by the Rev. Scott Denman
I recently asked my congregation to give up something for the season of Epiphany. Perhaps it’s something to consider for Lent as well. I suggested that when someone asks them how they were doing, instead of responding “I’m fine”, consider a response that might be more honest. I sometimes respond, “I think I am going to make it”. This response is hopeful, maybe even a little humorous and it doesn’t scare off the person asking about your well-being. It also might present an opportunity for deeper conversation that both of you just might benefit from. You are not alone in those struggles you hide from others.
I really do think I am going to make it, but recently I had to admit how much this time of isolation was impacting me. As someone trying to lead a congregation through a pandemic, I found myself coming face to face with my own tiredness. It happened in the vegetable aisle in Safeway. I dropped my grocery list on the floor and as I bent over to pick it up, discovered I was still wearing my slippers. I had never been so grateful for my mask. This experience surprisingly became a moment of revelation. I had realized that nearly a year of living in accentuated isolation had caught up to me. I was clearly tired.
All this was divine preparation for Sunday’s readings from the book of Isaiah:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:28-31)
If even the young fall exhausted maybe it was ok to admit my own tiredness. Psychologists are discovering how deeply this time of isolation has impacted us. It has made everyone faint, whether we see it or not. They have learned that even those seemingly insignificant encounters with folks in the grocery line or a passerby you might normally greet or even strike up a conversation with, are important to our well-being. They also attribute the rise of conspiracy thinking to this lack of holding each other in check through daily interaction. It made me wonder if my personal conspiracy was to pretend I was fine.
Normal social interactions are like a bubbler in an aquarium, oxygenating the water. If the bubbler is cut off the fish keep swimming but they are slowly being depleted of what they need to thrive. As our social oxygen is depleted we become faint. We are not fine.
The airlines teach us to put our own oxygen mask on first. But what I realized that day in the vegetable aisle was that I needed to see myself on the other side of that equation. I spend most of my life trying to help others get some spiritual oxygen but this time I was the one discovering my need to have someone help me with my mask. It took a walk in my slippers though the vegetable aisle to hear God inviting me to accept some divine help. My strength was renewed by the invitation to be among those who needed oxygen and I was given some hope that I was, indeed, going to make it, but this time I would remember that I will make it with God’s help.
by Kathy Araujo
Background: After decorating our maple tree with photos and names of people from the "Say Their Names" project, a campaign that remembers victims of police brutality we asked parishioners to take an ornament home, research the person and spend time in prayer for the victim. We then asked if participants were willing to share their experience. Here is our first story.
When we were asked to choose one of the people displayed on our maple tree in the Meditation Garden and pray for them, I chose Daniel Prude – for no other reason that I could reach him on the branch. I took him home and did some research, never realizing that he died in police custody, 7 days after his arrest. As I read the horrific details of his death, I began to understand that George Floyd’s death was the tip of the iceberg. I remember sitting at the computer, staring at the screen and shaking my head – over and over again. Dear God.
Here’s the story.
On March 23, 2020, Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old African American was fatally injured after being physically restrained by Rochester, New York, police officers. Prude had been suffering from a mental health episode after ingesting PCP. The officers put a spit hood over his head after he began spitting. They held him face down on the pavement for two minutes and fifteen seconds, and he stopped breathing. Mr. Prude pleaded to be let up, but he seemed to struggle to breathe, according to the body cam footage. His words turned to gurgles, then stopped. After two minutes, Mr. Prude was no longer moving or speaking, and an officer asked, “You good, man?”
When paramedics arrived, Mr. Prude had no heartbeat, and they began CPR. He was revived and taken to a hospital. He later died of complications from asphyxia after being taken off life support.
The autopsy report ruled Prude's death a homicide and also included the contributing factors to his death as "excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP". The killing first received attention in September 2020 (remember, the incident happened in MARCH!) when the police body cam video and written reports were released along with the autopsy report. Seven Rochester police officers involved in the encounter with Mr. Prude were suspended on Sept. 3, the day after the release of the body camera footage and more than five months after Mr. Prude’s death. The disciplinary action was the first taken in the more than five months since Mr. Prude died.
It’s too late to pray for Mr. Prude. But it isn’t too late to pray for justice for him!
Dear God, open the hearts of those who perpetrate this horrific and cruel behavior and those who turn a blind eye to the suffering of the helpless who feel the brutal force of another person’s knee on their neck. Help us find the courage to speak up and demand justice for those who can no longer speak for themselves. Amen.
