From the Rector

phil_brochardLimits in Order to Live

Often when I am preaching there are parts of a sermon that I really like but just don’t fit. Either because it obscures the through-line of the sermon or because a 45 minute sermon just isn’t part of our tradition. And so as I write every sermon I keep a file for those ideas, connections or stories to live that await another use.

This past Sunday, our feast of All Saints and All Souls, I preached about promises. One of the images that I worked with comes from the author and theologian G.K. Chesterton, who wrote, “On a single string—of a person bound to their promise—hangs everything from nuclear disarmament to a family reunion, from a successful revolution to a return ticket from Pasadena.”

The conversations that followed the sermon where really interesting. Hearing people’s own understandings of the necessity of promise and the ways that promises effect our lives was profound. The break of financial promises, for instance is why the sub-prime lending scandal was so painful and destructive. Millions of people had put trust in promises that were not made in good faith, and when the deceit of those false promises was made known, and the predatory and pernicious practices were uncovered, the result wasn’t just that people lost homes and a life’s savings, but there inclination to trust promises from financial institutions cratered. It was clear that promises made and kept were critical for many of us.

The ethicist Lewis Smedes who decades ago wrote an article about why promises are so essential as Christians also points us in another very counter-cultural direction: that promises limit our freedom. He writes, “The paradox of promising is that we freely bind ourselves to keep the promises we make. We limit our freedom so that we can be free to be there with someone in his future’s unpredictable storms.”

In our American culture that prizes autonomy and the pursuit of each individual’s happiness, this limitation is challenging. It means, for instance, that we will have to forsake others when we take vows of marriage. And it means that we can’t take actions that will disrespect others or deny the Holy in each person if we are going to take on promises in baptism. It means that we can’t take any action that comes our way. It requires thought and discernment. It means that we have to give up some possibilities in the present in order to receive a particular future.

The paradox of this, as Smedes notes, is that by so doing we will actually be free for others. In marriage this means that we will be able to free for our spouse, our children, our extended families in ways that simply would not be possible without the promises that we had made. For that’s ultimately what promises are for. Not just trade, or treaties, but ultimately so that we are freed to live full lives, knowing that we are held by those we make promises with. It is why, in a survey taken years ago, paradoxically, monks and nuns rated their lives as most free of those surveyed.

So it has made me wonder, in the days since I preached, what do the promises of your life free you to do? How are you living into them in such a way that you can be there for another person when the storms of life descend, in ways that otherwise might not happen? What promises need to be re-visited? What are the ways that you might change, set limits and live fully in order to be free for another?


Witnessing the courage of true faith

mary_reesMy faith leads me to reach out to those on the fringes of our society. Jesus set us an example by welcoming those left outside the community — the lepers, the possessed — you know the list. In present-day Berkeley, many of the outsiders are, literally, outside; they are homeless, without shelter or any reliable place to lay their heads at night. Where, if anywhere, and when, if ever, do they feel safe?

All Souls provides at least one regular, structured way to serve the outsiders all around us — the Open Door Dinner on the second Sunday of every month. While teams of young and old parishioners and non-parishioners chop vegetables, pick chicken off the bone, spread tablecloths, cut butter and bread and grill sausages, they also talk and laugh and get to know one another better. Last month our seminarian, Nikky Wood, offered a beautiful prayer of blessing and thanksgiving, and then we opened the Parish Hall doors to welcome our dinner guests, piling jambalaya, rice, salad and corn on their stiff paperboard plates. We’ve recently started wearing name tags, as a way of sharing who we are. We’re more approachable by inviting guests to use our names. Coming through the line, some said to my co-captain, Deirdre Greene, “Thank you, Deirdre. How do you say your name, anyway?”

While our guests eat at the closely packed tables adorned with flowers, they can listen to David Cooke and a fellow musician on guitars; in October Mohammad Hooshmand joined David. Their gently lilting music creates a calm, dignified, yet relaxing atmosphere. I sometimes wonder whether feeding the hungry and homeless, when we cannot house them, is really doing much for them, especially when the need persists after 25 years of Open Door Dinners. But a friend recently observed that this hour of respite gives our guests a chance to feel different for a while: cared-for, nurtured, nourished and, possibly, at peace.

And they come not only for the food and music. Some guests use the pencils and slips of paper placed on the tables to jot down requests for our parish prayers. While cleaning up after the dinner last month, I was floored by the number of prayer requests left in the box by the door. I felt humbled by the trust and hope these destitute people are able to muster, despite the rejection they live with day after day. I realized in contrast how long it takes me, when troubled, to even remember to pray.

Reaching out to the world reminds me to build my own faith, to trust more in God. As an Open Door Dinner captain, I may see this work as doing what I can for others, but this time I got something in return: I witnessed the courage of true faith.

– Mary Rees

What is Stephen Ministry, anyway?

