This Sunday will be like many Sundays at All Souls Parish. We will begin the day early in the morning, as the sun is just starting to crest the East Bay hills. The call to prayer will not need to rouse our 7:30 am worshippers from slumber—they are the most engaged, present and awake early morning congregation that I have ever had the joy to worship with. But they will not be alone.

This Sunday, May 1st, will be like any other Sunday at All Souls Parish, save one thing—we will be joined by a photographer, videographer, and the Director of the College of Congregational Development (CCD) in the Diocese of Olympia (Western Washington). So this Sunday, as we pray and listen, teach and gather, folks will be documenting our time together, as unobtrusively as they can. Neat, you might say, but why?

Several years ago, at a gathering of young ordained leadership, I heard about a growing program that teaches people (lay and ordained) what makes and keeps Christian congregations vital. When I heard about the stance of the training—that any congregation, in any context, of any size, can be vital—and about the tools and practices that they were using, I was hooked. I wanted to both participate in this program and bring it closer to the Bay Area.

In the intervening years, thanks to a grant from the Jordan Bequest, All Souls has taken a group of eight people up to CCD for two week-long sessions, and an effort to teach these models in Northern California is up and running. For those who have participated, it has had a remarkable effect on our lives. Yes, here at All Souls—in our structure, our meetings, our sense of purpose. But the training has also affected our work and home lives, it has aided us in the art of being human.

The folks at CCD are now starting to offer this program with dioceses all over the country, and in so doing wanted to interview people who had participated from inside and outside the Diocese of Olympia. They are curious to know what happens when these models and practices are put in place in different contexts, in essence, how does it work?

So why are we taking part? Well, you might have heard me, or Liz, or Caroline McCall, or Kim Wong, or Toni Borgfeldt, or Ethan Lowery, or Marilyn Flood, or Stephen Southern, or any of the folks that have learned these lenses on the life of faith teach a particular model: Gather, Transform, Send.

Gather, Transform, Send, or GTS to those who geek out on models, is the primary lens used in understanding a Christian congregation. It is just as true about the Eucharist, as it is when using a wide lens, like why we exist at all. And that last element of the model, Send, is why I agreed to have the folks from CCD come to interview and document a Sunday at All Souls.

Because just as we are sent out of each Eucharist, carrying this transformation with us into the world, we are sent to seek this transformation in all of our life: at home, at work, in the civic arena, as well as the life of the greater church. We are sent to share what we have received.

What we have received from CCD, through the stance and the teaching, the lenses and the practices, has been very good indeed. Simply put, as we have been given, it is for us to give. And so we will this Sunday. If you do not want to be a part of the filming, please sit near the back of the service or class. But if you are willing, I would be grateful for as many souls as possible to be present to sing and pray, learn and listen. Like every Sunday when we gather together, are changed once more, and are sent to share this good news.



danielle-125On Good Friday afternoon, seven wise and brave members of All Souls shared how their own stories intertwined with Jesus’ last words. Today and in coming weeks, we will be offering some of those reflections, with gratitude.

“I am thirsty” — John 19:28

Jesus is such a pain. I mean really. When he came after me it was mayhem. I think people imagine conversion as a visit with a lovely dove and a shower of pink roses. Mine was not.

I was not a willing participant in this conversion, at least at first. I knew exactly one Christian and everyone thought she was nuts. Jesus had been hovering for a while. Then he started poking. I secretly read some of the Bible. I learned that Jesus wants us to be baptized. I said, ok, lord I’ll get baptized. But I’m not joining one of your ridiculous churches. Baptism, that’s all you get.

I decided to get baptized in the Catholic Church. My parents were raised Catholic so I thought it would be the most appropriate. Unfortunately you do not just walk into a Catholic Church and say “baptize me.” You have to sign up for a nine month long program. I started the program at a lovely, diverse, mostly progressive church. But even there many of the core teachings of the Church, both theological and political, were too much for me. So I dropped out. And then the next year I enrolled in the program again, at a different Catholic Church. I did this six times. For six years I wrestled with Jesus. I wanted him to let me go. But I knew I couldn’t bear it if he did.

