From the Associate for Parish Life

Entering into Lent

I always know Lent is coming when Girl Scout cookies start appearing. It seems an unfortunate coincidence that just as we get ready to fast Thin Mints, Samoas and Do-Si-Dos are finally available again. Growing up, our freezer was always a little extra packed because of the Girl Scout cookies my parents were saving for Easter. For the past week, at just about every meeting I’ve gone to, sleeves of Thin Mints have been passed around. This, perhaps more than anything else, has reminded me that Lent is just around the corner. It is late this year but coming nonetheless.

I grew up thinking about Lent as a time to give things up like sweets, soda, radio in the car, meat, etc. My sisters and I were encouraged to participate in personal practices but we also did things as a family. For many years the expectation during Lent was that we would not go to any restaurants. We also had Tuesday night bread and water dinners as a family. I struggled with these forced practices, especially as a teenager. However, I have come to appreciate the value in communal practice. As a church we will give up saying “Alleluia” for Lent. Other changes to our liturgical practice will help us hold this Lenten space together.

Lent is about more than giving things up, though. One of the more meaningful practices during Lent is to add something to your routine. In our already hectic lives it can be a bit overwhelming to think about adding anything to our schedules. I hope, though, that some of the options we will be offering at All Souls will fit not just openings in your calendar but also the needs and desires of your spirit. My hope is that as a community we can immerse ourselves in new ways.

Just before Lent starts we will gather on March 4th to celebrate Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, in the Parish Hall and main church. We will have pancakes and jambalaya, we will decorate and then hide the Alleluia banner, and we will end the evening by burning the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday celebration to make ashes for the next day’s Eucharist. Dinner will start at 6:00 and I encourage you to invite friends and families to join in the festivities.

On March 5th Lent officially begins with Ash Wednesday. We will hold services at 7:00 AM in the chapel, 12:00 PM and 7:30 PM in the main church. Please join us for one of these services to begin this season of Lent with others in the All Souls community.

Easter is on Sunday April 20th and there is a lot happening at All Souls between now and then to enter into as a Lenten practice. As a community we will be participating in the Lenten challenge. I invite you all to “take the challenge” and join in praying each day for twenty minutes. The website offers many tools and ideas about ways to pray, worship and serve during Lent. We will also be putting together other resources to help make this an engaging and realistic goal.

On Sunday mornings we will continue to offer a variety of formation options for all ages. In addition, as is our regular practice, we will be gathering on Wednesday nights in Lent to share a simple soup supper together. This year we will be looking at the parable in the Gospel of Matthew, using the songs from Godspell to enter into the stories in new ways. This program will be offered to middle and high schoolers as well as adults. I am excited that we will be gathering as one large group this year.

Several small group opportunities are also starting in Lent and I encourage you to consider participating in one of them. Rebecca Ghanadan will be starting a small group about Life Transitions, read more about this group in the article below. Dan Prechtel will be leading a Silent Prayer and Meditation group also starting on March 11th. Both of these groups have a sign-up deadline of March 4th so please see Rebecca or Dan as soon as you can. Betsy Dixon and Sean Albrecht will be facilitating an eight week Catechumenate course on Sunday evenings starting on March 16th. If you are interested in this class please let Betsy or Sean know and plan on going to an informational meeting on Sunday March 9th. Our Affinity Groups are continuing to gain momentum. For more information about them please see last week’s parish life article.

Loaves and Fishes has been going strong and will continue to meet in people’s homes regularly through Lent and beyond. Look at the upcoming dates and sign-up for a dinner, invite someone to go with you. If you’d like to consider hosting meals in your home please contact Caroline McCall.

What stands out the most to me is that we value community. None of these needs, nor should, to be done alone. Lent is a mysterious and often somber season. Let’s enter into it in community, supporting and encouraging one another.

New Small Group

Life Transitions

In March, I will be leading a new 6-session small group on Life Transitions. I invite you consider joining in. This group is for those looking to deepen their connection and joy in transition. We will consider what makes a transition (versus a simpler change). We will ask about the features of transition, and what it is to look within and create space for change. We will look at our own experiences and hear from each other. We will explore via reflective exercises the benefits of our in-between times and the guidance that can arise there.