Feeding the Homeless. Sheltering at Home Week 44
He’s not an ordained minister, but people on the street call him Pastor Vincent anyway.
Vincent Pannizzo came to California from New Jersey as a graduate student in ancient history at UC-Berkeley and, 22 years ago, wound up on the streets of Oakland reaching out to the city’s homeless.
Pastor Vincent says that the deliveries of food, blankets and warm clothing he makes each day are not his central mission. Nor is the help he gives with locating housing or navigating social services.
Visiting With the Homeless One on One
His mission, he insists, is bringing love to the streets of Oakland — God’s love — with one-on-one, in-person visits, consistent over time.
“God is love,” he said. “So love is the highest authority.” He and the others at Mission for the Homeless “try to love people as if we are loving God himself.”
Among the food packages Pastor Vincent delivers daily are the bags of food assembled by the families — including the youth — of my home church in the Oakland hills, St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Help From a Church in the Hills
The congregation at St. John’s has long supported food and worship outreach programs to the homeless of Oakland, but late in 2019, three church members began looking for ways to expand and deepen their own commitment.
Jerry and Bonnie Moran, along with Sallie Sadler, created what they called VISION — Volunteers in Support of Oakland’s Needs.
“Our desire was to get some food into the hands of people in the homeless camps,” Jerry said.
Soon, the three found themselves standing in a drugstore parking lot in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, meeting with Pastor Vincent. Vincent had arrived in his delivery van, which, Jerry suspects, “he kind of lives in.”
Food for the Camps
The three volunteers learned that the need in Oakland’s homeless camps was for food that didn’t need refrigeration. Food that Pastor Vincent could deliver to people he knew as well as to people he had just met at the various camps, bus stops and doorways around town.
The group met, talked and settled on a meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches combined with a hard boiled egg and whatever the VISON crew could pick up each week at the Alameda County Community Food Bank — fruit, shelf stable milk, juice boxes, protein bars, or pop top cans of chicken and tuna. Later, stores like Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Lucky would contribute much-needed bottled water.
"Often stereotyped as annoying, categorized as worthless, the homeless easily become objects of neglect and abuse . . . we continue to recognize them without judgment or condemnation". — Mission for the Homeless website
When Kellor Smith, the youth and family ministries director at St. John’s, heard about the VISION idea, she saw a way for the church’s youth to get involved.
“All were getting a little COVID lock-down crazy and many wanted todo a hands-on action that went directly to a person in need,” she said.
A Mission Trip Canceled
The pandemic had shut down much of the church’s youth ministry, including a mission trip to the Mexico-Texas border to work with families coming into the U.S. Kellor saw the VISION program as a way for the church’s children and teens to stay connected and to be of service.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Hard boiled eggs? Kellor was pretty sure the youth of St. John’s were up to the task. Some outreach quickly resulted in sixteen families becoming part of the 45 households who ultimately participated.
Now every Thursday morning volunteers gather, outdoors when possible, at St. John’s. Masked and socially distanced, they fill 160 oversized shopping bags with items from the food bank. Later 16 or so St. John’s families will come by, each with ten homemade sandwiches and ten hardboiled eggs to place into the bags.
A similar operation is conducted at St. John’s on Wednesdays to prepare sixty bag lunches for Operation Dignity, which also serves local homeless, including veterans.
Big Bags of Food, Ready for Delivery
The fact that the St. John’s bags — large No. 8 bags from a restaurant supplier — are filled and ready to distribute to Oakland’s homeless camps is a huge help, Pastor Vincent said. On other days, the contributions from multiple sources require the time-consuming work of putting together the individual bags.
The PB & J project has been going on for eight months now, and the St. John’s families continue to find a place in their already busy routines for spreading peanut butter and boiling eggs.
Last September, one St. John’s teen pointed out to his mother that school would be starting up soon and “I won’t have to time to make the sandwiches.”
But then he added, “Oh, wait. They are hungry every day . . . I will fit it in each week.”
This story was originally published on Barbara's website, BarbaraFalconerNewhall.com, where she posts her weekly Riffs on Life. A long-time member of St. John's, Barbara is the author of "Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith," which includes a fascinating interview with former St. John's parishioner Geoff Machin.
Orientation Coffee Hour on new program: Sacred Ground
Following the 10am service January 17th
Grab a cup of coffee after church, and hop back on Zoom to learn more about Sacred Ground. It is a film and readings-based dialogue series on race, grounded in faith. Small groups are invited to walk through chapters of America’s history of race and racism, while weaving in threads of family story, economic class, and political and regional identity.
