FROM THE RECTOR
Immersed in the Story
It is hard to believe, but we are here again. At the precipice of the telling of this incredible story of Jesus the Christ. It is a familiar story for many of us, and one that we tell each time through music and art, in silence and in sound, late at night, and early in the morning. Every year we come to this story in Holy Week, ready to immerse ourselves in it once more.
Thanks to the witness of a Spanish nun named Egeria, who in the 4th century wrote a kind of travelogue of her visit to Jerusalem in the 4th century, we are able to follow some of the earliest practices of Christians wanting to enter this story of the last week of Jesus. Centuries ago, from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday, and into Easter, the followers of the Way of Jesus enacted those rites to remember, to reflect, and to be changed by the experience.
From waving of palms on Sunday, to the intimacy of companionship on Thursday, the longing on Friday, and the celebration on Saturday and Sunday, every year we immerse ourselves in this story. Words alone do not suffice, and so we complement them with the embodied intent of ritual. We wash feet, share food, journey, chant, carry, walk, smell, remain, kindle, touch, and sing.
If you haven’t taken part in one of these days, especially the three great days of the Triduum, I invite, encourage, and implore you to make the time to be present. The experience of entering into the narrative with other people, allowing the story to seep into your bones can be transformative.
For what we do is attempt to embody our belief in ways that touch us, metaphorically and literally. And this year, this immersion will be felt as fully as ever at All Souls Parish. Inspired by an Easter Vigil practice at an Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, Virginia, we are creating a baptismal pool large enough for the three adults to be baptized at this year’s Vigil.
This is why Liz and I found ourselves at a feed store in Pleasant Hill this week, returning with a large circular stock tank in the back of my truck. Because as incarnate beings, when we immerse ourselves in the story, in the ritual, we understand it at a depth that otherwise can be missed.
What I ask of any and all of us is to loan All Souls your houseplants for the season of Easter, so that this living water can be surrounded by living things. Please bring potted plants anytime from this Sunday through next Saturday so that plants will circle the font until Pentecost.
Set the time aside now. Open your heart to the week ahead. Come and immerse yourself in the story of Jesus.
On the Great Vigil of Easter
Come, rejoice with us!
We gather in darkness, around a fire, slightly drugged by the incense, tired because of the hour, mesmerized by the movement of candles in procession. Blessing and prayers and then an unusual song, making a most unusual claim:
This is the night when you brought the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.
This is the night when all who believe in Christ are restored to grace and holiness.
This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.
This is the night. It wasn’t some night in the past when these things occurred. We aren’t here to learn, to memorialize events that once happened long ago to people far away from us. This is the night, tonight, when these things did happen, and will happen, and are happening.
Then we begin at the beginning, listening to the story of the creation of the world, with that hypnotic repetition: “And there was evening and there was morning.”
When we have heard the whole story of the first seven days, we respond as the people of God have always responded, by singing Psalms together.
We tell story after story, and sing song after song, recounting the great deeds our God has done for us — how She made the heavens and the earth, and made us people, and made us into a people, and how She set us free — from bondage, from idolatry, from sin. And finally, spectacularly, from death.
And of course, this is the night we baptize new members and remember our own baptism, because God has rescued us and given us back to ourselves, so we are now free to give ourselves to God and to each other.
And of course, I will cry.
It happens to me every year, the overwhelming feeling of realness, an experience of the True Truth. There is something here beyond happiness — a joy that contains with it the knowledge of sorrow, a light more brilliant because it has understood the darkness. I feel, like the bush in Exodus, on fire but not burnt up. I become a part of something bigger than myself, without losing my identity. I am home — in God, in this community.
There is really nothing quite like the Great Vigil of Easter.
If you’ve never been to one, or if you’ve never missed one, or if you sort of remember going once as a kid: come, rejoice with us.
If you’re a devout lover of God, or a devoted sceptic: come, rejoice with us.
If you’re weary from fasting or wary of faith: come, rejoice with us.
If you are new to Christianity, or new to this particular expression of it, and you want to really know who we are, and what we are about: come, rejoice with us.
If you aren’t sure about all this unscientific, rising-from-the-dead stuff: come, rejoice with us.
If you’re curious, or confused, or intrigued: come, rejoice with us.
God has conquered sin and death. Come, rejoice with us!
– Adam Wood
From the Associate for Youth Ministries
The 2018 Youth Ministry Symposium officially began with a meditation of sorts. Mark Yaconelli, author of Contemplative Youth Ministry, invited us to close our eyes and focus on God’s loving presence. After we came back to the room, he told us a story of high school students and seminary professors playing Capture the Flag. The rest of the day followed a similar theme and format.
Mark Yaconelli has spent years doing youth ministry and guiding others in starting new youth ministries or strengthening existing ones. He shared as much of his wisdom with the attendees as he could within the seven-hour symposium.
