By Dagmar Serota
Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries, or FOPSL, is delighted to be renting the Godly Play room at St. John’s. Our non-profit was founded in 2012 to support Oakland’s public school libraries and to advocate to ensure every Oakland public school student has access to quality school library services.
Literacy rates in Oakland are very low. Sixty-six percent of Oakland Unified School District students are not reading at their grade level. Forty-eight percent of OUSD students are reading multiple years below their grade level. This issue disproportionately affects students who are living in poverty.
We were looking for office space, because we started a new library book donation program in October, in response to the many library books lost from school libraries during the pandemic. This program provides “like new,” library quality books to OUSD libraries free of charge. The program involves FOPSL volunteers accepting book donations from select sources, sorting them, and entering them into a virtual library. OUSD librarians then select books by “checking them out” online. Our volunteers prepare the books for library shelves, adding barcodes, entering them into the library database, and applying protective coverings. Then, our volunteers deliver the books to schools. OUSD library staff have enthusiastically embraced this program. As of April 15th, we have delivered over 2,500 books to libraries with some donated books, not suitable for the libraries, passed along to their students. Because the libraries are chronically underfunded, there is a need for these high quality books to keep school libraries current and engaging. In fact OUSD has not provided collection development money to its school libraries for many years, so the libraries depend on FOPSL for these books as well as FOPSL book and programming grants.
Last year, FOPSL partnered with OUSD to launch the OUSD Digital Library of eBooks and audiobooks. We have raised over $90,000 to support the library thus far, which will, for the first time, give equitable access to books to every single OUSD student. Since we were founded in 2012, we have provided nearly $200,000 in funding to support OUSD libraries. We have rebuilt 24 libraries. FOPSL has donated thousands of books and skilled volunteer hours to support OUSD libraries.
We are excited that some of our supporters are St. John’s congregants. Louise Miller is a close friend of our Board Chair. Barbara Newhall has been a long-time supporter of our organization, and Nancy Davis Kho just appeared in our Fall Author Chat series. We are hopeful that we’ll be able to engage some of your congregation in volunteering with FOPSL.
We are happy and grateful to be a part of your extended community. We feel that this space will help us grow our very popular and needed library book donation program and will help us build student literacy in Oakland. To learn more about our organization, please visit fopsl.org.
by Laura Kroger
The Campus/Rentals Committee is actively moving forward with the recommendation from the Strategic Plan to maximize space usage by renting our facilities during the week. The objective is to both increase revenue and create a community hub, while prioritizing or accommodating parish usage. We are excited to create a dynamic environment at St. John’s for our neighbors in Montclair and the broader Oakland community.
Over the past year, we have brought in two tenants who are a wonderful fit for our rental program. Pride in Learning Montessori (PILM) school moved into the Nursery and Library in the fall for their infant and toddler programs, and they have expanded into the Reception Room this spring with their preschool program. Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries (FOPSL) moved into the upstairs Godly Play classroom on the corner overlooking the playground, with their program to collect and distribute books to underserved students. We anticipate that our prior tenants, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Music Together (toddler music class), will return to using the Fischer Room once it is safe for them to resume their programs. The leases for all tenants include flexible usage of the spaces so that St. John’s can continue to run our own programs.
Another goal of the space rental program is to bring in short-term renters. This might include individuals, for-profit businesses, or non-profit organizations that need a conference room for a couple of hours or office space for a day. Some of you may know that parishioner and former People’s Warden, Ian Storrar, founded a startup website/app called ThisSpace (www.usethisspace.com), which is designed to connect tenants with church spaces for short-term rentals and which functions as a booking platform with an electronic user agreement and payment system. The Campus/Rentals Committee is fortunate to have Ian as a member and we are using ThisSpace as a model for our program. We also had the opportunity to use ThisSpace on a trial basis.
