Phil Brochard headshot2

What Matters

One of the exercises that I’ve done with teenagers over the years is to give them three or four minutes to consider what they would take from their house if confronted by a fire. It’s a way to help people (of any age) become clear about their priorities, where they put their value, and what really matters.

This exercise, of course, is not a thought experiment for thousands in Napa, Sonoma, Solano, and Mendocino countries. As I write this message, nearly two hundred thousand acres are on fire in Northern California, including neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa. Some people have had time to contemplate what they will take with them as they evacuate, others have had no time at all as they raced to flee the walls of fire being driven by unusually strong, hot winds.

As we hear about loved ones affected by these devastating fires, we ourselves have very present reminders—in the form of smoke and ash—of the devastation that our neighbors are enduring. For a few days it was just smoke, but now, from scores of miles away, there are flakes of ash falling. While some of this ash is undoubtedly the remnant of what was grass and trees, it is likely that some is the contents of people’s homes. And for those who have lived in the East Bay since 1989, it is also not difficult to imagine what this is like for those north of us. The weather, the wind, and the eerie light are enough to remind one of those terrifying days. And to remember what it is like to face losing what makes up your home.

With this in mind and on heart, I was moved to hear the story of one Sonoma County resident this past week. It was a “Perspective” on KQED, that was originally aired in mid-August, then re-broadcast as the fires raged this week. In it visual artist Adam Shaw of Sonoma County tells about a day this past summer when he thought that he was going to lose his house to a nearby fire. On the KQED website you can read the text, or hear him tell it, which I recommend. What got my attention was this realization that he came to as fire engines were roaring around him,

“In that moment, all I cared about was saving my cat, Lila, and my dog, Moe. I knew I couldn’t save my work, so in an instant I let it all go. I thought of those people you see on the news after a devastating fire takes everything they owned. They seem grateful and calm, which always mystified me. But on this day I understood it: Nothing mattered, not even my work, only my animals. Only life mattered. No things mattered. None of the irreplaceable objects I cherished couldn’t be replaced. I just wanted a guitar, so that if I did lose everything at least I could play the Blues. So I threw a guitar in my back seat, and got my animals and was ready to drive off and watch my house burn. I felt so peaceful and focused and free. Although there was time, I didn’t load up suitcases with as much stuff as I could grab.

I just let it all go.”

Some of us can only imagine what it is like to be faced with this terrible reality. Others have lived through it. But it gets to the fundament of existence in a way that little else does: it is life that matters.

As this day turns to night, and then to the dawn—pray. Pray for those who have died, those who have lost their homes, those who have evacuated, those fighting the fires and those responding with aid. And give. Extend yourself for our neighbors. And as you smell the acrid smoke and brush aside the ash that has gathered, remember what matters.


Helping the Diocese of Northern California’s Fire Victims

santa rosa fireIn response to the heartbreaking deadly fires ravaging our neighbor congregations in the Diocese of Northern California, Bishop Marc reached out to Bishop Barry Beisner to ask how DioCal can help.

“Prayers and donations is the short answer,” Bishop Beisner responded. “Many of our folks in Napa, Kenwood, Santa Rosa have been evacuated (some from west of Grass Valley also). Some have lost homes. One is reported to have lost his winery,“ he added.

Bishop Beisner suggests sending monetary donations to his Discretionary Fund, or directly to the Church of the Incarnation, Santa Rosa, which is working closely with people affected by the fire. “Please, no clothing, etc. until needs are more carefully assessed. I am grateful for your concern,” he said.

Episcopal Relief and Development is in close touch with the Diocese of Northern California and will be updating its plans shortly. In the meantime, please consider the volunteer and donation requests posted here.

Here at All Souls, we will be collecting funds to send to support victims of the fires. On Sunday, you can put a check in the offering plate with “fire relief” in the memo line.

The Bishop’s Ranch status during fires

From the Bishop’s Ranch: So far, the Ranch has been safe and out of the way of the fires. However, many of the Ranch staff, family and neighbors have been evacuated and in some cases have lost homes. Our hearts and prayers are with everyone who is impacted by this series of tragedies. Some staff families and neighbors are temporarily sheltering at the Ranch.

Many of you have also asked us how you can help the Ranch during this time. For the sake of everyone’s safety, we have asked scheduled groups not to come to the Ranch this week and weekend. This will have a financial impact on the Ranch staff, at a time when money is really needed. It of course will have a financial impact on the Ranch as well. One way you could help locally would be to make a donation to the Ranch Annual Fund. This money would be used to address immediate financial impacts that add so much to the stress of uncertainty and displacement.

Welcoming our new seminarian

alison fischer


My name is Alison Montgomery Fischer and I am your new seminarian.

