A Word from Us…

Below you will find thoughts, updates, and articles from our staff.

A Bridge Across – November 8

A Bridge Across A Bridge Across-2i

Stumbled across this shocking sight: a bear which fell victim to the cruel Bear Trap Tree, the only known predator of the black bear in the wilds of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Bear Trap Tree is stealthy and lethal, enticing its prey with a sweet-scented sap containing a neuro-muscular paralytic, disabling the bear as the tree first encases and then slowly digests its victim. Protruding remnants of earlier victims are seen along the length of the tree’s trunk.

On my mountain hikes, I often see some things that really are there but not really.  This photo of the lethal Bear Trap Tree depicts one of my “there but not really” sightings.

I took this photo in August while hiking in Shenandoah National Park.  The tree, poplar, I think—was growing on the embankment up from the trail.  I noticed it across the way as I sat resting.  The tree most definitely really was there.

Maybe it was the morning sunlight highlighting the burls grouped together near the base or the way the moss on the largest burl looked like a fuzzy tummy that suddenly brought to life what actually was not there:  a bear trapped inside the tree!  Once that image took root in my mind, it was all I could see.

Thus, the elaborate description I attached to the photo when I posted it on Facebook.  Friends knew it could not really be real, and yet . . .      Between the image now implanted in their minds, too, and the straightforward description I added, a few folks were not so sure whether I was pulling their leg or if there really is such a thing as the lethal Bear Trap Tree.  Fun!

Not all imagined things “there but not really” are delightful and amusing.  We go through events that really are there.  We know they’re real because we’re in the thick of them ourselves.  Our minds, though, conjure frightening images out of those events, and fear doggedly takes hold of us.  The frightening image now is all we can see, and fear now is all we can feel, regardless of what rational thought might otherwise assure us.

We are in a season of change at University Baptist Church, a season cast in God’s light which guides us, but which also means there will be shadows.  Where light and shadow interplay, imaginings can turn anxious.  Discerning what is “really there” and what is not there becomes difficult.  The light is God’s grace illuminating the way before us.  Seeing by the light of God dispels what shadows may try to fold themselves into fearful patterns that rob us of confidence.

Our Stewardship Theme this month, based on Ephesians 3:20-21, is “A Future Richer than Our Dreams, More Fruitful than Our Hopes, And More Beautiful than Our Imaginations”.  Our confidence through this season of change rests in God who really is here among us at UBC and who really is working out a good  future for us.  Be confident.  Be encouraged.  Be faithful in discerning and “imagining into” God’s future for the UBC family.

Your Senior Minister in the Interim,

          ~ Gary



Senior Minister Search Committee Update

The Senior Minister Search Committee has taken the baton from the Leadership Transition Team.  We thank them for their tireless work, excellence in their preparations for the Search Committee, and willingness to continue to be a resource to our committee.

The Search Committee meets regularly on the 2nd Sunday of each month and periodically at other times.  We obtained the services of the organization, Center for Healthy Churches, to assist us with the search process.  Center Director, Dr. Bill Wilson, is our primary contact.  Bill is a long-time fan of UBC and highly skilled and experienced in working with churches in this manner.

As the Committee began its work, the reality of what other churches similar to ours face in these challenging times started to feel daunting.  While UBC faces these same challenges, we realized the many ways UBC is not a stereotypical church.  The Search Committee quickly developed a ‘bullish’ prospectus to present to possible pastoral candidates.

We are a church with:  1) a rich history, 2) a solid foundation, and 3) almost unlimited potential.  We are located in one of the best places to live in the country and sit right in the middle of the University of Virginia.  We have incredibly strong lay leadership and a deep field of skill and passion within our membership.

When you reflect on University Baptist, it is clear that God is actively calling UBC to fulfill a unique ministry role, and the time is now for that ministry to happen.  We are sending a strong message to candidates that this a unique and exciting opportunity to be part of this church-wide calling and that we are not waiting for a new minister to seek out God’s plan for UBC, we are not looking for someone to walk this path for us but with us, and that we are willing to step out in faith wherever God directs and engage with great confidence and humility.

The right leader will help us continue to discern and stay true to God’s calling, nurture the required skills and strengths we need, and enable us together to achieve things that only can be accomplished through God.

God has great plans for UBC!  God will send the right person!  What an opportunity to be part of UBC at this time!

~   Brad Groff
, Chair
Senior Minister Search Committee


A Bridge Across – October 25

A Bridge Across A Bridge Across-2i

This past Sunday, the congregation met in Church Conference.  By a large majority we voted to welcome openly gay persons as any other persons who may present themselves for UBC membership by their profession of faith in Jesus Christ through Christian baptism.  The vote tally among the four options presented by the Deacons is listed below.

