From the Rector

What Will Our Sign Be?

Last week our Advent readings offered us a clear example of the power of punctuation. The passage from the prophet Isaiah read this way, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Is. 40:3)

Then, later in our service, the Gospel of Mark, the author of the earliest canonical Gospel, picked up the same theme, but with a twist. “See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

As you can see, the words are similar, but the change in the placement of the colon makes for an interesting editorial decision. The prophet Isaiah proclaims that it is in the wilderness that we will prepare the way of the Lord, whereas Mark makes the assertion that this voice has already been found in the wilderness in the person of John the Baptizer. From this change, questions emerge: does one need to be in the wilderness to prepare the way? Is it in the wilderness that the way must be cleared?

This twist in the text has been on my mind and in my heart this past week as we find ourselves at the center of protests around the recent non-indictments of police officers in the killing of unarmed black men. When preaching about these texts this past week, Liz reminded us of the wilderness of racial injustice that exists in these United States of America. She asked us to enter the wilderness and to take part in making the paths straight.

As I preached a couple of weeks ago, the wilderness will look different for each of us. Some of us at All Souls have lived in this wilderness for much of our lives. Others have become aware of it over time through family and friends. And still others have only come to be more aware of it recently, as the reverberations of the grand jury decisions have been felt.

What seems essential to me is that as members of the Body of Christ, is that part of our call is to enter the wilderness. Again, like Mark’s Gospel, some of us are already there, crying out. And others of us are on the edges, looking in. In both cases, the work of the followers of the Christ to make the ways clear for all.

But how? Some at All Souls have already been on the streets, part of the nightly protests. Some of the parish family have been on streets, attempting to keep the peace. And many have been praying, wondering how to express their own anger, frustration, uncertainty and hope. My own sense is that this work will be done over time, through study, conversation, and direct actions. It will involve work “downstream,” with those already affected by unjust application of our judicial system, and work “upstream,” to work to change the ways the system works. It will have to be collaborative, creative and persistent. It will take time.

And, still, the present moment. Yesterday, at our 9am Eucharist, we celebrated the life of Karl Barth, the Reformed Christian theologian. Considered by none other than Pope Pius XII to be the most significant theologian since Thomas Aquinas, the witness of Barth during the rise of Nazism and after World War II was remarkable. During times of great peril, Barth was one of the voices in the wilderness to proclaim another way, one that pushed again the oppression and violence of nation states. In our discussion we struggled with our own sense of what it means to respond with the Christian message in a time that can seem to offer little hope.

In a culture that rarely offers visions of hope, one of the questions that came from this conversation for me was this: if you were to make a sign to show people what your belief is at this time, what would it be? What would you hold up to the world? For some at these protests it has been the powerful statement, “Black Lives Matter.” For others it has been a venting of anger towards the police, still others a call for revolution. What would your sign say?

This weekend, at the least, there will be several opportunities to let others know of the hope you bear. On Saturday there will be demonstrations in Oakland and San Francisco and on Sunday afternoon at 2pm, many from All Souls will be taking part in an interfaith demonstration co-hosted by The Way Christian Center and Congregation Nevitot Shalom on University Avenue.

As you consider your own participation at this juncture in our nation’s path, I ask that we all ground ourselves in prayer. For those who will be attending any of the demonstrations or protests and those who will find other ways to make straight the way, consider deeply the words of 1 Peter 3:15-16, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

It is my sense that in all of the anger and frustration that is present, there are many who are hungry for a message and a way that takes the suffering into account and proclaims that it is not the end. It is my prayer that we will be one of the signs, in words and in deeds, that points in this direction.


Reflections from our Advent Series

What Now?

It was fall, 1985, on the Cal campus. My fellow English majors, at least the vocal ones, seemed dauntingly brilliant as they sparred with professors over the finer points of literary theory. I assumed that I, too, would pursue a PhD; after all, I had successfully transferred to a world-class university and loved reading. But then it happened: as a special event, our honors class attended a deadly boring lecture on something like “Commas in Jane Austen’s prose” and I lost all resolve. Eight more years of study for that? I have to get out now, I thought, and do something else. But what?