Currently, I am a 2nd year MDiv student at CDSP and a Postulant of the Diocese of San Joaquin. My husband, Jason, teaches English at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord. I grew up in Odessa/Midland, Texas and graduated from Texas Tech University with an undergrad in Political science. Jason is from the Detroit area. Before moving to CA, I worked in the House of Representatives in Washington DC and in the oil and gas industry in various parts of Texas. Jason taught high school in inner-city Detroit as well as English conversation in Wetzlar, Germany while on a Fulbright Scholarship.

Jason and I met in Bakersfield, CA and lived there for six years prior to seminary. In Bakersfield, Jason and I were members of St. Paul’s Episcopal, where we were provided the opportunity to discern our callings to serve the Church. Though new to the church, the leadership there asked us to take a step into ministry and we accepted, not knowing that that “yes” would transform our lives. At St. Paul’s, Jason and I served as the youth ministers, we led the 20s/30s ministry, and we developed and managed the St. Paul’s CO-OP – a food outreach ministry that provides fresh produce, canned goods and hygiene items to the homeless and food insecure in Downtown Bakersfield. I also had the opportunity to serve on the Bishop’s Committee, as the Assistant Warden, and became a member of the Daughters of the King. Professionally, I directed the sponsorship program for Children to Love, a non-profit organization that financially supports orphanages and schools in Uganda, India, and Romania.

My life and call are devoted to serving Christ through serving others. Here in Berkeley, Jason and I were both drawn to All Souls because of the community’s joyful servant heart that is centered around the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is an honor to train here at All Souls and be a part of your wonderful community. I am excited about the opportunity to learn from, worship with, wonder with, teach, and share in the glory of Christ with every one of you.

To those who I have already met, thank you for your gracious hospitality and welcome. To those I have yet to meet, I look forward to getting to know you. I am grateful to have you all be a part of my formation in this path towards ordination.

If you would like to learn more about mine and Jason’s ministry, you may visit our website or our YouTube.

Alison Montgomery Fischer

Next Up in Adult Formation

Adult formation classStarting October 22nd, two new classes begin during the adult formation hour at 10:10 am. The Rev. Phil Brochard and Michelle Barger lead Sacred Spaces, where participants will explore what separates a hallowed space from the profane. For many of us, a soaring cathedral may come to mind as a sacred space. Or perhaps it’s a glorious sunrise over a majestic landscape. What is it about each space that sets it apart as holy? And what role do we play – as individuals or a corporate body – in activating the experience?

Dani Gabriel and Erin Horne lead Reclaiming the Good News, a course on understanding the roots of evangelism and connecting our faith to our lives. For many, evangelism doesn’t seem to fit with our conception of ourselves as Christians, and specifically Episcopalians. What is the relationship between Gospel and evangelism? What does it mean to begin to unpack the impact and damage caused by proselytizing through the ages? How do we proclaim the Good News in Berkeley, California in 2017?  Join us in study and conversation.

Bishop Barbara Harris at Grace Cathedral

There are two opportunities coming up to hear the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris at Grace Cathedral. She was the first woman to be ordained to the episcopate in the worldwide Anglican Communion and is featured as part of DioCal’s theme of Holy Women at this year’s convention. On Friday, Oct. 27th, she is giving the homily at the Eucharist (7:00 – 9:00 pm) to which everyone is invited – not just convention delegates. On Saturday morning, everyone is also invited to Morning Prayer at 9:00 am, Bishop Marc’s address and then a Q&A with Bishop Harris led by DioCal’s new head of Communication and former KQED reporter, Stephanie Martin Taylor from 10:15 to about 11:00 am. More about Bishop Harris is available here. Public transportation or carpooling to the Cathedral is strongly advised.


Please join your All Souls Parish family for Celebration Sunday, October 29th, 2017. RSVP here  for both which service you plan to attend on this special Sunday, and also for our Celebration Dinner, 5:30 – 7:30 pm. We will welcome a fabulous guest preacher at all services, the Rev. Christopher Craun. She is the rector of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon.

Our Annual Celebration Dinner promises fellowship, fun, and surprises in a new game show. There will also be programming for children and youth.

Please RSVP here by October 23rd.


All Saints Sunday, November 5th: Commemoration of the Faithful Departed

We will remember loved ones in prayer at the services on November 5th, All Saints Sunday. To have the names of your departed loved ones remembered, please legibly print the name(s) on the form attached to the clipboard in the chapel or narthex or email Emily with the information. Please note that names of those who have died since All Saints Sunday 2016 will be read aloud (taken from our prayer lists); all other names will be listed in the bulletin. There will be incense at the 11:15 am service only.