From the Interim Sabbatical Rector

stephen_shaverBenedictine wisdom: stability, obedience, conversion

At our vestry meeting last month, our senior warden Toni led us in a reflection on the three vows of the Benedictine life.

In the sixth century, St. Benedict drew up a community rule that helped shape monastic life for Western European Christians. Benedictine spirituality emphasizes the daily routine of prayer and work, a sense of rhythm and balance, and finding God in the ordinary practices of everyday life. If that sounds similar to a lot of Episcopal and Anglican spirituality, it’s no accident. In the Middle Ages England had so many Benedictine communities that one twelfth-century author called it “the land of the Benedictines.” During the English Reformation, a lot of this Benedictine spirituality was distilled into the Book of Common Prayer, with one major change: it was intended for all people—laity and clergy—not just people in vowed monastic life. So Anglican spirituality shares with Benedictine spirituality a focus on regular corporate worship, prayer, service, and study, plus a certain earthy quality (grounded in Christ’s Incarnation) that values everyday life as the venue where God can be found.

Benedict’s rule includes three vows: stability, obedience, and conversion of life. Now these are different from the three vows many of us have heard of: poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those vows were developed by later orders like the Franciscans. But the original Benedictine version is broader, which makes it applicable to a wider variety of people—including those of us who are not actually nuns and monks. We’re not all called to celibate singleness, or to renounce all personal possessions; but all of us can benefit from seeking the three elements of the Benedictine life, in ways appropriate to our own circumstances. We can practice them as individuals, as well as congregations.

Stability has to do with finding God in the here and now. For monastics, this means sticking with one community even when we become restless and start to imagine another order would be a better place to find God. For us non-monastics, stability might mean letting go of the idea that changing our circumstances is what will really make us happy or close to God: that God is in a better job, better relationship, better location. That doesn’t mean we never make a change! It means, rather, that even when things aren’t perfect, we realize that God is with us nonetheless; and when we do decide to make a change, it’s an intentional one based on discernment and grounded in prayer and community.

We can practice stability in our congregational life when we celebrate the fact that God is with us in all our community’s uniqueness, including its strengths and flaws. God isn’t waiting for us to find just the right leaders, finish just the right project, get our worship perfect or our service perfect or our formation perfect. God is here right now, in the daily life of the community, and that’s worth celebrating.

At the same time, God also calls us to new things—and that requires obedience. Obedience is a word that can feel countercultural, and for good reason, since we often hear it as conveying a kind of unquestioning deference to authority. But Benedictine obedience is something different. It’s not about blindly following orders from an all-powerful hierarchy; it’s about listening for God’s voice. The very word “obedience” comes from the Latin obaudire, a variation on the word for “to listen.” Benedict wrote that when the nuns or monks met, they should listen particularly closely to the voice of the newest member, because God often reveals through the youngest what is best. In our congregations, we can practice obedience by creating regular places where we listen for God’s wisdom. That might include regularly incorporating silence into liturgies and meetings; facilitating meetings in ways that honor listening to all members of the group; giving individuals chances to share their own spiritual stories; regularly checking in with the collective voice of the community; and creating opportunities to listen deeply to people who are unlike us with an openness to experiencing God through them.

Conversion of life has to do with willingness to change. As Episcopalians we usually tend to look at conversion not as an instantaneous but as a steady thing. Some people may have radical conversion experiences; others may not. But everyone is called to lifelong conversion as we discern the new work God is doing in our lives. We can facilitate it happening more effectively by setting aside regular times to reflect on what is going well and where we may be being challenged to grow or change.

So, at our vestry meeting, Toni invited us to reflect on where we are experiencing these three elements of the Benedictine life right now at All Souls. We generated an interesting list, including some of the following:

Stability: the regular rhythm of liturgies; Godly Play; longstanding ministries like Open Door Dinner and Kyakameena
Obedience: Stephen Ministry; discernment; formation; vocations committee
Conversion of Life: Catechumenate; formation; the move to three services; inviting immigrant guests to use our Parish House space in the Post-Release Accompaniment Project

I wonder where you might be experiencing some of these elements in your own life, or in the life of our parish. I wonder, too, which of the three elements you’re feeling most nourished by in our life at All Souls, and which your spirit might be drawn toward having more of. I’d like to invite you to take a moment to let me know: you can do that very quickly by filling out this poll. I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and I’ll share the results in one of my next articles—so stay tuned!


