Archive for the ‘community’ Category


”Be Brave“

February 8, 2015

by First Church Emerging Leader Matt Boswell

mattboswell“Be brave!” The words of my 2 1⁄2 year-old concluded my recent sermon. Clara, like Jonah, is on a journey of growing in courage. I believe our health, our happiness and our ability to love and be loved are heavily dependent on the continual deepening of virtues like courage. To what does courage call us as a Christian community?

Courage calls us to humility about what we know and
 can know. Courage is an invitation to mystery, to endure the limits of being a particular human, trapped in one body in one location in one community in one country in one era in one… you get the point. It takes courage to say “I’m in!” and believe in something, even if that mythic “certainty” eludes us. And it takes courage to admit that we have much to learn.

Courage calls us to fight for the good of others. Courage calls us not simply to feel something but to do something, at a potential cost to ourselves. We may show our support for particular causes and resistance to particular injustices, but until we are moved to particular actions, our courage may be incomplete. Where the loving and just treatment of others
is at stake, courage can give us the strength to do something about it.

Courage calls us to risk loss. Standing up for something we believe in brings the risk of losing status, approval, our connection to others. The Church is a living tradition, and things that are alive are constantly changing even while retaining their apparent form. A courageous Christian community can maintain its fidelity to what God seems to care about while courageously letting go of certain approaches, perspectives and practices when it becomes clear they don’t “fit” the spirit of love, justice and care.

Courage might call us to pursue social change more indirectly. I absolutely believe in direct confrontation, explicitly naming what’s broken and calling for our leaders, policymakers and fellow citizens to do something about it. But there’s something to be said for that Gandhian insight — to be the change you want to see in the world. For example, as an “open and affirming” community, maybe courage calls us to enhance our advocacy for marriage equality by pouring energy into our own relationships. This may be the riskier, more terrifying path to persuading people of what marriage is all about — to be an example of that for which we are fighting.


Mother’s Day

May 6, 2014

by Senior Minister Patricia de Jong

As Mother’s Day approaches, I walk by the card aisle at the drugstore and contemplate the card I will not buy this year. Since my own mother has been dead for many years, I am tempted to skip this day altogether, but there are many women in this community and in my life who embody the best of what I believe it means to be a mother, sister, daughter and woman and friend. I am thankful for them all.

Mother’s Day has become for me, a time of quiet celebration of what it means to be a good and courageous human being in whatever life circumstance we find ourselves. The original idea for Mother’s Day emerged out of the Civil War, with a group of grieving mothers resolving to work together to abolish war. The idea of a day for mothers was in response to the heavy toll that war had extracted from their lives. Later, as it became more commercial, people lost sight of the desire for peace and justice that originally grounded a day for mothers.

The origins of this day were centered around the need of women to create a better world for their children rather than becoming the focus of attention and adulation. Perhaps we can reclaim an important aspect of the legacy of those brave women who came before us by intentionally lifting up peace and justice this Mother’s Day.

redcarnationI’d rather not give this day away to Hallmark or or even a great place to have brunch. Instead, I’d like to lift up a prayer for the mothers and fathers of those 270 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped from their school three weeks ago. They still don’t know what happened to the girls or if they will see their children again. And not so far from us, in the Ukraine, the madness of war has once again threatened to destroy the lives of children and families and a whole nation. And our own Mother Earth is ravaged by our lack of conscious attention to the ways we have ignored and abused her.

Every time I baptize a baby, child or adult, I say “Mother of us all,” to remind us that we are held by a powerful and gentle God who broods and frets over us like a mother hen. Yet she also calls forth from us the best of what is means to be a child of God—courage, steadiness of commitment to the common good, lovingkindness and a willingness to act for justice and peace.

However you celebrate this day, may the Mother of Us All shine in you and give you courage and strength for your life work.

Find out more about First Church Berkeley…


Gracias a la Vida!

August 6, 2013

Joanne BrownJoanne Brown is a writer, poet, teacher and member of the First Church community. She spends her time in both Oaxaca, Mexico and Berkeley, California. She shares her reflections and poetry on her blog Transitions and Transformations: the beauty and the terror.

Joanne also teaches writing workshops using the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) method. She will be starting a new workshop series Write for Your Life” at First Church on September 9, 2013.

She wrote this entry “Gracias a la Vida” in May of 2012.


Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
Me dio dos luceros que cuando los abro
Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco …

Thank you life, you have given me so much
You gave me two eyes which when I open them
I can distinguish perfectly between black and white …

– Violeta Parra 

Last evening a friend and I went to see a play about the life of the late Chilean singer, songwriter, folklorist, and visual artist Violeta Parra. She’s known as the mother of the New Chilean Song Movement, and she revived the Peña, a community center for arts and political activism. I never knew that La Peña on Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley owes its name and mission to Violeta.

