May 23, 2013
From the Rector
This last week was one of those Sundays when the breadth and depth of life at All Souls was clearly seen. Our 8 o’clock service was full and spirited. The 10 o’clock service brimmed with energy. The baptisms of Caroline Mayo Taylor and Bruce Christopher Gidlund and Peter Telcs Siera were stunning––all three of them were so present and seemed to be soaking it all in.
This year Jocelyn Bergen and Michelle Barger, a couple of our resident visual artists, transformed the space in incredible ways: a dove graced the back wall and red fabric streamed on both sides to the magnificent floral arrangements of Julie Burcham. And for the first time, paper mache drops of fire hung suspended above the altar rails, at one point hovering over the families gathered for baptism. Please visit the website to see some of the photos of the space that day.
With incense drifting and the banners of ministries of the parish waving, there was no mistaking the significance of our gathering. The music of the day soared: from “Hail Thee Festival Day”, to the soulful psalm to the Alleluias to “Sweet, Sweet Spirit”––with organ, piano, trumpet, banjo, guitar, flute and voice––it was uplifting and stirring. As has been said before, there was something sung that day for everyone and the full voice of the congregation was amazing.
The spirit at the forum which followed was remarkable. There was standing room only in the Parish Hall to be in conversation about the many changes afoot at All Souls Parish. I gave some of the lay of the land at All Souls, which includes the growth of the past four years and what our leadership has learned in the past several months of study. Christopher Putnam, Jeannie Koops-Elson and Sara Gunter spoke about the changes in music, children’s and family formation and the new opportunities for engagement. Round table discussion followed: about moments when we had experienced All Souls being All Souls, the intersection with our vision, and ways that we each might imagine taking part in the new life of the parish.
All of this was invigorating and enlivening. And yet, as I sifted through Sunday on Monday, in prayer and at email and in conversation, two moments stayed with me. What I realized is that often Mary Louise, Kristin and I are often the only folks on a Sunday who are in both of the services and can witness to the breadth of the life of All Souls. For me this past Pentecost those two moments both happened during the time of Thanksgiving. They were both moving witnesses to the Spirit in this place, different in articulation but in deep harmony with each other.
At the 8 o’clock service one of our newer parishioners, Maddie, came forward. Maddie just graduated this past week as an undergrad from Cal, with high honors. She never has been much of a church-goer in her life but she lived in the neighborhood and for some reason at the beginning of this past school year, she decided to drop in. To the 8 o’clock service in the Chapel. What she described as she gave thanks to God was a community of people who welcomed her in, allowing her to worship God for the first time in her adult life. Even though she would only be here for just under a year, she was made to feel a part of this Body. Through a few tears, she thanked God and All Souls Parish for this time. My guess is that for Maddie this won’t be the last time she experiences Grace in this way.
And then at the 10 o’clock service, in the midst of birthdays and first anniversaries, and the recovery of a faithful dog to health, one of the matriarchs of this parish, Barbara, came forward. What she offered was very simple: thanks for forty-nine (49!) years in this parish. As I reflected on this time in our common life, I am moved again by the experience of these two women, separated by over five decades. Because each, in their own way, have found life here in this Body: in prayer, in service, with others, in times of heartache and in times of joy. And, like that healed leper who returned to give thanks in Luke 17, they have graced us with their witness to the goodness of God. May their witness and the witness of those who come forward, week by week, help us to remember of the Grace that abounds.
From the Youth Minister, and Associate for Parish Life
This past Sunday we made a pretty audacious promise during the baptism of three the newest members of our community. Phil asked:
Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?
We answered with a resounding, “We will!”
I was struck, in a new way, by what that promise means. We have a responsibility to these babies to care for them and support them and guide them. It is an exciting and humbling task. One I believe we hope to do with joy.
Five young people who were baptized at All Souls as infants are about to finish their Confirm not Conform class. This coming Sunday, in fact, is the last session before their big service and celebration. Julia Cooke, Riley Cooke, Davis Feeley, Margaret Reager, and Meghan Sweeney have spent two hours every other week this past year learning about the Christian faith and the Episcopal Church. Why do say the Nicene Creed after all this time? How can we still hold the Bible as “holy” when it was put together with such obvious political scheming and strategizing? We have gone on field trips to different places of worship. We spent a weekend on retreat together. Each youth has had a mentor to walk with them and support them through this entire program. On June 1st their time and work given to this course culminates in a service where each will share a passage of scripture that they have memorized and offer a reflection about why this particular passage is meaningful to them.
After the service we will celebrate them and the journey they have been on together this year with one of the wildest parties All Souls has seen. Michael Lemaire is going to roast a whole pig. Alisa Hofmann and a team of people are going to transform the courtyard and Parish Hall with whimsical decorations. To fundraise for this summer’s high school immersion trip (that all five of the CnC students will be going on), and just for fun, we are going to have karaoke and dance dance revolution available. If you would like to “purchase” someone to sing a song of your choosing you pay to see them perform (or dance!). If you would not like to sing you may sign-up for “no sing insurance” for $10.00.
Please come on Saturday June 1st at 5:30 PM for the service followed by dinner and celebration to support Julia, Riley, Davis, Margaret and Meghan. Let’s live into our promise to them at their baptism by seeing them through this next right of passage. If you are able, please sign-up ahead of time in the Parish Hall this coming Sunday to help set-up, clean-up and/or bring a food dish to share.
