From the Interim Sabbatical Rector

stephen_shaverSowing, Working, Resting, Growing

In last Sunday’s gospel passage Jesus tells two parables about the reign of God. Both describe how it starts small, even imperceptible, and grows into something abundant. But they’re a bit different. The first one seems to emphasize the hidden, mysterious quality of the kingdom’s growth. The sower sows, then doesn’t do anything: just sleeps and rises and waits for the earth to produce of its own accord. On the other hand, when I read the second, I imagine a kind of burgeoning burst of energy as that invasive, scrubby mustard plant sends out branches everywhere.

Two parables about growth; one highlighting a kind of restfulness, one a kind of energetic busyness.

As I reflect on these parables I’m struck by their resonance with what I see here at All Souls. This is a parish that has seen substantial growth over the last several years —in terms of numbers and budget, but also in terms of our ministry groups, liturgies, and the overall number of lives we’re affecting. In an effort to step forward faithfully to support that growth, we’re in the midst of a three-year plan to increase our staffing and organizational infrastructure. Meanwhile, our three current strategic priorities (Deep Hospitality, Christian Action and Practice, and the future of the Parish House) continue to produce new projects and ministry opportunities. Visitors to All Souls consistently say the thing they notice most about this place is its vibrant energy—and I can corroborate that from my own experience as a newcomer here. In many ways this parish is like a mustard plant, busting out all over with kingdom energy. It’s exciting! This place is transforming lives and bringing people into relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

Yet we also do well to hear that first parable about the sower who simply plants the seed and then lets God and the earth do the work. At times—especially in a city like Berkeley, surrounded by academic, technological, and economic powerhouses—we might be tempted to confuse God’s reign with our achievements, to think that what matters is the quantity of our projects, action items, and deadlines. I know I fall into this temptation more often than I wish. It often helps me get stuff done, both in my life as a doctoral student and in my ministry in congregations. But I’m not sure it always actually serves God’s mission in my life. It can blind me to the dimensions of time, relationship, conversation, and wisdom that all those action items were meant to serve. I need to hear the parable of the sower and to remember that bringing about the reign of God is not, in fact, my job. We’re meant to participate in what God is doing—to plant seeds—but it’s God who gives the growth.

What does all this mean for us in what we might call a “stretched season”? Church size experts describe the transitional size All Souls has been passing through as a “stretched cell”—in some ways it still feels like a single-celled organism where established members can all know each other, while in other ways it’s morphing into a multicellular network of many groups. That period of stretching can feel exhausting. Leaders feel taxed, communication can be challenging, and there are significant losses to be grieved as the intimacy of a smaller church gives way to the full panoply of programs in a larger one.

Personally, I think it’s highly likely that the hard work All Souls has been doing will in fact result over the next few years in the numeric and financial growth needed to sustain a program-size parish. That involves a lot of project implementation, action items, and all the rest of it. Those things can be very good. They can be kingdom work.

As we go, though, we also need to remember always that God’s mission in our lives extends far beyond “church work.” God sends us into our family lives, our workplaces and schools, and our wider society. Nor is God served by burnout. Faithful discipleship is not measured by how many committees or guilds we serve on, but by what the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts and our whole Christian lives.

This week I’m praying that all of us at All Souls will be good stewards of the energy, time, and abilities God has given us. I’m praying for each of you, that God’s Spirit will be powerfully at work in your life. I’m praying that we will be challenged to exciting new efforts, and also that we will find ways to rest in the simple assurance that growing the kingdom is what God is already doing, and that our job is simply to sow seeds.


Coming soon at General Convention!

ruth_meyersNext week I will join thousands of Episcopalians traveling to Salt Lake City for the Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention. Deputies elected by their dioceses and bishops will meet to deliberate and make decisions about the life and mission of the church. I’ll be attending as an alternate deputy elected by the Diocese of California.

