FROM THE RECTOR
I have a well-loved 3×5 card that sits above my desk in my office. On it is a phrase that I came across 15 years ago at least, sometime during my seminary formation. It reads, “Custom without truth is simply old error.” Articulated by Cyprian of Carthage, it comes out of the middle of the 3rd century, as the early Christian communities were debating how best to understand the customs of the church that was now over 200 years old.
I have kept it with me all of these years because I find it to be a powerful corrective, especially in this age of the Christian Way. Simply continuing tradition for its own sake can easily turn into a deadening practice, one that merely repeats motions without remembering why they are being offered.
And. As I wrote a few weeks ago, if a 5th century theologian, Nilus of Ancyra, is right, that, “History is not a chain holding us back, rather it is a vine, nourishing us into the future,” then the nourishment of our past practice is vital to our life today. The challenge of any institution, or any group of people that lives past a generation, is to know why we are following these practices, and whether or not they still give life.
It’s my experience that most if not all of the practices that we have received have offered truths for the people in the times and places that began them. They spoke to a desire, a concern, a need that otherwise wasn’t being articulated. This is part of why I am so engaged by being an Episcopalian and an Anglican. We are recipients of this incredibly rich stream of practice, what some have called the “Anglican jewel box.” From theology to liturgy, architecture to hymnody, we are able to call upon a tradition that has led myriad people over centuries into being more fully human and alive.
That is, if you know why you are doing it. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, a day when many Christians across the globe (though not all), mark themselves with ashes as a reminder of our own mortality and as a physical embodiment of our continual need to turn around, to give our hearts to God. But in a culture in which Cultural Christianity is rapidly receding (in ways we haven’t altogether been able to grasp yet), people do not always understand who we are or why we practice these ways. One illustration of this is in the article below, an encounter that All Soulsians had yesterday near downtown Berkeley BART, as they were offering ashes to passersby. Or many of you may have experienced it in conversations (or amused looks) with people as you make your way through your day with a cross of ashes on your forehead.
As practitioners of this faith—this stance or trust or habits of the heart—it is incumbent on us to remember why we live these ways. Emily Hansen Curran meditated on this need powerfully at yesterday’s services (the audio of her sermon can be found here), reminding us that in these practices of trying to get right with God, be they sacrifice or alms-giving or fasting or clay crosses, we are simply going through the motions unless we remember that their purpose is to open our hearts to God within ourselves, our neighbors, and our world.
In short, friends, we have begun. Once again, we have come to this time set aside to get ready for the Mystery of the Resurrection, a time that we know as Lent. I invite you therefore, to find, or learn, or re-discover practices that open your heart. Find the ways, ancient and/or current, that help you to truly see the people around you, encounter the Spirit within you and live in the ways that give life, to all. Just remember why you’re doing it.
From the Evangelism Team
It’s Ash Wednesday, b*%@&#s!
Today was Ash Wednesday. It’s one of my favorite days of the whole year. Seven of us went out into the community and shared ashes with folks in our All Souls neighborhood, at the Downtown Berkeley BART station, and at Kayakameena nursing home. We were: Ari Wolfe, Charli Danielsen, Marsha Thomas-Thompson, Stephen Southern, Merritt Seidenberg, Erin Horne, and me. There were unbelievably beautiful moments, like the man who said he didn’t want ashes and rode off on his bike only to ride back to get them a few minutes later, and the man who said to me “I looked and looked for a church with a service but couldn’t find one! Thank you!,” and the woman who looked like she was going to cry when she received the ashes and just stood there in the sun, stunned. Those who went to Kayakameena were able to go into every single room to offer ashes. This somber moment, reminding us of our mortality, touches something deep.
But. There’s more.
Following Jesus can be excruciating. In John we hear that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Yeah. I get that.
The first year we did this, we gave ashes to eleven people. The second year, twenty something. This year we lost count at 89. And that doesn’t take into account the hundreds of people we interacted with. What changed? For the first time this year, we wore albs.
Now, this made me nervous from the beginning. One: my progress toward becoming a total religious nut is becoming increasingly rapid. Wearing an alb in public signifies this in a visceral way. Am I ready for this? Probably not. Too late. Two: a white person in a white robe. Would people read me as the KKK? What would I do if that happened?
Well, guess what, lots of people thought I was a religious nut. They ignored me, they walked a wide arc around me, they said “not today” and hurried past. And I was ok with that. I owned it. This is who I am, this is what I believe, and here I am in an alb in Berkeley with prayer cards and ashes. Who knows what’s next for me. Promise you’ll still talk to me when you run into me on the street.
But I couldn’t bear the reactions of the Black youth on their lunch break from Berkeley High. They stared. And then they freaked out. They started murmuring about the KKK. They took pictures and video. Were we damaging people by simply being there? Were we making these kids feel unsafe? Under the Trump administration, should we be doing this? How is my white privilege informing my thinking right now? Context is everything, and we are in a frightening context right now.
The four of us there conferred. We agreed that anyone who wanted to take the alb off should do so. But we all chose to keep them on and try to engage instead.