Just before her suicide in 1967 at age 50, Parra wrote the beautiful song Gracias a la Vida  (Thank you life), which has been popularized by Joan Baez (watch Joan sing it!), Mercedes Sosa, Luciano Pavarotti, and many others. It played as we waited for the drama to begin, and my friend said to me, “I don’t always feel grateful for what life has given me, and I wish I did.” Her longing played across my dreams last night …

By dawn I asked myself, Am I grateful for what life has given me?

In my mid-forties, when I was lonely in my marriage, on the brink of leaving it, and desperate to find a spiritual home, the people of First Church Berkeley lifted me up. There was community, new friends, song; a way to see the commonality in all beings, and the truth that we need each other to live. In all of this, I recognized something so much bigger than my one life. First church planted in me the seeds of gratitude!

Surely gratitude for a difficult childhood or divorce doesn’t come easy. But I suppose what I’ve been given has made me who I am at this moment and who I may yet become.  I’ve traveled beyond past miseries with the help of so many friends, and they, like a loving family, live always in my heart (and on Skype!) though I make my life now in Mexico and they are far away. And even with so much distraction, violence, and treachery in the world, I know if I can sing, pray, watch the beauty of a sunrise, a child’s smile, or a hummingbird’s dance, I’m on my way to gracias a la vida!

According to, the practice of gratefulness moves people “to live in the light of all we’ve been given.” They say that can be a force for personal change — inspiring compassion and generosity — as well as for world peace.

Heady stuff! May gratitude and peace be with you.

More reflections and poetry from Joanne Brown…

More about First Church Berkeley…


President Obama and Marriage Equality

May 10, 2012

First Congregational Church of Berkeley celebrates the personal stand that President Obama has taken on marriage equality. First Church has been an “Open & Affirming” congregation (welcoming all people including those of different sexual orientations) in the United Church of Christ for over 15 years and has taken public positions in favor of equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

First Church celebrates marriage equalitySenior Minister Patricia de Jong adds, “Marriage equality is more than an issue of legal rights, as important as those are. It is also about love, commitment, deep caring and human dignity. I was moved by the lines of people who wanted to get married in California during the brief time it was legal. I have performed same-sex marriages for over 28 years. We recognize the importance that the support of a faith community can have in marriage and family life.”

First Church took a clear stand against Prop 8’s ban on gay marriage and worked to defeat it. The hope of the church is that the personal positions of elected officials will translate into policies and laws that protect the rights of all people.

First Church includes members who are directly affected by the lack of marriage equality.  In a service during the anti-Prop 8 campaign, the church celebrated and affirmed the same-gender relationships among its members and friends. Rachel Bauman, who has just recently been called as First Church’s Minister of Community Life says, “One of the reasons that I was so interested in being part of the First Church community is that it so clearly welcomes families of all shapes and sizes. I think it is crucial that faith communities support loving relationships in a world that is full of challenges.”


Transformation and the United Church of Christ

February 8, 2012

Phil Hart & Patricia de JongThe church is a transformative place. We are changing and being changed. And the United Church of Christ has some particular gifts for this time in our culture and world as things change so rapidly all around us.

In a dialog sermon, Conference Minister Phil Hart, of the Northern California Nevada Conference, and First Church Senior Minister Patricia de Jong share their thoughts on this subject.

In  particular, you will want to hear their own personal stories of being transformed by the United Church of Christ which occurs at about 14 minutes into the video.


Zephania and Economic Justice

November 18, 2011

On Sunday, November 13, one of the lectionary readings for the day was from the book of the prophet Zephania. In it the speaker warns the people about the dangers of “resting on the dregs” of economic wealth.

In the two Sunday services at First Church Berkeley, preachers Phil Porter (9 am) and Sam Rennebohm (11 am) reflect on issues of economic justice, weaving in reflections on the Occupy movement and the 99%.

Here are the videos of the two sermons:



National “Move Your Money” Day

October 28, 2011

by Richard Wong, a member of First Church Berkeley

National Move Your Money Day is November 5th—A way to participate in the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Move Your Money logoOn October 13th about 30 people from FCCB, the GTU community, and local clergy met to discuss how people of faith can support the Occupy Wall Street movement. One idea was to encourage people to move their money from major banks to more local options. This is not a new idea. It was first proposed by Arianna Huffington in December 2010 as a New Year’s resolution to address the excesses of the banking industry and the havoc they have played in the housing market and in the economy at large. This idea has now gained national momentum because of Bank of America’s debit card fee and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