Judith_LothropThe time is out of joint—O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

– Hamlet

Most of us don’t talk like William Shakespeare, but many of us have felt as he describes. Still—given how Hamlet’s story ends—is it not a blessing that we don’t have to “set it right” all by ourselves?

By now most of us are familiar with the Stephen Ministry program—at least on some vague and generic level. Stephen Ministers are trained lay parishioners who are matched one-to-one with people struggling with some life situation. But I’m willing to bet that most of us have a rather narrow view of what Stephen Ministers do. One local church sums up the Stephen Ministry program as offering:

Crisis care: Such as the death of a family member or a serious injury
Follow-up care: What happens after a few sessions with a clergy person
Preventive care: For those approaching life-changing events, such as childbirth, a retirement, or an empty nest.
Chronic care: For situations which are unlikely to improve
Supportive care: Care for caregivers

These are all legitimate needs, but you don’t need a death in the family or a serious diagnosis to “deserve” a Stephen Minister. If you are struggling with something, why not use a Stephen Minister to help you sort out your situation? Perhaps a pet died and you are struggling to recover? Perhaps you are estranged from a family member and wish you could do something about it? Perhaps you just lost your job? Or are facing divorce? Or are wondering if you can “stay the course” over the upcoming and dreaded holiday season? What if you just haven’t felt right for a while and you are wondering why you are so anxious? A Stephen Minister may be able to help.

Let’s talk a minute about what Stephen ministers are not. We are not therapists nor spiritual directors nor magicians nor “fixers.” Please don’t expect a Stephen Minister to walk into your house, wave his/her hands around, quote scripture briefly, and wave good-bye, leaving you “all better.”

In fact, one of the earliest lessons a Stephen Minister receives is that s/he is not there to cure you. We firmly believe that the cure (whatever form it might take) is in God’s hands. But a Stephen Minister can listen to you—deeply listen. And ask you questions that help you listen to yourself. And with time and focus, a Stephen Minister can help you find your own resolution to whatever your situation may be.

Perhaps one of the most effective tools we use (besides listening) is that we do our best to fit our visits to your needs. Meetings are scheduled together with your individual minister so that they can fit your busy life. And we fit to your style as well. Do you like prayer? You will get prayer! Does prayer make you uncomfortable? Fine, we won’t do it. Perhaps you would like us to pray for you but not at meetings? We have heard this request frequently. It’s all fine. What else can we offer? Absolute confidentiality. We never identify the names of our care-receivers—not even to our fellow ministers. Our job is to protect your identity and your struggles. You may choose to tell others that you have a Stephen Minister, but our lips are absolutely sealed.

What about becoming a Stephen Minister? Can you be compassionate, faithful, and reliable? Are you good at communicating encouragement through writing and conversation? Now is the time to give this important ministry some serious consideration. Throughout November we will be available to further explain the program and answer your questions. We will have two information sessions on November 15 (8:30 am and 12:30 pm), and application forms will be available. Training is weekly, beginning late February through mid-June 2016, with a couple of Saturday retreats. After training, the time commitment is one hour per week—meeting with a care receiver—plus supervision group meetings of two Thursday evenings per month. If you are like most people, you will be glad you completed the program and you will enjoy putting that training to work.

More questions? We’d love to hear from you! Please see any of the Stephen Leaders:
Nancy Austin: 510-407-0037 or
Judith Lothrop: 925-284-2354 or
Tom Reilly: 510-528-7832 or
David Wight: 510-525-4344 or

Adult Formation classes continue!

Our second fall session of Adult formation classes resume this Sunday, after taking a break this past week so we could feast together on All Saints Day. Classes meet during the 10:10 hour on Sunday mornings.

Telling Our Stories: Evangelism
Led by Danielle Gabriel & Toni Martinez de Borgfeldt
Join us to explore what it means to share our faith, our space, and the radical love of Christ. This is evangelism like you’ve never seen it before! Your money back if you don’t have fun.

Memento Mori: The Spiritual Practice of the Remembrance of One’s Own Death
Led by The Rev. Michael Lemaire
As a spiritual practice, recalling the impermanence of life in the form of our own mortality, has been recommended through time and across religious traditions and yet, we find ourselves in a culture and time deeply invested in the denial of death. Our attention is individually and collectively redirected away from something that once, along with taxes, was described as the only certainty in life. In this four week class we will explore the reality of death in our time, the culture of denial that surrounds it and engage in a variety of spiritual practices to raise our awareness of the our own death and how it can clarify and vitalize our lives right now. We will also explore the resources of the Christian tradition that support this inquiry. This class is appropriate and recommended for any members of the All Souls community who will die.

Bible Workbench
Join us on Sundays from 8:30 – 9:30 am or 10:10 – 11:10 am in the Garden Room of the Parish House or on Thursdays from 11:00 am – 12:00 noon in the Common Room as we use a program called the Bible Workbench. We spend time studying and reflecting on one of the lectionary passages for the following Sunday, allowing us a week in which to enter more deeply into the scripture before hearing and responding to the word in worship together.

