Practicing Lent

Cynthia Li

During my first Lenten experience two years ago, a friend asked me the standard question: What will you give up? John was one of my dearest friends—a mentor, a colleague, a companion on countless inner and outer journeys. Despite his not being religious himself, this came without an ounce of flippancy. John was asking the Question below the question. In fact, he offered to participate alongside me.

I was new to All Souls, as well as to the Episcopal faith. I didn’t know if I was serious or authentic enough to observe this particular tradition. Lent, as I’d heard many explain, marks the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert, and serves the purpose of penance—voluntary, self-imposed payment for our imperfections—before the joy of Easter. It’s a tradeoff of sorts.

I was used to tradeoffs. For several years, I’d been facing formidable health challenges. I’d renounced my idealized roles as doctor, mother, and wife. I’d stopped driving, walking, and other seemingly ordinary tasks. I’d eliminated gluten, dairy, soy, alcohol, coffee, chocolate, and eggs for years. I’d also learned to embrace my imperfections. I didn’t miss the food or festivities much. Because in return, I was slowly and laboriously recovering my health.

I smiled at John. Lent would be a piece of cake.

In the recesses of my mind, though, brewed a deeper question. I’d been studying and practicing integrative medicine, Christian mysticism, and qigong, an ancient embodied meditation. Surrender, I’d learned, is less about serving penance than developing consciousness, less a mind-based transaction than a heart-based opening to transformation. So my dilemma was this: if Lent is transformation and transformation is growth and growth requires energy, the ease with which I could surrender something for 40 days held no energy. No energy, no change. No disorder, no reorder. No emptying, no filling.

“I don’t know what I’m giving up for Lent,” I finally blurted, “but I know what I’m not giving up!” I was joking, referring to the very friendship in front of me. For ten years, John and I had been in communication every day without fail, be it text, phone call, or in person. The friendship was with me through both greener pastures and valleys of death. It was with me when I returned to the Christ. So I would never give that up. I’d never have to give it up. It was wholesome. Good. I could keep it. Daily. Forever.

But as soon as those words left my mouth, I knew that was precisely what I had to give up. For me, Lent was less about vices than attachments. This friendship was what held value—and therefore energy. The grief of this “friendship fast” would open me to the Christ Mystery in unimaginable ways. Without any effort on my part, healing began to happen. Radical healing. As a side-effect.

To decide what to give up the following year, I asked myself again, What will I not give up?

And this year, I ask myself the same.

— Cynthia Li

Sacrificial Reflections

Lent crosses pic
This Lent, head to the Parish Hall during Formation Hour (between the 9 & 11:15 services) for a class called Sacrificial Reflections. In this course, we will think together about the very troubled and troubling topic of sacrifice in the Christian tradition. The first session, “Reflecting on Sacrifice” will examine some of the ways that Christians have imagined sacrifice, biblically and theologically. The second, “Reflections of Sacrifice,” will center on what it might mean to be living reflections of a healthy, life-giving view of sacrifice in the Christian context. In the third session we’ll turn our attention to the eucharist and explore ways in which our celebrations are related to sacrifice. And the fourth we’ll tie it all together.

This class will meet March 1, 8, 15, and 22 and will be taught by Dr. Scott MacDougall, The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, and The Rev. Phil Brochard.

Associate Rector Search Update

I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:113-114

We came to the meeting feeling as if we needed to laugh so we wouldn’t cry.

Our recent meeting of the Associate Rector search committee opened with a series of particularly pointed verses (shared by committee chaplain, Diane Haavik) that reminded us to be patient, that God is here both in the waiting and at the end of it.

We closed a little over an hour later, a little bit punchy, laughing over the story of Jesus’ disciples who were drawing up empty fishing nets all day and then, when He urged them to try the other side of the boat, were overwhelmed with fish. In between those two passages, our group reviewed where we’ve been on this search for a new Associate Rector, and opened ourselves to our next hopeful if unfamiliar steps.

After all, what is unfamiliar can be good, very good.