The 10-part series is built around a powerful online curriculum of documentary films and readings that focus on Indigenous, Black, Latino, and Asian/Pacific American histories as they intersect with European American histories. Classes are every few weeks, not weekly.
Sacred Ground is part of Becoming Beloved Community, The Episcopal Church’s long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation, and justice in our personal lives, our ministries, and our society. This series is open to all, and especially designed to help white people talk with other white people. Participants are invited to peel away the layers that have contributed to the challenges and divides of the present day – all while grounded in our call to faith, hope and love.
Come learn more about this series and decide if it is right for you. This is a series and requires registration to attend. Participants must be willing to commit to the entire series. Learn more by attending the orientation on ZOOM after the service!
Santa (my daughter) dropped off cookie kits to all the youth. We had set a date to decorate them together for a youth group meeting.
We gathered, shared our rose and thorns for the season. When we talked, we shared the positives and negatives of how we would be celebrating Christmas in 2020. Each of them enjoyed sharing their decorated cookies, as you can see in the photos.
During our gathering there were times of chatter and times of silence. When I asked, “if they enjoyed the silence?”
One of the kids said, "my head does not often have a chance for inner and outer silence these days. It is nice. Decorating the cookies is like a prayer. We are not trying to answer a school question. You are letting us be together with smiles on our faces and I can't wait to fill my smile with these cookies!"
I shared that as we are in a community and breaking "cookies " together, it was like communion. So, we said a prayer together. We all wished we had a glass of milk to share too. We all prayed for a vaccine and that we would be able to decorate cookies together in 2021.
Director of Youth and Families
As we enter Advent, we begin thinking of new ways to engage and prepare for the coming of Christ. Things are going to be a little different than we are used to this year, but that means we have an opportunity to do something new!
I am very excited to see how our Christmas Drive Through is shaping up. From December 18th to 29th from 5-9 PM St. John’s will host a quarantine-friendly drive through Nativity complete with lights, music, Wise Men and, of course, the Holy Family. Be sure to drive through and tell your friends and family to come by! Great way to celebrate from the safety of your own car.
This year we also figured out ways that will help us engage in our community, by having a drive through where our neighbors can attend from the safe distance in their cars. We created postcards so you can share a ZOOM worship experience with friends and family on the east coast or anywhere in the world. This is a chance to share the good news with people about a story of hope, love, and joy.
It is amazing how global we have become - last Sunday we had some visitors from Idaho, and at our Harriet Tubman Bible Study, people from New York and Calgary, Canada joined us. This is what sharing the Good News looks like. We continue to find new ways to engage.
Last month when I preached, you might remember I asked people to take an ornament from our maple tree and “say their names”. We in fact had 30 people interested in doing this sort of prayer work. As our VISION ministry expands during winter not only to provide food but needed warm clothing, St John’s members have stepped up and will continue to step up this month. Even though this year is different, I am excited about this season, and I’m looking forward in anticipation of the Christ Child coming. There are so many ways to greet our Lord and Savior!
Throughout 2020 I have been amazed at how this year has invited us deeper into the stories of our faith. When the pandemic arrived, forcing us to isolate, I sadly, but somewhat jokingly, wrote to you, saying, “I bet you never thought you would give up church for Lent.” We all felt this dread that we were being thrown out of orbit from the planet of our faith, never to return. That fear has proven vastly unfounded.
Giving up church for Lent became more like giving up ways of doing church that we were comfortable with. That has not been a bad exercise, quite the contrary. Learning new ways of being church has not closed down our sense of possibility but, instead, opened our minds to new ways of being open and more inclusive as a church.
More profoundly, we did not lose our faith, but were introduced to it in a new way. I for one, found it easier to preach an Easter sermon, because we were closer to the experience of the disciples who, as the story goes, were also surrounded by political turmoil, filled with fear and practicing a lock down of their own. The stories of our faith actually came alive because we were all living in a context that had significant similarities with the original story. And now as we enter Advent, a season of waiting and longing, don’t we also know more clearly the things we long for, and what it’s like to practice the patience we need to wait for solutions to arrive?
