Report to Convention 2021
Going into the fall of 2020 was a great challenge for our program as it was for so many. Students had been comfortable with doing online programming in the spring when we still labored under the idea that this was all a relatively short-term aberration from our routine. The realization that all things would be online for an indeterminate time made it much harder to engage over zoom when so much of life on campus was already mediated that way. While maintaining a regular schedule of various daily office offerings as well as prayers for special events such as election day, I also developed a series of retreats that could be self-guided as well as other virtual experiences. We also released a virtual pilgrimage following the life of St. Cuthbert. In December I hosted a series of zoom interviews during Advent. The speakers and topics were: Brother John of the Taizé Community who spoke on the concept of Metanoia; the Rev. Dr. Robert Tobin from the diocese of Southwark who has published a book on the transformation of the Episcopal Church to a justice centered church in the post-war period; the Rev. Dr. Andy Shamel who discussed his recently completed doctoral work on justice and fantasy; and Dr. Kathryn Barush of the GTU who presented on images of the Virgin Mary.
In the Spring we held, once again, our service of Candlemas online. Students and alumni contributed music and readings and Bishop Marc offered a moving prayer and blessing of the candles. What was originally supposed to be a virtual “spring break trip” to New Orleans morphed into a series of Tenebrae videos using the history and climatic vulnerability of New Orleans as a reference point for the Tenebrae prayers. These videos are all available on our facebook page (facebook.com/calepiscopal). During Lent I also offered a weekly book discussion on zoom using C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair from the Narnia series. I also produced a series of daily Lenten meditations using a late classical Christian mythological bestiary and providing coloring images for each beast. Further I offered a musical listening exercise that paralleled the Membra Jesu Nostri by Dietrich Buxtehude with Sufjan Stevens’s album “The Ascension.” In May I was able to take advantage of the nice weather and increasing vaccine rates to do the first one on one meetings with students in over a year.
What seemed like an optimistic summer faded into the uncertain fall semester. Each week all members of the Cal community checked to see what the latest campus guidelines would be and if the semester would resume in person. Although classes did resume the uncertainty made it difficult to make any meaningful plans. We are all finding our way forward as we rebuild our community. There is a longing for community and connection and I look forward to see how we rise up strengthened from this time. Although this semester has not been the kind of exciting renewal of programs that I had hoped for, I find joy in the ongoing commitment to faith, community, and justice that marks our membership and I am reassured that we will continue to offer a place of spiritual growth and refuge for students. Thank you for your prayers and your support of this ministry.
Respectfully submitted by Tom Poynor, Episcopal Chaplain to UC Berkeley.