Confirm not Conform Reflection
As soon as I had heard about the option of starting the confirmation process in the fall of 2012, I was certain that I was going to participate. Although I was slightly nervous about the extra time commitment that it added to my already demanding schedule, I decided that it would benefit me in the end to do it sooner, rather than later.
The first Confirm not Conform session was in the fall, and the very first activity was a simple “check-in” game. One of the leaders read out statements concerning beliefs. Two opposite walls were labeled “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree,” and the participants would stand between the two walls in their appropriate place in response to each statement. This became a ritual activity that took place every class with different statements. Even though the game was tremendously physically demanding (please note my sarcasm), it was a wonderful way to tie each session together.
Soon enough, our leaders chose mentors for us. These were people in our parish community who our leaders believed would provide another excellent support system in our confirmation processes. I was lucky enough to have been assigned the magnificent Mrs. Patricia Cross, who, coincidentally, is my counselor at my high school as well. She has been a wonderful mentor in my Confirm not Conform experience, so extra kudos to her.
For the first few months of Confirm not Conform, I found that the classes mainly discussed the facts of our church, its beliefs, and the more technical ideas that surrounded our faith. Although I was interested in all of these concepts, I had already learned much of the material in religion class at school. I hoped that we could soon dive into the “why” aspects of our faith, and what it means to me personally.
One of the biggest problems I faced along the way was my struggle with my conflicting commitments. As I had worried about in the beginning, I came across several scheduling issues concerning CnC that got in the way of important track meets. To make a long story short, the important confirmation retreat had to be rescheduled due to the fact that three out of five people could not come. Unfortunately, the dates it was rescheduled for also conflicted with races as well. I ended up missing the track meet and attended the retreat that took place in the house next to All Souls. Even though it was very hard for me to miss supporting my teammates who were racing in Sacramento that day, I tried to honor the idea of the retreat and focus on confirmation.
The retreat ended up being the turning point in my confirmation process. I finally realized the difference between learning religion in the classroom, and learning about myself through Confirm not Conform. From spending time to myself through quiet journaling and drawing, to games and art projects, I discovered how much I valued the people around me.
One of the most important lessons I learned throughout the entire year came to my understanding by watching the movie Big Fish at the confirmation retreat. In summary, a man is skeptical of his dying father’s life because he believes that he has made practically everything up. However, in the end, he realizes that, even though the story of his father’s life is full of lies and fabrications, it is truer for their inclusion. That is, it is irrelevant that not all of the details are factual—the details defined the father and became his own truth. Applying this to confirmation (and religion in general) was simple. Even though there is a plethora of things that I simply do not believe in the Bible, that does not mean that the stories are any less meaningful in our lives: they just may have to be taken in a less literal sense, and more like the universal truths and lessons that one may pull from a great fiction book. The ideas are true, even though the stories may not be. This lesson has helped me gain a much better understanding of my faith and especially in the Bible. I realize now that it is okay to believe in some things, and not others.
I am so grateful to all of my confirmation leaders, Sara, Kristin, Phil, and Michael, who worked so hard to make this experience meaningful for me and the other CnC participants. It has been an exciting, fun, thoughtful year and I am ready to begin the next stage of my discovery of faith. As Sara would put it, “We are all in process,” and I owe my new ideas and religious direction to Confirm not Conform.
From the Parish Archivist
When I said to Bill Clancey (the late Reverend William Power Clancey, Jr., rector of All Souls from November 2, 1972 to February 16, 1988) that I intended to write a history of All Souls, he asked “Would it be expurgated or unexpurgated?” I told him that it would probably be mostly unexpurgated, but if I suspected that if I asked All Souls to pay to publish it, it would probably be bowdlerized first. I had serious doubts that the administration would want to cast All Souls or its rectors in anything by the most favorable light. We mere lay persons would often like to believe that priests were saints without flaws, while in fact they are simply human with the same failings as the rest of us. So, let’s look as some of the (minor?) transgressions of former rectors of All Souls.
The Rev. Dr. Herbert H. Powell, who served as interim during World War One and the great 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, flouted the law requiring everyone to wear surgical masks in public to prevent the spread of the dread disease. Unable (in his view) to preach through the mask, the Reverend Dr. Powell rationalized his “wearing” the mask by letting it hang from one ear while he preached.
The Reverend Hugh Eglinton Montgomery, rector during the Depression from January 1, 1928 to October 15, 1931, who was reported by John Graves (does anyone remember Jack?) to have not only slept through the bishop’s sermon, but also snored quite loudly. Since it was before my time, I am not certain whether it was a faux pas or a constructive criticism. A parishioner who helped in the parish office during the Rev. Mr. Montgomery’s tenure wrote that while preparing the Sunday bulletin, she would ask him what the sermon would be about and his answer would invariably be: “About 15 minutes”.
In 1969, the Reverend K. Bradford Brown (rector from October 16, 1964 to January 31, 1969) left All Souls and his wife for another woman, while his wife LoRayne remained a respected and loved member of the parish and of the choir.
There was the incident of a rector wrestling with a parishioner for possession of the microphone. In the early days of parishioners coming forward during the morning service with announcements of birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations, the microphone was passed hand to hand from one parishioner to another. This stopped during the tenure of the Reverend Joseph Harp Britton (November 28, 1993 to August 31, 1996), when retired professor Wayne Shumaker rambled on reminiscing for several minutes (what professor can limit his or her remarks to less than fifty minutes?) until the rector grabbed the microphone, and Wayne and Joe wrestled over it for several minutes until the 80 year old Wayne tired and let go. Never again has the microphone left the rector’s firm hand.