From the Rector
The purveyors of news are quite effective at offering a daily litany of the pain, suffering and effects of destructive forces throughout our world. It is necessary to know what is taking place in our neighborhoods, cities, country, and world. But often, the news stops there and fails to provide us with the rest of the picture of life around us. The old saw is crass but often true, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
This past week while walking and driving around Berkeley, though, I was reminded of another element of our common life, one that is just as true as what we hear, read or watch, but that doesn’t seem to garner nearly as much attention. For me this element of life is known as a “traveling mercy.” I don’t know if I was paying attention differently this past week, or if my routes took me to different places, but I was graced with a triptych of mercy that resonated deeply.
First, on the corner of MLK and Rose I witnessed someone learning how to use a white-tipped cane. From my observation of the interaction, it seemed as if the instructor was showing the student what methods to use when coming near an intersection, where to place oneself, what to listen for. But what kept my gaze was the palpable care and attention the instructor was offering. It was simply beautiful.
Later in the week I was walking down Oxford when the person walking in front of me was approached by someone from outside of the area trying to find Hearst Avenue. The lost soul was not only out of sorts, but was also struggling with the English necessary to describe their destination. The local’s tender compassion has stayed with me as they listened carefully to the inquiry, they then guided visitor to the next block.
Finally, yesterday while headed to downtown Berkeley BART, I happened upon an elderly woman attempting to board the bus. For some reason the bus couldn’t lower itself and it took the combined efforts of a young passerby from the street and the driver in the bus to lift and pull the woman up. Again, though, it wasn’t just the action that was being offered, it was also how it was being done, with such care and love and even dignity.
Several years ago, one of the priests at All Souls, the Rev. Daniel Prechtel, introduced me to that lovely phrase, “traveling mercies.” It has remained with me ever since because it is so evocative and true for my own travels in life. Near to home, but especially far from comfort and familiarity, it is the actions and intentions of strangers that have rescued me time and time again. Such are the witnesses that I observed this week in the education with a white-tipped cane, the guidance to Hearst Avenue, and the assistance to board the bus.
What I have been pondering is if the same could be said of this time of Lent. For from the ashes that begin this season to the proclamations at the empty tomb, at this time of the year we find ourselves traveling. Traveling through the life of Jesus, traveling through our own wilderness, traveling to come closer to Mystery. Literally and metaphorically, then, this seems to be the time of the season when looking out for others is important. Paying close attention. Perhaps it is someone who lingers a little longer in the pew after service on Sunday. Or someone that you haven’t seen around in awhile. Or someone on BART, or in the grocery line in front of you, or waiting at the corner. All of whom might just need a compassionate look and a reassuring smile.
It is also true that being the one to accept help, mercy, or the kindness of a stranger (or even a friend) is just as important – and sometimes even more difficult – than giving it. But from what I have seen and known to be true, it is these interactions, these traveling mercies, that make up the fabric of our world even as much as the news that makes the front page. May you encounter them in your Lenten travels, near and far.
From the Youth Minister
As part of my Lenten Challenge I have been praying for the Lakota, and particularly for our sister parish at the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota. They have experienced a bitterly cold winter this year and finding the resources to fix heaters and insulate roofs has been difficult. This is a community I have heard much about since beginning my work here at All Souls, but it remains a bit imaginary to me, as I have never visited. I am, therefore, all the more excited that we are going back this summer for our high school immersion trip. I look forward to seeing that land and meeting the people that have already shaped some of us at All Souls.
In my conversations with Rob Schwarz, the priest on the reservation, plans for the trip and the work we intend to do while we are there has begun to take shape. We have discussed many projects as well as opportunities to spend time with some of the children and youth in the community. We will be insulating roofs to protect homes and families in winters to come. We will be clearing land and building fences to expand 3 cemeteries. St. John’s Rock Creek needs us to dig and build an outhouse. Rob Schwarz has asked us to build new rooms in his recently cleared out basement so that Episcopal Service Corps members can serve in the community.
We will be sending Vacation Bible School materials to Standing Rock ahead of our visit so that a team can lead a session on the reservation. Our hope is also to host a movie night for middle and high schoolers so that we can spend time simply being together. Another of the ways we will immerse ourselves while we are there is to participate in a pow-wow in Rock Creek.
There is much to do as we get ready for this trip. We have already had an informational meeting that gathered the adults and many of the youth that will be heading to South Dakota in August, coming from the five Bay Area churches. One important thing to prepare for is the expense for this trip. Our estimate is that it will cost about $1200 per person. This money includes obvious things like travel and food. It also includes the materials and supplies that we will likely need to purchase to get the work done. We have different fundraising opportunities in the works but a quick and easy option for you to show support is to visit our rally site. Please take a look and consider helping us raise the money needed to do this important and transforming work.
Welcome Builds Community
In 1974, the seismic changes in the Episcopal Church and the presence of our two little girls in our lives were drawing David and me closer to returning to the church of our childhoods. The evolution of the liturgy – contemporary language, Eucharist every Sunday, a more open table at the altar, the active inclusion of lay people in the service – and the inclusion of women in the leadership of the church, especially the coming ordination of women, seemed to open the doors of inclusion to our generation and to our family.
However, as appealing as these changes were, I was apprehensive about approaching a church community I did not know, unsure of what I would find, especially with two little impressionable girls in tow. But walking through the All Souls’ door one Sunday, what I found was a welcoming Nancy Hinks, who spoke to us so warmly and escorted us downstairs to the Sunday School classes. Nancy has now passed, but she opened my heart that day and eased my “re-entry” into my church home.
