A tour of DioCal Part II: A Visit to All Souls, Berkeley

Posted on October 3, 2017

In August, Communications Associate Dani Scoville travelled to All Souls, Berkeley to brainstorm communications strategies, while also learning more about the many things going on there. The Rev. Phil Brochard, All Souls’ rector, and its associate rector, the Rev. Liz Tichenor, had lots of news to share. On the day of Dani’s visit, they were preparing to take part in counter-demonstrations against a far-right rally in Berkeley.

Phil: So, this Sunday is the planned white supremacist rally downtown, just about a mile from us. We’ve been collaborating with other Christian groups and interfaith groups in the area to figure out what our response is going to be. We held a nonviolence training session here last Saturday and a hundred people showed up. There were thirty folks at least from All Souls and folks from all over the community. 

We’re going to process out from our 11:15 service. Bishop Marc will be here for the 11:15, just to be among us and to lead us out, which is a really great thing. We’ll meet up with folks from CDSP and St. Mark’s and get to First Congregational. And from there, some people are going to go to help out with the safe house, some people are going to go down to the rally site. Some people are going to sing in an interfaith choir, some people are going to be holding vigil here at All Souls, but it’s going to be in the context of, “This is who we are, this is how we live out Sunday.” And it also happens to be that this Sunday is scheduled for our Rally Sunday.

Liz: It’s going to be a different kind of Rally Sunday! (laughs)

All Soulsians marched through town to join many other communities of faith in protest of the white supremacist rally planned in downtown Berkeley on August 27


Phil:  A couple Sundays ago, we had a Sunday that was just amazing. It was five baptisms, and then Liz worked with this family and Bishop Marc on a renaming rite because one of our ten-year-olds was transitioning and had their court date that Friday.

Liz: He had a court date to change his birth certificate to reflect his new name and gender. And earlier, months ago, he asked me if we could re-baptize him with his new name. I said, “Well, actually we can’t. Your first baptism worked. It was good, it holds. You understand yourself in a new light, but you’re still you. But let’s think about what else we can do.” I began gathering resources. We have such a wealth of liturgical leaders right here — between Paul Fromberg and Ruth Myers and Cameron Partridge and others — and I began getting ideas together together of, “Ok, so what does this look like at other places?” And I found some examples, but most of them — bits fit, but it didn’t really fit what we were doing because they were all for adults and it felt really different doing this with a ten-year-old, with his parents, with his sister, with his godparents all right there with him.

And so we wrote something new, and the Bishop worked with us and guided us with some good creative editing to find that sweet spot to accomplish what we needed to pastorally, but also fit with the polity of the church and what the bishop could sign off on without going through the whole big process of liturgical change and approval with the wider church. And it was stunning. People showed up and — I mean, to be entirely honest ­— I was nervous. I was a freshman in college when Gene Robinson was ordained Bishop, and I was there and went through security and the lines of protesters, and I listened to the dissent voiced in the middle of the service in really, really ugly, hurtful, hateful ways. And I didn’t know what would happen. We put it out on the internet. We wanted people to know what was happening ahead of time. And everybody just showed up with such immense love and support. It was stunning.    

Renaming rite for All Souls member

Phil: And so, that was one of those seminal days. It was pretty amazing. And I don’t know that everybody here fully understands, but even if they don’t, they’re willing to trust and support.

Liz: We have octogenarians who are willing to put their pronouns on their nametag. That’s something we did in the fall to try to make it a more welcoming and inclusive place. And they don’t — for a lot of them this is the first time they’d ever encountered the idea, and it’s kind of a perplexing question, “What are your pronouns?” But they learned, and they’re doing it! Pretty tremendous.


A mosaic icon of the Prince of Peace that All Souls kids made this summer


Phil: We are also in the process, and have been in the process for a couple of years now, of redeveloping a property at the end of the block here at Cedar and Oxford, which is our parish house. It’s where Liz and other folks live. And so, we are working with a nonprofit developer to build affordable housing for seniors and office space and living space for All Souls. We’ve been putting a lot of time and energy and thought into it, and we’re at the stage now where we’re talking with members of the neighborhood.

Dani: What do you love most about All Souls?

Liz: I think what I love most about this place is that this community – these people – love each other really, really well. They love each other, and also challenge each other to rise up. They love each other through really horrendous tragedies. They love each other really well through just the day-to-day fun of feasting together and playing together and being in community together. And they’re just — they’re really authentic, in a way that I haven’t always encountered. And together with that, this place hums because of the lay leadership.

Phil: There are these people who are pillars. They’re the people who are setting up on Saturdays, providing pastoral care, or just doing the work of making meaning happen. And so those things make for this really dynamic spirit that’s super-alive. There’s a palpable sense of the Spirit here. And that part is pretty amazing.