Preserving Creation and Working for Justice: A Step Along the Way
The contamination of our natural world – our air, our water, our earth – and the accelerating increases in global temperatures, generally referred to as climate change or global warming, are issues that concern many in our congregation. In fact, our Vestry last year selected climate change as one of our areas of focus over the next several years. A number of you have joined our Climate Action group, which attempts to provide opportunities for education and action. In a similar way the issues of racial justice and reconciliation have become an important area of focus for our congregation, as shown in a striking fashion last December when a large number of us, along with members of the surrounding community, gathered to watch and discuss the film Traces of the Trade.
The challenges of climate change and racial injustice, because they are large in scope, often leave us wondering, “What can I, as an individual do, that would really make a difference?” As it happens, an issue currently facing the City of Oakland – specifically, the possible use of the former Oakland Army Base as a coal export facility – involves both of these challenges and has drawn the attention of people of faith throughout the Bay Area. A number of us at All Souls have learned about and taken an interest in this issue through our affiliation with California Interfaith Power and Light (CIPL), an interfaith environmental group, founded by Episcopal priest Sally Bingham.
CIPL is joining with various Oakland and Bay Area community organizations to oppose the possible use of the former Oakland Army Base as a coal export facility. This project has a complicated history, which I will only briefly summarize. After the Army Base closed, plans for the redevelopment and future use of the property have been proposed. One of the major proposed uses is to serve as an export facility for various commodities. The land is not part of the Port of Oakland but is adjacent to it. At some point (a year or so ago) the developer added coal export to the planned uses, although that had not been part of the original proposal. Coal would be shipped by rail through Oakland and loaded onto ships for export abroad. Large coal interests in Utah are negotiating a partnership with the Oakland developer for this use and, of course, promise of money and jobs.
The coal export project is strongly opposed by a wide array of Bay Area, community, environmental and faith organizations, including many African American clergy and churches in Oakland. Many members of the Oakland City Council oppose the project but it is not yet clear whether that is a majority. A vote is expected in the coming months. To be clear, the opponents do not oppose the construction of a commodity export facility, but rather the addition of coal export as one of the major uses.
The shipment of coal by rail through Oakland would increase health risks to low income and largely African American neighborhoods that are already impacted by pollution. Moreover, coal is the dirtiest form of carbon-based energy that directly contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
The effects on our world from a warming climate are in the news on a daily basis. According to NASA, 2015 was the warmest year on record. The melting of ice from the poles and from glaciers in Greenland are causing rising sea levels. Extreme weather events – from hurricanes to drought – are becoming more frequent, as are large-scale forest fires. Rising temperatures on land and sea are also leading to the extinction of thousands of species. A sense of urgency about these events led more than 150 nations to sign the recent Paris climate agreement, pledging significant reductions in carbon emissions.
California has been a leader in the efforts to move away from carbon-based energy and develop renewable energy systems. In light of this leadership, it is counter-intuitive and cause for concern that Oakland would consider a major investment in coal to the detriment of the environment and the well-being of the local citizenry.
When I attended a meeting earlier this year that CIPL sponsored regarding climate change, the Oakland coal export facility was an important topic. The Rev. Ken Chambers of Westside Missionary Baptist Church spoke eloquently about how strongly his church and a number of others in West Oakland oppose the project, both for health and climate change reasons. State Senator Loni Hancock also has opposed the project, as have the San Francisco Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune. An editorial in the Chronicle and a very good opinion piece by Sen. Hancock are available here for those of you who would like to read more.
“What can I do,” you may ask. Various Oakland churches, along with environmental justice groups, have organized an event (which will include food, picnic-style) on May 21, from 1:00 – 4:00 pm, at DeFremery Park in Oakland, to rally opposition to the coal export facility, in anticipation of the City Council vote in the coming months. A number of us at All Souls will be attending in a show of support. Through the good offices of our parishioner Nancy Snow, Sen. Loni Hancock has agreed to speak at the event. Even if you can only come for one hour, please join us! We will be gathering at the All Souls parking lot at 12:30 pm on May 21, and carpooling to DeFremery Park. Please email me if you would like to participate.