On October 25th, Jody and I completed transfer of our bank accounts from Chase to First United Services Credit Union. We did this to align ourselves with the National Move Your Money campaign, which has declared November 5th as the day to move your money from large banks to credit unions and local community banks. We feel that we can make a difference in a concrete way by this action. We are standing with “the 99 percent.” So far, over 45,000 people have pledged on Facebook to participate. For more information on the ‘Move Your Money’ campaign, visit online at

The “Big Six” banks, JP Morgan/Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have evolved in the past few years to become the institutions “too big to fail.”  Why do we have this situation?  In 1990, the six largest banks accounted for 9 percent of all U.S. deposits.  By the end of 2010, the six biggest banks accounted for 36 percent of deposits.  This concentration of deposits into the major banks was the result of 37 regional/national banks (remember Security Pacific Bank?) in 1990, merging from buyout, acquisition, and bankruptcy to become only four in 2009 (Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan/Chase).  Add the investment banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and we have the Big Six.

The result of this shift was that the largest and most profitable banks have moved away from being traditional lending institutions and have become speculative trading entities.

This collective mismanagement has resulted in the foreclosure crisis, record high levels of unemployment, and the American and world economies in turmoil. It is time to reverse this trend.

Jody and I invite you to join us in the Move Your Money campaign as a concrete way to “do something” in the face of our current economic crisis.

To find a local credit union go to, submit your address, and a listing of credit unions in the area will be given.


Fed by the 3000: An Experience of Occupy Oakland

October 28, 2011

by Phil Porter

I am 58, white, gay, a property owner and resident near downtown Oakland, somewhere in the middle on the income scale (and have more than one job to be in that position), President of the Koreatown Northgate Community Benefit District Board of Directors, Minister of Art & Communication at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, political and theologically progressive but not radical, inclined toward art rather than politics, co-director of a non-profit organization, grew up in Indiana and claim my Midwest roots, am the adult child of normal parents, am responsible to a fault, a Pisces, an introvert…

Occupy Oakland General AssemblyThis is all to put into some sort of context what I am about to report. You can interpret as you well, but it seemed important to “place” myself a bit before I share what I witnessed.

I went downtown on Wednesday, October 26, the night after the police broke up an Occupy Oakland rally with tear gas, to “check out the scene.” I had heard there was to be a “General Assembly” at 6 pm. I wasn’t sure what that was, but assumed that it had something to do with the way that the movement was being conducted.

What I witnessed was nothing short of incredible. I expected to stay for a half hour but didn’t leave for three hours.

A huge crowd of people gathered in the amphitheater next to City Hall. I’m not good at estimating but some were saying 3000. There were a few “facilitators” with a small microphone system. The meeting began with people having a chance to speak for a minute or two about anything. They shared experiences about the night before and the encampment in general. Some railed against the police’s actions the night before, others claimed the police as part of the “99%”. The crowd was respectful and caring and excited to be back together in force.

And then they began a “resolution” process based on a modified consensus process (they seek 90% agreement.) Although I can’t quite capture the whole process, let me share some of my own experience of it.

The group was using the “human mike” technique where the speaker at the microphone says a few words and then the whole crowd repeats it so that those at the edge of the space can hear what is said. Sometimes it is repeated in two waves. If you haven’t been in a large group doing this, you should try to get a chance to experience it. Besides the amplification of the speech, it takes on the powerful quality of “litany”, of the back and forth of speaking and listening. It was creates engagement and a sense of solidarity with the whole group. At one point those at the microphone asked the people near in to turn around so that they were actually speaking outward in the circle. From where I was sitting on the amphitheater steps, suddenly there were then a whole group of people sitting in the middle of the space facing me, speaking the words coming from the microphone right toward me.

The commitment to inclusion in decision-making was extraordinary. After the first resolution was presented (to call for a General Strike on November 2) and clarifying questions were asked, folks were invited to gather in groups of 20 to discuss the resolution. And we actually did. Mind you, at this point it is dark, with mostly just a few street and building lights, the flash of cameras and the glow of cell phones. The crowd is still huge. We could barely see each other but we gathered and talked. The comments were insightful, considered, serious and thoughtful. I don’t say this to suggest that it was surprising to me, but rather to emphasize that this was the tone I perceived in the whole crowd. Folks may have been impassioned, but they were also calm, considerate and committed to the conversation. And even as the time passed (and I must say, this process is a slow one) people stayed with it and were exceedingly patient. Remember, the crowd has not diminished over the course of the evening, perhaps it has even grown.

The process of discussion and debate put our national political process to shame. They (we) listened to each other, were genuinely committed to finding the right common decision and stayed with the process for a long time, even in this huge crowd in the dark, with relatively little previous “coming together,” even without a direct connection to the folks way on the other side of the crowd or even being able to clearly see who was speaking.

