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As police crack down on UT Austin protesters, campus churches find a new way to reach out

A church on a street with cars parked out frontn and trees on either side
Patricia Lim
KUT News
University Baptist Church on Guadalupe has been a place of respite for pro-Palestinian demonstrators during protests at UT Austin over the past week.

Police crackdowns on pro-Palestinian demonstrations have roiled the UT Austin campus over the last week. The turmoil has many people in the university community taking on roles they normally do not.

That’s certainly been the experience for the Rev. Natalie Webb, senior pastor at University Baptist Church, a progressive church on Guadalupe.

“This is where we had a lot of the protesters come to escape the pepper spray and tear gas,” Webb told KUT on Tuesday, gesturing to the hall by the church’s front entrance. “This area was flooded in milk and water.”

She says reaching out to students has always been part of her congregation’s mission. But flushing pepper spray from students’ eyes is a first.

University Baptist happens to be near where the protests and police actions have happened. But other campus-area churches have been coordinating to help students and others, and members have volunteered at University Baptist.

“I’m here because I think social justice is at the heart of the Gospel,” said Carson Hollis, a student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary who attends a different church.

For the Rev. Webb and her volunteers that means offering food, medical care or more spiritual support.

“After the police violence across the street we had some students ask for a place to pray, and so we opened up our sanctuary,” she said. “I could just see them weeping and praying in the sanctuary.”

As protests continue, she said there could be an “ongoing need” for such support — something that’s brought a sense of community amid what often feels like a crisis.

“We’ve got students that are coming in and out that never would have thought to step into a Baptist church that’s for sure!” she says.

A volunteer smiled and pointed to herself as an example. The group erupted in laughter.

It was a moment of light-heartedness, before volunteers prepare for another afternoon of protest, that could bring more seeking sanctuary at the church doors.

KUT journalists are employees of the University of Texas, but UT has no editorial control over their reporting.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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