From the Associate Rector
Over the last year or two, a friend of mine has taken up as series of what she calls “30 Day Challenges.” They have varied in nature, speaking to different pulls she felt towards mental, physical, and spiritual growth. The challenges have manifested as rising early to meditate each morning, practicing yoga daily, experimenting with eating habits, and more. As she has tried on these different practices, I have been intrigued to watch over her shoulder and listen as she reflects on the ways these temporary practices become more integrated in her life – or not.
What is it about regular, faithful disciplines that can be at once so tempting and so daunting? With the fresh start of a new year, we hear lots of discussion about resolutions, and I’m sure many of us have made them. And, at the risk of sounding cynical, many of these well-intentioned resolutions will likely fall by the wayside before too long. In another month or two, I imagine Jesus’ words in Mt. 26:41 may resonate a little more than we like, when he highlighted to the sleepy disciples that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” So what’s the trick? How are we to practice bringing our spirit’s willingness into closer alignment with the concrete ways we live?
These questions dovetail well with one the three areas of strategic focus All Souls is currently engaging: that of becoming a center of Christian practice and action. Much of this work of brainstorming, planning, and looking ahead is aimed at collaborative practice. The strategic planning team is examining the ways we are currently being called to shape our collective ways of living into the Gospel, and how we will go about creating more permeable boundaries around our community to offer these shared practices to the wider world. And, at the same time, there are also times to engage this work of developing Christian practice on a smaller scale. Perhaps as individuals, perhaps as couples, families, housemates or friends, we can try on different practices to go deeper into our own being, our own patterns.
The ideas generated by this strategic planning group coupled with my friend’s ongoing engagement of these short-term challenges has me thinking more about how we discern and live into new directions and practices. And while there is research to back any number of arguments of how long it takes to cement new habits (many reside in the 21-day camp right now, plenty of others insist on multiple months, and so on) I find the intention, if not necessarily the specifics, of the 30 Day Challenge compelling. Rather than trying to lock ourselves into a new practice permanently, often before we’ve ever tried it regularly, this approach leaves room for adjustment; it builds in reflection. Maybe 30 days of yoga will be enough for you to know that it’s not the right fit. Perhaps a month of praying the Daily Office will be wonderful, and lead you to explore other sources for daily prayer, like the Seven Sacred Pauses or Daily Prayer for All Seasons. We’ve also been experimenting with some of these time-bound practices as a parish, like rearranging our sanctuary in the summer and more recently, using gluten free bread at communion during Advent. Whatever the focus of these trial practices, trying them on without a permanent commitment allows us to instead commit ourselves to reflecting as we live beyond the challenges. In bounding a practice, we can see how it has shaped our life, pay attention to what is working, and maintain room to keep tweaking the discipline. It keeps us awake, noticing, engaging.
As we think about our ways of Christian practice and action, both as a broad community and as individuals, this approach may be worth our consideration. What have you contemplated taking on? What would you like to try with others? Ask each other how you want to grow, what you want to dabble in, and how it’s going once you’ve begun. My hope is that these reflective trial runs can be a departure from the self-flagellation that accompanies “failed” resolutions, and instead will be a source of learning, reflection and growth.
From the College for Congregational Development Team
As some of you might remember, last Summer Fr. Phil and four lay members of All Souls attended the College for Congregational Development (CCD) in the Diocese of Olympia, in Washington. This was the first year of a two-year program that equips clergy and lay leaders to strengthen their congregations.
Besides attending the two week-long sessions, participants also must complete additional requirements in order to graduate and be certified as congregational development practitioners.
These requirements involve a list of assigned readings, passing an exam in models of congregational development, and applying some of what we learned in our home parish through a group project.
In order to meet this final requirement, each team has to plan, execute and reflect on a meaningful project in congregational development. As our team pondered what we should do to fulfill the requirement, but also be useful to All Souls, we settled upon the challenge of developing a deeper understanding of All Souls history and culture regarding money and giving. We are looking back at All Souls in its early years and now in our present time. In order to have a more accurate understanding of the present day, we had small-group conversations with twenty leaders in the Parish, to reflect on our beliefs, attitudes, practices and expectations around money and giving, both individually and as a community.
We also have prepared a Parish-wide anonymous survey, which we hope you can complete in order for us to have more data to understand our current congregational situation and culture.
We acknowledge that money and giving can be an uncomfortable subject for some people (one of the aspects of our congregational culture that we have already discovered.). Last Fall, our Rector’s and our Associate Rector’s sermons on Stewardship unearthed some of our feelings of anxiety and discomfort around this topic. Our team considers that this is an important part of the aspect of All Souls life, which we would like to explore and understand more deeply.
Please help us by completing the very brief survey you will find here. This URL will also be on the All Souls website, should you need to find it again. We will be sharing the results with the congregation at our Annual Meeting on February 1.
For more information, you can refer to the Pathfinder of June 25, 2014 and the College’s Website:
-Toni Martinez Borgfeldt, Junior Warden
Breaking the Silence
In a culture that places so much emphasis on children and a prescribed shape of families, reproductive loss in its many different forms can be particularly overwhelming. And yet, it often seems there is little room to name and mourn these losses with others. Surrounded by a sense of stigma, people often end up suffering their loss alone. For those who have experienced a loss that risks eliciting a controversial or judgmental response, perhaps having chosen to place a child up for adoption or to have an abortion, the silence and isolation can be compounded even more.