Where we’ve been: Despite advertising the position through Episcopal News Service and the Diocese of California, spreading the word on our networks, and extending our deadline––beating the bushes as best we can––we have not received the pool of applicants we had hoped for. The scant response was disappointing and a little baffling—we know what a terrific job the Associate Rector position is—but our experience is very consistent with diocesan and national trends. The data show there are simply far more positions than priests, and particularly more open positions than available priests.

Before trying to chart the path forward, we spent time considering and validating our intentions. We reaffirmed we believe this is a two-priest parish—the needs of our congregation, the work to be done by skilled and ordained persons, and the important role the Associate Rector plays with our excellent staff all point towards hiring a new Associate Rector. We are not called simply to hire someone to fill a job.

We heard from Fr. Phil about options for moving forward without the immediate hire of an Associate Rector––options that allow us to continue our strength across the rich, diverse ministry that make All Souls what it is, without overburdening our excellent staff. Options Phil and the vestry will continue to explore include both short-term and long-term possibilities for additional lay and ordained leadership. Emerging from this conversation, we felt optimistic about the paths that will open up to us.

At the end of our meeting, we recommitted ourselves to searching until the right person is found. We will continue to advertise, work our networks, and target our recruitment efforts to solicit strong potential candidates. The search committee will continue to review new applications.

We hope to see a new group of candidates emerge as seminaries near graduation and bishops release newly ordained transitional deacons and priests; we also plan to look in unexpected places, recognizing that All Souls may present an unusual opportunity for an unusual candidate.

We are casting on the other side. Pray for a full net!––though we need only one fish—the right one for All Souls.

— Jeannie Koops-Elson and Caroline McCall
Co-Chairs, Associate Rector Search Committee

Deacon’s Corner

One of the things deacons do, to model welcome and service, is set the table for the Eucharist. When I was first learning to do this, I was overwhelmed by all the things. The special napkins. The corporal. All the chalices. What went where? I couldn’t remember. What was important about each item? It all blurred together.

One of the most important parts of my training once I left All Souls was becoming a Sacristan. The Sacristans are the team that prepares everything we need for worship, on the altar and throughout the space. I learned what goes on behind the scenes to prepare those items, and why each and every thing matters. It’s not a napkin, it’s a purificator. That square of cardboard I didn’t know what to do with? It’s a pall, and it keeps flies out of the wine if you need it. That corporal? There’s a magical way to fold it so that it unfolds effortlessly. It deepened my experience of the Eucharist and my appreciation for what it means to be Episcopalian. Most of all, it gave me an epic sense of appreciation for the unseen work of the Sacristans and what they do every week to make our services beautiful, seamless, and meaningful.

When my daughter Maggie was looking for a church job, she decided she was interested in becoming a Sacristan. She was only 12, but the Sacristans welcomed her. She has learned all kinds of skills, and has had a great time doing it. The adults who have mentored her have been patient and kind. Maggie has learned to pay attention to things many of us take for granted in church, and to value and care about the details. She also often lets me know when I’m doing things wrong, which I sometimes appreciate.

The Sacristans are looking for new members! This is an opportunity for you, or maybe your young person, to get to know parts of church you maybe didn’t know existed! It’s an opportunity to create a beautiful worship experience for your fellow Allsoulsians. And it’s an opportunity to work with an incredible group of people who will open up mysteries and help you deepen your faith through this service. If this interests you, let Emily Hansen Curran know and she will put you in touch with a sacristan who can give you more details!

— The Rev. Dani Gabriel

Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday, Save the Date!

Mardi Gras is next week, on February 25th. This year’s Mardi Gras will benefit our high school youth who will be traveling to Magalia, just north of Paradise, CA to do fire relief sort of work in August. The youth will also have some live jazz music for us to enjoy! Come support them! Then, come back, the next day for Ash Wednesday––services as 7a, 12p, and 7:30p.

Soup + Story

Soup + Story is our Lenten home group series. For the five weeks in Lent, we will gather in parishioner’s home all over the East Bay to share stories of our faith journeys and to eat dinner together. Look through the groups available and choose a group based on geography and accessibility, then sign-up for a group either in the back of the church on sign-up sheets, or online (click here). This year’s theme is prayer, and each week we’ll try on new practices of prayer. Additionally this year, we’ll spend the final session discussing and reflecting together on this Living Waters project. Don’t miss out!

