From the Rector

phil_brochardA Generous Impulse

Many years ago I was in conversation with a friend, wondering about what she reads. She is one of those people who seems to have an inexhaustible reservoir of considered thought and often draws upon poets and authors that I haven’t yet come across. But the answer that she gave me was quite unexpected.

Her answer didn’t involve Allende or Oliver or Dostoyevsky or Homer. It was the obituaries. Yes, she reads all of those authors and others, but she pointed me to the obituaries (now known as the Life Tributes) because often in them there are remarkable glimpses of life in its beauty, pain, sorrow, and hope.

It was in one of those pieces recently that I came across the account of a beloved brother, husband, father, and grandfather. As you might expect, there was a narrative about growing up, education, career, family. But the piece that has remained with me was the maxim of this man, “Never stifle a generous impulse.”

Never stifle a generous impulse. A few things about this statement are compelling to me. One is that this sense of generosity welling up from within rings truly for me. There are moments, gestures, inclinations that seem to rise up within us, but where they emanate from isn’t always entirely clear. But there they are.

Another is that, without careful tending, these generous impulses are fleeting. They enter our consciousness, suggesting an action. And we face a decision point: should I act on that? But what if it isn’t received with the same intent? What if it isn’t seen? What if it makes the situation worse? There are many, many ways for us to stifle these possibilities.

Often the questions we ask have some merit. But all lead to a narrowing of engagement, a distancing of ourselves from those around us.

It may be that I am just beginning to pay closer attention, but generosity as a way of living seems to be picking up steam. From Brian McLaren’s “generous orthodoxy,” to Bishop Andy Doyle’s “generous community,” grounding our common life, both in terms of belief and of practice, in generosity seems to be ever-present. But why?

I wonder if it has to do with the root of the word generosity itself. It shares the same core as Genesis, generation, generative—all expressions of the creation of life. When we are generous, with our time, our attention, our money, our presence, our gifts, our selves, we create more space for life. It is why we at All Souls have been talking about giving as the spiritual practice of generosity. Not out of obligation or duty but because more life is created in the action—for the recipient and for the giver.

In this understanding, generosity is a way of life, a stance. And it is how we are attempting to live all of our lives at All Souls. It is why we are celebrating together with an all parish dinner on Sunday evening. It is why we have set space aside in the Parish House for asylum seekers. It is why we are taking time and intention to consider the gifts we are offering to this Christian community over the next year.

Please join me in keeping this maxim in heart and mind as you continue this day and as this week unfolds. Not only might it change the course of life for another, it just might become a habit that changes the way you live, forever.


Traces of the Trade: December 5th


Photo: Tom DeWolf speaking with an African-American woman during a candlelight procession that was part of Panafest in Cape Coast, Ghana.

Join us on December 5th from 5:00 to 9:00 pm for dinner, a screening of Traces of the Trade, and a discussion with Dain and Constance Perry of Trinity Boston, on retracing the Triangle Trade route with Dain’s cousins. Traces of the Trade is a film about the legacy of racism, the work of faith, and potential pathways toward reconciliation.

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—a prominent northern Rhode Island family. The film follows Browne and nine fellow family members on a remarkable journey that brings them face-to-face with the history and legacy of New England’s hidden enterprise, and opens up the questions—so relevant to each of us—about what it means to grapple spiritually, and materially, with the legacy of racism that even now surrounds us.

In the New York Times Stephen Holden called the film “a far reaching personal documentary examination of the slave trade”—and notes “the implications of the film are devastating.” The film follows ten DeWolf descendants (ages 32-71, ranging from sisters to seventh cousins) as they retrace the steps of the Triangle Trade, visiting the DeWolf hometown of Bristol, Rhode Island, slave forts on the coast of Ghana, and the ruins of a family plantation in Cuba. Back home, the family confronts the thorny topic of what to do now. In the context of growing calls for reparations for slavery, family members struggle with the question of how to think about and contribute to “repair.” Meanwhile, Browne and her family grapple with their own historic privileges; the healing and transformation needed not only “out there,” but inside themselves.

As well as being slave traders, prominent New Englanders—the family left its name all over Harvard buildings and Cambridge streets—the deWolf family were also Episcopalians. This is a journey partly motivated by the question of how the Episcopal legacy interweaves with the legacy of racism, and also how faith relates to the work of reconciliation. What is our inheritance, and how do relate to our past- both as individuals, and as a church?

As our country continues to grapple with racism and racial violence, the issues the DeWolf descendants face dramatize questions that apply to individuals, institutions, churches, and the nation as a whole: What, concretely, is the legacy of slavery—for diverse whites, for diverse blacks, for diverse others? Who owes whom what for the sins of the fathers of this country? And what would repair—spiritual and material—really look like?

Dain Perry
grew up in Charleston, SC. He and his wife Constance travel the country screening Traces of the Trade and facilitating conversations on racial reconciliation. Dain served 30 years in the financial services industry in Boston. Previously he served as deputy director of the Massachusetts Council on Crime and Correction and Acting Director of the Crime and Justice Foundation, non-profit organizations which promoted reform in the criminal justice system.

Constance Perry
grew up in Boston, MA. For more than twenty years, she managed, designed and implemented programs for at-risk youth and adults at the municipal, state and national level. Constance was a self-employed national consultant for twelve years specializing in training, facilitation and on-site consultation services to community organizations. She travels the country screening organizations. She travels the country screening Traces of the Trade and facilitating conversations on racial reconciliation.

A Confession on Giving

Jamie_NelsonI have a confession to make: the whole “proportional giving” concept that I’ve been championing as a member of the Stewardship team this annual campaign season is new to me.

Likewise, while I’ve certainly familiar with the concept of the tithe, it’s not something that I’ve ever attempted or feel secure enough to commit to at this point in my life.  Instead, I’ve put a (small) set monthly amount into my budget, the same way I do for my cell phone bill, student loans, rent, and other expenses.

However, when I think about the communities to which I belong, All Souls ranks very highly on the list. My faith community is a place of immense value to me, value that surpasses many of those expenses on my budget.

And so this week as I pray about what to commit to as I fill out my pledge card in anticipation of Sunday’s ingathering, I’ve decided to base my financial commitment off a percentage of my monthly income, rather than an arbitrary dollar amount. This decision is meant to honor the ways in which All Souls has nurtured and strengthened my relationship with God.

This fall, will you consider joining me in making a move to proportional giving?

– Jamie Nelson

Al Soles, Celebrity Pledger

Al_Soles_Did you see the amazing film we released yesterday, featuring the saintly example of celebrity pledger Al Soles? It will teach you everything you need to know about pledging! Click here to watch it, and prepare to be stunned – it’s that good.

This coming Sunday is a big day! Please spend time in prayer and reflection this week as you discern your pledge to All Souls for 2016 and remember to bring your pledge card with you to church on Ingathering Sunday, October 25th! Then come back on Sunday evening for our annual all parish Stewardship Celebration Dinner. If you haven’t signed up already, please do so now! It will be fantastic.


New Formation Classes!
October 25, November 8, 15, 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
November 8, 15, 22, 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.

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.

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!). If you don’t want to race, we’ll certainly welcome a cheering (and singing?) section! The half marathon route will go right up Shattuck, across Cedar – a short walk from All Souls.