Clearly, this life-changing decision called for discernment. I didn’t know what to call the process, but I wanted to find a way to make myself useful in the world. I considered my skills, listened to others’ opinions, and pondered my experiences through the years. I added my time as a student, observing teachers and classrooms, to my time as youth group assistant and afterschool leader, subtracting obvious mistakes, such as a half-day spent with kindergartners. I remembered my fond desire to be a teacher, sparked by the lovely Mrs. Alexander, who let me bring interesting items for first grade show-and-tell. I prayed, asked questions of people I trusted, listened, and felt for gut reactions. Finally, in a class of would-be secondary teachers, the professor said what I needed to hear: “This is not about being the smartest person in the room, it’s about loving kids. If you don’t love kids, you should get out now.” I felt then that if I was willing, God could use me, and I would be happiest using my skills for God’s people. Those people turned out to be alternative education students in Vallejo, where I’ve taught for more than twenty years.

Currently, I use a daily prayer practice that helps me discern God’s will and cultivate a willingness to listen and follow. I begin with The Lord’s Prayer, which reminds me who’s in charge. Psalm 51 reminds me that every day is a chance to begin anew, and I need constant cleaning and righting (“clean heart,” “right spirit”). Micah 6:8 reminds me that every decision must be grounded in justice and mercy, and again, I am not in charge but “walk humbly” with God. Finally, Psalm 19 asks for guidance in thought and speech; in God’s sight, which is everywhere, I want to do what is right.

Christian discernment is not about taking control, as our culture would encourage, but about giving up the reins enough to be guided and prodded by a loving God. This process also reminds me of a small token I received early in my career, from an experienced teacher: an acorn. Like my students, we are all potential, waiting to be unlocked and used.
– Madeline Feeley

From the Associate for Liturgy and Music

Looking Back, Looking Forward

There’s really very little that we do in complete isolation from what has come before, and what will come next. Even the mundane decisions of what to wear and eat are affected by what we had for breakfast, or whether we have to go and paint a building or are out to a dressy evening.

The music and liturgy we share each week is no less involved with its past and future. I can’t take a step in Advent without remembering opening Advent calendars or singing “I look from afar.”

Just as we begin to turn in earnest from preparing music for the Sundays of Advent to the big Christmas Eve services, All Souls was a major focus of an article in The Christian Century, one of America’s oldest and most widely read journals of progressive Christianity. Author Carol Howard Merritt, writing about the importance of music in the transformation of faith through worship, was reflecting on a recent Sunday visit to All Souls.

The thing is, her impressions of what we do as a community were really quite accurate – I definitely recognized us in her description. At the same time, she is of necessity giving a very brief account of our musical transformation, meaning that in seeing things as they are now, with our rich blend of musical styles and shared leadership, a lot gets left out.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that just 18 months ago, the Parish Choir sang alone many Sundays, and Angel Band was more or less an “extra,” singing every couple of weeks. Looking back farther, it was just a little over a decade ago that Angel Band didn’t exist, and the Parish Choir was doing the heavy lifting, week in and week out.

All Souls has long been forward-looking in our history as a parish. Our baroque-style organ was installed as part of a relatively new movement toward baroque-style instruments. When the 1982 Hymnal came out, my predecessors made a point of using, or at least introducing, practically every single piece in there. All that, however, takes time, and as the parish’s repertoire continued to build, it was by looking back to what had come before that the parish kept on course toward wherever it was going. So while Merritt’s article gave an instant snapshot of everything we do on a fairly typical Sunday, what she couldn’t possibly know, much less convey, is that everything we do now has grown organically out of who we are as a parish.

So, as we look toward Christmas, we bring with us many traditions, both as individuals and as a community, as we continue on our course. We can see where we’ve been, and we know that we are heading together in faith to worship the Child who brought us to the eternal Now. And we can trust the Spirit to lead us forward, one step at a time, so while we may not know exactly where we’re heading, we know that we will get there. And that’s what matters in the end.

Happy Advent!
– Christopher Putnam

Welcome New Members!

Black Lives Matter Demonstration

Many faith communities from around the East Bay will be gathering for a march and demonstration in response to the ongoing concerns for racial justice this Sunday, December 14 beginning at 2pm. All Souls will join other congregations for peaceful civil disobedience, as well as prayer, lament, testimonies, and advocating for policy changes. The event is organized by BOCA, Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action, and will begin at The Way Christian Center, 1305 University Avenue in Berkeley.