During this time I started to go to Mass. Not every Sunday. But often enough to make my friends and family nervous. I loved the Gospel. I loved the music and the ritual and damn did I love that Gospel. I developed an unfortunate habit of crying in church. I was a mess. I was realizing how unbelievably thirsty I was. And not just thirsty for the waters of baptism. Thirsty for the words of Jesus. Thirsty for something I had given up on: Justice. Thirsty for love that went beyond. Beyond everything I thought I knew about. Thirsty for more.

The short version of the story is this: in the spring of the sixth year, a month before I was, if I didn’t bail again, to be baptized and confirmed, I landed myself in a mental hospital on an involuntary hold. And then another involuntary hold. And then another. Luckily the church had given me a bible. I asked someone to bring it to me and I sat in my room and read in the shadow of the valley of death. In arts and crafts I made rosaries. The hilarity of this is not lost on me.

I got out before Easter and I knew I was ready to go for it this time. Because Jesus never did let me go. I was angry and desperate and terrified in that hospital but never alone. And I wanted that relationship. I was thirsty for god’s grace. I was crazy and my life was falling apart but I was loved and I knew it.

What could Jesus have been thirsting for on the cross? Was it really sour wine? I don’t think so. I think his throat was scratchy and sore for sure, experiencing the full human degradation of it all. But I really feel his thirst for union with God, the thing I thirst for, the thing we all thirst for even if we don’t know it. In times of great pain that’s what I’m really crying out for. And here’s the thing: God did not swoop down and save Jesus. Jesus died a horrible, painful death. God did not swoop down and save me. I was devastated. But God is with us. What we thirst for is always right there in front of us.

My baptism was awesome. A friend of mine who had prayed and struggled with me over the past months and who encouraged me by being as crazy as me was baptized with me at the Easter vigil. It was the first time I’d ever been to an Easter vigil. It was spooky and joyous. When I felt that water on my forehead I thought to myself, you’ve really done it now. But I didn’t do anything. God did.

That baptism has been happening every day since. I am thirsty and Jesus brings me to the water. But true to form he also brings me greater thirst. He inspires me to act. He reminds me that he is here, in every homeless person on Shattuck, in every prisoner, in every refugee, in everyone I love, in everyone I am tempted to hate. In every person. He will not let me wander into the desert of apathy again. He meets me in the wilderness of self pity and says “are you done yet?”

People ask how I ended up “believing” in Jesus. But I have never believed in Jesus. I never found Jesus. Jesus started following ME around and soon I was seeing him everywhere. it was seriously freaky. It’s still seriously freaky.

Every year I go to the Easter Vigil. It’s the best night of the year. I love seeing people come to the water. This is where my thirst leads me, over and over and over again.

– Danielle Gabriel

New Adult Formation Classes

books_125This Sunday we begin a new session of adult formation classes at 10:10 am. They are:

Plastic or Piggybanks: Parenting into wi$dom and genero$ity
Led by the Rev. Liz Tichenor and Caroline McCall downstairs in the Common Room
As parents we struggle to talk with our children about things we are not clear on ourselves. Money is frequently one of these challenging topics. If we are not clear about our relationship with money or what our faith asks of us regarding money, how can we help our children learn to be good stewards – both wise and generous? In this class we will explore four concepts that are important to our Christian lives – as beliefs and as practices: abundance, generosity, patience, and relationship. In each case we will dive into the importance of the concept, the challenges it poses for our lives as parents, and the ways we want to help our children grow into it. We will work together to develop, adopt and reflect on practices that will model wisdom and generosity for ourselves and for our children of all ages.