Earlier this year, the committee consulted with a couple of parishioners who are real estate agents to get their input and advice about using St. John’s for short-term rental space. Nancy Lehrkind and Helen Nicholas were both enthusiastic about the market for this kind of space rental, especially during the pandemic, and provided great information and data to help us with pricing and listing the Education Building spaces. The committee had just completed preparing the Rector’s Office when Nancy put us in touch with her daughter, former St. John’s youth member, Molly Lehrkind. Molly, an attorney, and her husband Ben, a computer engineer, are both working remotely and needed office space for three weeks this spring while selling their house and moving into their new place nearby.
Molly’s initial feedback about using ThisSpace indicated a good start to our trial short-term rental of the Rector’s Office with the comments “seamless” and “took 15 seconds.” She has good memories of her CNC class meeting in the Rector’s Office and loved working in the light-filled space with pretty views. Molly and Ben have a 9-month-old daughter, so a chance meeting with the director of PILM in the kitchen serendipitously led to a conversation about the Montessori philosophy, an impromptu tour of the school, and Gillian is now on the waitlist to enroll in the program in August! We may even have a chance to see their family at St. John’s when we re-open!
The Campus/Rentals committee is working toward making short term-rentals sustainable – standardizing and streamlining the process to minimize staff and volunteer involvement, and creating a smooth experience for the tenants. Our Rector, Scott, is part of the adventure and with his usual sense of humor, quipped that he enjoys being the first rector in the diocese without an office. Our Youth Director, Kellor, is excited about the possibility of the youth at St. John’s collaborating with FOPSL in their volunteer activities to promote literacy.
All of the renters who have occupied space in the past year at St. John’s have reached out to us, and word of mouth is bringing us great tenants! Not only was Nancy Lehrkind instrumental in connecting us with Molly, but also PILM heard about St. John’s through Ian Storrar and FOPSL heard about us through a few of their supporters who are also St. John’s members, Nancy Kho, Louise Miller, and Barbara Newhall. If you know of anyone interested in renting space at St. John’s, please let us know: email@example.com
As interviewed by Pat Harden
The Rev. Dr. Fran Toy broke through gender and racial stereotypes to become the first Asian American woman priest in the Episcopal Church. At age 86, Fran has personally experienced and overcome the three “isms” of sexism, racism and ageism, during her distinguished career. Born in the ghetto of Oakland’s Chinatown, Fran set out to follow in her mother’s footsteps as an educator. After graduating from Cal in 1956, Fran taught elementary school in Oakland for 18 years. Then a call to the ministry changed the trajectory of her life.
After attending seminary at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) and graduating in 1984, she was ordained a priest the following year. Fran spoke to me about her life experiences as the recent violence against Asian Americans escalated. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.
Q: What are your thoughts about the recent spate of attacks on Asian Americans?
A: It’s causing long-suppressed memories to resurface, some from childhood and some from adulthood. Even while I was on the staff at CDSP, I experienced racial stereotyping.
As an older, petite female, I am not going to Chinatown to shop alone. My son takes me, and he’s very imposing. I have a good Asian American male friend on Long Island in New York. He says he’s never been fearful before, but he will not go out alone anymore because Asians are being tackled, once their faces and coloring are visible.
My son reminded me that this kind of persecution has been going on for a long time. He recalled the murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit in 1982. Auto workers murdered him thinking he was Japanese, out of their fear that Japanese car makers would overtake American manufacturers.
Q: Will you share an example of how you’ve experienced racism as an Asian American woman?
A: In 1968 I was taking my son for guitar lessons in Montclair. I would do grocery shopping while he was in class, and as I waited in line to make a purchase, someone would step directly in front of me after looking at me dismissively. Either the person sensed that he or she could do so with impunity or that I would not speak up for myself. This happened more than once. I simply wasn’t seen. Disappointingly, history repeated itself 50 years later when the same thing happened in December of 2018.