As a faith community, one of the primary ways we journey together is by gathering at life’s pivotal moments, both in great joy and deep sadness. Unfortunately, the spectrum of reproductive loss often seems to fall outside the rhythm of traditional rites. How do we mark the heartrending absence of a child who was deeply desired, but never conceived? How can a funeral speak to an early miscarriage, mourned fully by parents but unknown by others? It is important to ask these questions and open up these tender conversations. So often, breaking the silence reveals that those in mourning are not alone, that there are many who have journeyed through these losses and who understand these particular pains.
Over the last several years, we have also found that creating worship space to hold these losses is an important part of the journey towards healing. Join us for the Liturgy of Lament & Remembrance, in which we create space for all who have experienced loss through miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, placing for adoption, failed adoption placements, or inability to conceive. This year, the service will be on Sunday January 18th at 7:00 pm in the sanctuary. It is designed to offer a space for grieving and healing through prayer, hearing God’s word, anointing and sharing of memories. Everyone who has experienced these losses – both women and men – are invited to participate. Whether your loss is a recent hurt or something that has been with you for decades, this liturgy will provide a place and time to enter into memory, grieving, prayer and conversation with God, and hopefully a spirit of healing. Because this is an unusual service, please give thought to who in your life might appreciate this opportunity, whether or not they have been to All Souls, and encourage them to consider coming. For more information please contact The Rev. Liz Tichenor.
From the Associate for Liturgy and Music
For my money, the ambiguity of the English language is a beautiful thing. It’s how we get much of our poetry and all sorts of wordplay. Yet we all know that ambiguity can be a frustrating thing, and sometimes we need to clarify things. I’m talking about everyday conversation, of course, but also our liturgical language: to whom are we speaking in church?
Through much of our church history, rather than gathering around a table, everyone faced an altar up against the east wall. Indeed, the original church building for All Souls faced the opposite direction from today, making that end literally the east; “liturgical” east, however, was ritualized to refer to the direction of the space, whatever the geographical direction.
In those days, it was easy to tell who the liturgical leaders, primarily the priest, were talking to: clergy would face the people for “The Lord be with you,” then turn around and face the altar when addressing God. No ambiguity there, because the language was matched to an action.
Today we’re not so lucky, and there are a couple of subtleties to our worship pattern in this season of Epiphany that are worth noticing. First, ask yourself what part of the words are the active prayer of the community? We actually have five different elements under that heading. First, the assisting minister (deacon or priest) calls us all to prayer, a shift from the recitation of the Creed. Second, the intercessor invites us to pray for particular things – for peace, for the sick, for the dead, and so forth. But here’s the key: those words are not themselves the prayers. They are, rather, meant to be the focus of our prayers for at least those few moments, but the intercessor is not addressing God, but us.
To lead our response, a cantor (usually me) again addresses the people: “Let us pray to the Lord” (the third element) is a cue for our actual verbalized prayer, which is quite simple: “Lord, have mercy.” We focus our prayers, we may speak our particular prayer concerns aloud…but the prayer of the gathered community is simply those three words, the fourth element of the prayers. Finally, the Presider collects our prayers thematically, addressing God in the name of the community, the fifth part of the Prayers of the People. Pretty fancy stuff!
The other rhetorical element to notice is one which will actually be absent. Central to the liturgy is the Great Thanksgiving, particularly the section known as the Eucharistic Prayer: everything from the end of “Hosanna in the highest” through our final Amen.
The shorter prayers said by the Presider, the collects, address God not in general terms, but are particularly begun by specifically invoking the Creator (Father), Redeemer (Son), or Sustainer (Holy Spirit). (That’s actually something else you might notice as we go through the liturgy!)
The longer Eucharistic prayer, however, is addressed to God the Father. We give thanks (the meaning of the original Greek eucharistia) for God’s creation of the world and all of human history leading to Jesus and his work of salvation. We recall the Last Supper, still referring to Jesus in the third person: “On the night he was handed over…”, and so forth. At some point, we also ask God the Creator to send the Holy Spirit; again, not the same thing as prayer to the Holy Spirit (the hymn “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire” is a version of one such prayer).
In most of the prayers, the Presider then addresses the people: “Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith,” or similar words. However, in Prayer 3 from Enriching Our Worship, the prayer we are using this season, the Presider makes a sudden, and unprepared, shift to addressing Christ directly: “…we acclaim you, O Christ,” with us continuing “Dying, you destroyed our death; Rising, you restored our life…” and then picks right up again addressing the Creator as though there had been no interruption.
This abrupt shift has often been commented upon, but we have never actually changed the words of the text. This time, we have. It’s a subtle difference, but the acclamation now continues “…we acclaim you, O God…” and so forth. It may be hard to pick up without the full text of the prayers side by side, but we use this prayer about one season per year, so if you’ve been around a while, you may notice that the language of our response has changed to match.
Of course, our liturgy is itself one single long act of prayer, in which we speak not only to many different aspects of God’s identity, but to one another. Our little prayers add up to a greater whole, which is itself a part of the greater prayer continuously offered by the Church throughout the world. What’s a little ambiguity when you get to be part of something that big?
— Christopher Putnam
Service of Reconciliation, Truth, and Solidarity
On January 18, 1pm at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco, 2097 Turk St., there will be a special Service of Reconciliation, Truth, and Solidarity in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. The liturgy focuses on racial reconciliation, and the service will feature several speakers who will share brief reflections on their experiences either with racism or with being in anti-racist solidarity. Please come to this service to share in prayer and take a stand against gun violence and racism in the United States.
Advent Wreaths – Return Your Metal Wreath Forms!
As you pack away all of your holiday decorations, please return the metal wreath from your Advent wreath so it can be re-used next year! Drop them in the basket in the Narthex next time you’re at church.
Baptism of Christ… with smoke!
Please note that there will be incense at the 11:15 service this Sunday, January 11, as we celebrate the Baptism of Christ.