Standing with Foster Youth
Led by Raymond Yee and Laura Shefler in the Parish Hall
Young people in the foster care system are among the most vulnerable members of society, as they strive toward adulthood without the kinds of resources that many of us take for granted. As one of the our Parish Initiatives, we at All Souls have decided to support and advocate for foster youth.  In this course, we explore how can we support these young people well before they age out of the system and transition into adulthood.  As we learn about the basics of the foster care system, we will have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what it’s like to grow up in foster care and how that compares to our own experiences.  In panel discussions, we will interact with youth who have been in the foster care system and with representatives from religious and secular organizations that provide services and opportunities for foster youth.  The experiences and reflections arising from this course will lay the groundwork for our larger efforts to stand with foster youth.

Lectionary Bible Study: Bible Workbench
A lectionary-based Bible study practice designed for small groups, the material invites us to explore scripture in a broader context; learning to see how the texts relate to what is going on in the world, and to our own lives.

Welcoming New Members

patti fisherI currently live in Marina Bay in Richmond. I have been a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church starting out at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Coos Bay Oregon. While attending Mills College in the 60s, I majored in Comparative Religion and Philosophy and served as an acolyte during church services for Dr. George Headley who was both the campus chaplain and a professor of religion. After obtaining a Secondary Teaching Credential at San Francisco State University, I was a Civil Rights worker in Mississippi during the summer of 1965. Emmanuel Episcopal Church was one of my main supporters and held a special service for me at the conclusion of my work on voter registration.

I taught at Berkeley High School from the mid-60s to the late 70s. During this time, I left the church for 25 years, but returned when a friend took me to St. Columba in Inverness. As soon as I entered the church, I felt as though I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I stayed for about 25 years. David Schofield was the priest for the first years I was there. Regardless to his political persuasions that were different from mine, he was instrumental in helping me regain my faith and belief in the church. Then I raised my older grandson and the church members were one of his strongest support groups over the years.

Since I still have a full time business and work 6-7 days a week, it became too difficult to drive to Inverness. For about three years I was churchless until I met Don Strange who kept saying wonderful things about All Souls. I finally started coming and loved the church and everything about it including the diversity, the children, the programs, and music group, the liturgy, the priests, and the congregation. I don’t come as often as I would like because of both family and business responsibilities that often tie up my Sunday mornings.

– Patti Fisher

New to All Souls?

Newcomers to All Souls are invited to attend a luncheon reception this Sunday, May 1st at 1:00 pm in the home of Margaret Sparks in Berkeley. This will be a time to get to know others who are new to the parish! Phil and Liz will also join us to answer questions about life at All  Souls, and indeed any other question you may have – can you stump them? Childcare provided. For more information, directions and to RSVP, please email Emily Hansen Curran.

Interfaith Immigration Vigil

immigration_button_125Please join as All Soulsians host the monthly interfaith immigration vigil on Saturday, May 7, from 11:00 am  to noon, at the West County Detention Facility. The Richmond facility is one of 250 centers across the country used by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house undocumented immigrants awaiting hearings or deportation. 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, participants sing, pray, and listen to testimony to give moral and spiritual support to the 150 to 300 detainees held there and their loved ones, and to others awaiting hearings. Vigils conclude with a sacred Moment of Noise to let the detainees know that participants are there for them. The May 7 vigil will feature the Angel Band and posters made by the All Souls 4th and 5th graders for this gathering.

When: Saturday, May 7, from 11:00 am to 12:00 noon
Where: West County Detention Facility, 5555 Giant Highway, Richmond
Contact: Cynthia Clifford or Janet Chisholm to learn more about the vigil, and Margaret Sparks for help in organizing carpools from All Souls.

We’re Seeing Red!

Continuing the Feast Brunch, 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 table with a festive brunch between services. Take advantage of the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new connections! Brunch will be between the 9:00 and 11:15 am services in the Parish Hall. Bring food to share and think RED (strawberries, tomatoes, red velvet cake, watermelon, … ?) or whatever the Spirit moves you to bring!

Annual Blessing of the Bicycles May 22

Save the date for our annual bike blessing! Ride to church and stay for fellowship! Invite your friends and neighbors!