From the Interim Sabbatical Rector

stephen_shaverThe Benedictine life: pondering our responses

Two weeks ago I invited you to share your current experiences of how your life at All Souls is characterized by three elements of the Benedictine Rule of Life: stability, obedience, and conversion of life.

Stability means finding God in the here and now—knowing that God’s presence is here and to be celebrated, not only in a longed-for or imagined future, but right here among the flawed but graced circumstances, people, and situations of our everyday life.

Obedience means listening for God’s voice, through silence, through prayer, and through the voices of one another.

And conversion of life means a willingness to grow and change—opening ourselves to stretch toward the areas where Christ’s Spirit is calling us into new life, even when that new life sometimes feels scary or challenging.

A number of you—well, sixteen, to be precise—shared your responses, both numerically and in words. It was fascinating and lovely to read them. I want to share the “insta-poll” numbers here. Each graph shows how many responses there were at each point along a spectrum from 1 to 6, with 1 meaning “I’m really experiencing a lot of this in my life at All Souls right now” and 6 meaning “I’d really be drawn toward having more of this.” Here it is:


I wonder what this might mean? Of course, in a parish with a few hundred active members, it’s impossible to draw any broad conclusions from a small sample of sixteen. Many folks have cluttered e-mail inboxes and busy schedules, so I’m not surprised to have a fairly low response rate. (Even non-data is also a form of data, isn’t it? And it tells us something—or at least it gives us a chance to make guesses about what it might mean, as I just did in the previous sentence.) More responses would make for a richer conversation—and you can still submit your own by clicking here.

Still, I was intrigued by a couple of things I see in the results so far. For one thing, even in a time when All Souls has experienced a lot of changes—the move to three services two years ago, several staff transitions since then, this sabbatical period over the summer—several of those who responded seemed to be experiencing a lot of stability. One member who’s currently undergoing a shift of living situation described this as a time of “stable instability”—and maybe that’s a good phrase for life at All Souls in general. There are changes, but there’s also a regular rhythm of worship, study, service, and fellowship that provides a kind of backbone for common life.

There were also pretty high numbers for people experiencing conversion of life. I wonder whether those congregational changes of the past few years, along with the many opportunities that exist at All Souls for individuals to serve and stretch in new ways, contributed to that.

Finally, I was interested to see that several members reported having a hunger for more opportunities for obedience—listening for God’s voice. One spoke of this as “our greatest challenge” and suggested that being part of a spirituality group, ministry team, choir, or other small group is important in order “to feel valued and open to listening to God.” Another wrote, “While I feel I have a lot of opportunities to act upon where I’m called, I don’t seem to take or make enough time to reflect and to listen.”

Doing this little interactive experiment, for me, was one way to try to create an opportunity for us to do a little of that kind of listening on the whole-congregation scale. Hearing some of our collective voice distilled and fed back to us can often be illuminating—not to mention fun—and it almost always provides a starting point for more conversation.
What do you think?


Take Action to Stop Proposed Expansion of Contra Costa County Jail

ruth_meyersFor quite some time, folks from All Souls have been gathering with members of many different faith communities for monthly immigration vigils at the West County Detention Center.  The vigils are organized by the Interfaith Coalition for Immigration Rights – CLUE California (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice) and the next one is this Saturday,  August 1, 11 a.m, to 12 noon, at 5555 Giant Highway in Richmond. Through my participation in these vigils, I became aware of the proposed expansion of the Contra Costa County Jail, and its problematic implications.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff is proposing an expansion of the West County Detention Center in Richmond, adding 400 beds. A coalition of groups in the East Bay is organizing in opposition to this proposal. The county board of supervisors is scheduled to vote on the proposal on August 18, so action is urgently needed.

Sheriff Livingston proposes to expand the West County Detention Center, adding 400 new beds and space for mental health, drug treatment, and job training programs. The Martinez jail would be closed and prisoners transferred to the West County Center. Building the facility would require about $90 million, most of that coming from state funds, with about $10 million required in county funding. In addition, operating the facility would cost an estimated $10 million annually, an estimated $1.6 million increase in funding. You can read more in this article in the Contra Costa Times.

Concerns about this proposal: The sheriff would contract with a non-profit company to oversee professional services such as re-entry programs, but he has not provided specifics about this plan, and there is no guarantee that the funding would continue each year. Moving prisoners from Martinez to Richmond would likely require transportation of inmates to the courthouse in Martinez, requiring additional staff time and transportation expense. Adding beds creates the potential for the jail to house additional undocumented immigrants; the sheriff’s office already contracts a number of beds to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the number of immigrants detained there has increased significantly this summer.  You can find more information in this resource.