A few days later, the front doorbell rang. Standing on the porch was Dean Brownell, professor emeritus, the kind but firm gentleman who, 12 years earlier, had told me no, I couldn’t change my class schedule to suit myself and would just have to tough out the semester. This day he met me with a beautiful box of his hand-made, jewel-colored hard candies, a welcoming gift from him and the parish. How could we refuse such kindness? The following Sunday I returned with David, and as time went on, became a greeter myself.
As I met visitors on Sunday and joined newcomer meetings, I learned that my own welcoming experience was not unique but a loving expression of the All Souls DNA – over and over I heard stories told by new parishioners describing the emotional impact of warm greetings in church and the surprise of sweet loaves of bread delivered to their doorsteps.
Continuing to greet over time, I found the secret bonus in this ministry. Not only was it a pleasure to welcome new people seeking a church home, but also to greet those persons with familiar faces to whom I had never spoken, establishing bonds between us beyond mere physical proximity and the unspoken assumption of a shared faith.
And therein lies the special value of the greeting ministry. It is a visible expression of our founding belief that “All Souls are mine, saith the Lord,” and it accomplishes the building of community from without and from within. It is a ministry with deep impact, compatible with busy lives full of work, family, or study because it takes place on Sunday mornings while we are already present and yet yields such fullness in our corporate lives.
Consider participating. To find out more, contact Nancy Pryer, Betsy Dixon, our parish administrator Joy Shih Ng, or any one of the head greeters in the narthex after the service. If enough of us share this ministry, each of us will be on duty every few weeks, and we will all share in strengthening our community and its call to worship.
Practicing a Theology of Inclusion
My Journey from Newcomer to New Greeter
It was supposed to be a “low” Sunday in the church year, the first Sunday after Christmas. But that Sunday, the first time my family and I came to All Souls, was anything but “low.” The enthusiasm and passion were infectious. The pews were packed and I could tell right away it was a thriving community. When Father Phil did not make us, as visitors, stand up and give a testimony, and instead said that our presence and filling out the visitor card would be our offering (so no need to put money in the collection plate), I immediately felt that this was a place I could call home. We were not seen as numbers but as people. And there was something for everyone in my family: small groups, Angel Band, a rides program, Stephen Ministry. This was a church where all generations – me in my 30’s and my aging parents – could worship together.
I was reluctant to jump in too quickly since I had graduated from seminary and knew that every church has its bright and dark spots. So we continued our church shopping. Throughout the coming weeks of trying out a wide variety of denominations and worship communities, All Souls kept tugging at my soul. So when we returned a month later, and were welcomed by Gloria Bayne who remembered us from our previous visit, I filled out the visitor card. When I heard a knock at my door that afternoon and the person said they were from All Souls, I opened it with trepidation. I thought they were coming to “tell me about Jesus,” but they simply handed me a loaf of homemade bread and welcomed me to church. It was such a profound, yet unobtrusive, way of making sure the souls were fed. Within a few days, I heard from the other rector, Kristin, checking in and asking about a time to meet. I was amazed that even though this was such a large church community, they still took time to welcome me in so many different ways!
When I met with Kristin, I mentioned that I am visually impaired and was wondering if large print bulletins were available at church? She said she could look into it and by that next Sunday there were multiple large print bulletins in the narthex! After spending much of my life as a person with disabilities being over-looked, I was so touched to be seen and welcomed in more ways than just a handshake.
After I finished seminary in 2008, I did some graduate work in disability ministry. I have led workshops at various churches and conferences on a Theology of Welcome. It is a passion of mine to not only look at ways to eliminate physical and practical barriers for people with disabilities that may lead to exclusion but also the theology and mentality of creating a more welcoming community for all people. A perfect example of this is the first time I attended a midweek Lent supper last year. I came in late to avoid having to talk to strangers but Kristin noticed and came right to me to help me find a place to sit. Then the people at my table did not miss a beat and included me in the conversation.
While All Souls does a good job of creating such a welcoming atmosphere, there is always room for improvement. Especially as we grow and change, it is important to always be mindful of who may be left on the sidelines, needing an extra hand of inclusion. That is why I am excited to be joining the Newcomers and Greeters Team. Once someone enters our doors and feels called to be a part of this community, how do we help them make connections that feed their soul and in turn lead them to reach out to others in a theology of welcome?
New to All Souls Parish Gathering on April 6th
Are you interested in learning more about All Souls Episcopal Parish? Do you want to get to know people in the church better while also learning some of the ins and outs of life at All Souls? Would you like to learn more about what it means to be a member at All Souls and the upcoming new-member recognition ceremony?
You are invited to a gathering on Sunday, April 6th at 1:00 pm at the home of Betsy and Steve Dixon at 45 Menlo Place in Berkeley (cross street is Thousand Oaks), phone (510) 527.5872.
This will be a time to get to know others that are new to the parish as well as those who have been involved longer. In addition, some of the leaders of All Souls will be there to discuss life at All Souls and what it means to be a member if that is something that interests you. A light lunch will be served. Childcare will be provided as well as rides for anyone who needs one.
If you are interested or have any questions, please contact Erin Horne at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 674-8877. Please RSVP by Tuesday, April 1st.
We hope to see you there!