“Give food to the hungry and care for the homeless.” – Isaiah 58:10 Every year since 1993, a corps of faithful Covenant volunteers has followed the prophet’s wise counsel, giving food and shelter to families with children cycling through the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN). For four weeks each year, the families—facing difficulties that have left them temporarily homeless—call Covenant home. Volunteers stay with them, provide dinners and enjoy the fellowship as the families strive to restore stability in their lives. Their days are spent away from campus, working under the guidance of the Foundation for the Homeless (FFH) to seek the training, employment and other resources they need to resume normal lives. The Foundation is the IHN’s parent organization. During the two to three months it takes them to get back on their feet, they move from church to church through the 16-member network, staying at a different church each week. Organizing Covenant’s volunteers for the last nine years has been a task performed with great care by three church members – Jon Smith, the primary coordinator; Kay Davenport, the food coordinator; and Geoff Mattie, the volunteer coordinator. The three are stepping down from IHN to pursue other opportunities. The Mission Committee is searching for successors as we prepare for Covenant’s final scheduled weeks in 2017: Sept. 3-9 and Dec. 17-24. The IHN was created in 1986 by a marketing consultant in New Jersey. Eight churches, Covenant among them, started an IHN chapter in Austin in 1993. Leadership of IHN is an ideal opportunity for a Sunday School class, a small group, or any team of three to five members. The responsibilities can be divided as Jon, Kay and Geoff have done or they can be shared in other ways. IHN Director Andrew Bucknall works closely with the leadership at each church to plan the hosting weeks. The families arrive on Sunday afternoons and are fed and housed in Eaton Hall. They leave each Monday through Friday morning, then return around 5:30 p.m. for dinner and sleep. Covenant volunteers use the website SignUp.com to register for various shifts, which range from a one-hour hosting assignment to overnight duty. Families are free to come and go on Saturdays, returning Saturday night and then leaving for their next church home early Sunday afternoon. “It’s a most worthwhile undertaking,” said Jon, who has been primary coordinator since 2008. “With the right key people in place, the work required of the other individuals actually providing the hosting, meals and overnights is quite easy. It’s also very rewarding and one of the most tangible ministries I can imagine.” Geoff agrees. “It’s an extremely worthwhile charity,” he said. “It is very rewarding to be able to meet and speak with the families you are helping, and learn not only about their struggles, but the strength they have in keeping themselves – and in most cases their children – positive versus getting mired down by circumstances.” “Working with the IHN program has been a real blessing to me,” said Kay. “IHN is the only Austin program that provides shelter and food to temporarily homeless families. The IHN parents and children have dreams and goals similar to those of Covenant families, but due to circumstances beyond their control they have experienced extraordinary setbacks.” Volunteering and getting to know the families doesn’t always end at Covenant. Jon recalled that his daughter and a child of a client family started kindergarten together at Highland Park Elementary. “That little girl remained at HP all the way through fifth grade,” he said. “Near elementary graduation, her mom approached me and asked if I remembered who she was and I said ‘yes.’ She said that IHN had been very helpful to them, that she still had the same job she got during the program and their family was doing great.” Though they will no longer be coordinators, Jon, Kay and Geoff will be available to help their successors and fill some volunteer shifts themselves. There are approximately 35 shifts per week. That may sound like a lot, but there is good news on that front: Members of several other churches have offered help. Sharon Lowe, who retired as the Foundation’s executive director in April, has volunteered to work overnight shifts and to provide other overnight helpers from her church, St. Matthew’s Episcopal. She said members from First Presbyterian and Highland Park Baptist also would like to volunteer. And Bucknall said he recently spoke with some members of a church in Manor who want to get involved in IHN. Plenty of training material is available, as well as assistance from those who have filled these roles before. Interested? Three members of the Mission Committee are leading the campaign to keep Covenant participating in IHN. Please contact Deb Rieber (email@example.com), Karen Maxwell (firstname.lastname@example.org), Paul Mowry (email@example.com) or any other mission committee member.