Welcoming New Members

woodsIn May, we welcomed 22 new members into the All Souls family. Today we learn more about Nikky, Adam and Ethan Wood.

Adam and I grew up down the street from each other in east-central Florida. We went to different schools, but the same church (a Roman Catholic parish). We got married after Adam graduated college (with degrees in music and theatre) and lived in Tampa while I finished my degree (in psychology and communication). Then we moved to Massachusetts and lived outside of Boston. While there, we became involved with both the Episcopal Church and a post-denominational house church group. That was a period of immense spiritual growth for both of us. After almost 3 years, we followed some very dear friends down to Texas. There, we were officially received into the Episcopal Church in 2010. Our son, Ethan, was born in 2013. The following year, I was accepted into CDSP (with some transfer credits from the program I had begun at Brite Divinity School) and we moved to Berkeley in August 2014. We love it here!

Adam has worked as a teacher, insurance agent, web developer, project manager, and church musician. He is now working from home as a technical content writer, with a flexible enough schedule to begin taking classes part-time at CDSP in the fall. I have worked at an architecture firm, preschool, and as a freelance graphic designer. Now, I’m a mostly stay-at-home mom and part-time seminarian. I’m excited to say that I will be doing field education at All Souls, starting in September.

Ethan will be 2 this month. We’ve been teaching him American Sign Language, so if you see him insisting on something with a repeated hand gesture, he probably is actually trying to communicate with you. He loves anything with wheels (but especially fire trucks and bicycles), books, church, making people laugh, and generally being silly.

When we moved to the Bay Area, we decided that we would visit as many parishes as we could manage during the first semester or two of being here. All Souls was the first place we attended and we found it warm and welcoming, but we stuck to our plan. Over the past year, we have worshipped with 18 different Episcopal congregations (and a few non-Episcopal ones as well), so when we say All Souls is the place we want to be, you can be sure we mean it! We are drawn to the vibrancy of parish life here, and very much appreciate that it is a multi-generational church, but for me the real key is the deeply faithful way in which the parish as a whole is prayerfully seeking the calling and direction of the Holy Spirit. All Souls is clearly a place where people, both individually and collectively, are trying to become better followers of Christ. I trust that this is a church where my child can grow up, both safe and challenged, and I know that this is a community of people I am eager to learn from. I am looking forward to the year ahead!

Peace in Christ,
Nikky Wood

From the Associate for Liturgy and Music


It happens every day: you’ve been doing something for over 30 years, when all of a sudden, you have a completely new and revelatory experience of the same thing. Right? Well, if this happens to you all the time, talk to me – I want to know your secret!

Last weekend, I did have just such an experience. I first sang William Billings’ Easter Anthem in high school. I can still remember the setting, at St. Luke’s, San Diego. Vested in black cassocks and white cottas, our parish choir spread out around the Nave and burst forth in song to kick off our Easter morning service. Billings (1746–1800) was born and died in Boston, where he became famous as a “singing master,” publishing books of his own tunes while providing instruction in reading music. His music, the best known of which is likely “When Jesus wept,” found at Hymn 715, and which we often sing in Lent and Holy Week, was primitive in comparison with the art music of Europe, making him the first truly indigenous composer of the Anglo-American colonial world.

Billings’ music was copied and carried far and wide in succeeding years by itinerant singing masters, all of whom would publish their own collections of music along with instruction in how to read music. These musicians traveled south and west, developing the “shape-note” tradition, later known as “Sacred Harp” singing from the title of the most popular and widespread of these collections.