There will also be a training offered tonight in preparation for this demonstration, December 11 at 7pm, at The Way Christian Center 1305 University Avenue, Berkeley CA. All are welcome.


Advent In-Gathering and Formation
This Sunday, December 14, we will be gathering new underwear and socks for the men served by Options Recovery Services as part of our Advent in-gathering program. Our guest speaker during the 10:10 formation hour in the Parish Hall will be Dr. Davida Coady, MD, MPH, who is the Founder and Executive Director of Options Recovery Services. Dr. Coady is planning to bring a couple of the men that Options Recovery serves to share their stories of recovery with us.

For more than 15 years and with very limited resources, Options Recovery Services has provided treatment and support to people suffering from alcohol and drug dependency. They provide housing for those who need it, as well as day services. Options has formed a supportive community that some graduates of their program stay connected with over time. In the last few years, Options has also provided transitional support and housing for persons abruptly released from prison. Several Stephen Ministry volunteers from All Souls offer direct services to Options Recovery Services clients.

The New Jim Crow: Winter Book Group with the Urban Peace Collaboration
Please join the Urban Peace Collaboration, a grassroots justice‐focused initiative in the Diocese of California, for a reading and reflection group on mass incarceration and racism. The group is a six‐week discussion group that runs from 6:30 to 8:30pm on Thursdays, beginning on January 8th and concluding on February 12th. It will be held in the sanctuary of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, on the corner of 9th and Hearst in Berkeley. Participants will be reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, reflecting on racism and our system of mass incarceration in the United States, and our call to action as people of faith. The group will be co‐facilitated by Rev. Sylvia Miller‐Mutia (from St. Gregory’s in San Francisco) and Em Kianka, intern and organizer for the Urban Peace Collaboration. A more detailed description of the group and its schedule can be found here. On the bottom of that page, folks who are interested in joining or receiving more information can enter their contact information. The organizers ask that anyone who is interested in attending please fill out that form so they can anticipate the size of our group, and also contact you with information about their first meeting.”

Wednesday Advent Series
“Be Still, Come Close”
December 17
Led by Daniel Prechtel and Stephen Southern
6:30 soup supper, 7 – 8:30 p.m. program
Explore the fascinating, deeply personal, and also communal Christian practice of spiritual discernment. We all face major life decisions and questions of direction. What foundation and movements help us do this faithfully and prayerfully? Each week, we will focus on a particular setting for seeking God’s desire and direction: personal situations, family and community issues, and the larger social/global context.

Loaves and Fishes
Loaves and Fishes is a way to connect with All Souls community in a smaller, more intimate group by sharing meals together in parishioners’ homes. There are two meals in December:
Saturday, December 13th at 5:30p at Vimala & George Tharisayi’s home, please RSVP to Gloria Bayne.

The Bishop is Coming!
Bishop Marc Andrus will be visiting all three services at All Souls on December 14th, and will be confirming and receiving All Soulsians at the 7:30 and 11:15 services.

Phoenixes (20s and 30s Group) Caroling at Kyakameena Nursing Home
On Sunday, December 14, the Phoenixes will be meeting at Kyakameena Nursing Home from 2 – 3:15pm to enjoy some fellowship and spread some holiday cheer. Bring your voice and any instruments you may have. Please let Emily Hertz or Linden Rayton know if you plan on attending. Carpools are available.

Christmas Pageant
Christmas will be here before we know it! Our pageant will be during the 4pm service on Christmas Eve.
Rehearsals for this year’s Christmas Pageant will be held at the following times:
December 14th 12:30-2pm (speaking roles)
December 21st 12:30-2pm (speaking roles)
December 23rd 12:30-2pm (Dress Rehearsal – all roles)

Help with Hospitality
Hospitality Ministry is seeking new team members. Please consider joining one the friendly teams of people who provide a warm, welcoming place for members, guests, and strangers on Sundays and for special events. We work in teams and the time commitment is for one shift one Sunday a month.
The shifts are:
Shift 1- 8:15 – 8:55‎
Shift 2 – 9:30 – 10: 00‎
Shift 3 – 12:00 – 1:00
Contact Renae Breitenstein for details by email or phone: 925-381-1680 or talk with one of the members on Sunday.