I want to thank you for turning out in so large a number for this conference.  I add my appreciation, as well, to our Deacons and to the Openness Task Force, for how they facilitated this process.

Let’s now move ahead in as caring a manner as we can understand to do.  This first means that we recognize a shared concern to which we all need to attend.  Some members will find this decision hard to accept.  Please find a way to reach out to these friends to encourage them to stay with us at UBC.  Leave-taking should not be a hasty decision, and I hope it won’t happen at all.

You may find yourself among those members deeply disappointed by Sunday’s decision.  Your Christian conscience guides you to a different answer.  What I deeply hope is that your differing answer does not diminish your involvement with UBC.  Most deeply of all, I pray that under Christ’s leading, you will decide not to let this difference compel you to seek another church home.

While we carry this genuine burden of concern for one another, we also carry a responsibility to embrace this significant moment in the life of University Baptist Church.  The congregation has reasonably explored what the Gospel may require in receiving gay persons into its fellowship.

Should we ask gay members to commit to a lifetime of celibacy, with no prospect of gaining the benefits of Christian marriage?  Should we distinguish between straight believers and gay believers in their access to other rights and responsibilities of membership?  If so, how would that distinction reflect our understanding of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?

A large majority has agreed that, yes, the Gospel welcomes persons of a same-sex orientation as it welcomes us who are heterosexual, so University Baptist Church also welcomes those persons with no further distinctions made among members.

As any church that hopes to continue faithful to the Gospel will do, UBC has done.  As its members more fully understand the Gospel, it modifies its church practice to better conform to the Gospel’s meaning.  This you have done, and it is a good, good step in faithfulness for which we may give thanks to God.

So, now what?  Now, the congregation continues to find “its unity in the common desire to live in communion with God, be obedient to Christ, and build with one another a Baptist community of faith” (UBC Constitution, Article IV, Section 1).

For my part, Philippians 1:3-6, expresses well my thoughts about each and all of you, I thank my God … thankful for your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure that God, who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

 Your Senior Minister in the Interim,

~ Gary


Resolution on Membership of Openly Gay Persons
Adopted by University Baptist Church, October 23, 2016
University Baptist Church seeks to be an authentic community of Christians who love and care for each other as a family.
Now therefore be it resolved that University Baptist Church openly welcomes and includes all people regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or background.  We believe that all people have important gifts to share in God’s family.  Full rights and responsibilities of membership in University Baptist Church are open to all who publicly profess a personal faith in Jesus Christ through Christian baptism.
Option 1, (above), passed by 90 votes in favor, or 70.87% of the total 127 ballots cast.
Option 2 received 15 votes in favor(11.81%).
Option 3 received 5 votes in favor (3.94%).
Option 4 received 16 votes in favor (12.60%).
1 ballot abstaining was cast (.78%)


A Bridge Across – October 18

A Bridge Across A Bridge Across-2i

The word ‘liturgy’ literally means ‘work of the people.’  Early Christians adopted the word from its then secular use that denoted ‘public service.’  Now, long detached from its origins, liturgy commonly means ‘the order of a worship service and the items which compose it.’

I raise this bit of etymology because this past Sunday I changed up the UBC liturgy a bit.  Rather than end the service with announcements or put them with the welcome-to-worship part of the service,

I began at 10:55 am with a few, ever-so-brief announcements.  Too brief, as it turned out.

There were a couple of minutes of unexpected silence after I finished announcing and returned to my chair — not a ‘liturgical silence’ mind you — just a lot of unplanned blank staring.  With all those eyes staring back at me, I chose to close mine and hope against hope that some pre-service chatter might resume.  Didn’t happen . . . Not a peep.

Every clergy person knows liturgical rearranging is risky business.  Interim pastors often plough ahead over risky ground though, given that they already have a short shelf-life, a “best used by” date, after which out the door they’re going anyway.

What role do the announcements play in University Baptist Church’s liturgy of worship?  Maybe we do better to ask first, “What is this sacred work we the people do in our Sunday morning worship service?”

Much could be said, but, at the very least, sacred liturgy helps us to remember.  The Fourth Commandment begins, Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8).  God calls us to remember at least one day each week, because we tend to forget what bits and pieces we’ve seen of the Divine, never mind the vastness of God yet for us to recognize.

Liturgy that helps us remember whose we are and who we are, is good work for us to do in the time we share each Sunday.  My thought is for us to devote to God the maximum part of this hour of sacred memory work, and for us to leave from this hour undistracted by matters other than God’s own Self, however we each may have experienced God in the hour.

