September Sunday Schedule 2021

We look forward to Sundays together this Fall!  The planned schedule, beginning September 12, will be:

Occasional Sunday School outdoor children’s activities will also be planned, such as a Rally Day meal and art project September 12 at 11:30am.  Mostly, these will be right after outdoor worship.

Outdoor worship has been lovely and it’s improving, with more shade and guitar accompaniment.   Please note: As we move into fire season (or if it rains), it’s possible we’d need to cancel outdoor worship at times.  This would be posted on the website by 8:30am Sunday morning.

You might notice that there’s been a change of plans.  Earlier, we’d hoped to be indoors worshiping in our sanctuary by September 12.  But we’re not ready.  We recently discovered that a key component of safe, socially distanced worship – our sound system – isn’t working.  There’s new concern about the Delta variant.  So like many churches in our area, we’ll be staying outdoors and online through September.  The Council can revisit the plan when we meet.

We have been and will continue to work on a plan for being indoors, including getting the sound system fixed.  We’re also looking at the possibility of having one pastor presiding in the sanctuary while the other pastor hosts zoom from the Parlor.  And, we’re trying to navigate through a music staff transition!

It may be possible for a few masked people to sit in the sanctuary to hear the organ played during the zoom service (it may be hard to hear any readings or sermon).  If you’d like to do this, please arrange in advance.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I remember reflecting on the longing for God’s temple as expressed in Psalm 42: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and behold the face of God?” But there’s also consolation, that we are never far from God’s presence: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”  Thanks be to God! – Pastor Bernt (with Pastor Kate)

About the Kyrie Hymn

by Pastor Bernt

On many Sundays in the church year, especially during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, we open with the singing of Kyrie eleison, Greek for “Lord have mercy.” We alternate “Lord” and “Christ” and sometimes also prayers for peace.  We sing it repeatedly, even nine “have mercies” total (I read in one of my various sources that it’s supposed to correspond with nine choirs of angels in Heaven).  Then, during the prayers of intercession later in the service, the refrain often comes up again, over and over: “Lord in your mercy … hear our prayer.”

Why all the repetition?  Maybe because it’s such a basic, bedrock sort of prayer.  When a pilgrim from West, Egeria, first heard it used in the Christian East, it was led by children.  And its use predates Christianity.  People would hail the Emperor with it: “Kyrie eleison!”  I think of how a simple prayer used in repetition becomes a mantra.  When you’ve just opened up that really big utility bill, it’s “Lord, have mercy!”  When you’re tossing and turning in bed, stressed out, you might pray: “Lord, have mercy on me!”  The Eastern Orthodox church has a whole tradition of meditation based on a version they call the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  When the singing of Kyrie Eleison was first used in the worship (4th century?), it may have been during both indoor and outdoor processions.  It’s not just a prayer for Sunday morning, but for each step we take through life.

But why is “mercy” what we need?  I think of how this prayer invites us into a certain posture: that of a beggar.  Imagine that?  Maybe that’s not how others see you.  They might think of you as a mover and shaker, someone who’s got it all together.  You can and should be the one to take care of yourself, you’re capable, a bread-winner.  What you have, you achieved and you’re entitled to.  But then you sing “Lord have mercy?” Aren’t you saying, “what I have – I’m not entitled to?  It’s not owed; it’s given.  It’s all grace.  I’m not the master of my fate.  I’m a creature depending on a Creator.  God (not me) is the one holding it together – holding us together.  The prayer “Lord have mercy” equalizes us: ultimately, I’m no different from the other beggars.  The failures and sins in this world run through my heart, too.

