scattered to our neighborhood schools, sports and activities. It’s only recently that the stage of our lives in the ever-present hover-Mom mode has let up as our munchkins matriculated through school. We don’t even carpool now, since they are driving themselves. As our babies head off to college, we’re experiencing the empty nest syndrome. With more time to ourselves and a whole lot of nostalgia, we look up and realize we’ve missed those other dear moms who are also navigating through this stage. In January, we had a MoMs group reunion. The conversation has turned from pre-school to college; from fridge art to body tattoos; from couples who rarely had time alone to wondering what to talk about. The topics and life situations have changed, but what hasn’t changed is the sense of community, sisterly bond and supportive care that each of us found in this special congregation of women. For new mothers, the original MoMs group still meets. Check Covenant Matters for the schedule.
Covenant will celebrate its 19th annual Jazz Sunday on Feb. 23 during the 9:30 and 11 a.m. Traditional Worship Services in the Sanctuary. Contemporary worshipers will join the 11 a.m. Sanctuary service on this day. More jazz music and a jambalaya lunch on the church patio will follow at noon. Covenant Director of Music Tom Brown invites some of Austin’s finest musicians to play in the five-piece jazz band. Tom believes jazz music has a place in worship. “The joy that is inherent in jazz music aligns wonderfully with the joy expressed as part of Christian faith,” Tom explained. “The blues influence makes much of the music appropriate for lament. It’s exuberant; it’s also reflective and soulful.” For members who don’t know Tom’s history, he’s a Southern Louisiana native who worked in colleges and other churches before coming to Covenant. He introduced the idea of jazz in worship in 1996. Though initially met with some skepticism, jazz Sunday quickly became one of Covenant’s most successful—and fun—days. Tom has since lent some of his arrangements to other Austin churches who have started the same tradition. “Jazz Sunday is always a very festive day,” Tom said. “It’s fun, a little bit rowdy, and sort of untraditionally Presbyterian.”
After about 30 years of doing odd jobs around the church, Ray Thompson is hanging up his toolbelt. Ray is Covenant’s founding member of the Wrecking Crew, the group of four or five men who meet weekly (or more) at the church to fix stuff. “I’m not sure when we first started using the wrecking crew name,” Ray said, “but I got started around 1983 or 1984, just about the time I retired from IBM. Our minister at that time asked if I would help with some of the issues at the church.” Richard Vanderstraten, who has part of the crew for nearly 20 years, says that Ray deserves all the credit for the idea and much of the work. “For a while it was just Ray on Friday morning by himself. He decided he needed a little help and asked me and others along the way. Some are still active, others have dropped out, but it has always been Ray’s Wrecking Crew.” Darleen Kleinhenz, executive assistant to the Covenant business administrator, has worked closely with Ray for many years. “Friday mornings have always been my favorite time because the Wrecking Crew is guaranteed to be on campus. From a simple request like hanging a picture to the more complex requests like building a set for vacation Bible school, the Wrecking Crew is always up to the challenge and never says no!” Darleen said. Over the three decades that Ray has been fixing things at the church, he says there have been no particularly bad jobs. “Using really tall ladders to replace burned out light bulbs at the high beams of the buildings is challenging,” he said. Ray said that his favorite jobs have the electronics phases – such as sound systems. “Ray is amazing,” Darleen said. “He knows everything about our campus from where the water and gas meters are to what kind of bulbs are in all the light fixtures. As an electrical engineer, he would often determine the cause of an electrical issue on campus and take care of it himself.” Darleen said it was Ray who determined that many of our members could benefit from hearing aid devices to ensure they did not miss a word of the worship service. “He not only made sure we had them available during our services,” she said, “he made himself available to help with any questions and assist as needed. You can still find Ray on Sunday mornings getting those devices in order.” Ray said that the wrecking crew currently has four people. In addition to Richard who is the group’s leader, Dave Hoffman, Jim Abbott and Juan Medrano meet at Covenant on Friday mornings, the crew’s regular meeting time. “We have usually worked consistently on Friday mornings,” Ray said. “However, there are many times when something comes up that needs to be done on other days. Richard takes care of a lot of them!” “I am so grateful to Ray and cannot even begin to express what a special person he is,” Darleen said. “He gives of his time, his talents and his heart. I have watched his kindness toward members, staff and even complete strangers. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to work with and learn from him.”
Taylor Adams is a sixth grader at Lamar Middle School. She recently teamed up with a group of volunteers, including her good friend Trinity Black, to clean up the Lamar school gardens. This is her story about helping out. Trinity and I decided to help out with the Lamar middle school garden. First we pulled up the vines and Trinity cut the vegetables off the vines. Next we cut live okra off the plant and cut the dead okra pods off the plant for planting next spring. Then I went to show Trinity the art room and Mr. Dweyer, the art teacher, gave us a doughnut. After that some interested neighbors came over. We told them about the work we did and took them to see the chickens. (Our school had just gotten chickens!) Finally we went back and watered the plants with rainwater collected from the school roof. The gardening teacher was pleased with our work and said it was very helpful for her. I had lots of fun doing this and I want to do it again. I also want to see you there next year getting your hands dirty with me!
Covenant maintains a blog to provide information about what’s going on in the church as well as different perspective on faith from our pastors and members.