I did finally leave at about 9 pm before this resolution was voted on (I read online that it passed with a 96% vote from almost 2,000 people.) I found myself worrying about how the evening would end when the legal time for gathering would pass, but as I walked home I saw no police presence at all, other than the helicopters that circled overhead. I haven’t heard or read anything about what happened so I assume it ended peacefully.

And this is the another important point: the media will cover the drama and the clashes but they probably won’t report that real news: the 3,000 people gathered in the dark committed to working together to make some decisions for their own good, for the good of others, the country and the world.

I went because it is one of my practices to try to witness first-hand events that I’m not sure I can trust the media to report accurately, especially when it happens in Oakland. Because of who I am in my communities (and some of the qualities I listed at the beginning), I think people will trust what I am reporting, even as my reflections are shaped by my “place” in the world.

I left, though, as something more than an observer. I sat in that crowd for three hours on the cold, hard steps of the amphitheater. I was surrounded by voices chanting back the words of the speakers, I joined in a discussion circle. In the dark, in a crowd that stretched in all directions around me.





What Ever Became of the Common Good?

October 27, 2011

by Phil Porter, Minister of Art & Communication, First Church Berkeley

The Good News calls forth compassion: whatever you do for the least of these, love one another as you love yourself, when one person suffers we all suffer, love your enemy…

We are called by our faith to exercise care for each other. Does that not extend to public policy? Isn’t government one of the ways that we can bring about justice, equality, opportunity, and care? What happened to our ability to come together to solve problems, to encourage the give and take of ideas that leads to the best solutions?

Our rush to individual freedom—don’t get in my way with your rules or regulations—is running roughshod over our ability to discuss, debate and discern what is best for the whole. Compassion has become a dirty word. The common good has been sold out to political inflexibility, corporate greed, monied interests, the will of a few. It is no wonder that the “99%” are raising their questions and concerns. Self-interest alone (or “leave me alone”) in a world where we are all interconnected is lifeless, unsustainable and even immoral.

We are called to care for each other and that must extend into the way we govern, the way we structure our economic agreements, the way we protect the vulnerable.

A single political point of view will always be insufficient. We are far too complex as human beings and as a culture for a one truth. Instead we must listen for the larger voice, bend our rigid will, act with humility.

There is a distinct intersection between faith and politics. Our values must inform the way we conduct our public life, whether it is in a tiny local civic organization or in Senate chambers. Good—and the greater good—can be created through political activity and discourse and well as through other forms.

May we hold compassion as one of our highest values in the conversation.

First Church Berkeley is a progressively faithful, welcoming community.


Adding our Voice to the 99 Percent

October 10, 2011

by Sam Rennebohm

“Justice is not an ancient custom, a human convention, a value, but a transcendent demand, freighted with divine concern” —Abraham J. Heschel

We are the 99%We stand at a point in history when the onerous weight of inequity has become so burdensome that it calls forth the forces of resistance. We are witnessing one of the most pronounced divides between rich and poor in the history of this country. That divide has manifest  itself in the most palpable ways: months of unemployment, foreclosed homes, mounting debt and precipitous loans, and cutbacks in social services. We would be remiss to ignore that those who have been most adversely affected are disproportionately people of color, further cementing our history of racial disparity.

The circumstances we now face are similar to those described by the prophets of the Old Testament. Amos decried those who “trample on the poor” and “push aside the needy at the gate,”  Jeremiah spoke out against those who “have become great and rich” with “deeds of wickedness,” and Isaiah railed against those “who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one.” In the New Testament, we read of Jesus overturning the money changing tables and calling on the wealthy to give their possessions to the poor,  These are the voices of our tradition, crying out from the pages of our most sacred text.

Those same words of righteous indignation now echo through the streets of our nation. They can be read on the signs of people camping out on Wall Street. They can be heard on the lips of seasoned protestors and disillusioned young people, returning war veterans and longtime union members. The spirit of principled resistance, so epitomized in scripture, is now spreading through our country.

As Progressive Christians, we speak of God’s call to work for justice and righteousness in the world. We speak of the good news promised by Jesus—that the last shall become first, the hungry shall be fed, the naked shall be clothed. We speak of an age of hope and possibilities, of new beginnings that draw ever closer to God’s kin-dom. This nascent movement is an opportunity for progressive Christians to add voices and our vision to the plurality of people calling for change. The occupation of Wall Street and the subsequent protests that have sprung up across the country call us forward to live into our faith, to lend what resources we have, to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, to articulate our expectations and our dreams.

People of faith will gather for a meeting on Thursday, October 13 led by Sam Rennebohm. Read more…