Attending an event such as this is a small but meaningful step. To repair our relationship with the earth and work for justice for our fellow human beings, people of faith are taking similar small steps throughout the world, sometimes at great personal risk. In doing so, we strive – in the words of Esther de Waal, cited by Fr. Phil during Lent – “to make our whole life prayer in action.”
– Lewis Maldonado
Practicing for new habits
Earlier this spring I met an All Soulsian in downtown Oakland, near her work, for a delightful lunch. It was a blustery day with sporadic rain, and after we finished I moved quickly back to my car. Parked just a few blocks from the 12th Street BART Station, I was rather surprised to find it unlocked! I was then yet more concerned to discover that in fact the car was unlocked because I had left the keys sitting on the passenger seat, though thankfully somewhat camouflaged by a sea of preschool art. Good grief! Parental sleep deprivation had apparently caught up with me.
I was less than eager to tell my husband Jesse of my mistake. After all, I had essentially offered our car to the world, free for the taking! But I did tell him, and was taken aback by his response. He was naturally glad that we had been so lucky. And then he went on: “But it would have been alright; I’ve been trying to pretend like we don’t own a car anyways. This would have just made it easier.”
We haven’t given away our car in the months since this close call. But it has made me pay more attention to how Jesse is trying to pretend as though it doesn’t exist. He bikes everywhere he can. He builds in extra time for school drop-offs or runs to the grocery store to account for the speed of pulling a bike chariot up hills. He also knows that he can leave with just enough time for the actual ride, because he never has to circle for a parking spot. And maybe most importantly, he has a great deal of fun making biking a way of life.
I tend to let my perception of simple logistics hamstring me and catapult me once again into the car. I used to race bikes and ride them everywhere, but now with job and kids, biking seems inconvenient, or I’m too tired, or too late, or… any number of things. But as Jesse pretends day in and day out that we don’t have a car, he’s showing me that much of the time, the logistics and excuses aren’t such a big deal. Rather, my habits are.
As a faith community that uses embodied rituals to remind ourselves of what we believe to be true, I’m struck by the opportunity to try out new practices, and to wonder at the possibility of them becoming well-worn habits over time. Today, Bike to Work Day, offered a well-supported chance for many to try out this new mode. At All Souls we will be following suit on May 22nd with our 3rd Annual Blessing of the Bicycles. Folks are invited to ride to church, leave bikes in guarded parking in the courtyard, wear cycling gear to worship if you feel so moved, and then join in a bike blessing in the courtyard following the 11:15 service. There will be food, fun, and festive ways to decorate your bike, as in past years. But this year, we’re hoping to collectively ground this bike party in a deeper sense of call and spiritual practice, and then carry it forward.
How we live in these bodies of ours matters—for the time we’ve been given, on the planet we have now. Given the critical nature of global climate change, as Lewis articulates above, we are called yet more urgently to live as compassionate stewards of this creation. My biking or not biking will not shift things dramatically. Our biking, collectively, may shift carbon footprints a little more. But more importantly, I think this habit has the potential to change our relationship with creation, because it is such an embodied practice. As such, it stays with us and marks us in a different way.
I remember clearly the first time I journeyed to All Souls in 2009—I came flying down Spruce from the very top of the hill, where we lived during my first year of seminary. I recall that first encounter of this community with all my senses. I can feel the blast of cold, spirited wind as I careened downhill, the olfactory overload of taking in so many blooms in short order, the suddenness of arriving, parking right at the door, ready to worship. I remember feeling alive, present, ready.
It’s been a wild ride it’s been since I first rolled up, and I think it’s time to try practicing the habit of cycling with renewed intention. Next Sunday seems like a good time to give it a whirl. Will you join me?
