FROM THE RECTOR
To Beard or Not to Beard
That is a question. And it’s a question that I have asked at several points in my adult life. And, being a part of my face, it’s a question that has had consequences for how people encounter me.
When I was first ordained, and was on my way to my first call as an Associate Rector in this diocese, I was asked to send in a photo for the parish’s photo directory. I chose an informal picture of Sarah and me, one that I felt was indicative of who we were.
A few months later, when we actually arrived at the parish, I was greeted by one of the office volunteers, an octogenarian named Dorothy. She was pleased to see me for more than one reason. You see, in the photo in the directory I had a closely cropped beard, but when I arrived at St. Paul’s I was clean-shaven. This was important to Dorothy, and she felt the need to share it with me.
“Thank goodness you shaved off your beard,” she said. “Really? Tell me why,” was what I managed in return, a twinkle in my eye. “Well,” she replied matter-of-factly, “This is not a beard parish.”
This is not a beard parish. Now I understand some of where this comes from. When Dorothy was formed as a young adult, in the 1940s and 1950s in America, a man growing a beard signified something more than it does today. Rightly and wrongly, having a beard was largely a sign that this person was not willing to abide by societal norms, and hinted at transgressive behavior. Beard ornaments fashioned for hipsters in Brooklyn weren’t a twinkle in anyone’s eye at that time in American history.
And. My experience of Dorothy’s feedback to me about my no longer having a beard also served as bit of projection. The experiences that she had leading up to that point in her life had led her to believe that she wanted no part of a priest that had a beard. Keep in mind that we had never met, and that she was simply considering my personal appearance in her judgment of my capability and propriety as a priest. She was simply projecting experience, thoughts, opinions, and fears, onto my freshly shorn face.
Now, I have come to realize that my having a beard can significantly alter the way that people see me. (This is something that I don’t really have to worry about, as I don’t often see myself) After my sabbatical four years ago I returned with a much larger beard. I had the feeling that given the kind of role that I occupy as a priest, that this might have an impact on others. But I didn’t expect that it would elicit the wide range of responses, some offered as somewhat powerful reactions.
One of the more interesting patterns of response that I received was that many people associate large beards with intense orthodoxy. For some I reminded them of an ultra orthodox Jewish rabbi. For others it was similar to a fundamentalist Islamic cleric. And still others wondered whether I was going to join a Russian or Greek Orthodox Christian monastery. Clearly a modestly large beard was a signal for a narrow spectrum of belief and practice.
And it was also a window for me into the experience of many of my colleagues who are women. It is not unusual for a priest who is a woman to have the length and cut of her hair be the focus of attention, rather than her style of presiding at the Eucharist. I have heard countless stories from my women colleagues about the emphasis of people’s comments being about their attire or their makeup instead of their preaching or pastoral presence. Never mind their competence, skill, and inspirational faith, some people seem resolutely unable or unwilling to see beyond their priest’s physical appearance.
In my case, I get it. When I grow a beard—or in the case of the last eight months, remove a beard—something has changed significantly in the way that I look. And in our collective practice, whether I’m leading worship, or preaching, or being present as a pastor, or leading a meeting, people spend time looking at my face. This kind of a change has effect.
And, it also makes me wonder. What might it be like if we chose to make relationship, to encounter another person, even in the scope of a particular role, looking for the content of their character, or the skill of their craft, rather than the earrings they’ve chosen to wear, or the lamb chops they’ve chosen to rock? What kind of conversation might we have if we looked past the surface of that person’s appearance, and wondered about the deeper meaning of those outward signals?
Truth be told, I just don’t like to shave. It’s one of our cultural practices that I could do without. I realize that this makes a difference for some. As for me, I’m most interested in knowing who you are as a child of God—what you wonder about, why you laugh, and what makes you cry—and being known that way in return.
What’s Happening with the Parish House?
You may be wondering how our plans to remove the current Parish House and build affordable housing are coming along. The answer is, surprisingly well!
Our joint project with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA) is entering the final fundraising stage. After that, it will be time to build.
The footprint of the new building and grounds will cover the current parking lot and the current Parish House lot. It will include 34 studios for seniors and an apartment for the resident manager in one wing, along Oxford Street, and two apartments for All Souls’ use, as well as a shared community room and parish offices, in the other wing, along Cedar Street. There will be an underground parking lot and a shared courtyard between the two wings.
Several years ago, after also considering the options of building market-rate housing or simply rebuilding the Parish House for All Souls’ use alone, the Vestry voted to develop affordable housing, in partnership with SAHA, because of the great need for affordable apartments in the Bay Area. Doing so fits best with our mission to “encounter the Holy through Gospel-inspired service, working side by side with our sisters and brothers in the wider community.”
At this point the project’s design is nearly finalized. It has received the necessary approval and permits as well as $6 million from the city of Berkeley and about $5.8 million in Measure A-1 funds from Alameda County. We have about $2.6 million in committed state funds as well, and SAHA is completing the applications, due in August, for federal tax credits of 4%. And SAHA Project Manager Carrie Lutjens fully expects our project to get the full necessary amount in tax credits.
“[T]he tax credit allocation would be formally reserved in October …and we would then identify the tax credit investor for the project. We would then ‘close’ on the construction financing and start construction in March or April 2020,” Lutjens wrote in an email. Move-in is projected for June 2021.
The Berkeley Housing Authority has already set aside 24 federally funded Section 8 vouchers that will go to residents of the new building. Those vouchers allow renters to pay just 30% of their income on rent, and the balance of the cost is paid by the federal government. In donating the land for this project, All Souls is making a small but long-term dent in the Bay Area affordability crisis.
— Mary Rees
From the Treasurer
As we head into summer, this is a good time to consider where we are in relation to our forecasts (budget) for this year. At the end of May, we were approximately 40% of the way through the fiscal year. Income from all sources is a bit ahead of what is expected for the year, and year-to-date expenses are a bit less than our budget.
This is a good situation for us to be in. However, income sometimes comes unevenly and in the beginning of the year. So, all of us should continue with our planned giving for the remainder of the year. Similarly, if you made an authorized purchase for the church and have not yet submitted it for reimbursement, please do so before the end of June.
The balance in Vanguard (Jordan) funds at the end of May was $1,042,207. Of this total, $845,340 is considered principle held for capital needs likely associated with the 2021 occupancy of Jordan House (the joint project with SAHA to provide affordable senior housing and housing/office space for the church). Earnings (unrealized gain) at the end of May were $206,867. We have drawn $10,000 from earnings for mission-related costs this year.
If you have questions about any of this, or would like additional detail, I would be glad to talk with you.
Vimala Tharisayi, Treasurer