Rather than relying simply on the varieties of oval shapes we find in standard printed music, these musicians sought to develop a system that would allow for instant success in music-reading without the complexities of interpreting standard notation. They used various systems of shapes for the notes of the scale, and the version that became normative used four different shapes to identify the parts of a scale. Triangles, squares, ovals, and diamond shaped noteheads (all those little dots) were combined with the standard five lines of a musical staff and standard rhythmic indicators (the stems that stick up from the dots in various configurations), making this music completely accessible to trained musicians. No doubt the original intent was to consider the shapes as a sort of “training wheels” for conventional music reading.

Original intent, of course, has a way of being superseded, and the world of shape-note singing is alive and well in much the same form as it would have some 200 years ago. Singers are always seated facing into an open square, and the tunes are sung first on the names of the shapes – Fa, Sol, La, Mi – before then proceeding to singing the actual hymn texts. Many of the tunes and texts are familiar to us, though only a few are paired in the way we associate them.

In addition to shorter hymns, though, the Sacred Harp includes a few longer anthems, one of which is the Billings Easter Anthem I mentioned at the outset. Each person attending a day of singing has the opportunity to choose and lead the group in singing, and in Santa Cruz last Saturday (accompanied by Jocelyn Bergen) that’s the piece I chose. Standing in the midst of people who have been singing that piece for years as participatory folk music rather than “art music” to be polished and performed was exactly that kind of revelatory experience. While written in four parts, two of the parts are sung by both men and women, creating in essence a six-part texture. In addition, shape-note singing is not subtle or for the faint of heart – singers go at a kind of full volume, adding stylistic slides, scoops, and ornaments that can’t be shown on the page, but can only be learned through experience. It really was like hearing this familiar piece for the first time again after more than 30 years.

While we may not have such a dramatic experience often, that kind of thing is accessible. Many of you know that when I lead hymn sings (especially at the Parish Retreat), I always like to have at least one hymn for which we sing more than one tune, each bringing out something different. Even more subtle is the way in which we experience the repeated, familiar elements of our liturgy. Sometimes a lector will articulate a phrase in a way that makes you hear it anew; sometimes it will be the presider’s cadence in the Eucharistic Prayer that subtly brings out something new, even after years of doing “the same thing.”

This is the beauty we find in any kind of artful craft, the thing that keeps us returning. Sometimes it’s a dramatic moment, one which we will never forget; sometimes it’s just a little extra light shined into a corner of a familiar room. Whatever it is that keeps us coming back, though, we never known what will catch us off guard. That’s why we keep showing up, so when the Spirit is ready to speak to us, we are there to listen. Don’t keep the Spirit waiting!

– Christopher Putnam
Associate for Liturgy and Music

Crazy Christians & a Hot Episcopal Convention

GunMarch-EPF“Crazy Christians,” that is what our new Presiding Bishop calls us in his book of the same name. June 24 through July 2, Episcopalians gathered in 100 degree temperatures in Salt Lake City for the 78th General Convention… and some of the legislative sessions were just as hot as the weather!

Michael Curry, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, was overwhelmingly elected our new presiding bishop. His charisma and energy were overflowing. You can see a video interview here.

Competing resolutions on a great variety of topics, with testimonies at hearings and committee meeting discussions, were vigorous and often heated. The legislative work and strategy sessions extended from 7:00 in the morning until late at night. There were amazing daily worship services, including an overflow crowd at the special Integrity Eucharist. An Exhibit Hall was filled the booths of vendors, publishers, church organizations, seminaries and others. There were nightly receptions hosted by dioceses, seminaries, and other organizations.

In addition to the election of a new Presiding Bishop, the Deputies and Bishops agreed on legislation that affects major areas of church life. For example, they changed the governance & structure of the national church. Their financial decisions include a new national church budget, a $2 million set-aside for racial justice and reconciliation, and required diocesan assessments. New liturgical resources will provide gender neutral language for marriage services, and there will be a trial addition to the Baptismal Covenant: a sixth question concerning our responsibility as baptized Christians to care for God’s creation. Bishops and deputies also agreed to support gun registration laws across the country.