But about this word: there’s more to it than “dog-eat-dog, to each her own.”  The thing is: the Lord really IS merciful.  When people cried to the Emperor for mercy, they probably didn’t expect much.  But when the foreign woman (Matthew 15:22) and the blind man (Mark 10:46) cried to Jesus for mercy, he heard and he responded.  Even now, says Paul, the Spirit of Jesus keeps a mercy prayer alive in our hearts: inward groaning and sighs to deep for words (Romans 8).  When we say it on our lips, repeat the prayer for mercy like a mantra, we’re being constantly redirected toward the ever-flowing source of life and hope.  What we sing and pray in worship can in this way shape our walk, how we see ourselves and what we believe.

Now hiring: Music Director / Organist

Interested?  Send resumes to: hiring@flcpa.org

The basics: a part time position, generally 15-20 hrs/week, exempt, salaried. Initial one year contract. Reports to: the pastors.  Four weeks vacation, including four Sundays.  Salary: starts at 40,000, depends on experience. Professional development fund.

Experiences such as grace and deep joy may be best expressed through music. That’s what many Lutherans have found, going back to church musicians like Schütz and J.S. Bach and to Martin Luther himself, who invited congregations to move from being audiences to participants who sing the faith. First Lutheran Church has long been a center for music-rich worship, concerts, rehearsal space, music education—even jams. The pandemic has brought challenges, such as choir members moving away, but also new musical experiences, such as more use of cantors. We look forward to a new beginning. How can we grow the program, adapt to a (post?) pandemic situation, involve and invite new people, and try new ways of doing things? How can music be a source of strength and joy for us? We seek a music director to partner with us in this adventure.

Resources: 

  • 26-rank Casavant electropneumatic organ, installed in 2002; 3-rank continuo organ, built in 2000 by the Bond organ firm of Portland, Oregon; Yamaha grand piano; 4-octave set of Flemish handbells.
  • A singing congregation where musical interests, talent, and skills abound and are valued.
  • Our small but dedicated volunteer choir.
  • A very good music library.
  • A warm, acoustically live worship space.

We’re looking for someone who:

  • Is very strong in organ performance, accomplished in service playing and sight-reading, particularly accompaniment.
  • Is a skilled, inspiring, prepared choir director.
  • Is open to and likes a wide variety of music.
  • Values music as not just being about performance, but enriching worship and nurturing community life.
  • Knows about or is interested in and willing to learn about liturgical traditions and repertoire.

Responsibilities:

  1. Prepare and play organ / piano for one in-person worship service each Sunday (see also zoom services, below).
  2. Direct adult choir, which has rehearsed on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings during the school year.
  3. Get to know the congregation. Invite, encourage, support, and celebrate community participation in our music ministries, such as by recruiting new choir members, inviting people to be cantors or play an instrument, teaching congregational song. Help us to creatively adapt the music program to the availability, skills, talents, and musical interests of the community.
  4. In collaboration with pastors, plan seasonal and lectionary-appropriate music for worship such as: mass settings, psalms, anthems, preludes, hymns, etc. Planning is done online and at meetings, some involving other staff and lay members.
  5. Plan, play, and direct music at occasional special events, such as: Lessons & Carols, Christmas Eve, Lenten midweek worship, Holy Week, and Easter. Right of refusal, separate compensation for weddings and funerals.
  6. Plan, play, record and/or coordinate music in any online services (they’re light on music). We currently are planning one zoom service each Sunday, with a volunteer handling the technology.
  7. Lead in making use of the classical sacred music repertoire as well as liturgically appropriate music in non-classical styles such as folk, meditative, spirituals, global.
  8. Provide written information for worship bulletins to the office manager in a timely manner, with detailed instructions when necessary. Proofread bulletins once or twice weekly. Write quarterly newsletter reports, help publicize events, and write other communications as needed.
  9. Maintain the organs and pianos in good condition, inspecting them after regular tuning schedules and when returned from being rent out (Bond organ).
  10. Identify, hire, and arrange for payment of outside musicians (such as substitute organists) as needed for worship and other events.
  11. Be responsible for the choir library and database. Manage acquisitions to the library within the approved budget.

