The UPPC Story Project: Holly and Derek Bray

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Holly and Derek Bray’s occupations were severely affected. However, this season heightened their appreciation for the key role that University Place Presbyterian Church plays in their lives.

Holly and Derek met at Washington State University. They will celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary in October and are the parents of four-year-old Brody and two-year-old Zoey.
While Holly grew up in a Christian family, it was in middle school when she “really met the Lord”  at a youth winter camp. She was involved in youth group for many years, but near the end of high school and through some of college she drifted away from her faith.

Growing up, Derek did not attend church. So, when Holly began going back to church after graduating from WSU, he decided to give it a shot. In 2012, the Brays moved to the Tacoma area and quickly plugged into a local church.

Several years later, it was time for a change and while looking for a new home church, Holly was especially impacted by the refugee situation in the United States. She remembers praying for a new church that was “for refugees, was action oriented and cared for all groups of people.” The next day, Holly was scrolling through Facebook when an article from the The News Tribune showed up on her feed. The article talked about UPPC’s efforts to partner with refugees.

“It was just very meaningful to me. So, we went that first week and felt really welcomed. We loved it right off the bat and felt like this is where we were supposed to be,” Holly said. A bonus was that the church was close to their home - something that was important to Derek now that they had young children.

At UPPC, Holly serves on the board as an elder for children and youth, and was involved with MOPS (Mother of Preschoolers) for three years.

“Having my MOPS moms who are also in the trenches with babies and toddlers at home during this very unique season of life helps you feel like you're not alone. Being on leadership for two years was a special experience as there is an even smaller group of women that you are connected to,” Holly said.

Derek is the owner and executive chef of The Table, a restaurant located in the 6th Avenue District. The Table specializes in seasonal northwest cuisine and serves as a space for people to gather, something the couple was prayerful about when opening the restaurant.  

“We wanted to create a place in Tacoma for people to feel like they can be together and eat good food. We know that life happens around the table,” Holly said.

The restaurant industry was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting quarantine shutdowns. While coping with the financial realities of the shutdown, Derek and his staff at The Table seized the opportunity to find ways to support the community. In addition to reaching out via social media to offer free meals to those in need, their outreach also included sending meals home to families of health care workers who utilized UPPC’s emergency childcare services.

The pandemic has greatly impacted Holly’s work too. She works as an agent for professional speakers, a field that also relies on people gathering. Therefore all the events were rescheduled or cancelled for the foreseeable future.

“We have been really reflecting on the fact that we are both in careers that depend on people gathering. We have been thinking about what to do during this time and how to ask God for peace in this season that could be very anxiety filled,” Holly said.

The couple not only reflected on how the COVID-19 shutdowns have impacted their occupations, but also gave them a new appreciation for the UPPC community.

“Not being able to gather at church reminds me of the importance of community. Before COVID hit, I was literally here at church probably six days a week, between MOPS, dropping the kids off for preschool, being here for meetings and other things as well as using the Wayside coffee shop as a space to work,” Holly said.

The Brays have especially missed being in-person at UPPC because for the past year or two, UPPC has become a home away from home for them.

“It is hard to think of an area of our life that isn’t touched by the UPPC community. I can’t stress enough how much I love our community here,” Holly said.

Derek agrees: “UPPC is a place I feel like learning can really happen. Being able to have people to teach you and help lead you as well as being at a place where you can be for an extended period of time, put down some roots, feel rich growth, and be able to see God even in the worst seasons is really meaningful.”

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