FROM THE RECTOR
What it Means to Keep
As I wrote an email recently, I found myself ending the email with, “keep the faith.” Since I wrote that email I’ve found myself wondering why that phrase has such potency for me, why it is so important to me, especially now. I suppose that in some ways it is because it is an ancient turn of phrase, something that has been in our language for centuries. Specifically, though, I’ve been considering the word “keep.”
Some of you may know that I enjoy words—where they come from, how they are made, and how they change over time. So I turned to one of my favorite sources, the Oxford English Dictionary. Now, when I do this at the office, that is, pull out the compact version complete with magnifying glass, I receive a fair amount of grief. But rarely does this exercise go unrewarded, and it didn’t in this case.
Because I was stunned to find that the word “keep” has 41 definitions, just as a verb, not to mention the historical central tower of a medieval castle. It emerged in the English language around the year 1000 and it has shifted and broadened over time, as well-worn words have a tendency to do.
I won’t list all 41 understandings here, but to give a sense of the breadth, here are a few clusters of what humans who have spoken English have used this sound for, as “to keep” can mean:
“to take hold of something,” as in to have possession of something tangible.
But it can also point to the act of acquisition, as in “to seek out, or, “to take in or receive.”
Or, it can stand in for how we focus our awareness, as in, “to observe,” or, “to pay attention to.”
Many of us are likely used to this usage in regard to what we own, as in, “to maintain,” and, “to guard or preserve.”
This action can also directly affect the lives of others, whether, “to hold as a captive or prisoner,” or, “to look after the well-being of another.”
It is my sense that using the word, “keep,” as an action for what we do with our faith can actually be understood by all of these definitions, for better and for ill. But it was two more definitions, more recent in our understanding of the word, that seemed to hew most closely to what I meant in that email.
keep, v. “to continue to follow so as to not lose it; to persevere, to go on.”
It is not a unique analysis to say that our nation is in a particularly divisive season. Yes, there has always been division in this country, but what is striking about this season in the national experiment known as America is the degree of polarization that is taking hold. With that polarization has come coursing currents of rage and vitriol, of accusation and antagonism, of denial and mistrust. And that’s just among our elected leaders. But my experience is that it is being felt in all areas of our common lives. At times, it has been hard to recognize the landscape around us, and challenging to know how we are to hold the ground on which we stand.
So now, as ever, it is our calling to keep the faith. Keeping our Christian faith will mean that we have to work at it. It will mean that we have to be active in this practice of trust, and that we will need to persevere, even when we feel the tide against us. It will mean being humble in our certitude, yet steadfast in our belief. It will mean holding on to that which gives us strength, even as we allow it to change us in the process.
It has been my experience in life that in those times of difficulty and challenge, that this is when faith of the deepest kind is forged. And it is my sense that we are in the midst of times like those. So in the end, my hope is that no matter what comes our way, we stay grounded in who and whose we are, and, as a matter of practice, keep the faith.
Administrative Assistance at All Souls
We are sad to share that our time with Lynette as our parish administrative assistant has concluded. We are opening a new search for the position, and invite you to share it with anyone who might be a good fit. You can find the full posting on our website here. We are looking for a detail-oriented person who has design and project management experience. In the meantime, we will appreciate your patience as staff and volunteers collaborate in keeping All Souls humming along, and ask that you keep Lynette in your prayers as she makes this transition.
From the Associate for Youth Ministries
Taking the Time to Be
On August 19th, I took two of the high school youth and another adult to China Camp. We started the day with a Safeway run. Annika (the other adult) and I let the youth pick the menu.
Once we were settled at the campsite, we enjoyed some snacks and then went for a brief hike. China Camp is beautiful and has bolder wildlife than we were expecting. We saw a snake on the side of the path and a faun not far from our campsite. Neither got too close, but neither ran away.
After dinner, we had s’mores and did a guided meditation around the campfire. A raccoon jumped on our table in the middle of it, which pretty much killed the mood. After scaring it away, screaming, laughing, and getting back to the meditation, we had evening prayer. Naturally, we included the raccoon and named it Ruckus.
Instead of setting up tents, the four of us lay on two tarps under the stars. Ruckus visited our table again with a few friends, but they stayed away from us.
We had Sunday morning prayer, which does not include Eucharist. I wanted the youth to experience Sunday morning prayer as opposed to our regular Sunday Eucharist. After that, we packed up and came home.