In its ongoing commitment to educating Covenant members and friends about saving, the Covenant Presbyterian Foundation offers many excellent strategies and tips. In this following article, CPF Chair Megan Poore, a financial advisor at Lucien, Stirling and Gray Advisory Group, writes about an unexpected aspect of retirement — the emotional component. You have put pen to paper, you have spent years saving, you have a plan (and a plan B, and even a plan C), and you have your date picked and circled on your calendar – RETIREMENT DAY. Even after all this hard work, there’s still one aspect of retirement you should prepare for: the emotional component. Here are a few tips for ensuring that you don’t spend your first week of retirement bored and wondering “what’s next?!” Have an “exit strategy”: Many people say it was harder for them to walk away from their jobs than they expected it to be. Your colleagues have become your friends, and what you do in your career has become a key identifier for who you are and how you describe yourself. Gradually scaling back your hours, for example, switching to part-time from full-time, may give you the opportunity to preview what leisure time in retirement will feel like. After years of receiving a paycheck, you may find that suddenly not receiving one anymore leads to anxiety even if you know you’ve done your financial planning. While working part-time, you’ll also still earn money, which may alleviate some of that anxiety. Think about what you want to retire to: While much of your identity and time may currently be wrapped up in your career, you will be well-served to have a few things lined up to look forward to once you’re retired. Your casual hobby may become a more full-time endeavor. Your schedule is suddenly free for volunteering and attending events for your grandkids or nieces and nephews. Travel is an important retirement goal for many people – and it is certainly something to look forward to! It’s helpful to think about retirement this way: “I retired from ______ and retired to ______.” Now, instead of just introducing yourself as a retired teacher, you can say “I retired from teaching, and retired to being a full-time tutor.” Review your spending: To answer the question, “How much money do I need for retirement?” you must know how much you spend. How much you REALLY spend. Not the number you think you are pretty sure you probably spend. This will inform both how much money you should set aside in cash (in my practice, we recommend two to three years’ worth of living expenses) and will better position you or your advisor to figure out whether or not you can continue to live at your current level. After you track your spending, you can factor in travel costs or the vacation home you’ve had your eye on, etc. You may discover that you have more financial freedom in retirement than you expected. Build some structure into your day: Having a plan for how you’ll spend your days gets you out of the house. Without one, you could end up spending all day staring at the TV if you’re not careful. Meeting new people and finding new opportunities is much easier when you’re spending some of your newfound free time away from home. Within your community, there are probably many daytime activities that you have previously passed up on because they didn’t fit your work schedule. Here at Covenant, there are a numerous wonderful ways to spend a morning or afternoon, for example. Explore your options and be proactive in your activity scheduling so you can look forward to your new version of normal. Preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for retirement is nearly as big a task as preparing yourself financially for retirement, and it is certainly as important. Put in the effort now to benefit from a more seamless retirement transition. 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, Helene Maham, Megan Poore, Scott Ream and Kristin Schell. 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
This summer, Covenant is journeying through the Bible. Download the Scripture Roadmap for tips to help guide your journey and two reading schedule options: a plan for tackling the entire Bible and another for reading shorter segments that relate to each week’s sermon. Covenant has created and located many resources to help you during the summer sermon series and Bible reading options. To hear more about this roadmap for the Bible and learn from biblical scholars and pastors, listen to our new podcast, Begin Where You Are, focused on discipleship at Covenant. • Begin Where You Are Podcast We also recommend a few books that will help on your journey: The Bible Tells Me So… by Peter Enns Exploring the Bible by Eric Barreto and Michael Chan Struggling with Scripture by Walter Brueggemann, William C. Placher and Brian K. Bloun