My daughter and I were on a cruise on the QM2. She wanted to know how many voyages it would require for her to achieve Platinum Status. I went to the Cunard office to inquire. At the office door you were requested to take a number, to sit down and wait your turn. While I was waiting, a white man came, bent over to take a number, looked at me, didn’t take a number and immediately went into the office ahead of me, as if I weren’t there at all. I quickly went in and said, “Excuse me I’ve been waiting, and I have a number.” The woman in charge said very dismissively, “he’ll only be a minute.” I was not seen as a person in this situation. I didn’t sleep well that night, faulting myself for not standing up more in this situation. Then I realized I was just adding to the pain and frustration by being self-critical.
Q: What challenges did you face in becoming the first Asian American woman priest?
I had to be very conscious of cross-cultural issues and never show anger. While I was being interviewed to be ordained as a deacon, I did poorly because of a question about my favorite theologian. When asked, my first thought was to name James H. Cone, an African American, who wrote from his experience of being oppressed. However, I knew I should name a European theologian since that’s what the committee expected. I fudged the answer, and they could tell I was hesitating. The Commission on Ministry informed me that they all agreed I had a call to be ordained, but they would be postponing my ordination until I took more theology. Fortunately, the Bishop came to my rescue, and I was ordained. As an overachiever, I took another course in theology and engaged in sessions of theological reflections with a seminary professor.
Q: Did you face more challenges after being ordained?
While I was working at CDSP (Episcopal seminary), it was challenging. There were days that were very grim. I wish that a certain dean was still alive who made my life miserable, so he could see all this new consciousness and that our presiding bishop is African American. As I sat across the table, this dean would speak to me in a way that he wouldn’t if I were a white male. He was East coast, which is a different culture from California. He did not understand the West coast or this Asian female who was doing her very best at CDSP. One time he was furious with me for allegedly saying that CDSP was racist. I responded that I did say that. As an institution, any institution is racist. There was stunned silence. He couldn’t answer me. He couldn’t say that’s not true.
We’re in a cultural awakening about racism and white privilege. What are your thoughts?
It’s painful, of course. I have been in a series of small group meetings at St. John’s since before the pandemic, and we are reading and reflecting. We are all saying that whatever educational system we have been through, whatever state we’re from, the history that we learned said nothing about racism. White privilege wasn’t a conscious term, not even when I was in seminary.
Suddenly after I graduated, the Episcopal Church started to unpack those back-packs of privileges white people have. It’s been very painful, but when you consider who wrote the history books, no surprise. It’s time. It’s really been time and it’s past time. Of course, it’s very difficult for some people to give up privilege. But it really is very encouraging for me as a person of color to know that I am in a congregation where there are people who really care about being Christian and living up to the Baptismal Covenant (Book of Common Prayer, pps. 304-305). Every time there is a Baptism, we make promises to respect every person’s dignity as a human being. We redo this every year the first Sunday after the Epiphany when the gospel lesson is about the baptism of Jesus. This happens at every Episcopal Church, not just St. John’s. Renewing our baptismal vows is also part of the Easter Vigil service (BCP, pps. 292-294).
Q: You’ve been a leader for 36 years in the Church, what changes have you seen?
A: When I was ordained female priests were a rarity, but now we have a number of female bishops. The last Saturday of January the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon ordained and consecrated the Episcopal Church’s first female Japanese American Bishop. She came to CDSP and we became close friends. When she was ordained to the priesthood, she gave me the honor and privilege of preaching at her ordination service.
Q: What would you like to change in the Church?
A: The Episcopal Church in the US is very white. I want to learn how to engage more people who look like me at St. John’s. We are a very welcoming place, but somehow or other we still are very white. Where we’re situated in Montclair is part of it.
Dear St. John’s Community,
I can guess that many of you, like me, have been trying to figure out how to show support for our Asian American community in this time of despicable violence and hate. Something popped out at me while listening to NPR the other day. I’d like to share it with you.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice has developed a bystander training video to help people learn what to do when they see a hate crime in progress. The last time I looked, there were lots of openings for this training in April. I like this idea, because it provides an active and constructive way to help combat AAPI hate. Many of the hate-perpetrators are bullies, and research has shown that there is nothing more effective to shut down bullies than a group of well-trained bystanders. Let’s learn about this!