Possibilities

  • Children’s choir has often rehearsed just before adult choir on Thursday evenings.  A capable volunteer is willing to take this on, or Music Director could. We like opportunities for children and adults to make music together!
  • A number of musical partners have met in our space, such as orchestras, a boychoir, teen string camp. Might there be collaboration with whoever uses our space in the time to come?

Generous backpack donations

We recently collected school supplies and donations for kids at St Elizabeth Seton School.

Due to the generous donations from FLCPA members we had a record year for this project. Twelve backpacks, a large box of supplies and $1,405 checks totaling $3,125 were donated to families who could not afford to purchase them. One can only imagine the joy of the children and the appreciation of the parents when they get to select their own backpack.

Thank you to all who contributed to this project. You have made a positive difference in the lives of these kids!  – The Women’s Group

Centennial bio: Dager

Outdoor event photos, June 2021

Photos taken at Family Summer Kick-Off on Saturday June 5 and outdoor worship June 6,

thanks to Jill and Pastor Kate.

 

About the Gloria hymn

The hymn “Glory to God in the highest” is familiar to (and maybe memorized by) anyone used to Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal or other so-called “liturgical churches.”  But do we really ponder what we’re singing?

First, a little history: this “Gloria” is one part of the western, medieval (and later) mass, which classical music lovers know goes from the Kyrie (Lord have mercy) to Gloria, Credo (I believe), Sanctus (Holy Holy) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).  Traditionally, these were sung in place of what we now usually think of as hymns (like Amazing Grace or Be Thou My Vision).  During the earliest centuries and outside the West, different music or texts were used.  The Gloria originated as a hymn for morning prayer and when it was first used at Mass, only the Pope or bishops could sing it (priests could sing it only on Easter).

To sing those words – “Glory to God” – is to take a break from cynicism.  So often during the week we feel let down by people.  Our role models and leaders and neighbors turn out to be not so glorious.  Indeed, we have issues with and complaints against God.  “Glory” may not be what I’m feeling, but a song I overhear and join in.  The Gloria is also known as the “Hymn of Angels,” because the first verse is what the Shepherds hear the Angels singing on Christmas: “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to his people on earth.”  And the Angels, we imagine, they see clearly God’s full majesty, beyond the struggles that cloud us.  By taking up their song, we want to open ourselves to see and feel that glory and beauty more clearly.  It’s doing what Paul says: “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (from Philippians 4)

Notice also how the Gloria is full of political language, king, lord, high places, and the throne of God in each of the three parts (Father, Son and Trinity):

  • FATHER Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.
  • SON Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
  • GODHEAD/TRINITY For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Updates of the Gloria remove this language, I think because we don’t want to associate God with what’s oppressive and authoritarian.  But with any metaphor, there’s an “is” and an “isn’t.”  Jesus is a lamb in that he’s gentle but he’s not fluffy and four-legged.  God isn’t an oppressive patriarch; but in some ways, I think we still need to say God is Lord.

A key line is “you alone are Lord.”  We’re not just cynical, we’re afraid: of the people at the top, with powerful weapons and unimaginable wealth, of white supremacy, seductive violence or hatred, depression, disease and death and whatever we’re addicted to.  Sing “you alone are Lord.”  None of those so-called lords can stand against the only true Lord!  In a world under the foot of demonic and Roman oppression, Jesus came announcing the kingdom of God.  The Gloria is a pledge of allegiance to this kingdom and a song not just of hope but of victory, to give us courage no matter what.

Our king is an anti-king; he’s the Lamb sent not to beat back his foes by superior military might and lift up the privileged few; he’s the self-giving One who wants nothing more than to take the wrongs and sin away from the villains and the heroes, the whole world, bringing us together in peace and awe and worship.  Thanks be to God!

Worship in-person and online

The season is changing in more ways than one: Pentecost is past, Summer is coming, we’re getting vaccinated and pandemic restrictions are lifting! Pastor Kate and I want to bring up some thoughts and plans for worship in the coming months, in hopes of getting some conversation going.

