From the Associate Rector
Fresh Eyes on Familiarity
What a whirlwind these last few weeks have been as I returned to Berkeley and All Souls! It has been a wonderful, if unusual, mixture of familiarity and newness. I know this community and neighborhood well, and yet I am encountering it in different ways, noticing fresh aspects of this corner of the world. Watching my daughter Alice navigate the transition is a clear sign for me of how much can shift in a relatively short time: so many monumental changes occur between the ages of 18 months and 3 years!
This reminder that I too am a different person, even as I come back to a place that I experience so clearly as home, strikes me as being true in terms of how we encounter our tradition, as well. I think of our spiraling journey through the church year, the lectionary, the seasons – we return once again to familiar feasts and well-worn stories. Yet if we’re paying attention, I trust that they will be new and different this time through because we are new and different. How will our tradition’s truths open freshly to us this year? How will we hear the invitation in new ways?
It can be tempting to slide into old habits. Perhaps we bicker as in days gone by upon returning to visit our parents, or maybe we greet a dog-eared reading with the confidence that we’ve already learned all its depth, already gleaned what it has to teach to us. And perhaps we did, last time. But as we spiral again, try to engage our common truths as if you’re meeting each for the first time, or for the first time after a long while away. Allow yourself to be surprised by what grabs your attention, agitates you, excites you. There is something more, something new this time, because you – and we, collectively – are not who we were the last time around.
Education for Ministry
…you can eat the cake, too!
I am fortunate to have been a member of three different Education for Ministry (EfM) groups. The mission I attended in Utah was chosen to be part of the pilot program in the late ‘70s when EfM began. I moved to Berkeley after having completed only two years in the program, so I was glad when All Souls sponsored an EfM class in the early ‘90s and I could take all four years.
So why am I back in EfM for the third time now? It’s because I have missed the particular kind of theological reflection engaged in this course. We read the Bible but it is not a “Bible class,” and although we study church history and theology, is it not a history class either. We learn a technique called theological reflection, grounded in the Bible and history, as a way to see the world and find our place in it. It is the opposite of the “I’m giving up, because everything is terrible” view of the world. Instead, this is one way we can collectively discern our work in the world, or you could say, our ministry.
Most of us in my first EfM group in Utah had been Episcopalians all our lives, but we were astonished as the lessons unfolded. It was as if Sunday School had served us only frosting, but now we got to eat the cake too. If you would like to have some cake, real as well as virtual, you will like EfM. To learn more about the program, contact Cathy Thompson and Stephen Southern, co-Mentors.
– Mardie Becker
From the Outreach Committee
Standing in Solidarity
Do you know that immigrants are being held nearby at the West County Detention Center in Richmond? Some members of the All Souls Outreach Committee are learning more and getting involved. We work with the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
We have been attending the vigils at the Detention Center from 11:00-Noon on the first Saturday of each month. A local congregation takes responsibility for the program, which includes liturgy, songs, prayers, and speakers. On September 6th, 18 members of All Souls joined the crowd of 100 from area congregations! Some of us also work on Detainee Post Release Support, which includes providing transportation and translation, searching for temporary housing, and creating backpacks with basic necessities. In addition, some of us are planning the Adult Formation series during Lent on the topic of immigration. Join us at the vigils on the First Saturdays, and especially on December 6th, when All Souls will host the vigil! Talk to us about what we are learning about immigration, and share your ideas. Contact Christine Trost, Chair of Outreach, for more information.
Members of All Souls gathered for the vigil at the West County Detention Center in Richmond on September 6th.
A statement of purpose read to participants at the vigil on September 6th:
Why do we vigil at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond?
We do this to stand in solidarity with the people being held here for deportation. We know that many have not been convicted of any crime, but are charged with a civil offense. We know that often the chief breadwinner is taken away, putting families in economic jeopardy. We know that ICE’s implementation of our immigration laws makes communities insecure. Therefore…
We do this to call attention to our government’s deportation of a thousand people a day. We seek to stop this system. Therefore, we seek to draw attention to ICE and change its policies. We know that all the deportees held here have families, most came not just for a better life, but to survive and to support families. Many have fled violence and now face another form of oppression. And now the children come.
We do this to give moral and spiritual support to the families whose loved ones are being held here. We know their trauma can be deep and their lives filled with fear. We seek to give practical advice and counsel on legal, medical, food and housing issues and to be a friendly face. And we also do this to provide opportunity for people directly impacted by ICE to share their truth – to give their own testimony and learn that they are not alone. So today…
We pray together for a just and fair immigration policy closer to what our Statue of Liberty proclaims: “Mother of Exiles… Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” We also know that all our faith traditions call upon us to welcome strangers and aliens for they are our sisters and brothers and we know that our own families, like theirs, were once strangers and aliens in this land.
– Janet Chisholm and the Outreach Committee
Why Small Groups?
Well, churches are filled with small groups of various kinds and we have all sorts at All Soul. So in a sense our Christian congregations are constructed of small groups in order to do much of the work inside and outside the church. I deeply appreciate the roles these groups and their members play in the life of an active church. But I am focusing on one particular kind of small groups that are available at All Souls and is, to my knowledge, unique in the Bay Area. These are small groups developed and supported by our Small Groups Steering Committee that began in 2010, offering a variety of groups led by trained facilitators that has community-making and Christian spiritual formation as its primary ministry.
So, why these particular small groups? One of the challenges of a dynamic church with an expanding membership such as at All Souls is that there reaches a point when depth opportunities for a close and friendly place for mutual belonging where members intentionally explore spiritual practices together is best done in a small group setting. At All Souls we now have three services on Sundays and the ability to meet and get to know people is both multiplied but also constrained in the Sunday setting. These small groups are even more important for those who wish to get to know people in a safe, prayerful, confidential, and intentional setting outside the big gatherings.
This is not something new to Christian experience! Jesus gathered a small band of disciples to him; teaching them, working with them, and empowering them for ministry. Small groups have had a special place in the spiritual formation of Christians from early times. It is often in these small groups that we can encounter Christ’s Spirit in our midst, as well as in the faces of our companions, and our companions can help us see the mystery of the work of the Divine within ourselves.
Our small groups provide special opportunities for cultivating the rich spiritual practices and disciplines from our Christian tradition. You don’t have to be an expert in scripture or some “spiritually advanced” person in order to participate. This is where regular Christians and spiritual explorers can meet. This is a place where humble learning, mutual support, and experiencing together the great resources of Christian spiritual traditions are emphasized.
Do these possibilities tug at your spirit and intellect? Learn about new and continuing groups on our website and get in touch with the small group leader and see about joining in the spiritual companionship that these groups can provide. It is a rich opportunity for you that is not available in most churches. Don’t pass it by! If you wish to discuss the All Souls Small Groups Ministry in more detail and its leadership training contact me at dprechtel@sbcglobal or 510.724.6561. The training, like the groups, are not restricted to All Souls members.
– The Rev. Daniel Prechtel
What a wonderful beginning to a new school year! Rally Sunday brought the introduction to our formation opportunities for all ages, a chance to connect with friends new and old, and shriek with delight as we made giant bubbles together. Visit our website for more information on Sunday School and fall formation classes for adults.