Leaving Home to Go Home
That’s part of what a sabbatical is about, isn’t it? After enough time someplace, our surroundings so begin to define us that it can be hard to differentiate our true selves from the context in which we work. Vacation is one thing, but sabbatical? That’s different.
I was blessed to find a new, if temporary, home this past January, when the people of Allen Temple Baptist Church welcomed me on my sabbatical time from All Souls. The experience was revelatory, allowing me to step back and see our common faith held in such a different way.
Even by phone, when I began to make detailed arrangements, the woman helping me out concluded by saying “At Allen Temple, we always begin and end with prayer. Would it be ok with you if we pray now?”
I mean, we start our staff meetings in prayer, and Angel Band rehearsals end in a prayer circle, but that’s about it. Is my work grounded in prayer? Sure…or at least I like to think so. Is the music program held in prayer? Well…not explicitly, to be honest. What an experience and blessing it was to be part of a community in which active prayer surrounds every meeting, every class, every rehearsal!
And, of course, my resolve to begin choir rehearsals with prayer lasted about 1 week.
But the reframing of my ministry has remained very much on my mind. Same with the Sunday worship life at Allen Temple. There is a freedom of expression that pervades the music and public prayer life in that community, and which I found that after just a few weeks, I really missed. Even I, a deeply rooted member of the tribe of the Episcopal Frozen Chosen, keep wanting to throw in more Amens than ever before.
It was a privilege to find myself so warmly welcomed into the Allen Temple family, and I have continued as much as possible to join their choir rehearsals, just for my own musical and spiritual growth. A single experience of seeing a full-immersion baptism, in which the sacrament is so visible, and yet with so much less outward ceremony than ours, made a deep impression on me. The experience of receiving communion while seated in the choir — wearing borrowed African attire to start Black History Month, no less! — gave me a new appreciation both for that unfamiliar practice and for our own.
When we send parishioners out: on mission trips, sabbaticals, or to new calls after ordination, our prayer asks “May their sense of home be enlarged for ever.” I know mine has, and even in my brief sojourn at Allen Temple, I know that I have yet another place I can call my church home.
– Christopher Putnam
What’s more, they’ll be joining us here!
Allen Temple Baptist Church has been a spiritual home in South Oakland for nearly 100 years. As they have grown through five different church buildings, now filling a full block, their music program has been central to their own worship life, not to mention their witness to the broader community.
We are blessed to welcome the Allen Temple Men’s Choir (one of five choirs they maintain!) to join us in our Pentecost celebration at the 11:15 service this Sunday, May 15. Their 20 voices will share with our Hearts On Fire Gospel Choir, Angel Band, and Parish Choir in raising the roof as we celebrate the Spirit’s presence in our lives.
This is an outgrowth and deepening of the relationship Christopher Putnam, our Associate for Liturgy and Music, began in sabbatical last January. We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with Allen Temple, and are looking forward this very special Sunday!
All Souls Parish leads the May Interfaith Immigration Prayer Vigil
On Saturday, May 7, the All Souls Angel Band, led by Ed Hoffman, kicked off the Interfaith Immigration Prayer Vigil, as an estimated 80 – 100 people gathered at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond. Janet Chisholm, the Rev. Ruth Meyers, and Christopher Putnam led the planning of the Vigil, assisted by Elena Ramirez.
Rev. Meyers led the worship, which began with the South African song, “Oh, Freedom!” Janet read “Why We Vigil”—an established tradition at the monthly vigils. Next, the Rev. Liz Tichenor, Laura Craig, Sharon Roberts, and Cynthia Clifford read “Expanding the Circle of Justice and Peace,” a litany of names developed by the Rev. Daniel Prechtel—inviting all present to add names of spiritual ancestors and bold leaders for justice and peace from the past and the present. This set the tone for a spirited, participatory service, encouraging everyone present to join their voices in word and song, in English and in Spanish, with translations provided by Toni Martinez de Borgfeldt. This included readings led by Martin Ortega, Stephen Southern, and Danielle Gabriel; and a Litany for Justice read by Christine Trost and Lewis Maldonado. Several children from All Souls carried posters as they marched in a circle inside the larger circle of adults; and an offering was collected.