If you would like to participate, here is a link to the sign-ups for the training:
And here is a link to this important organization, if you want to learn more about the amazing work they are doing:
I’m looking forward to talking about my book, “Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith,” with the people of St. John’s on April 14. It will be a video chat. I’ll talk a little, and I’ll listen a lot -- because I want to hear how readers are responding to the many varied voices and faith journeys I encountered in the course of putting together “Wrestling with God.”
A fundamentalist Christian has his say in the book. So does a
progressive Muslim. There’s a software engineer who describes himself
as a “happy atheist” and a Buddhist monk who talks about bowing his
way up the California coast from Los Angeles to Ukiah.
And – a special treat for members of St. John’s – Geoff Machin has his
say as well. Geoff and his wife Ann were long time members of St.
John’s before they moved to Canada several years ago.
Geoff told me that, as a fetal and genetic pathologist here in the Bay
Area, he delivered a lot of bad news to prospective parents. He saw
newborn infants with terrible malformations of the heart or the lungs. He
saw babies born without a brain or kidneys.
“The fact is,” Geoff said, “we humans are the products of millions of
years of evolution. We were not created ‘good’ or ‘innocent.’ Like every
other plant and animal on earth, we are deeply competitive, and we
always have been. Warfare rages throughout all of animal and plant life.
Human beings, the whole of biology, groans in competition.”
Christians have been struggling with this Darwinian view of human
nature for a century and a half. How are we to reconcile our Christian
faith with what science tells us is our hopelessly cruel and competitive,
“red in tooth and claw” nature?
Geoff has thought about that. He is a scientist and a realist, but he is also
– in my opinion – a man of great faith. He addresses the challenge head-
“Our job if we are to be Christ-like is to follow his commandment to
love one another and transcend our brutish nature—and recognize the
true magnitude of the task. Could that be God’s wish for the world? That
human beings overcome their Darwinian origins?”
Let’s talk about Geoff – and the other people who tell their stories in my
book – on April 14.
A little about “Wrestling with God.” The book was inspired by my
experience as the religion reporter at the Contra Costa Times. I heard
countless earnest voices on the religion beat -- voices that cried out to be
heard and recorded.
So that’s what I did – I sat down with Americans of widely different
wisdom traditions, recorded their stories and put them together in a
On Receiving the Elements for the First Time During COVID
How my heart jumped within me when I opened my communion kit this morning! There lay a heart-shaped loveliness, accompanied by wine with a beautiful label. How I wished I could’ve been part of the group preparing these blessings for our renewal, regeneration and restoration to the beloved community of Christ, refreshed to go back into our worlds. How I long to be back in community with all of you, face to face, being, doing, and loving. I say to myself, if we can continue patiently waiting for Jesus to come, surely we can also wait for release from this waiting as well. That does sound just about right. Amen.
The way of the Cross
Dear Anne, Steve, Scott and Jon,
I just needed to write an additional note to the 4 of you for putting together the very moving and most powerful stations of the cross service for today.
Personally, I have been embracing anti-racist work, but significantly today I have been embracing God’s Friday or Good Friday and the special meaning of embracing shared pain and loss. Your service today powerfully combined those aspects of my spiritual focus. You have given me a wonderful gift in your work today.
I hope that you will make the pdf of the program for today available for others who were absent. You have created a powerful teaching that I would like to encourage others to prayerfully embrace. (And I would like to re-embrace it myself over the coming weeks of the coverage of the George Floyd trials and in the coming years of my life.)
In love and gratitude!
The stations bulletin was developed by another church and can be found here.
An inveterate doubter for most of her adult life, award-winning journalist Barbara Falconer Newhall embarks upon a quest to find a way to believe in God in the twenty-first century. The result is Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith, which details her years-long search for the Divine in the lives of radically diverse Americans - from a fundamentalist Christian activist to a progressive Muslim leader to a Hindu classical dancer.