Want to beat the heat this summer? Do you need an idea about what to do with your child(ren)? Come to air-conditioned play dates at Covenant this summer! Everyone is welcome to attend. Play dates begin on Wednesday, June 1, and will be held every Wednesday or Thursday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. in FE 402 (the gym). The last play date of the summer will be Aug. 16. Bring bikes, riding toys, balls, and other indoor stuff for your kid(s) to play with. (Church property is not available for use, only the space.) For more information on air-conditioned play dates and MoMs, contact Katie McFarlane at Kates46@msn.com. Summer dates: June 1, 8, 21 and 28; July 5, 13, 19 and 27; Aug. 2, 10 and 16
Have fun playing golf while you help support one of Covenant’s traditional mission partners. The Foundation for the Homeless 18th Annual Golf Marathon tees off with a shotgun start at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 10, on the Lions Municipal Golf Course, 2901 Enfield Road. It is one of two major events that raise funds for the organization’s work in support of homeless families with children. It’s a team event with a scramble format. Bryan Case, vice chair of the organization, has reached out to Covenant members to make donations to his team or recruit their own teams. A donation of $100 provides a day of meals, shelter and transportation for a family of five; $50 provides ID documentation for two individuals to obtain work; and $25 provides two days of camp for children in the Foundation’s shelter so their parents can work. Foundation for the Homeless sponsors the Interfaith Hospitality Network at Covenant. Contact FFA here.
Austin Voices for Education and Youth (AVEY) creates community collaboration to strengthen families, support kids and improve schools. Julie Weeks, director of AVEY family resource centers, is looking for volunteers for the following opportunities: STEAM Fest is Saturday, April 22, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Martin Middle School. Help with set-up, distribute Bookspring books, serve food, help with kids’ activities, clean-up and more! St. John Unity Walk is Saturday, April 29, at 9 a.m. at Webb Middle School. Show support for Webb and Reagan in the parade, and make signs or posters for the school and the St. John Community. Arrive at Reagan Early College High School by 10 a.m. Email Julie Weeks at firstname.lastname@example.org. KidsFest is Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Reagan Early College High School. The Unity Walk kick-starts this festival, which is like a smaller version of HopeFest, at Reagan. Give away free Bookspring books, serve food, help with kids activities, clean-up and more! Email Julie Weeks at email@example.com. Webb Teacher Appreciation Breakfast is Monday, May 1, 7 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. in the Webb Library. Need a volunteer to coordinate decorating efforts. Email Julie Weeks at firstname.lastname@example.org. Webb Career Day is Friday, May 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Looking for Covenant members to talk to 6th – 8th graders about what they do in their jobs/career. Interact with Webb students to inspire them to dream about their future! Email Julie Weeks at email@example.com. To volunteer or get more information about any of these opportunities or about AVEY in general, email Julie Weeks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Easter is a sacred and special time for Christians. This Holy Week, Covenant will have noon worship services on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Each service will be followed by a light lunch. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services are at 7 p.m. We celebrate His triumphant return on Easter Sunday, April 16. On that day, we’ll have a breakfast for early church-goers. (See details below.) Holy Week and Easter Services Palm Sunday, April 9: Normal worship times Monday, April 10: Noon service and lunch Tuesday, April 11: Noon service and lunch Wednesday, April 12: Noon service and lunch Maundy Thursday, April 13: 7 p.m. Good Friday, April 14: 7 p.m. Easter Sunday Services (April 16): Sunrise Service: Patio 6:30 a.m. Traditional Services: Sanctuary at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m Contemporary Services: FE 200 at 9:30 and 11:05 a.m. Easter Breakfast for Early Church-Goers Covenant will offer early Easter church-goers a fun brunch on the patio. Between the 6:30 a.m. sunrise service and the 8 a.m. service in the Sanctuary, we will have special breakfast biscuits outside. Come enjoy the weather, the sunrise, the breakfast and the entire Easter celebration.
