From the Rector
This past week for our Sunday lectionary we heard one of the more remarkable moments in the lives of the followers of Jesus. It takes place in the tenth chapter of the book of Acts, when two people in different cities in Judea have visions while in prayer.
The first vision is seen by Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort. Our text tells us that Cornelius was a devout and generous man, even though a Gentile. In his prayer he is told by a “dazzling figure” to seek out a certain Simon named Peter in the nearby city of Joppa. Being a man used to action, he sends out three men to bring this Peter to him.
Meanwhile, in Joppa, Peter is in the midst of his prayers when he has a vision of a sheet descending from the heaven, with all sorts of “unclean” creatures. He is then told to “kill and eat,” a clear break from the ritual dietary laws. When Peter protests he is told, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Clearly dazed by this vision and what it might mean, Peter receives another vision that he is to go with the men who are waiting for him, which he does. Even though one of the men waiting for him is a Roman soldier, which, considering the recent events around followers of Jesus was an act of tremendous courage.
When Peter arrives at the home of the centurion, all of Cornelius’ family and close friends have gathered. All waiting for Peter to talk. It is only when Cornelius tells his own story that Peter realizes why he has received this vision, why he is there. The words of Peter, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (10:34-43), then changed the course of followers of Christ forever.
What is remarkable in his speech, really a sermon in our context, is what Peter doesn’t say rather than what he does says. He does not attempt to make any sweeping theological statements. There are no clever rhetorical arguments. He simply gives witness to what he has seen. And then, after he has finished speaking, when he sees the transformation that has taken place with all who have gathered, he asks this famous question, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And then he orders these Gentiles, previously understood to be outside of the tribe, to be baptized.
Having celebrated the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. yesterday and preparing for the holiday holding up his life on Monday, I am reminded of the kind of witness that Dr. King held up for the United States and for the world. Like Peter, it was a witness of what he saw, not just enacted with his profound and moving words, but also with his righteous and determined deeds.
The ways in which Dr. King encountered the violence and hatred directed at him and all those who stood up against the legalized, enculturated racism across the country – direct applications of the teachings and practices of Jesus – were as controversial in King’s time as they are today. Many within and outside the movement for Civil Rights were unsure about whether this way could really overturn the dominant powers of the day. And at the present moment, many working for change across the world are also skeptical of the possibility of non-violent actions in effecting change in the face of organized, oppressive governments and other systems.
As we approach the cultural remembrance of Dr. King’s life I am reminded of the words of his 1957 sermon, “Loving Your Enemies”,
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says, “love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – Hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
This week a simple reminder was offered by the King Center in Atlanta. Just as service in the name of Dr. King on Monday is important, at the same time, continuing his practices of non-violent action in all of our daily lives is just as critical. So abstaining from violence ourselves, through our words, by our physical bodies and in what we absorb through the media must be at the forefront of our witness. For like Peter in Cornelius’ home, like Dr. King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day, the words we use to witness to God’s work around us are paramount. But our deeds, our active witness to what they mean, must follow as well.
From the Music Department
They say politics makes strange bedfellows. The same can be said about worshiping together, especially when it comes to music.
We’ve now spent a full six months with the Parish Choir and Angel Band working hand in hand to lead the music in our Sunday liturgies. Last July, we began including Angel Band every Sunday, a pattern which we have continued through the schedule change in the fall and into the new year. Combining the groups for a while before dividing between the 9:00 and 11:15 liturgies made the transition a pretty smooth one for the musicians.
Contradiction is often a kind of ABC of church life: Amusement, Bemusement, and Confusion. How so, in this case? I knew the music department needed some explaining when within a week I heard from people who felt that the Parish Choir had disappeared into Angel Band, and from people who felt Angel Band had disappeared into the Parish Choir. Can these two contradictory views be reconciled? Absolutely.
When we began to include Angel Band each week, we faced a number of large questions. The most visible was that of what to wear. We have a long tradition of a vested choir; in fact, the blue cassocks and white cottas have been the Parish Choir uniform for nearly 50 years. Unfortunately, just as I had to wear something different to play the organ, our Angel Band instrumentalists can’t work with the traditional vestments.
In the past, when Angel Band came in to sing a single song, those who also sang in the choir would join in wearing vestments while the rest of the group were in street clothes. Less visibly, the occasional Angel Band member or congregant would join with the choir, wearing street clothes amid the vested choristers. But with combining the musicians, we didn’t have a good reason to maintain that visible distinction. We developed a color palette and some guidelines for all the singers and players so the group has some visible cohesion but not a single uniform. One result of this change, though, was that feeling about the Parish Choir simply disappearing, which is hardly the case.
Nearly every week, the Parish Choir sings a traditional-style anthem, though our numbers being divided between the services means that we sing music for two or three parts most weeks. On major feasts and some other Sundays, though, we sing truly traditional choral repertoire in four parts. In fact, we have more Angel Band members joining in with the choir repertoire than we ever used to.
We also have more choir members singing the Angel Band music. As we’ve lost some of our spaces for music in the liturgy, the Angel Band repertoire has shifted to become more broadly folk-music based, a wider range than the early days of mostly bluegrass and southern gospel.
When we rehearse on Wednesday nights, the Parish Choir begins at 7:00, with Angel Band members coming at 7:45 to rehearse the Sunday hymns and service music, with Angel Band continuing from 8:15 to 9:00. This allows us to focus on the integrity of the repertoire of each group, while spending some time honing our skills singing and playing together.
The primary job of the musicians is to lead the singing of the congregation. While we strive for quality and may even be all-out entertaining now and again, that’s not the primary purpose of what we do. Nor are we set on having our current pattern continue uncritically forever.