Many church organizations hold meetings in conjunction with the convention, and some of them also organize to support legislation. All Souls parishioner Janet Chisholm will be there, working with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

The convention will also have a large exhibit hall, where church institutions and organizations join booksellers and other merchants. Each of the Episcopal seminaries has a booth, so I’ll spend some time at the CDSP booth.

On Saturday, June 27, the House of Bishops will gather in a nearby church to elect our next Presiding Bishop. The House of Deputies, which meets separately from the House of Bishops, will be asked to confirm the election. You can learn more about the candidates online.

One important topic coming before the convention is marriage. A task force on the study of marriage, formed at the last General Convention, in 2012, has proposed a revision of the marriage canon (the church law regulating the church’s practices for solemnizing marriage), with gender-neutral language that would allow clergy to officiate at marriages of same-sex couples where civil law permits it. Resolutions from several dioceses, including the Diocese of California, also call for revision of the marriage canon. A revised canon would continue to hold all couples to the standards of monogamy, fidelity, and mutuality. In addition to proposals to change the canon, the convention will also consider several liturgies proposed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (which I chair), providing marriage services that can be used by any couple, gay or straight. Christian marriage would continue to be seen as symbolizing the union between Christ and the Church, with the expectation that those called to married life cultivate a relationship that witnesses to the love of the Christ for each other, family, friends, and the community.

The convention will take up a number of resolutions dealing with peace and social justice. Many of the resolutions are aimed at the US or other governments, or state a policy position, and are then carried by our Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations into ecumenical and interfaith work in Washington, for example, policy statements on immigration or the death penalty. Action alerts also sent out to individuals through the Episcopal Public Policy Network, to which any of us can subscribe. Many resolutions also seek to encourage local congregations and dioceses to become involved in various social justice issues on the local level.

Several of these resolutions, including one from the Diocese of California, advocate limited divestment and other strategies to encourage a peaceful and negotiated resolution to the occupation and settlement of Palestine. Janet Chisholm will be working with other members of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship to encourage bishops and deputies to adopt this legislation. You can follow their work on their website.

Climate change is the subject of a number of resolutions, several of them calling for divestment from fossil fuel companies and investment in clean energy. Other topics include human trafficking, gun violence, racism, and advocacy efforts for justice throughout the food chain, from farm to table, from workers to environment to food access.

Convention will also consider legislation addressing aspects of church life, including evangelism, congregational vitality, mission strategy, Christian formation, and the structure of the church. It will adopt a budget covering the next three years, and it will hold elections for church-wide offices, including the Executive Council that governs the church between conventions.

All of this work is grounded in prayer and worship – daily celebration of the eucharist, and prayers offered each day in the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. I ask your prayers for all who gather, that we may be attentive to the Spirit in our conversations and in our decisions.

The convention will meet for 9 days, June 25 – July 3, with two days of legislative committee meetings on June 23 and 24. You can follow the Diocese of California deputies through a page on the diocesan website, and you can learn more about the convention on the website of the General Convention.

– Ruth Meyers

From the Rector on Sabbatical

phil_sabbaticalThe Character of All Souls

Phil will be offering reflections from his time studying and his adventures on the road this summer. He cautions that, like him, his posting will be irregular. You can follow along at Practices for Living.

For several decades now, career counselors and those working in what is often called Human Resources have used a particular tool, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or the MBTI. I encountered this inventory about 20 years ago, when I made my obligatory visit to the career counseling center at Cal. (Incidentally, after using this and a couple of other inventories, the two strongest career possibilities were Minister and Forest Service Ranger. Maybe this sabbatical has been in the works for awhile.)

Using a scale to determine natural personal tendencies, the MBTI then correlates these tendencies into sixteen different personality types. The undergirding for these types was conceived by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung in the first half of the 20th century, but it was a mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, who refined them and came up with an inventory that could effectively help people to understand their natural tendencies and the personality that emerges from those tendencies.