“How do we become a love letter to Austin?” That question had been sitting with Joe Skraba. As Covenant pastors preached and discussed spreading God’s love to our city, Joe pondered: How can we utilize our campus as an outreach to the neighborhood and the entire community? His wife, Holly, felt the same. “We have this great location, and it was bugging us to figure out what we could do.” Joe’s inspiration manifested as a fusion between this desire to serve Austin and two events he observed while traveling for business. “I was in Houston at the Texas Medical Center for work. As you leave, there’s a big Episcopal church. It was Ash Wednesday and a team was out offering drive-through ashes.” A few months later, Joe was at the University of Texas at Arlington and saw a prayer tent. People were coming and filling out forms, and students and others were offered intercessory prayers on the spot. “Those ideas fomented in me and I came up with the idea to offer drive-through prayer,” Joe said. After talking with Jill Williams, Associate Pastor for Congregational Care and Missions, and the other pastors, Joe got the green light for a trial program. “Our intention was not to recruit Covenant members to come through. We wanted to serve the community, but didn’t know if it would resonate with those outside our church,” Joe said. “We were hopeful. There was the nerve of ‘what if no one comes?’” “But they did!” Holly interjected. “That first day, we had six or seven people. Our second day, a Friday, we had 15 or 16. We immediately got a good response, and averaged about 12 a day. “We were pleased with the total number of people who came through and their level of satisfaction,” Holly said. “The other exciting thing was people were waving or honking as they drove by. We felt like we were giving them something positive to focus on on their way to or from where they were going.” Joe explained that the emails sent and prayer cards completed by Drive-Thru Prayer recipients were telling. “There’s a surprising number of people who have really hard issues that they’re dealing with. These people are coming in and just getting a little bit of hope from us.” Covenant member and volunteer Jim Rumbo had just finished his Tuesday shift and showed off an orange. “A city employee gave me this today,” he said, explaining that the man’s job was changing and he felt like he was getting the short end of the deal. “That situation didn’t change his attitude,” Jim said. “His gift to people is his smile. It’s like the clouds part when he smiles. We prayed for his encouragement. He gave me an orange and said, ‘If no one else comes through here… know that what you did for me today made my day!’” “I didn’t do it,” Jim told the man, “the Lord did!” When asked why he came out, volunteer Les Gage said, “The people we pray for. Their stories are amazing. What people ask for in these prayers is incredible. Today, one person asked us to pray for his church. Another asked, ‘Could my church do this?’” Joe recalled the statistic that only 14 percent of Austinites go to church, but 70 percent call themselves Christian. “There’s a big gap between who comes to church and those who say they are believers,” he said. “Drive-Thru Prayer is low pressure,” Joe continued. “We’re not recruiting. The thing that got reinforced pretty quickly was that almost nobody coming through was from Covenant. Some were on campus for something else and we were really satisfied that we were reaching out to the community with no strings attached.” “And they are all driving by,” Holly finished. “I believe most don’t have a church. I think they believe, but just have an issue with organized church. They believe in prayer; they believe in Jesus Christ, but don’t want to join a church.” Joe agreed. “There are all sorts of barriers in a church community. It’s hard to climb those four stairs to get up to the worship service. This is easier. There are no crowds and it’s a little more personal.” During DTP’s first trial run, the group offered prayers on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 7 to 9. The second two runs were for a week at a time–once during the week of the national election and again just before Christmas. “I’m shocked every time at how fast the time goes. I look at my watch and it’s over,” Holly said. “We choose to be out on the street at 7 in the morning to stand with a sign. If we didn’t have other volunteers, I would be there hands down. I think holding that sign matters.” Jim Rumbo has truly enjoyed being a part of DTP. “This is the most precious ministry I’ve ever participated in … because it’s pure. We just show up and are present for the people who come through. It’s our opportunity to be with them in whatever circumstance they bring.” Austin American-Statesman columnist Ken Herman wrote about the ministry. “I see no downside here and lots of potential upside,” he wrote, and after describing the ministry through Joe’s words, Herman continued. “It’s that simple. You got a problem. They’ve got a prayer. No problems? They’ve got a prayer to help you celebrate that.” In a recent article in Windows, the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s magazine, seminary president Theodore Wardlaw (who preached at Covenant last spring) wrote about Covenant’s Drive-Thru Prayer. He explained the concept and how Covenant prays for what is most on the hearts of those driving by. And then he asked, “Is this foolish?” He answered his own question: “No. Heavens, no. It’s the work of an apostolate. Fools for Christ; people who embody an expanding church–a church searching for new ways to point toward the promises of a God who is still very much alive […]