In a way, the story of Christmas can be seen as the ultimate story to meet everything 2020 has thrown at us. It is a story of a frightened couple whose lives have been disrupted, seeking a safe place to call home. It is a story about shepherds, the essential workers of that day, being filled with fear as angelic messengers interrupt their lives with a challenge to embrace hope. It is a story about wise thought leaders seeking a new narrative, even crossing borders to find a new beginning with people of different cultures and ethnicities.
The Christmas story even happened during a census, a sign of political turmoil in that day. Christmas is the story of God becoming one of us, choosing to be right in the middle of our lives. The stories of faith did not float away into obscurity during 2020, they came alive, finding their way to the center of own story. So here we are, in the darkest time of the year, waiting and hoping for things to change. Welcome to Advent. May we all continue to discover that the stories of our faith are actually stories about our own lives. Both
Advent and Christmas are Whose Story Is It? about embracing a very old story as a very new story, discovering that their message continues to be birthed every moment of every day as we journey into the future. These stories are our stories. So, let us journey with a renewed sense of God’s love and presence in our lives, for unto us a child is born, unto us a child is given.
An Opinion Piece by Carol Brown
Our community has changed dramatically in a very short time. Has anyone ever been to NOBE – the area of land that was once redlined including north Oakland, south Berkeley, and parts of Emeryville? The houses there sell for $800,000 plus and the school nearby has dramatically changed its profile in just a few years to one of the best in Oakland.
Trying to understand our neighborhood and the Bay Area, I ran across an article on Vox on the internet. At the end of last year, they reported on a study by the Brookings Institute, which said that since 2005, 90 percent of the growth in high-tech jobs -- (defined as top science, technology, engineering and math industries) in the United States happened in just 5 metro areas, two of them – San Francisco and San Jose – in the Bay Area. This resulted in wealth, high paying jobs and faster wage growth being concentrated in these areas, as well as a lot of secondary work – jobs created to help serve those workers. They do come with costs: worsening traffic, ballooning housing prices and wage growth so high that smaller firms can’t compete. So, it looks like our neighborhood consists of many people in tech jobs or people who serve people who work in tech jobs. (According to the Diocese only 22% of the population in our focus area are people over 65 years old.)
What does that mean for St. John’s? Can we find deep hungers near us that meet our deep gladness and grow our church community? What needs can we find in these new neighbors that give us good “whys?” A few thoughts about where to look for the needs and whys: in the fall of 2018 Christopher Ategeka gave an adult education program at St. John’s about the unintended consequences of technology. He actually has a non-profit dealing with this. Perhaps we should talk to him about the needs of these “new” neighbors. Can we be the neighborhood, the community for them to feel a part of? Can we mentor young adults when there is little time for anything but technology, like the ballot parties Genesis sponsored? And there are the children. How can we help households that have two hard-working adults raise their children?
One St. John’s parent I called to invite them to a cottage meeting declined very nicely, saying, “We are slammed with homeschooling and working, so are unable to join. Appreciate the outreach.” Maybe we need to talk to parents of slightly older children (secondary school) who are familiar with the situation, but not overwhelmed by it. We have a number of members as well as alumni who fit that bill. And if we want to get a sense of the needs of neighboring schools, why not talk to the parent-teacher association? Seems to me that they would know at least as much, if not more, more than the staff. Of course, as we grow our community, embracing this new group of people, I believe that we will also grow our outreach programs to the neediest outside our immediate community.
by Carol Brown
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
So, how do we get there?
Two year ago, the long-range planning committee reported that St. John’s had lost members in a pattern similar to most Episcopal and mainstream Protestant churches. St. John’s rallied with a record-breaking stewardship campaign last year, new programs and renewed vitality. But our membership hasn’t grown. We might have an idea about where our “deep gladnesses” are. But do we know them all? And what about the “world’s deep hunger,” especially in our immediate neighborhood?” We know there are a lot of needs outside our mediate community.
But what about the needs nearby? How do these two ideas of expanding our membership and meeting the world’s deep hunger mesh? What things that we feel moved to do at St. John’s are meaningful and interesting to our local community? To help us get a better sense of our immediate community, Rev. Jon Owens put together a meeting on Monday, October 19, between the Vestry, the Ministry Catalysts and Abbott Bailey, Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of California.
The goal was to get a better view of strategic planning and the work we have been doing, and to see how the work the Diocese has done might assist us. Canon Bailey’s particular focus is congregational vitality. To this end, the Diocese has collected data about who lives in our immediate neighborhood. As she pointed out, the data doesn’t drive mission. The mission drives the data. It allows us to complement the mission, to ask better questions about what it is we are doing and why we are doing it.