Action steps:
– Read the interfaith letter: We are writing to you as faith leaders who live and serve congregations throughout Contra Costa County to express our profound concern about your intention to construct a new unit at the West County Detention Facility with up to 418 beds … read more.
– Add your signature to the letter here.
– Attend the community forum Thursday, August 6, 7 p.m. at His Presence Worship Center, 1185 Second Street Brentwood.
– Show up to support our press conference/rally at the sheriff’s office in Martinez: Tuesday, August 11, 11 a.m. at 651 Pine Street, Martinez. Invite your friends!
– Show up to voice opposition at the Board of Supervisors vote on the issue: Tuesday, August 18, 9 a.m. at 651 Pine Street, Room 107, Martinez. Invite your friends!

Ruth Meyers

Everything Old Is New Again #wgfest15

tripp_wild_gooseI realize this is a little premature, but this feels a little like a “What Did I Do Over Summer Vacation” essay that I had to write in fifth grade. Mrs. Henson was a stickler for good penmanship and right manners. Old school. She was decidedly old school. But I digress.

This summer I had the distinct privilege of being asked to serve as the Liturgical Coordinator for the Wild Goose Festival held in Hot Springs, NC. The festival is a time and place of celebrating the “intersection of Spirit, Justice, Music, and the Arts” that began a few years ago. As such liturgies abound. Some of them were rather traditional. The Episcopal tent (yes, you had a tent; you really should have been there) held Compline services every night. They also broke out of the mold and hosted a songwriter circle and an agape feast. The Goose is like that. Ask the Methodists.


The Episcopal Tent

People break from the mold a little. There was a eucharistic liturgy where a blacksmith literally hammered a rifle into a farm implement. It was an unusual eucharist, to be sure, but beautiful.

This summer’s theme was “Blessed Are The Peacemakers.” Preachers like Dr. William Barber were there to inspire us. Rev. Traci Blackmon from Ferguson, Missouri was also there. She preached at our closing Eucharist. Rev. Joy Wallis was our celebrant.


Tents going up, fog rolling in.

Others were there like Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. There were three or four different sessions going on simultaneously each of the three days. Ana Hernandez was there to help out with music. She says hello to everyone.


Gathering to sing

Right, the music. One of the ways to understand Wild Goose is to imagine Burning Man and then mashing it up with Greenbelt or the Chautauqua Institute. Musicians from various stripes were there to perform. Gungor, Matt Morris, Yara Allen, Emmanuel Jal, The Collection, The Brilliance, and many others. No one genre was featured. No one style. There were pop-up concerts all over the place. Jam sessions and impromptu meet-ups happened all the time.

As the Liturgical Coordinator, it was my responsibility to make sure that the scheduled liturgies and their organizers had all they needed. I tried to have my title changed to Liturgical Enabler because that’s what I was actually doing. Everyone there had a liturgical habit they needed met. I was happy to help out. From free church to high church and everything in between and beyond, I counted over 45 liturgies (officially sanctioned or otherwise) during the festival.

This was the first year they asked for someone to serve in the position. I was not the first person they asked. I’m really glad that the first person turned it down. It was incredible.

What all these liturgists needed was a sense of common vision, a way to articulate a liturgical posture or narrative for the weekend. So, to close this little missive for you all, I’m going to share what I offered during our opening ceremony. I wanted to show people what I was already seeing and to invite them into a community, a social space, a geographical place where everything old was new again.

What is going on here?

You have stepped through the veil
into a temple without walls jet-lagged,
road weary, burned out, intrigued, hopeful,
enthusiastic, and just a little confused.

You have entered a basilica
where the dome of heaven itself is the ceiling.
Shrines and altars line the route on our pilgrimage together;
a holy time;
a thin place crafted by your hands
and kissed by the Holy Spirit.
She is inviting you to join in
The rhythms of our time together.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is the three great days of Holy Week,
a continuous liturgy that begins on Thursday night
and concludes on Sunday morning.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is a tent revival
where we will testify to the movement of The Divine
in our streets, classrooms, courthouses, homes,
and even our churches urging one another
to wake up to the truth that the holy is in each of us.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is a festival of art and music where we are reminded
that we are bodies-good creatures-blessed icons of heaven on earth
and we can move and sing and be engulfed
in landscapes and soundscapes of hope.

Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are you, the peacemakers.
Blessed are we, the peacemakers.

This is the liturgy of Wild Goose. Welcome.

It was an honor to have the opportunity to play with 2,200 people who gathered there on the banks of the French Broad River. I hope to do it again.

– Tripp Hudgins

From the Rector on Sabbatical

phil_sabbaticalA Healthy Body, part 2

Phil will be offering reflections from his time studying and his adventures on the road this summer. He cautions that, like him, his posting will be irregular. You can follow along at Practices for Living.