Covenant’s 2016 Annual Report highlights each ministry’s accomplishments and challenges, and includes the following letter from Thomas Daniel. Download the 2016 Annual Report. Friends, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19). As you may remember, this passage of scripture anchored our Opening Doors Capital Campaign in 2016. While we saw many exciting changes and developments at Covenant during the past year, none was more important than the outpouring of support regarding our debt relief efforts. I am especially grateful to Charlie Betts, our campaign chairman, as well as the men and women who faithfully served on the committee. If all our pledges are fulfilled, we will be virtually debt free by the end of 2018. Considering that at the beginning of 2014 our debt was around $8 million, this is a significant accomplishment. It will free up money for both the short-term and long-term health of our church, and enable us to continue to explore what it means to be a missional congregation. To that end, Fuller Theological Seminary invited Covenant to join a new pilot program, the Fuller Church Formation Cohort, in 2016. Covenant is one of three churches that make up the Fuller cohort, which is designed for each congregation to consider the ways that we shape and form followers of Jesus in order to create missional disciples. The 18 members of this group are journeying together, attending retreats, meeting in small groups and studying a specific curriculum. As one of the six participants from Covenant, I can share with you that the cohort has been amazing. Over the next two to three years, many people throughout the Covenant family will have the opportunity to engage in similar activities. More details will be coming soon! Finally, while staffing needs and systems will always change, we saw a relatively stable year for our incredible church staff. We did, however, say good-bye to two long-term employees. Nathan Richards moved to Colorado Springs and Stacey Grooms to Houston. We were able to thank them both for their years of faithful service here at Covenant and are praying for them in their new seasons of life. During the year, we discerned a renewed vision and direction for our discipleship at Covenant. We changed our organizational structure and hired Kathryn Sedberry for a new position, Associate Director of Discipleship. Kathryn is working with small groups, writing curriculum and helping to shape adult discipleship. We also restructured Covenant Student Ministries, which has grown tremendously in recent years. Whitney Bell was promoted to the Director of Middle School Ministry and we hired Billy Streu as the Director of High School Ministry. They are doing amazing work discipling our students. Finally, we are currently searching for a new Director of Children and Families. In the meantime, we have been richly blessed by Ashley Ellison, who is serving as the Interim Director and doing a tremendous job. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy, we believe that God is continuing to lay a strong foundation at Covenant. We are excited by what He has done and we are looking forward to an exciting 2017. Enjoy reading this report and the details of what is taking place in our church. I am grateful to be on the journey with each one of you! Joyfully, Thomas Daniel Senior Pastor
Service of Darkness Good Friday marks the death of Jesus Christ. It is called “good” because of what Jesus’ death means for the redemption of the world. “Tenebrae” is Latin for “darkness.” The church has practiced the Service of Tenebrae since medieval times. Seemingly foreign to the accepted notion of Christian worship, it is a service without the benefits of Christ’s resurrection. Historically, there was no sermon, no prayer in Jesus’ name, no offering and no benediction. The service is left unfinished, because the service is not over until Easter Day, making it technically the longest service of the Christian calendar. The service is a prolonged meditation on Christ’s suffering. As the service proceeds, the room changes from light to darkness until all that remains is the Candle of Prophecy. In some traditions, this candle burns in an empty, dark church for three days. Congregational seating will be reconfigured with congregants worshipping “in the round.” Covenant’s Sanctuary Choir and a string quartet will provide music for the service.