* * *

Perhaps you will recognize some familiar themes as I tell you a bit about myself. My family (my husband, then 3 year old daughter, and I) came to our first service on Easter Sunday in 2012. My time at All Souls has been one of transition and deep personal change. In the period of a few short years, I became a mother, gave up my pathway as an academic, and shifted my relationship with myself, my outside world, and with my husband.

This process touched deeply on loss, letting go, faith, uncertainty, doubt, humility, mistakes, circling / clinging, learning, and support of others. I (and we) struggled to find and discover trust in something much deeper—something that I couldn’t put a name to, but which kept growing—a felt sense which guided us. We found ourselves trusting something not always desired, or known. Yet, the community and practices of All Souls have allowed me and my family to be stirred, individually and together. Holding a space where we can struggle, open, be confused, look deeper, enjoy, celebrate, and discover things. Over and over again. Returning.

* * *

Transition is not usually comfortable, but I have discovered that it is the most natural thing in our lives. Professionally, I am now a coach and I work with others on personal and professional development. I love holding this space of learning where we step into the unknown of trying something new. Like life, like change, transition requires humility, compassion, and the grit and gentleness to try again and again. But underneath our LinkedIn profiles are our actually lived lives, which are messy.

Change is an important practice ground for growing ourselves, and our relationships. We learn in the midst of uncertainty. We can find trust in the midst of the unknown. Embracing our doubts, rather than rejecting ourselves, allows us to open to love. When we welcome more and more of who we are, without throwing things away, this allows us to step more fully into our lives.

One of the possibilities of life’s many transitions is taking the time to harvest the learning from our changes. When we take that time among others, we accelerate that journey.

The group will meet bi-monthly, on Tuesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:30, from March 11 to May 20th in the Chapel. Please RSVP by March 4th. Any aspects of personal changes going on in your life are welcome. No prerequisites, and no past experience in small groups are necessary. Please contact Rebecca Ghanadan for more information: Group size is limited to a maximum of 8-10 participants.

-Rebecca Ghanadan

View from the Pew

What a Beginning!

My first Sunday at All Souls was back in mid-August and it came at the end of only my first full week in California. I had just moved to the Bay Area from Richmond, Virginia to serve for year as part of the Episcopal Service Corps and I still couldn’t tell Cedar from Hearst from Shattuck. Freshly back from a retreat at the Bishop’s Ranch, the intern cohort launched into the process of ‘church shopping’ – first stop: All Souls Episcopal Parish. Assembled and welcomed by our designated chaperone, the seven of us lined up in the third pew from the front on the left-side and waited for the service to begin.

And oh my, what a beginning it was. The opening hymn brought the church to life – piano, trumpet, guitar, and banjo (maybe even a violin and some percussion) all combined to give new life to what I’d come to expect from a procession. “What in the world is going on?” I wondered as I saw the clergy groovin’ down the aisle behind the cross. These people were into it. I swallowed my skepticism and surveyed the unfamiliar aesthetic: the wooden beams, the stained glass windows, the wide open altar space and perforated altar rail. I said to myself, “You are most certainly not in Virginia anymore.” (Does not every Episcopal church have a stone exterior, a white-robed choir and a harpsichord?)

The rest of the service seemed a divinely concerted effort at deconstructing what I had thought was my Episcopal sensibility. Taize at the sequence, a children’s homily, more Angel Band; I didn’t know why but I was getting into it, too. Even Kristin’s sermon was speaking to me. Her opening words, “Today’s Gospel is a clear reminder that we can never get too comfortable with our own personal Jesus,” smacked me right in the face – I had trekked 3000 miles across God’s green earth and wandered right into a sermon that spoke to me exactly where I was on my faith journey. Okay, okay, I relented. These people get it. These people definitely get it.