In my previous post, I wrote about what health might look like in a Christian community, or really, in any community. Balance and integrity (striving to remain whole) are at the core of an organization’s health and the processes that promote this are the focus of attention. But what are those processes? To get at this, in his book Healthy Congregations, Peter Steinke uses the work of Edgar Jackson and Andrew Weil, and applies it to what it means for a group of people in enduring relationship with one another.

To this end, he uses principles that are often applied to the human body and sees how they might then be applied to human communities. They are the “Ten Principles of Health and Disease”, which are below. I’ll look at each in turn.

Ten Principles of Health and Disease

1. Wholeness is not attainable. (But it can be approximated.)
2. Illness is the necessary complement to health. (It is alright to be sick, feel burdened and be down.)
3. The body has innate healing abilities. (No one can give you––or the congregation––what you don’t already have.)
4. Agents of disease are not causes of disease. (All disease processes are enabled.)
5. All illness is biopsychological. (Wow! Everything is connected.)
6. The subtle precedes the gross. (Early detection is the best treatment.)
7. Every body is different. (There’s no universal treatment for every organism––or congregation)
8. A healthy circulatory system is the keystone of health and healing. (Feedback systems promote health.)
9. Breathing properly is nourishing to the whole body. (The Spirit must be active among the members the Body of Christ.)
10. The brain is the largest secreting organ of the body, the health maintenance organization (HMO) of the body. (The mind converts ideas into biochemical realities.)

1. Wholeness is not attainable.

Our bodies are never “perfectly healthy.” We are always holding something off, healing something, needing nourishment. Just as it is in our bodies, in our communities, there is always a balance at play, where illness and healing are happening. There is no completely “whole” place. We are always preparing and responding. When reading the following sentence, though, the last year or so came into clearer focus, “Both organisms and organizations are more apt to become sick after major losses, disruptive events, and prominent changes.” Moving to a three service Sunday schedule, the departures of Kristin, Sara, these have been major events and it necessarily takes time to come back to homeostasis, “the capacity of an organism to keep its internal environment steady…its cooperative behavior. Health occurs when the body’s systems run smoothly and energy flows freely.”

2. Illness is the necessary complement to health.

Using this lens, Illness actually can be important to our health, as it builds immunity. Steinke uses the analogy of a vaccine, the introduction of a weakened virus so that the body can be alerted and practice. In this way, the internal and external challenges that are faced can serve (but don’t always serve) to strengthen the resilience of a body. “Conflict is inevitable, even essential, if resistance resources are to emerge. A community may strengthen or re-examine its sense of purpose…Health is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how we respond.” No one wishes for dis-ease, but if the body is able to respond effectively, it is able to become stronger in the process.

3. The body has innate healing abilities.

Steinke writes, “Healing is self-regeneration. It comes from the inside, not the outside…There are no quick fixes obtained from anyone or anything external.” Physicians can help the process by removing obstacles or by increasing aspects, but it is the self-healing of the body that ultimately does the work. In a way, to look solely outside of one’s self is a forfeiture of responsibility. This is as true for individuals as it is for bodies and for groups. To some degree, the response must come from within. An outside influence can help the congregation build their inner resources. When Jim Richardson spent a year at All Souls as an Interim Rector, one of his consistent messages was that, “we have all that we needed.” It is as true now as it was then. The capacity of a community to heal is always present within itself.

4. Agents of disease are not causes of disease.

This is an interesting principle to me. I would probably slightly edit it to read, ‘Agents of disease are not the sole causes of disease,’ but I do understand what Steinke means when he writes, “All pathogens need a host cell to arouse the disease process.” One micro biologist has said that the virus is like a seed that will only sprout into disease is the “soil” is too weak to resist it. In that way, “strengthening the resistance of the host cells is paramount in treatment, rather than simply focusing on disease agents and counteracting them.” What this seems to say, then, is that viruses (like the poor) will always be with us. Because we are flawed creatures these pathogens will always be in the air. The focus shouldn’t be there, then. Instead the focus should be on the soil, the response to the potentially destructive behaviors.

5. All illness is biopsychological.

This principle points to connectedness. We finally seem to be recovering an understanding that the mind and the body are fundamentally connected. (Scientific reductionism wielded an unhelpful scalpel there) Studies are now uncovering the power of the well-being of the mind (heart/spirit?) being intimately connected to the well-being of the body. Yet we continue to disconnect them at our peril. Therefore, Steinke writes, “The health of a congregation is multi-faceted. Attitudes count. Working together counts. Faithfulness matters. Mood and tone are significant.” As with human individuals, vengeance and bitterness are the two most destructive emotions to a body, while gratitude is the most nourishing. What I have found in my time spent in churches large and small on this sabbatical is that one can tell the spirit of a congregation. It pervades the space. And it matters.