A few thoughts: first, we’re not all in the same place when it comes to in-person worship – even literally! How do we continue to welcome and support worship participants we’re used to seeing on zoom who don’t even live in state? Even among those nearby, feelings vary: some truly yearn to ‘get back,’ others are anxious about going too fast or being left behind. Some are vaccinated, others aren’t. How can we be attentive to each other’s needs and journey together as a whole community?

Also: of course we’re thrilled about the lifting of pandemic restrictions. But let’s notice that there will be losses. I’ll bet each of us is feeling this in certain ways: maybe it was nice having fewer places to go all the time. In worship, most (not all!) of us managed to get on zoom together. It was quite the bonding experience (the Centennial, two Holy Weeks, Mother’s day photos) and when in-person worship starts, we won’t be together in the same way. Some churches are going to try and have in-person services that are simultaneously zoom services with people in the sanctuary interacting with people on big screens. But this sounds complicated and may not make for a great in-person experience (too much equipment and technology present) or online experience (feeling left out, hard to interact). So the council is leaning towards separate times for online and in-person worship. We’ll lose some of the unity we’ve had, but may be able to regain it in new ways.

We request your patience! It’s a lot of behind the scenes work planning for worship changes with all the above considerations, as well as county and state guidelines that can be hard to decipher and implement! Normally, June would be a time in the church year when we rest and take a deep breath. There’s other stuff going on too, such as the need to figure out facility rentals and new ministries.

So what’s the plan?

This Summer: the State and County currently strongly encourage outdoor (vs. indoor) gatherings, masked, socially distanced and with minimal singing. (On June 15 in California these restrictions may be lifted, but it’s not clear yet what that will mean). Every Sunday this Summer, we’ll have an online zoom service, planned for 9:30am. In addition, starting in June there will be opportunities to worship outside (in addition to non-worship events like picnics). These will be full but very brief services with scripture, prayer and Holy Communion (not much singing but a little string music perhaps) in the backyard, under shady awnings, near lovely trees and flowers, followed by fellowship. We’ll try it at 5pm on June 6, 10:30am on June 20 (again, in addition to regular zoom services on those days). We may need you to register so we know we have enough space. We’ll see how it goes, get your feedback, and make plans for July and August.

The Fall, more long term: based on recent surveys and council discussion, our sense right now is that instead of going back to two in-person Sunday services (8:30 and 10:30) we go to one in-person and one online service. The online service is obviously nice for people who live far away, but can also be helpful if you’re on vacation, or you’re close by but not feeling well or you sleep in but don’t want to miss worship altogether. As for service times and formats, these are open questions. If we had an in-person service early on Sunday (say, 9:30am), we could record some of the music and use it for singing with the online zoom service (say, at 11am). Or maybe the zoom service would be earlier (8:30am) or be at 5pm and structured as an evening prayer / vespers, on Sunday or even a weeknight for those who can’t do Sundays? How many would want to attend both in-person and online services if we made them different? What times, worship experiences would and wouldn’t work for you?
Keep in touch and let us know what you think!

Lutherans against meritocracy?

by Pastor Bernt

Since Lutheran Christians like to talk about Paul’s “saved by grace apart from works,” it’s interesting we don’t speak out against meritocracy.  I recently read “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good” by the philosopher Michael Sandel – who’s Jewish – and was struck by what he says about Martin Luther: “Luther’s stringent doctrine of grace was resolutely anti-meritocratic. It rejected salvation by good works and left no room for human freedom or self-making” – well, I think Luther was saying self-centered ambition just isn’t true freedom – but anyway, Sandel continues: “And yet, paradoxically, the Protestant Reformation he launched led to the fiercely meritocratic work ethic the Puritans and their successors would bring to America.” (pg.39)  Meritocracy, says Sandel, is itself somewhat religious, with roots in how some of those ‘other Protestants,’ the Puritans, viewed prosperity as a sign that you were among the true saved.  And even today when we say “nothing is impossible if you try” or “I deserve this success because I earned it,” aren’t we making statements of faith? (Sandel brings up the Book of Job – which FLC recently studied as a congregation – as taking a contrary position: the good aren’t always the ones who prosper).