We’re looking into some vestment options that can work for everyone. We’re also looking ahead to Lent, Holy Week, and Easter as times when Angel Band will have a presence for the first time. And our Christmastide experiment with Ceremony of Carols has got me thinking about projects for the Parish Choir. Of course, whether it’s an individual or a group taking the lead, whatever the style, we seek always to make music and lead worship with integrity.
And if we do that, God is praised. As the Choristers’ Prayer goes:
‘Bless, O Lord, us your servants who minister in your temple. Grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts, we may show forth in our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’
And just like that, those bedfellows don’t seem so strange after all.
Helping the Homeless
Cards from Kids who Care
Cards from Kids Who Care started in December 2012 when I saw a play of A Christmas Carol at American Conservatory Theater. It was a cold night in San Francisco as I was walking down the street to a restaurant for dinner. I saw many homeless people on the street, including a man sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk, holding cardboard signs and cans filled with small amounts of money. I felt very sorry for them and occasionally gave them a coin. The play I had just seen had made me feel very warm inside, and I wanted to help. When we got inside the warm restaurant, my parents and I brainstormed on how I might do something to help. Eventually we came up with this idea: I would go around asking people if they would donate money to help the homeless. “How much money should I give?” they sometimes asked. “Any amount,” I would reply. Then I’d ask friends from school to sign up for my project. Most people agreed.
On two weekend days during Advent, we met at my house, sat around the kitchen table, and made holiday cards using an abundant array of craft supplies. My friends and I all made many cards, each signed by the name of the wonderful sponsor who had donated money for a handmade card. We made 50 cards and raised $1,260! All funds were donated to the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to help provide services for homeless men, women, and children.
Doing Cards From Kids was a really good experience. Helping other people always makes me happy because I know it makes them happy. Homeless people need shelters and food, and I know I am helping to change that. I would like to thank the Berkeley Food and Housing Project for helping our community, sheltering people in need of a home, and feeding people who are hungry; and for accepting the cards that my friends and I made. Overall, I think Cards from Kids is really great because it helps homeless people, and lets the card-makers get to know each other better.
From Arts at All Souls
Interview with Jocelyn Bergen
Windows into Icons is a course currently being offered during the Sunday Formation hour at All Souls. Michelle Barger is teaching the course, and Jocelyn Bergen will join her in teaching the class this coming Sunday, January 19th. The subject is “Materials and methods of making” and Jocelyn will share her experience in painting icons. Michelle interviewed Jocelyn to learn more about what drew her to this medium.
I hear that you have taken the icon classes at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. Can you tell me about the classes?
The classes are led by Betsy Porter with help from other long-time participants such as Judith Tucker. I believe they’ve been going on for years, as an open workshop about twice a month on Sunday afternoons, at which anyone with an interest can create an icon.
What prompted you to take them?
I had long admired the icons we have and use here at All Souls, and when I learned about the workshops at Saint Gregory’s, I was both excited to think I could make one myself as well as intimidated and apprehensive that I wasn’t learned enough in the subject matter and the process to be able to do it properly. I finally decided I couldn’t wait any longer and started last year. What makes me so happy about the workshops is that Betsy guides us step-by-step through the process, almost not giving too much information all at once, just what you need to know for the stage you are in. This is a breath of fresh air in our otherwise information overloaded life, to know this ancient practice is there waiting for when you’re ready to go to the next step.
You have a background in visual design professionally and have shared that talent here at All Souls by enhancing our worship experience with liturgical visual arts through the seasons: paper marigolds for All Saints/All Souls, decorations on the Paschal candle, Stations of the Cross, paper flames for Pentecost, to name a few. How is the practice of painting an icon different for you?
While I dream of someday creating an icon that will be actually used in worship, the practice for me currently is very much as a beginner, since I haven’t yet even finished my first icon. Unlike the visual arts projects we do at All Souls, which are implemented in ways I have years of experience with (graphic design, photography, and typography, along with experience in painting and paper arts), I am approaching the icon process as a new spiritual practice in my life, incorporating the many rich layers of subject matter, history, liturgical applications, and prayer.
You have agreed to co-teach the second session in the “Windows into Icons” Adult Formation class where we’ll be talking about the methods and materials that go into making an icon. Can you give us a preview for what we can expect?
I will be showing the class the icon I’m working on currently, which depicts the Angel Gabriel, along with a sample board displaying some of the painting techniques such as the clay bole upon which the gold leaf is laid, gold leaf itself, and some of the egg tempera paint colors and the techniques of applying them. One of the things I love about the materials is that they are so basic and time-tested; you feel connected to icon makers of long ago when combining the earth pigments with the tempera mixture of egg yolk and white wine, or burnishing clay bole with an agate burnisher so it is smooth enough for the gold. Other techniques I’ll cover are the layering of the paints moving from the “chaos pattern” of puddling the paint rather than using brushstrokes, as well as the spiritually significant moment that one applies the gold leaf, by breathing onto the clay, which I have heard related to God breathing life into Adam.
Windows into Icons is a four week course and is designed to be “drop-in” in style, so please join when you can. Here is a list of the topics: January 12: History and theology of icons January 19: Methods and materials of making January 26: Individual and community practice February 9: Modern day icons (note no class on Feb.2 because of ASEP Annual Meeting)
While the Rev. Kristin Krantz is away on Sabbatical
If you would like to request pastoral care from a member of the parish clergy, please contact The Rev. Dan Prechtel (firstname.lastname@example.org / 510-724-6561) who will be serving as Clergy Pastoral Care Coordinator while The Rev. Kristin Krantz is on sabbatical.