Good News Stories!
Amidst the changes and chances of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches and entities throughout the Synod of the Sun have found ways to not only survive but also employ unique and beautiful ways to minister to God's people in need. In these settings, mission and ministry happens in a myriad of ways, from supplying basic necessities to caring for the environment. Connections have been made via video feed and blankets. Love is supplied from teaching inmates how to read to providing diapers via a drive-thru.

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How has your community found ways to continue to minister when "the church has left the building"? Send us your Good News Stories ideas! Contact Thomas Riggs, Communication and Administrative Coordinator or the Rev. Matt Curry, author and story collector.

United Campus Ministry, San Marcos, TX
Getting Connected in San Marcos
by Matt Curry
SAN MARCOS, Texas – When Jesse Hernandez arrived at Texas State University four years ago, he and a friend began looking for campus ministries.
“We felt really comfortable with United Campus Ministry and felt very welcome in the space,” said Hernandez, 23, a theater major from Austin. “I stepped into the role of worship leader, I found definitely a call to worship leader after that.”
He liked it so much, he never left.
Even though he graduated last spring, Hernandez, who comes from a Wesleyan church background, is still leading worship – “taking an extra lap,” he says.
Besides leading the band, Hernandez has done an amazing job with the music setup for outdoor worship and mobile recording for use in social media, said the Rev. Todd Salmi, a United Methodist minister who is the UCM pastor.
Hernandez is among a dedicated group of student leaders who work relentlessly to share the love of Jesus at the fourth largest university in Texas. The work is thriving as never before, even as the ministry follows strict protocols to ensure safe gathering during the pandemic.
United Campus Ministry is a multi-denominational partnership of the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. UCM recently received a $2,500 grant from the Synod of the Sun for online worship and ministry equipment. The ministry has also received support from First Presbyterian Church of San Marcos, and UKirk, a PC(USA) campus ministry initiative.
When Salmi came to the program more than three years ago, he had one student. Today, more than 280 students stay connected with the ministry throughout the year. More than 1,000 people follow UCM’s Instagram account, a primary tool for reaching out to new students.
The reasons for success of the ministry are multi-faceted: an ability to adapt quickly to changing situations; online and in-person options for gathering; a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere that draws participants from various or no traditions; opportunities to build lasting friendships; and a passion for following Jesus Christ.
The ministry’s mission statement is to “help students find authentic friends, find a place they can grow spiritually, and find God’s purpose in their lives.”
Ali Armstrong, a 21-year-old English Literature major from Houston, was eager to build the same type of relationships on campus that she had enjoyed at her home church, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal. She said she found exactly what she was seeking.
“A lot of people are looking for a purpose and a place to find God’s call,” said Armstrong,” the new UCM student president. “We’re really good at opening our doors for anyone and everyone at the Texas State campus. It gives us a sense of family, with a foundation on Christ.”
Because of the impact of the coronavirus, students this year have felt increased anxiety. Many went home at spring break, not to return until the fall. Important connections were lost, Salmi said. Social media was not enough to fill the void left by the lack of in-person relationships.
During the summer, the ministry worked to create what the pastor calls a “culture of wellness,” leading to the launch of a weekly fall outdoor service with registration, temperature checks, masks, social distancing. It grew to about 45 students, close to the cap established for the service. Clips from worship are included on social media, including YouTube.
Outdoor worship provided students on campus a place to go when few other gatherings were occurring. The sounds of singing even attracted passersby.
Recently, with free COVID19 tests made available on campus and the positivity rate dropping below 3 percent, UCM returned to indoor services. Only 40 chairs are set out in the 200-person sanctuary, the doors are kept open, and the same safety measures are put in place as were required for outdoor worship.
“We’ll gauge the decision on how we worship in spring based on public health – but I fully expect outdoor worship to be part of our regular worship life going forward. For sure on Easter Sunday evening!” Salmi said. “It’s a really visible way to share the light of Jesus on campus.”
Nate Beasley, 20, a junior education major from Austin who reached out on social media this summer to more than 800 students on behalf of the ministry, said it is a blessing to be able to help others stay linked to Christ and each another.
“It’s God,” said Beasley, the UCM’s student intern, “and it’s a beautiful thing to see.”
The Rev. Matt Curry is in search of Good News from ministries throughout the Synod of the Sun that are making connections with their congregations and communities. Do you have an idea to share? Send Matt an email at