In Wrestling with God, Newhall presents the deeply personal stories of a score of Americans encountered on her journey- believers, skeptics, contemplatives, activists. She also reports on the progress of her own rocky spiritual journey and how ultimately she arrives at a place of surrender to the universe's enduring mystery.
Barbara Newhall is a member of St. John's. In her book there is an interview with former St. John's member Geoff Machin. Book orders are print on demand. Please allow two weeks delivery for your Amazon order so order early. For ZOOM link please sign up for our eblasts by sending an email to Jon@stjohnsoakland.org.
Order on Amazon
Have you heard about the “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibit in San Francisco? This west coast premiere of a show seen by over 2 million in Paris, is billed as an “immersive” experience because viewers wander through 300,000 cubic feet of animations, and 60,600 frames of video enhanced by 90,000,000 pixels of light, radically enhancing the details of Van Gogh’s creations. The website goes on to promise that the astonishing scale and breathtaking creativity of the exhibit will allow one to “experience the organic landscapes of Van Gogh’s imagination, and journey through his brilliance and madness.”
I wonder what Van Gogh would think? Does the actual paint and brush stroke no longer matter. Exactly whose madness will we be journeying through? Isn’t art best interpreted from the inside out, not the outside in? Our technology often works from the assumption that understanding and awareness, even meaning, comes at us, rather than emerges from within us. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely want to see this exhibit. I have never experienced 90 million pixels all at once. But I also believe that beauty, inspiration and meaning are spiritual experiences which come from within even if catalyzed from without. If I can’t perceive beauty, no amount of technological bombardment will save me. Perhaps some self-reflection is in order.
I know one thing for sure. We have all had our own immersion experiences this year. The “art” in our stories of faith has come alive in new ways, not because the stories have been enhanced but because we have been immersed in some of the struggles these stories were grounded in. There is the world, but there is also our perception of the world. And our perception has changed because of what arrived at our doorstep this year.
Being in lockdown has allowed us a resonance with the stories of fearful disciples locking their doors to deal with threats of their own. Immersing ourselves in the stories of racial injustice is changing the way we see the narrative of our country and helping us understand the disciples struggle with the empire of Rome. Watching our plans go all to hell, has helped us feel invited into the death and resurrection narratives. This last year has immersed us in our humanity and helped us understand our belief in a God who chose to be immersed in the human struggle.
I like to think that even though, year after year, we repeat our stories and traditions, they have a way of becoming new. This is because as we change, our perception changes. So, I invite you to journey with me and your brothers and sisters through a “brand new” Holy Week. No, we have not pixilated the stories to wow you. Rather, after the year we have been immersed in, our familiar stories will seem like all new episodes, not because the stories have been changed, but because you have.
On behalf of the staff and vestry, I wish you a truly holy week and a joyous Easter!
Dear Members of the St. John's Congregation,
In 2020, St. John's raised more for the Annual Fund than ever before in our history. Fully 127 households gave generously to the Regeneration Campaign to raise a total of over $525,000. Among those giving were 18 first time donors. 50 households increased their giving. It was an amazing accomplishment to exceed our ambitious goal, particularly during very uncertain times.
BRAVO to Nancy Kho and the Stewardship team for a job well done, and for brightening our early pandemic days with poppies, and later, with bread and wine for the Eucharist.
LET'S CELEBRATE this marvelous generosity that puts us in a strong financial position to build upon last year's successes, which were many:
To note, 2020 was a year for launching a number of initiatives, critical for our growth. With the hiring of Jon Owens, our new Director of Congregational Development, we saw the creation of a new website, a new/improved presence in a variety of social media, and a host of new adult formation offerings, via zoom. We also were able to respond nimbly to the pandemic with a popular zoom church service, increased outreach to families in need through the VISION program, and a Drive-Through Nativity that brightened the holidays for our parish and the greater community. We also introduced "Gifts from God," a spiritual formation program for young children and their families that we conducted on zoom. And we can't overlook the many improvements that not only upgraded the St. John's campus but also made it safer. All of these efforts were built upon the generosity of this congregation. We couldn't have done them without you.