Erick Chavarría, a representative from the Post Release Accompaniment Project (PRAP), spoke about the program, a collaboration among CIVIC, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, and Centro Legal de la Raza. PRAP works to ensure the long-term sustainability of a safe release program for asylum seekers at the West County Detention Facility.
There were two testimonials. The first was by Evilyn, a mother of five from El Salvador. Her family became homeless when the father was deported. They are staying temporarily at the Catholic Worker House; one of the children was recently diagnosed with leukemia. With Daniel Pinell of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity serving as interpreter, Evilyn expressed heartfelt thanks to everyone present.
The second testimonial was by a woman who fled a violent situation in Mongolia—after five months in the facility, she had just been granted asylum the day before! She spoke of the experience of meeting people from Mexico, Cameroon, and other African countries, and learning of their extremely difficult struggles to travel to this country. For two weeks, she will live in our Parish House, where her accompaniment team of six people will check in on her daily, and provide meals and hospitality. Both women spoke about what a relief it is to them to be able to talk about their experiences and to feel the support of this community.
The Vigil, organized by the Rev. Deborah Lee and the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, is held the first Saturday of every month. At each Vigil, we sing, pray, and hear testimony from family members and friends of those inside, or from recently released immigrants awaiting hearings. The Richmond facility is one of 250 centers across the United States used by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house undocumented immigrants awaiting hearings or deportation. We conclude each Vigil with a sacred Moment of Noise to let the detainees know that we are there for them. Please join us at a Vigil—for more information, contact Elena Herrera.
– Cynthia Clifford
Photos: Stephen Southern
WE’RE SEEING RED!
Continuing the Feast Brunch, THIS SUNDAY May 15: The Spirit blows big on Pentecost at All Souls and we like to celebrate. There will be no formation classes for children or adults and we will continue (or begin) to celebrate the feast of the
RAFFLE, THROW, AND EAT FOR FIRE RELIEF
The high school youth group’s immersion trip this summer is focused on fire relief in Okanogan National Forest in Washington. For the next few weeks, we will have fundraisers! Purchase raffle tickets: prizes are two $50 Amazon gift certificates, two sets of two free nights at the Bishop’s Ranch, and two sets of two free nights at St. Dorothy’s Rest. Tickets are $10 each with a discount of 4 tickets for $30. Throw pies: There will be a Reddi-Whip pie toss game at our Parish Picnic! Pay $20 to pie one of our vestry or staff members, or pay $25 for insurance. You can pay for these and the raffle tickets at a youth table between the services. Eat: During our Continuing the Feast on Sunday, the youth will have baked goods for donations! Contact Jess Powell with questions.
BLESSING OF THE BICYCLES
On Sunday, May 22nd, come celebrate the Blessing of the Bicycles! Ride to church and if you feel inspired, wear your cycling gear to worship at the 11:15 service (guarded bike parking in the courtyard). Or, just come for the bike blessing at 12:30 in the Spruce St. courtyard – holy water, a prayer for a safe riding season, snacks, and fun ways to make your bike more festive. Fixies, mountain bikes, tandems, balance bikes, tricycles – all are welcome!
PARISH PICNIC, JUNE 5 – SAVE THE DATE!
Summer Reading Groups
Where would you like to spend your summer vacation? On a trip to another planet? On the banks of tinker creek? In rural Tennessee? Or would you rather spend it discussing important issues of racism or spirituality? You can do all of these things just by showing up on sunday morning this summer at All Souls! Check out your bulletin or Pathfinder next week for your reading choices, class dates and how to sign up!