I started calling out to anyone who stared. Talking to people. “What are you?” Someone asked. “Episcopalian.” “What?!?” “Catholic?” “Protestant” I said. Oh forget it. “You Episcopalians gave this country to the Jews.” another person says. One man went off on a rant and I responded “that’s one perspective.” to which he retorted “there’s ONLY ONE perspective.”
Then I had one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had. “What do you believe in?” a young man demanded, heatedly. “Jesus Christ” I called across the space between us. Jesus Christ. Turns out He really is the one I believe in.
We didn’t always connect with people, but sometimes did in amazing ways. Ari had this experience: a young woman looked nervously at her, whispering with her friends, clearly alarmed. Ari smiled and asked, “would you like ashes for Ash Wednesday?” The girl said “OH!”… and then, “Yes!” When her friends questioned her, the girl said “What were YOU thinking? It’s Ash Wednesday, b*%@&#s!
We wanted to offer something to people searching. We wanted to offer the holy moment of receiving ashes as we enter into Lent to people who would not otherwise have been able to participate in the ritual. I think we did that today. I still have many questions to consider. But we will be out there again next year. Maybe wearing something different, maybe with some other strategy. But this is who we are, and thank God for that.
Ash Wednesday is now not just one of my favorite days, it is my very favorite day. We are asked to struggle, and reflect, and acknowledge our sins. The days when it’s hard and confusing to be a Christian do more for my faith than the days when it’s purely joyous. Welcome to Lent.
– Dani Gabriel
New Adult Formation Classes
We Will, with God’s Help: Living into Our Baptism, with Nikky Wood and the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers
Sundays at 10:10 am: March 5 – April 2
Lent, a time of preparation to celebrate the Easter mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is also a time for people to prepare to be baptized at Easter and for the whole congregation to prepare to renew their baptismal promises. For these 5 Sundays in Lent, we will explore what this sacrament means to our community and in our lives. We’ll focus on the Baptismal Covenant, which includes 5 questions that invite commitment to particular Christian practices:
1. “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?”
2. “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”
3. “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”
4. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”
5. “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
Thinking Theologically, with Stephan Quarles
Sundays at 10:10 am: March 5, 12, 19 and April 2
In another turbulent time in history, does theology have a place to speak? Is theology strictly an intellectual discipline? Can theology inform the ways in which I engage in the world? Can I read my newspaper theologically? Can I protest with a theologically informed mindset? We will explore in four sessions:
1. A framework- Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience! Or- Can I just quote a verse from the Bible?
2. Scripture- Or those texts we all avoid! – I guess I cannot….
3. Reason and Tradition- Why Anglican? What about science? Do I need to know all those old dudes?
4. Experience and Resistance- What does my personal experience have to do with theology?
Finally, all these will ask what does this say about God, the human, and the world in which we live!
Ongoing: Reading Between the Lines, Lectionary-based Bible Study
Join us as we study one of the texts for the following Sunday in a lectionary-based Bible study designed for small groups. We meet in the Common Room right after the 7:30 am service, in the Chapel during the 10:10 formation hour, or on Thursdays at 11 am in the Common Room. On-going class; drop-in, occasional attendees welcome.
Haiku for Lent
Will you join us for #haikuforlent?
We’re trying something new this year. Similar to the picture-a-day practice that we have sometimes kept during Advent and Lent, this year we’re trying a haiku a day for the season. Each morning, we will post a word on our Facebook page for you to meditate on. You can also see the words for all of Lent below. Then you are invited to write a haiku (five syllables/seven syllables/five syllables). You are welcome to post it as a comment on our page or on your own Facebook page. Just use the tag #haikuforlent when you do. We’ll track them and share some throughout the season.
We will also be gathering a paper collection of these haikus in the narthex — write one while you’re here, or collect them through the week to add to the board.
We hope this practice is a helpful form of meditation and mindfulness for you. So far, the great meaning held in a few words is proving to be a wonder.
LENTEN SMALL GROUPS: SOUP AND STORY
There are still a few more spaces! This year, instead of gathering at church on Wednesday nights during Lent, we are going to meet in each other’s homes. Several parishioners have offered to host Soup & Story groups, which will go for five weeks during Lent. Each home group will gather weekly for a soup dinner and then wonder together on a parable.
Camp All Souls: Called to Justice!
Have you heard? Day Camp is happening right here at All Souls this summer, for ages 5-11, August 7th – 11th! It will be a time to build community, to practice justice, to come close to God, and to have a blast. You can learn more and register online here or pickup forms in the narthex. Teenage and adult volunteers are most welcome to join the fun too! Talk to Liz for more information.
Common Life young adult retreat – Fully Alive
St. Dorothy’s Rest Family Camp
St. Dorothy’s is hosting their first ever Family Camp weekend retreat. If one week in the summer just isn’t enough, campers and families of all ages are invited to spend a weekend at St. Dorothy’s. Participants will do arts and crafts, archery, sing songs, make s’mores, go hiking, and more!