Sandel isn’t saying that rewarding merit is always bad: it’s best to pick the most qualified candidate for a job, to reward hard work and initiative, to be able to freely pursue dreams.  But meritocracy has a dark side and has become something of a tyrant, in several ways:  If I believe my success is my doing and not luck or grace, I’m tempted to be prideful, while those on the bottom don’t just feel unfortunate but humiliated.  Think of the contempt, resentment, mistrust in our society (hesitancy to take a vaccine made and promoted by elites).  Also, our meritocracy doesn’t reward what should be rewarded.  Why should Wall Street gamblers earn so much more than school teachers?  And obviously, it’s just not the case that most people on the top are there because of merit.  Wealth, race, gender and our natural abilities or lack thereof mean that we’re not really competing on an “even playing field.”

Meritocracy feels like a hot topic these days.  But isn’t the Lutheran view on grace and works really about something else? Final salvation, heaven and hell?  I’ve been pondering what I read once from German Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer.  Bayer points out that in the Catechism we all use in Lutheran confirmation, in Luther’s explanation of the Apostles Creed, mention of merit doesn’t come up in the articles about the Son and the Spirit, but in the first article, on the Father and creator:

“I believe that God has created me together with all creatures; he has given and still preserves for me body and soul; eyes, ears, and all members; reason and all senses; in addition: clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and child, fields, cattle, and all goods; he richly and daily provides me with all necessities and nourishment for this body and life; shelters me against all danger; guards and protects me from all evil; and all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, all without my merits and worthiness.  For all of this I am responsible to thank and to praise, and because of this to serve and obey him.”  (italics mine)

So that’s clothing, food, house, family and goods, safety  – “richly and daily” provided – “all” of it, everything, a gift of God apart from my merit and worthiness.  To say “I trust in” this God, it seems, does seem to put us against the claims of meritocracy. “I didn’t deserve this, neither did you.”  At a most basic level, says Bayer, Christian faith believes that “ life and what is necessary for life has been given to me,” even when we don’t yet have these gifts but must wait and reach for them. (Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: a Contemporary Interpretation, pg 100).

I just finished Sandel’s book and I have a lot to still think about here – provocative stuff!  (I’d be interested in how criminal justice and mass incarceration fit in to the big picture).  One other theme I have to mention: Sandel talks about the need for “distributive” justice, everyone having enough money, but also the overlooked need for “contributive” justice: that people find dignified work and other ways to contribute to the common good (lack of this dignity for people, he says, is a big part of what led to the rise of Trump and deaths of despair).  Sandel doesn’t mention that this is another key Lutheran theme: that of vocation.  In his own time, Luther challenged the idea that religious and monastic vocations were superior to ordinary jobs like being a parent or a farmer.  In our time, as Sandel puts it, the jobs that require advanced degrees are those considered superior, while the two-thirds of Americans who don’t have college degrees are looked down on.  “Learning to become a plumber or electrician or dental hygienist should be respected as a valuable contribution to the common good, not regarded as a consolation prize for those who lack the SAT scores or financial means to make it to the Ivy League.” (pg 191)

This was quite a book to read in Palo Alto, a real center of meritocracy.  How might a church challenge meritocracy in some way, or offer a “grace-ocratic” alternative?  How can we show grace to people in high pressure situations, such as in academics, competitive jobs or in the high school college application process?  What about connecting with and lifting up people who don’t have sophisticated credentials?  Sandel talks about solidarity and the common good.  What about recognizing with Paul the forgotten excellence of love itself, which bears faults, accepts and nurtures the gifts each person brings?