We make announcements, not as liturgy, but as a good chance to get the word out about all the ‘other’ while we’re together in the same room.  Fair enough.  Let’s give it some time and see if it works to put the announcements before the liturgical hour commences.  And I’ll work on not sitting back down too soon, trapping us in those long minutes of unnerving, elevator-ride-like, silent staring.

Your Senior Minister in the Interim,

         ~ Gary 


Openness Task Force Congregational Conversations

Congregational Conversations

  • Wednesday, October 19, 6:15 pm: Church-wide Congregational Conversation   |


Called Church Conference to vote on next steps

  • Sunday, October 23, 12:15, Fellowship Hall (Light refreshments will be served.)

See Ballot, with Preamble and Instructions here.  Copies are available at the church.


Copies of Changing Our Mind by David Gushee are available.  A discussion guide with chapter summaries and discussion questions for the book is available on the UBC website at universitybaptist.org/discussionguide.

 A bibliography of additional resources is available at http://universitybaptist.org/bibliography.  The bibliography, copies of some of the books, and a binder of all of the articles are in Room 114 (the Conference Room/Library).


Upcoming for Sunday, October 16

“Is God Alone God Enough?”

Rev. Gary Dalton

Scripture:  Genesis 22:1-14


“The Sacrifice of Isaac” by He Qi.  With permission of the artist,  © 2014 All rights Reserved





A Bridge Across – October 11

A Bridge AcrossA Bridge Across-2i

An aspect of Impressionistic painting I enjoy is to stand, gaze, and watch the artist’s registration of light emerge.  What the artist portrayed as brightest in the painting becomes bright to me.  Hues initially hidden on my first viewing begin to separate and become distinguishable as the artist saw and recorded the shades and varieties of color.  I’m discovering this similar experience in hearing your impressions of our current conversation about membership of openly gay persons.

One message some of your comments are now registering with me concerns trust.

I would state what I’m hearing this way:  “Why won’t the Openness Task Force host someone to express the traditionalist view as well as views supporting membership of openly gay persons?  Why aren’t you trusting me to weigh the differing views for myself and form my own opinion?”

If I’m accurately registering your impression as a question of trust, then I appreciate how this five-week process offends your sensibilities of fair-play.  I assure you this is not the Task Force’s view of the congregation nor its intention.  (The Task Force members reading this column, as you are now reading it, are probably incredulous anyone might think that of them, or that I would suggest this question of trust…  What?!)

The Task Force, with my encouragement, recognized that our congregation has not heard openly gay Christians speak to us about their experiences.  And, to my knowledge, while no preacher in UBC’s pulpit has ever voiced an anti-gay message — not even close! — neither has any preacher argued for alternative readings of the Scriptures typically used to exclude openly gay Christians.  This omission recommended that these few weeks allow us time to hear those experiences and readings supporting full inclusion.

You can trust the Task Force’s best intention even if you’ve experienced it as an intention that’s missed the mark.  In this case, you might consider Option Three on the publicized ballot:  information is incomplete, the discussion is incomplete, it should continue after the church calls its next Senior Minister.

The second message some of your reactions are impressing on me is that you’re bewildered by the whole exercise.  UBC has never asked anyone about their sexual orientation, so why start now?  Our standard for welcoming a new member or electing a member to church service is a person’s demonstration of Christian experience and fidelity to Christ.  Whether a man or woman is gay or straight is between them and the Lord.  What we need to know is how they are living out their calling to follow Christ.

If this is your response, then you might consider either the first option or the fourth option on the ballot.  Option One states more precisely what UBC means by “any person” when we say, “Any person may present himself or herself as a candidate for membership in this church.” (UBC By-Laws, Art. II.1)  Or, if you believe this whole conversation is unnecessary or even unwise, you might go with Option Four that says, “Drop it — discussion is not needed!”

What about Option Two?  Option Two may be for you if you find yourself responding something along these lines:  “I cannot in good conscience accept an openly gay person into full rights and responsibilities of church membership.”  You intend no malice or harm to anyone; you fully affirm the gay person and the straight person are equal recipients of God’s love; but, you believe the Bible is clear in teaching that gay persons who act out their same-sex attraction are sinning, and you believe the church would be affirming people actively sinning.  Option Two offers you a way to vote your conscience on this question.

Thank you for presenting your views, allowing me to listen until I can begin to appreciate what you’re experiencing through these weeks.  Please consider how one of the four publicized options may best sum it up for you, and choose that option at the Called Church Conference on Sunday, October 23.

Your Senior Minister in the Interim,



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