There were demonstrations for social justice. Louis Crew Clay, founder of Integrity in 1974, was a guest of honor at the Integrity Eucharist and awarded the House of Deputies medal. “Black Lives Matter” signs and buttons were everywhere!  The bishops organized a city center march to end gun violence, and 1500 participated, carrying signs, chanting, praying and committing themselves to action. Two major displays in the middle of the Exhibit Hall sparked discussion and reflection: one a life size statue of Jesus lying on a park bench in front of us like a homeless person, and another a full-size refugee tent, outfitted for those who must flee for their lives.

Why was I there? As a full-time volunteer with the national Episcopal Peace Fellowship, I helped staff the EPF booth, handing out resource materials and engaging many of the people who wandered the Exhibit Hall. I also tracked and testified on EPF priority legislation. We held a reception for members who came from around the country, awarded a national Peace Prize, and offered a moving liturgy addressing 8 stations of violence. We helped organize the Bishops’ march to end gun violence. Our working team included EPF staff and volunteers, young adults whose expenses were covered by EPF, and members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) who are helping Christian churches advocate for an end to the Occupation of Palestine. Our larger team included the other social justice groups of the Episcopal Church which form “The Consultation,” and which support each other’s legislative priorities and publish a daily Convention paper called Issues.

Was DioCal present? Absolutely! Bishop Marc hosted a dinner for deputies and others attending Convention. Warren Wong from our diocese was elected to the Executive Council of the national church. Our diocesan convention resolution in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to help end the occupation of Palestine became the standard bearer for discussion of the issue, although the final resolution from General convention was very weak.

The next General Convention is in 2018 in Austin, Texas.  Maybe you will join us!
For more information about Convention, visit the General Convention website and click on Legislative Resources.

– Janet Chisholm

From the Pledge Secretary

The 2015 mid-year pledge statements are being mailed. I wanted to let you know that in order to note your pledge numbers, the statements had to be printed out with only the name of the person who has the number. In some cases pledge numbers may have changed. These are considered individual statements, family statements do not show pledge numbers. Our donor tracking software company is working on changing this. In the meantime, since some of you have asked for your number, I printed them out this way.

Let me know if you have any questions when you receive your statement.

Thanks for supporting your parish.

-Sherry Marqwart, Pledge Secretary


No Summer Sunday School this week!
Please note that our kids’ all-ages Summer Sunday school will not be meeting this Sunday, July 19, because so many of our children and leaders will be on the Big Sur camping trip. We’ll pick back up next week!

Black Lives Matter Group Outing
The Black Lives Matter group is hosting an event. We invite everyone to join us on July 24th to see 3 1/2 Minutes: 10 Bullets at the Elmwood Theatre in Berkeley. We will go to the evening showing. The exact time will be available on the 21st. For those interested, we will also have a discussion afterward. Please email Danielle Gabriel, if you are would like to attend!

3 1/2 Minutes: 10 Bullets
“Riveting… vivid (has) considerable poignancy!” -Variety
At a Florida gas station, Michael Dunn, a white man angered by loud “thug” music, fired 10 bullets into an SUV. Jordan Davis, one of four unarmed black teens in the vehicle, was killed. Marc Silver’s intense courtroom-based documentary reconstructs the story from a variety angle, skillfully revealing the inherent prejudice in our institutions and in society at large.

Rebuild the Churches Fund
Many thanks to all who generously contributed to our special collection for the Rebuild the Churches Fund, an effort being led by Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis to support the black churches burned earlier this summer. So far we have collected over $900. You can still contribute by writing a check to All Souls with “Rebuild the Churches” in the memo line, or contribute directly here.

Walter Hawkins Gospel Showcase
All Souls’ Gospel Choir – Hearts on Fire Gospel Choir will be singing along with other local choirs, soloists and praise dancers from around the Bay Area.
July 31 at 7pm at St. James Community Church, 4892 San Pablo Dam Road, El Sobrante.