They grouped these types according to four polarities: (I)ntroverted & (E)xtraverted, I(n)tuitive & (S)ensing, (T)hinking & (F)eeling, (P)erceiving and (J)udging. When you fill out an inventory, you answer the statements given your tendencies and at the end your type emerges through these four polarities. For instance, though it is likely that Jesus never took the MBTI, some have estimated that he was an INFJ.

– Introverted (he really liked to go away alone to pray and seemed to draw his way forward from within)
– Intuitive (rather than work with increments, he was into transformational change)
– Feeling (the parables are amazing, but he put great value in people and was able to understand people in ways they weren’t even aware of)
– Judging (he loved them all, but certainly was decisive, with clear standards)

The organizational consultant William Bridges, author of the very influential book, Transitions (and professor at Mills College for some time), started using the MBTI as a tool for understanding organizations as part of his organizational development work. When approached by the MBTI folks about this use, he was asked to consolidate his learning into a book, which became The Character of Organizations. It is one of the books that the College of Congregational Development has asked us to read and it is an interesting lens into the workings of any organization, including All Souls.

What Bridges posits is that the character of an organization is formed at its origins, and that it is relatively set over time. In his book, the majority of his examples come from the business world, so I do wonder if more long-standing organizations, like thousand year old churches, maintain the same character, or personality, over that time or not. In our case, now being over 100 years old, I am curious to know if the character of All Souls has remained the same. Has era or outside event changed the way we live? Has the character shifted over time, especially if there has been a gradual (or at times sudden) change in leadership? Or, are we in a sense replicating ourselves over the generations?

One clear element that Bridges points to as having both original and ongoing effect on the character of the organization are its leaders. Given our structure and way of being in the Episcopal Church, the Rector or priest in charge of the parish has an outsized influence on the organization and emphases of a congregation. Their imprint on what is deemed important, where resources are expended, where to draw energy and focus, all of this are factors in the leadership that a priest provides, consciously or not. And at the start, the tendencies of these early ordained leaders served to set the imprint of All Souls. But in my estimation, given the unique organization of a congregation, I wonder if this identity is even more shaped by the core groups of lay leaders that often far outlive the priests in any congregation. I still remember an older parishioner at the first parish I served saying, “The priests come and go, the people stay.” And that staying power has remarkable strength and influence.

What Bridges points to, though, near the end of his book is what I have found to be most interesting, which is how organizations respond to transitions and change, given their natural tendencies. It’s not that these tendencies in and of themselves are better or worse––the analogy he draws are types of wood. In order to build a model airplane, balsa is the best choice of wood, whereas in building a sturdy table, oak would be a good choice. In either case, and in the case of organizations over time, you have to understand and accept the material you are working with. Each tendency reacts or responds to certain stresses of change in relatively predictable ways. Being aware of what change might elicit in individuals and groups can go a long way working together and positively in a time of transition.

Just as individuals who deny some aspect of their own makeup tend to project that quality onto someone else, organizations need to be aware of their own makeup for fear of simply projecting their fears, shortcomings or anxieties onto others (leaders, congregants, other parishes, etc). In Jungian terms, the denied and projected aspect of the individual or organization is the shadow, created by the light cast upon the other side. That other side, or as Bridges puts it, that “dark side of the moon” isn’t evil or wrong, simply underdeveloped. But we can only change, or round out the other side, by studying it, and learning from it.

This is part of why I am so eager to join seven other All Soulsians next week at the College for Congregational Development in the Seattle area. I am very interested to know how they see the tendencies of All Souls. Where do we naturally draw our energy? How do we seek to change? What are our tendencies in times of change? And I am particularly interested in learning what we might do in response to our shadow sides. What can we learn about those ways of being? How might we integrate them into how we live going forward? In all, I am excited to live towards what Bridges calls organizational health, “the capacity to maintain a tension between both of these apparently opposite characteristics.” More to come in the months ahead.