I love going to youth ministry conferences. The subject matter has always been useful, but the colleague time is truly priceless. Everyone there works with youth in some capacity and loves the youth in their lives. We all want to make the most of the ministries that we direct.
This symposium was called “From Anxiety to Love: A Contemplative Approach to Youth Ministry.” The central theme was addressing this idea and how to craft and maintain a love-driven youth ministry. We returned to love over and over again throughout the conference. Mark asked us to reflect on moments when we had experienced the sacred, or moments when we felt seen and heard. He told us several poignant stories of encounters with the sacred, of moments when he had seen love in action.
I think we innately know what love-driven ministry looks like. But living into it can be tricky. In a culture where anxiety is painfully prevalent, it’s easy to forget to connect with the loving presence of God. Mark mentioned several times that, in order to direct love-driven ministries, we need to be grounded in the loving presence of God ourselves. I was reminded of our Parish Retreat two years ago, when we learned about Sabbath and talked about trying to create it. It’s hard, and it may not look the same for everyone, and it may not look the same each week or day. But I do think it’s important. It’s easy to be plugged into our phones and computers constantly. What would it look like to be equally plugged into the loving presence of God?
I will carry what I learned at the symposium through the rest of Lent, and I look forward to seeing God’s love in action during Holy Week.
Reflection on March 21, 2018 Vestry Meeting
You Say Failure, I Say Not So Much
Hello again, it’s time to catch you up on the work of your Vestry, specifically last night’s regular monthly meeting. Did you know our practice of starting with spiritual reflection offered by a named Vestry Chaplain was proposed by the Rev. Jim Richardson, interim rector, ten years ago? It has been of great benefit in centering us, shifting our focus away from the day we had, and working the spiritual muscles we cannot always exercise in the secular parts of our lives. Chaplain Laura Eberly offered Mark 14:26-42, in which the followers of Jesus could not stay awake on the most important night of their lives. Major fail? Perhaps on the surface of things, but consider how we respond when we feel we’ve failed. How do we respond when we meet failure or betrayal in others? Many offered the idea that failure becomes transformative when we name it, own up to it, confess it. Doing the best we can with the resources available, thinking inside and around an issue, failure can transform to something that just didn’t work out as desired or expected. Chances are good that the personal relationships involved don’t end, but continue transformed by both naming the screw-up (owning up to it), naming the impact (“here’s how what you did hurt me”), and reaching for reconciliation (“what can we do here?”). It’s uncomfortable but liberating, and we frequently find forgiveness immediately. Consider Peter, adamant that he will not deny Jesus once, let alone three times. Well, jump to the next day, Peter’s done what he said he wouldn’t, and Peter is still the rock upon which the church is built. Embracing failure will be a saving grace. Once we learn from failure, it isn’t failure anymore, there is such a thing as failing well.
Moving on to business, February meeting minutes and Financial Reports from January and February were approved, and Andy Willis was formally welcomed and elected as our new Vestry Clerk. We then approved the Parochial Report, the annual report to the Diocese listing who we are and what we do; ALL the numbers – how many of us were where, when, doing what, and how many people were cared for by outreach. Entries on this report change over time as issues of importance are viewed differently through the years.
I hope you have read, or will look back to read, about our relationship with ICAC, Interfaith Council of Alameda County. It was unanimously approved that All Souls become a voting member. Lewis Maldonado, Janet Chisholm, and Stacey Alexeef, on behalf of the Justice and Peace Committee, are the parishioners most knowledgeable about ICAC.
When Bishop Marc visited on Martin Luther King weekend, he had a preaching engagement that afternoon and could not meet with the Vestry over lunch as is the custom. He offered instead to attend last night’s Vestry meeting. We were distressed to hear that Bishop Marc’s mother in Tennessee had fallen ill, but relieved that he could fly immediately to be with her. In his stead, the Rev. Cn. Abbott Bailey (Executive Officer of the Diocese of California) joined us. She serves as Canon to the Ordinary, meaning (I really didn’t know) a Deputy to the Bishop. The Vestry had identified three issues for conversation: 1) Hopes – ours for the Diocese and vice-versa, 2) Collaboration – how to have fruitful relationships among congregations, and 3) The Next Three Years.
Hopes – What brought us here? What kept us here? The answers to both were as wide ranging as the personalities in the room; what brought me and what kept me are very different things. But a common thread emerged, many remarking on how soon we felt involved, not coerced but needed, welcomed and steered to what suited our hunger. Canon Bailey offered the following as hopes for us: The Church is in an intriguing and interesting time, it’s exciting to move away from church as establishment, to learning what it is to engage. God’s work is not inside the church; that is to say we are not the dispenser of grace and reconciliation. Where is God calling us to participate? Will congregations live into that as fully as possible. Are we called to create churchgoers or are we called to participate? It is utterly important to care deeply for our members, but the locus is changing outward.