Here is a summary of the meeting.
After prayer, Abbott Bailey asked us to introduce ourselves and answer the question, in one word, “Why St. John’s?” Here’s what people said: St. John’s is inclusive, an active community, friendly, innovative, committed to action, involved, community, connection, reflection, welcoming, family, adventurous, open to new things.
Then we delved into some of the data about who lives in our neighborhood, including a surrounding circle with a radius around the church of 3.5 miles. This essentially includes Montclair, Piedmont, Rockridge, Oakmore, Glenview and Redwood Heights. Questions were asked by Canon Bailey, and we were invited to answer them. We thought we had the
answers – turns out many times we did not! Here is some of
the data we discussed:
1. What percentage of the people volunteered for a charity in last 12 months? National average is 16%. In our area it is 27%.
2. Diversity index. What is the statistical likelihood that two people selected randomly will be of a different race? Nationally, it is 65%. Here in our area it is 53%.
3. What percentage of the population is 36-64? 41%
4. What percentage of the households live in poverty? Nationally the average is 13%. Our area it is 3%.
5. What is the unemployment rate? The national average is 13%. (This is probably post-Covid). 10.8% in our area.
6. What percentage of people exercise at a club 2 or more times/week? The national average 14%. It is 23% in our area.
7. Percentage of our housing is owner occupied. National average 64%. Here it is 85%.
8. Population in each age group: under 18: 23%. 18-35: 13%. 36-64: 41%. (predominantly families) over age 65: 22%.
Ian commented, “Everyone moving into the neighborhood are couples with school-aged children or a child on the way.”
9. Overwhelming: “upscale avenues and affluent estates.” 98% of the population.
This information raised questions and comments from members in the group about how we are insulated from and don’t live near people who are struggling. Questions were raised about whether there is a ministry that can break down some of these divisions.
Canon Bailey then shared slides showing redlining on a map of Oakland in 1940. These were areas where lenders refused to lend money to homebuyers at that time. She suggested that this
history was how our catchment area got the statistics it has. It was pointed out that many of the areas redlined at that time large parts of Alameda, downtown Oakland, Fruitvale, the area around Lake Merritt, parts of Rockridge, Temescal, West Oakland, NOBE, around Mills College are now gentrified, suggesting that the statistics in those areas have changed significantly.
Another group member talked about putting affordable housing in our immediate neighborhood as a way to counteract this legacy. To mitigate the legacies of redlining that have benefited
us. How much push back would there be?
Canon Abbott then talked about the “why” of our different ministries. We have worked to develop North Oakland village. Why? We have talked about programs with Thornhill School.
How does that work with our faith? “If you have a strong ‘why,’ data can help. You can then think about the how to’s,” she said.
Canon Abbot said that the Diocese wants to make this data much more available to parishes. She pointed out some other St. John’s statistics: St. John’s “generational predominance” is
baby boomers, generation Z and 3 to 20-year-olds. Our congregational vitality is moderate, but attendance is low.
Rev. Jon Owens then remarked that our community needs assessment. What do we see in the neighborhood? Is after school care full? Do we need to open another one? What are the actual, immediate needs within the radius of our church? How can we get people to plug into our church?
St. John's is a founding member of Genesis. Please join us in investing in the vital organizing work we are doing with Genesis, and enjoy an evening of music.
Music for Justice Fundraiser:
November 14, 2020, 7:00 pm
Did you know that Genesis is close to achieving our goal of doubling our budget in 2021 so that we can hire a field organizer?
Grassroots fundraising is the way that we create diverse funding so that we can have the resources to invest in leadership (especially youth!) and seek justice.
We are also giving part of the proceeds to First Congregational Church of Oakland to help them support their ministries and maintain their beautiful organ!
Here are some ways to invest in us ahead of Saturday:
We are so blessed to have been gifted the talents of Ken Herman from Justice Overcoming Boundaries (San Diego) and Dr. Bill Richardson (NW Missouri State, Maryville, MO) who have collaborated to create this spirit-filled event with other musicians.
Register via Eventbrite for this free event, which will benefit our virtual youth intern program and the First Congregational Church of Oakland.
Note that Eventbrite will send you the Zoom Link several times before November 14. Text our Youth Intern (Cesar~925-818-4723) at least 60 minutes before the event if you need tech support.
The Mouse is the long-running news source for St. John's. With decades of history, our blog now features the same great news about what's happening at St. John's with a more frequent publication cycle.