It’s one thing to feel the Holy Spirit movin’ and shakin’ in a church you’ve just walked into but it’s an entirely different thing (and just as wonderful) for the congregation, too, to be so unabashedly welcoming. I was waylaid as soon as the service was over by three or four people and escorted over to the Continuing The Feast meal that was happening luckily/serendipitously/deliciously that week and had several lovely conversations with people who wanted to know me just because I was new. Within two weeks, I got a phone call and a wouldn’t-take-no-for-an-answer invitation to a Loaves & Fishes dinner. One woman (who I’ve started to think of as my All Souls ‘mom’) made it a point every Sunday to come over to me and ask me how my work and intentional community were going.

Even months later, I subtly expressed interest in getting involved with Outreach ministry and within a week was sitting in on (and enthusiastically welcomed to) a meeting. It’s certainly critical to approach a visitor at coffee hour their first Sunday but to sustain the inclusion over the long-term, weeks, months after their initial entry – that is a different kind of newcomer ministry, a upgraded form of continuing hospitality. That’s the kind of protracted ‘welcome’ I experienced at All Souls.

That first Sunday there was a heavy sense of anticipation hanging in the air too – the big switch to three services was only weeks away. Most of the attitudes seemed to fall somewhere between excited, hopeful and hesitant. The conversations echoed various concerns, “What about coffee hour, the psalm and the first lesson?” But I all I could think was what an insanely COOL thing was happening.

How incredible that All Souls was in a position to manage a transition like that—what Episcopal church right now is stable enough to make the move from two to three services? What congregation right now is not only managing to keep itself together week-to-week but can plan and execute an act of growth and expansion? All Souls was doing church right and I could tell right from my first Sunday. And over the following months, I began to realize truly what assets All Souls has to its advantage – almost a dozen clergy on call to preside, preach and serve; empowered lay leadership teams like the Stephen Ministry; three Sunday adult formation classes with options rotating almost monthly; uncountably many ministry groups (Outreach, Newcomers, Affinity groups, etc.). To me, All Souls is a standout in a diocese of ‘unique’ churches. It’s an exciting parish in which to be an Episcopalian and this is an exciting time to be at All Souls.

-Ethan Lowery


A Retreat FOR High Schoolers Led BY High Schoolers

Last weekend Meghan Sweeney, Toni Borgfeldt and I staffed a retreat for high schoolers called Happening. It was inspired by the Cursillo movement and follows the same format as Cursillo retreats. I have been been a part of the Happening community in Chicago since I was a junior in high school and recently joined the team here in the Diocese of California. For two nights and three days we ate, slept, prayed, played games, listened to talks written and given by high schoolers at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Oakland. Among the first time participants on the weekend were our very own Julia Cooke and Meghan’s boyfriend Leon, who I have adopted into the All Souls youth group on behalf of us all. It was a beautiful and powerful weekend. I asked Meghan to write a bit about what Happening means to her. She has taken an major leadership role within the Happening community and will be the “rector” for next year’s weekend, meaning that she’s the boss! It was a joy to see her step into such a major role and embody her identity as a leader. I am so proud of her!

-Sara Gunter

Happening to me is something that i have grown to know very well. It is a place to watch people grow, and grow yourself. Personally, the first time I “happened” I didn’t have a very good time. I even considered leaving halfway through. Now looking back, I can see why I had a less that enjoyable time. I had gone into the weekend with a sour frame of mind, and kept it throughout the whole time. Instead of just letting go and going with the flow, i stayed with my doubts. I am so glad i was invited back, because I have gone to three happenings so far, and will be the leader of my fourth.

The community and spirit of happening is instant. after the first activity, you almost have a natural bond with your small group. Happening is a place to explore yourself, and be able to talk about things you don’t normally talk about with people that honestly care about you.

You can’t really put it into words, you have to experience it yourself. The mystery and magic of the weekend is something that only happens once, so make it COUNT! Spirituality in teenagers is dwindling. This generation had deemed church as “stupid religious stuff” (yes, an actual quote from a friend of mine). Inviting high schoolers to a place like happening to express their doubts and beliefs is crutial to keeping this generation spiritually alive. This is all coming from experience, if it wasn’t for the many youth led events, I would not be writing this right now.

-Meghan Sweeney