The Bible Workbench is a lectionary based life-centered biblical resource designed for small groups. Using one of the texts from the Revised Common Lectionary, the exploration begins with encountering the story found in the biblical text, with the focus then shifting to show how this story is happening in the world around us. Finally the questions turn to how the story is an event in the lives of the people in the group. The journey through the text seeks life-giving questions that wait to be lived.

While the Bible Study will be ongoing, the program is set up in such a way you can drop in when you can, as often as you can. It is a wonderful preparation method for Lectors. It is a place for everyone who seeks to find deeper personal connection between scripture, faith and their life.


Confirmations this Saturday
Please join us in celebrating with All Soulsians Tripp Hudgins and Oya Erez as they are confirmed on November 7th. The Beloved Community Confirmation — one of three annual General Confirmations sponsored by the Diocese of California — emphasizes multiculturalism and service to the community as expressions of our mature Christian faith. On Saturday November 7th, at St. James/Santiago, 1540 12th Avenue, Oakland, all are welcome to join in the celebration. Come at 1:00 pm for crafts, music, and service opportunities. At 3:00 pm join the bishop, confirmands, and sponsors for a bilingual Confirmation service. Please bring cans of tuna to support the food pantry, and come prepared to write a holiday card to a youth in foster care.

Interfaith Immigration Vigil
Join members of All Souls holding vigil at West County Detention Facility, 5555 Giant Highway, Richmond, CA on November 7th, (and the first Saturday of every month) from 11 am – noon. The Detention Facility is one of 250 facilities across the country that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses to house undocumented immigrants awaiting hearings or deportation. At each vigil, we sing, pray, and hear testimony from family members and friends of those held inside, or from recently released immigrants awaiting hearings.

If you can listen with empathy and patience, you may be called to Stephen Ministry. Have you ever considered becoming a Stephen Minister? The rewards are great!  Check out our display table after the 7:30 and 9:00 services on November 8th. Better yet, join one of our information sessions on November 15th (8:30 am and 12:30 pm in the Common Room). Want to talk to a Stephen Leader right now? Here’s how!

Nancy Austin:  510-407-0037 or
Judith Lothrop:  925-284-2354 or
Tom Reilly: 510-528-7832 or
David Wight:  510-525-4344 or

Talking with Kids About Race 101 and 201: Saturday, Nov. 7th
How does one start a conversation about race with a child? In the wake of the uprisings in Ferguson, NYC, and Baltimore, many of us are imagining that another world is possible. The most powerful change we can make is on the micro level, with what we teach our children about race and implicit bias. The day will have two parts, both led by renowned race educator Micia Mosely. It will take place in the Women’s Building in San Francisco and is adults only. If you want to come but need help finding a sitter, let us know. Purchase tickets here. The event is being put on by the Stay Woke Parents Collective, co-sponsored by Our Family Coalition, and your attendance is encouraged by All Souls Acting for Racial Justice.

It’s a Fall Celebration, featuring the Hearts on Fire Gospel Choir
Friday, November 20th at 7:30 pm, right here at All Souls. Celebrate the very best of the season with a truly uplifting night of music, friendship and great food… and more music! Come join us — grab a friend and get your joy on!

Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race!
All Soles are hitting the streets at the Berkeley Half Marathon on November 22. This is a fun community run that includes 5K, 10K, and 13.1 mile races. Talk to Liz Tichenor to join the hearty parish crew running together. (And you can still make it to the 11:15 service in your All Soles race T-shirt!). Talk to Caroline McCall to order your T-shirt no later than tomorrow. If you don’t want to race, we’ll certainly welcome a cheering section! The half marathon route will go right up Shattuck, across Cedar – a short walk from All Souls.

New to All Souls?
You are invited to a Newcomers’ Luncheon, Sunday, November 22nd, 1:00 – 3:00 pm, at the home of Margaret Sparks in Berkeley. Look forward to sharing good food, connecting with other newcomers, longtime members, and All Souls staff, and the chance to ask Phil and Liz your most puzzling questions about the church! Please RSVP to Margaret: (510) 524-6106;

Traces of the Trade
What does it mean to grapple with the rac­ism that surrounds us? How does the past inflect the present? In Traces of the Trade, Episcopal divin­ity student and film producer Katrina Browne tells the story of her forefa­thers, the deWolf family, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. The film follows Browne and nine fellow family members as they retrace the triangle trade together- and begin to think about how to address legacies of racial violence in the present. This December, Dain Perry, who made the journey with Browne, arrives at All Souls to offer a screening and discussion. This will be a rich, unforgettable night.  Join us for dinner and a movie as we discuss both the problem of racism- past and present- and our hopes for reconciliation and repair. December 5th, 5:00 – 9:00 pm. Food, film, and discussion to follow.