6. The subtle precedes the gross.

“Short of prevention, early treatment is the best treatment…Early warnings come from small disturbances.” This is wisdom for our bodies that is ancient and contemporary. It is why Kaiser Permanente, for all of its flaws, has the potential to positively effect huge portions of the population with its emphasis on prevention. Similarly, in a community, “If a problem or conflict is allowed to fester and swell, it becomes even more embedded and resistant to management.” Being able to catch something early is critical for all parts of the system. The pain is not as great for those in the conflict, the leadership doesn’t take on as much of the stress, and the energy needed to deal with the issue isn’t diverted for longer than necessary.

7. Every body is different.

Context and culture are often determinative in what will help heal a situation. Steinke points to changes over time that make a previous intervention not helpful the next time and that, “One person’s medicine can be another person’s poison.” This is why I believe that silver bullets don’t work––but look so appealing. A process or a program at one church is so tempting to use where you are because it worked there. But it worked there because of where that body is, at that time and place. Core principles and approaches can be adapted, but because they were developed in a system different than where you are, they must be examined for the present context.

8. A healthy circulatory system is the keystone of health and healing.

In this lens, disease is seen as the result of information blockage, as in, some part of the body is not being heard, the natural sets of balances are not being allowed for. One of the ways that this is facilitated is that, “In healthy congregations information flows freely.” My sense is this is because the only way to be able to address a situation in the toe or back or elbow is if you are in communication, listening for what is happening, what needs addressing. When you ignore or don’t actively seek out information, this is when the subtle turns into the gross.

9. Breathing properly is nourishing to the whole body.

This is a simple one for our physical bodies, but like in Christian communities, is is easily and often overlooked. Steinke writes, “Full, deep expansion of the lungs brings nourishment to the whole central nervous system.” He then talks about the ruach, the Spirit over the deep, and Jesus’ breathing over the apostles as scriptural patterns of this practice. It is no mistake as well, that there are several ancient and enduring prayer practices that involve breathing. Staying attuned to the Breath is one of the simpler and often overlooked practices of the body and the larger body.

10. The brain is the largest secreting organ of the body, the health maintenance organization (HMO) of the body.

In this way of knowing the health of our bodies, “To understand health is to understand the continual role of the brain in maintaining the resistance of the body.” Steinke then makes an interesting link when he writes, “Comparable to the brain’s functioning in the body is the functioning of the leaders in the congregation.” The leadership of a community plays a vital role in the maintenance of the resistance and functioning of a congregation. A large part of the responsibility for strategy resides there, yes, but also the tone, the attitude, the sense of spirit. It is the ultimate responsibility of the leadership, then, to be able to have the conversations, to take in the information of the system, and to give out the kind of information that keeps the system moving towards wholeness.

There is a a great deal more in this treatment by Steinke that I have found very interesting: around emotional maturity, the dangers of rigidity, and why differentiated behavior is critical to well-being. More in the weeks and months to come.



Open Job Searches

Spread the word!

As you have likely heard, there are two job searches open right now at All Souls!

The priority application deadline of August 1 for one is rapidly approaching for our search for a half-time Associate for Ministry Development. Please take a look at the full job description and posting, and encourage anyone you think might be a good fit to apply as soon as possible!

The second posting is the newly opened search for a part-time bookkeeper. See the description here, and again, please spread the word!


Equipping the Beloved Community: Saturday, August 29
equipping_the_beloved_communityThis daylong diocesan ministry development day has workshops for everyone, and it’s right here in Berkeley! Workshop leaders include our own Caroline McCall and Stephen Shaver, among many others. This is also the next opportunity for the required training for chalice bearers and eucharistic visitors. Saturday, August 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at St. Clement’s, 2837 Claremont Boulevard, Berkeley. Register here.
Walter Hawkins Gospel Showcase Canceled
Earlier this month, we shared that All Souls’ Hearts on Fire Gospel Choir would be performing at the Walter Hawkins Gospel Showcase tomorrow in El Sobrante. Unfortunately, this event has been canceled. Please spread the word if you know of people who had been planning to go, and stay tuned for more opportunities to hear this marvelous ensemble soon.

Loaves and Fishes
The next Loaves and Fishes potluck is at the home of Grace & Carl Smith on August 8 at 4 pm. RSVP to Gloria Bayne. All are welcome!

All-Ages Summer Sunday School
All kids are invited to join in our laid-back summer Sunday school group, meeting during the 10:10 hour. This week we’ll be doing an art project in the K1 classroom.