The Numbers Part of the Story

Marilyn_FloodNumbers are only part of the story. I was reminded just last week that the Catechism says our overarching goal is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” There are many sub-goals to this, and then multiple factors that are important to us as a local community of faith. Now with May reports, and at the end of the academic year before the summer change of pace, it’s a good time to take stock of two of these factors, i.e. where we are financially and the composite of our Sunday worship attendance.

In the annual operating budget wide-angle lens, total expenses have exceeded total income by about $5,000. (This includes just the initial $10,300 of whatever will be the total of Love in Action gifts.) Focusing more narrowly on pledged income, now at the end of May, if pledged gifts were to come in evenly over the 12 months, we would expect to have received about 9% more of the total annual pledged amount than has actually been received, or about $18,000. From my perspective, this is not cause for anxiety, but it is a prompt to take stock of whether we each individually are where we aim to be by this time of year in pledge fulfillment, before summer vacations distract us from our intentions and routines.

Beyond the operating budget, there is a list of funds that are restricted (by source/donor) or designated (by the Vestry) for various purposes, for example, flowers for Sunday services, or property maintenance/repair. These are carried over from year to year, in contrast to the operating budget that sunsets at the end of December of every year. Since the beginning of the year, approximate total expense to these funds has exceeded income by about $7,000, starting from a total of some over $80,000. Separately tracked, a fourth fund designated for longterm contribution to the parish and its mission, sometimes referred to as the Jordan fund, will supply the $73,000 capital investment for the solar panels that will soon appear on the south roof of the nave. Aside from the environmental/creation care logic of this, the longterm savings in utility expense will eventually neutralize this initial cost.

Shifting to Sunday morning attendance, April averaged 242 (omitting Easter Sunday) and May averaged 228. The 9:00 am service average for the 2 months was 98, the 11:15 average was 118. On each of the 8 Sundays the 11:15 attendance was larger than for the earlier service, though the difference between the two on the same day varied from 7 to 30. Easter Vigil attendance was 155. Easter Sunday, 500. From my perspective, Easter and Christmas give a sense of the breadth of our within-parish ministry, though it does not include the unknown number at the furthermost reach, i.e., those who, if needing spiritual support for a life crisis or just seized with the impulse to attend a service, would think of this as ‘their church’.

– Marilyn Flood
Finance Committee Vestry Liaison

Big Sur Campout, July 17-19

Join fellow parishioners for a relaxed weekend of fellowship and fun! The cost is $30 per person for the weekend (children under 5 stay for free, $100 max per family) To reserve your spot you must sign up and pay in full no later than June 22nd.

The Santa Lucia Chapel and Campground, a mission of All Saints Parish in Carmel, is a private and secluded campground in the gorgeous Big Sur area.  The campground itself is right on the Big Sur River and has a family friendly beach area.The campground has running water and toilets (but no showers), picnic tables, a group barbecue area and a large campfire circle.  A communal dinner will be prepared for all on Saturday night, but otherwise meals are individual responsibility.  The weekend will be framed with Evening and Morning prayer, and an informal Sunday Eucharist in the outdoor chapel.There are ocean beaches within driving distance for those who want to venture out.  In general this weekend is a time to relax, play in the river and on the beach—and for the kids to roll in the dirt! With questions, contact Jeannie Koops-Elson, and you can sign up here.

Rotating Summer Ministry Fair

Attention, leaders of ministry groups: over the course of the summer we’ll be spotlighting various ministries in a Rotating Summer Ministry Fair. Any ministry group is invited to be featured to celebrate your ministry and invite new people to consider whether they’re called to join you. What’s involved: have someone present at each Sunday liturgy on your group’s day, set up a table with information and visuals about your ministry (creativity is welcome), and staff it after the 9:00 and 11:15 liturgies. Your group will also come forward during worship for recognition and prayers. This is a low-key and fun way to celebrate the many ministries in the life of All Souls and invite new people to become involved. You can sign up online here.