Other than the raccoon surprises, it was an incredibly chill trip. We talked about travels, tattoos, colleges, our families, and of course church and God. I asked the youth where they had seen God moving in the last year, and they shared beautiful answers. The four of us had time to rest and recharge in God’s creation without being distracted by to-do lists or homework. I intentionally didn’t plan many activities. School has just started for these youth. I thought a weekend away where we could all slow down and just be together without an agenda would be restful. In the Bay Area, and especially for high schoolers, free time can be rare. I wanted to give the youth time to simply be, to take a break from their busy lives, to rest and rejuvenate in nature, and to enjoy each other’s company. From their reactions to our outing, I think it worked.
The Transformation of Wednesdays
I have a new job – working for an institution of higher education. This is a fairly common situation in Berkeley, yet for me it is a big deal. I have been an independent consultant for almost 20 years, which offered all of the flexibility and the financial uncertainty of being self-employed. This has changed with my new job, which brings different joys and challenges, none of which have been as difficult to adjust to as the change in my weekly pattern of worship.
One Wednesday morning in July of 2005 or 2006 I dropped my oldest child off for summer camp at Lawrence Hall of Science and proceeded down the hill to All Souls to “try” the 9:00 Eucharist. I don’t remember what inspired me to attend the first time, or even several times in succession, but I quickly realized that I wanted this pattern to extend well beyond the summer camp weeks. Wednesday morning worship became core to my spiritual practice. In a small gathering of 3 to 12 people, my faith in, and experience of, Christ grew. I found myself engaging in quiet reflection; exploring challenging questions; learning through deep listening; sharing in laughter, friendship, and mutual support; and being nourished by common prayer and Eucharist. The Wednesday congregation held me through challenging times as a parent, the death of my oldest sister, and the vocational discernment that brought me to this new job. I went every week, or at least every week I could possibly attend, and I have been transformed by the experience, week after week.
As a member of this small congregation, I worship with people who do not attend All Souls on Sundays, and with people who have been members of All Souls far longer than I. Students, retirees, parents, grandparents, babies, toddlers, dogs; this is a group that changes weekly and whose core membership has changed over the last decade. Together we experience the power of being vulnerable in communion with one another and with Christ. As patterns in our worship have changed – where we sit as we delve into scripture and its implications, where we stand to receive the Eucharist and to say the post-communion prayer, and whether we have a “chalice bearer” along with the presiding clergy – I have paid attention to and enjoyed experiencing the “tipping points.” What has remained consistent for me is the knowledge that no matter what is going on in my week I have an hour on Wednesday morning that I can use for comfort, for prayer, for intellectual learning and spiritual reflection, for motivation, and to remind myself that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.”
Now, more than a decade after first experiencing the Wednesday morning Eucharist and making it a central part of my weekly schedule, I am leaving it behind. Rather than gathering around the word and the table at All Souls, I will be teaching at CDSP each Wednesday morning during the academic year. Contributing to the formation of leaders for the church is a job I fully embrace as my call to ministry.
Thus, I come to the start of the fall semester experiencing loss, and nevertheless believing that I will find different and equally powerful sources of spiritual nourishment in my time in the classroom. As I teach I will be challenged in new ways – pedagogically, spiritually, and theologically. I will be teaching and learning about congregational life, leadership, and ministry in God’s church. The students and I will create new patterns through which we engage in quiet reflection; explore challenging questions; and learn through deep listening. With the Spirit in our midst, we will share in laughter, friendship, and mutual support, and we will pray with and for one another. We will be transformed.
I also know that the Wednesday morning congregation at All Souls will continue gathering and will welcome me in when I am able to attend. I realize it will continue to change, and that I may not quite recognize it when I visit. And I am very grateful for all of that. Mostly I am grateful for the people, the scripture, the conversation, the prayer and the Eucharist that have transformed my spiritual life week by week over the past decade. Thank you to all those who have worshipped with me on Wednesdays and thank you to All Souls for continuing to offer this service.
– Caroline McCall
Sunday School begins this week!
We are launching into the new year this Sunday! Young people from preschool through 5th grade are encouraged to find their Sunday School classroom at 10:10 am to begin the new year of exploration together. Preschool-Kindergarten and 1st-3rd grade meet in the Godly Play classrooms downstairs, and 4th-5th grade meet in the Crow’s Nest, up the back stairs above the Parish Hall. Next Sunday, September 10th, Middle and High School Youth Sunday School will begin, meeting in Jess Powell’s office downstairs. Welcome to a new year!
Coffee with the Clergy
Join us for coffee with the clergy this Sunday, September 3rd at 10:10 am in the Parish Hall. Come prepared with questions big or small for Revs. Phil Brochard and Liz Tichenor. Whether you are a visitor, new member, or long-time member this is your chance to write down your questions, put them in the basket, and get answers about scripture, liturgy, church history, and more.
– Adult Formation Committee