This year, with a sound financial underpinning provided by last fall's stewardship campaign, we are in a strong position to build upon last year's successes, to "regenerate," as we plan for a re-opening in what will be a somewhat changed world. As we continue to strive for growth and meaning in that world, St. John's is blessed with many options thanks to you. We look forward to sharing the exciting journey with you.
by Patricia Harden
Leadership of the world’s great religions has long been exclusively male. For literally thousands of years. From the Pope to the Ayatollahs and the Dali Lama, men head the world’s major religions. But to quote one of Bob Dylan’s most popular songs from 1964, “The times, they are a-changin.” Albeit slowly.
Women’s History Month (every March) provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the contributions and achievements of women leaders. Our American Episcopal Church has much to celebrate. We were among the early denominations to ordain women for the priesthood, with our first woman bishop ordained in 1989. The journey of women in Church leadership culminated with the election of the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US in 2006.
Long before these modern “firsts,” pioneering Episcopal women played a seminal role in the long journey of humanity toward creating a better, more just and compassionate world. The book, Holy Women, Holy Men, published by the Episcopal Church celebrates 700+ pages worth of Saints. Among them, are the stories of many noteworthy, even iconic women, who from ancient times through today have impacted their communities—and shaped the course of history. Here are excerpts from this book saluting three brave women, all saints in our Church, whose accomplishments and life work made a lasting difference.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton 1815-1902 Women’s Rights Pioneer
She and four other women organized the first Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, July 19–20, 1848. The event set her political and religious agenda for the next 50 years.
Although Elizabeth blamed male clergy for women’s oppression, she attended Trinity Episcopal Church in Seneca Falls, with her friend Amelia Bloomer. As a dissenting prophet, Elizabeth preached hundreds of homilies and political speeches in pulpits throughout the nation. Wherever she visited, she was experienced as a holy presence and a liberator. She never lost her sense of humor despite years of contending with opposition, even from friends. In a note to Susan B. Anthony, she said: “Do not feel depressed, my dear friend, what is good in us is immortal, and if the sore trials we have endured are sifting out pride and selfishness, we shall not have suffered in vain.”
Vida Dutton Scudder, 1861-1954 Teacher and Social Activist
Her love of scholarship was matched by her social conscience and deep spirituality. As a young woman, Scudder founded the College Settlements Association, joined the Society of Christian Socialists, and began her lifelong association with the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross in 1889, a community living in the world and devoted to intercessory prayer.
In 1911, Scudder founded the Episcopal Church Socialist League, and formally joined the Socialist party. Her support of the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile workers’ strike in 1912 drew a great deal of criticism and threatened her teaching position at Wellesley College. Though she initially supported World War I, she joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1923, and by the 1930s was a firm pacifist.
Throughout her life Scudder’s primary relationships and support network were women. After retirement, she authored 16 books on religious and political subjects, combining her intense activism with an equally vibrant spirituality. “
Adelaide Case: 1887 – 1948 First Full Professor at Episcopal Theological School
Adelaide Case received her undergraduate education at Bryn Mawr and her graduate degrees from Columbia University. By the time she completed her doctorate a position had been created for her on the faculty of the Teachers’ College at Columbia and she quickly rose to the status of full professor and head of the department of religious education. In 1941, while her professional accomplishments were at their height, the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was able to convince her to leave her distinguished and comfortable position at Columbia and join the faculty as Professor of Christian Education. Although other women had taught occasional courses in the seminaries of the church, Adelaide Case was the first to take her place as a full-time faculty member at the rank of Professor.
Case believed that the point of practicing the Christian faith was to make a difference in the world. As an advocate for peace, she believed that Christianity had a special vocation to call people into transformed, reconciled relationships for the sake of the wholeness of the human family.
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.