Celebration of New Ministry

Join the folks at Church of the Resurrection in Pleasant Hill on March 21st at 6:30pm for their Celebration of New Ministry for The Rev. Liz Tichenor. For those not familiar with it, this is a celebration of all the congregation has been and is becoming, and it’s also the time when Liz+ will be formally installed as the rector. It’ll be a party! All are most welcome. Clergy friends, it’d be wonderful if you vested and joined—please bring a red stole. Church of the Resurrection is at 399 Gregory Lane in Pleasant Hill. There is ample parking in our lot and across the street in the medical center. The church is also about a 10 minute drive from Pleasant Hill Bart.

Living Waters Capital Campaign Informational Coffee

Join us for these small group gatherings where we will communicate information regarding the Living Waters capital campaign with time for questions, comments and sharing. Various times and dates will be available between March 21 and April 26. Signups will be available at church, starting March 8, and by mail/phone invitation.

Summer Book Club

The Adult Formation Committee requests your nominations for a book to read this summer for Summer Book Group. Summer Book Group takes place from June to August. The parish selects one book to read through nomination and voting and then comes together each week during the summer to discuss the book. Books may be fiction or non-fiction, but we’re hoping for books that brought you into some encounter with God.

Nomination forms and a box for submissions are available at the back of the chapel and in the narthex outside the main worship space. Or submit your nomination online here!

Nominations are due by Sunday, March 15.

Children’s Chapel

“Have you ever wondered what the kids do when they leave the church after the Gospel? Perhaps you have wondered why they leave? Or even where do they go? Every Sunday at the 9am and 11:15am services, children who wish, join two leaders and go downstairs to the Chapel of the Nativity. This time is focused on the children’s formation and is usually centered around the Gospel story for the day, the church season, or an observance. The time is opened with a prayer and then the topic for the day is introduced with a story. After the story, the children spend time reflecting on the story with questions and often some work to help them explore some of their wonderings. During the month of February, we are spending time exploring aspects of prayer – in anticipation of entering Lent on February 26th – Ash Wednesday. We are reading the following stories: “In God’s Name” by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso; “Thank you, God for Everything” by August Gold; “God’s Dream” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams; and “All the World” by Liz Garton Scanlon.

Children’s Chapel time is designed to give kids a chance to experience ritual at the fingertips, listen to the stories in their own language, and explore the greater questions with the peers.
Do you have questions about children’s chapel or perhaps you feel a calling to this important ministry? Ask Whitney Wilson at

Snack & Stories

Are you looking for a new Lenten practice? Perhaps one that will include your whole family? We would like to invite you to change your normal schedule and incorporate a new way of learning with your kids. This Lent, we are starting a program called “Snacks & Stories” to be held in the Common Room during the Formation Hour (10:15am – 11:10am) all five Sundays of Lent. Similar to the Lenten Soup + Story, this program is designed for families.

All children (infants to 5th grade) and parents are invited to hear a story together, and then spend some time in two groups (adults and kids) to discuss the story. The parents will also have some time to discuss a weekly practice of prayer that they can use with their family the following week (and of course some snacks are included!). We hope that you and your family might consider adding this to your Lenten practice on Sundays this year. If you have any questions, please email Whitney Wilson at

Adult Formation Classes

Anglican Prayer Beads or Rosary
Over three sessions we will be learning more about the history and symbolism, how to make our own Anglican prayer beads, how to use them, and how to write our own prayers. Join us in the Common Room downstairs, our last meeting is this Sunday, Feb 23.

Memento Mori
This class will explore the reality of death in our time, the culture of denial that surrounds it and engage in a variety of spiritual practices to raise our awareness of our own death and how it can clarify and vitalize our lives today. Join us in the Parish Hall, our last meeting is this Sunday, Feb 23.

Coming Up in Youth Group

Next Youth Group is this Sunday, February 23rd @ 6:30p.

Summer Camps at the Bishop’s Ranch

If you are looking for an adventure for your family this summer or for your kids, registration has opened at the Bishop’s Ranch for camps! Check out the link below to see what opportunities await.