Collaboration: how have we experienced fruitful relationships among congregations? The Vestries of St. John’s Oakland and the All Souls interacted socially and intentionally at the last two retreats. St. Elizabeth’s Wakpala on the Standing Rock Reservation has hosted our youth on many immersion trips over the years, stemming from the bond forged decades earlier between St. Elizabeth’s and Fr. Bill and Margie Fay’s young family. In fact, the youth of our parish have actively engaged many other parishes through their immersion trips, confirmation programs, and night watches at the Cathedral. As Episcopalians, we have a denominational identity, there is fertile ground and a willingness to be connected with one another. Remember the
interfaith coalition when white supremacists rallied? We (joined by Bishop Marc) marched and picked up folks along the way at CDSP, St. Mark’s, and First Congregational. Canon Bailey pointed out that the smallest unit of the church is the diocese, not the congregations. The relationship is collaboration, we are all in this for the same reasons. We have been changed because God is in our lives, we are in each other’s lives, and we are in relationship with people we would not necessarily choose to be in relationship with. All of us in this work, this life together, are part of the body of Christ. From the standpoint of the Diocese, they support the churches (at the front lines, out in the world) in doing the work. Bishop Marc sees Diocesan staff as extensions of the work we are doing, bringing resources and expertise to bear in the work we are doing in the world.
The expectation from the Diocese is that churches are meaningfully engaged; governance is not the most exciting, but aspects of what the Diocese does enable us to have impact, recognizing the symbolic nature of the Bishop in being our link to people, Christians, Episcoplians, Anglicans, through time and space for millennia.
Our expectations of the Diocese? Hold presence for us in the issues, and policies, represent Bay Area congregations doing the work, be willing to listen, slow down, and acknowledge different perspectives being brought to bear.
The Next Three Years – Pressing issues mentioned included immigration sanctuary, finances (transparency and understanding of assessments and insurance changes), reclaiming Christian voice (wo gets to speak for “Christians?”), Christian humanism. The College for Congregational Development has been generative – what came out of it, how is it becoming part of the DNA, collaboration, bridge building, and how can the Diocese help?
After this very lively conversation, Fr. Phil presented his monthly Rector’s Report starting with an update on the Parish House Project. The officially formed LLC with SAHA and All Souls have submitted plans to the City of Berkeley, requiring the immediate posting of the Proposed Development signs, which neighbors have noticed and remarked on. SAHA will meet several times with all eight City Council members; meetings to date with the three City Council members of the areas adjacent to the project have been going well. There have been soil studies, trees permitted for removal (one due to “potential hazard to life and limb,” no pun intended, but there it is), and an updated appraisal is in the works; we have yet to experience any costs for these steps.
The Rector’s Report continued with an update on our guest in the Parish House Accompaniment Program, and then addressed collaboration as recently seen in meetings with priests from the five Berkeley parishes, All Souls, St. Mark’s, St. Clement’s, St. Alban’s, and Good Shepherd. A very meaningful conversation occurred with Rabbi Rebekah Stern of Congregation Beth El about what it means to be a neighbor, who is a neighbor, and the striking similarities in purpose and action of our two congregations.
Further collaborative efforts are seen in regional Godly Play training, the First Congregational Church of Berkeley’s and our mutual Christian Wiman events, and the upcoming March for Our Lives in downtown Oakland.
In closing, Fr. Phil reminded all that Holy Week is upon us, three services on Palm Sunday and then The Great Triduum: Maundy Thursday (noon, 7:30p, and overnight vigil in the chapel), Good Friday (9a, noon, 4p, 7:30p), and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday (8:30p). Friends, there will three adult baptisms at the Vigil and we’re talking immersion. You don’t want to miss this!
After collective prayers of thanksgiving, petition and guidance, our meeting was adjourned.
Maggie Cooke, From the Jr. Warden
Holy Week at All Souls
Holy Week begins this Sunday! Below are the service times; you can read full descriptions of the different services here.
CONTINUING THE FEAST
Brunch! This Sunday!
On March 25, Palm Sunday, is a Continuing the Feast potluck brunch. Join us between the 9 & 11:15 services in the Parish Hall and bring some brunch type foods to share!
We have lots of eggs to fill for the egg hunt, Easter Sunday at 10:15 am! Please take a bag of empty Easter eggs home with you this Sunday and bring them back *before* Easter, filled with candy or other small things kids will enjoy. Thank you!!
HELP CREATE THE ALTAR OF REPOSE
You are invited to bring potted shrubs and flowers, or cut flowers, for the Maundy Thursday altar of repose between 1pm and 4pm on Thursday, March 29th (they will then be available for pick-up on Friday March 30th after 10am). You are also invited to donate thanksgiving offerings for Easter flowers (deadline is this Sunday!)Please contact Maggie Cooke to make donations for flowers, firstname.lastname@example.org.