Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Spoken at the 12/10/23 Choral Eucharists.

When I sat down to think through what to say this morning, I decided to start by defining what the word “stewardship” means. I enlisted my dear friend Google, who told me this: Stewardship is “the acceptance of responsibility to shepherd and safeguard the valuables of others.”

The valuables of others— So, It’s not just my own bumbling spiritual journey?

At my first meeting after I joined the board of trustees Grace, we were told that the cathedral serves three constituencies: the congregation, the diocese, and the community. I reflected on that last one. A city isn’t one community. It’s a mash-up community of communities. Which one do we serve? What does “serve” even mean?

San Francisco is experiencing complex times. Despite what the media says and all the inequality, fear, and difficulties, there is also a tremendous amount of what Grace’s mission statement calls “courage, joy, and wonder.” There are many wise, kind, and brilliant people here, and an abundance of natural beauty. I live in Sonoma—although I consider myself an honorary San Franciscan—and when I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, even if I am late and harried and stressed, the way the city shimmers from across the bay always makes me take a breath of gratitude that I get to be here.

So, where does Grace fit in?

In my professional life, I work with an Indian architectural practice that designs dignified spaces for marginalized people. Through them, I learned how inextricable space and flourishing are. It’s only partly about well-stacked bricks and mortar. It’s also how buildings have an essence that influences what people feel and experience inside.

Grace Cathedral is so much more than a stunning building. There are plenty of attractive buildings in this city, and what makes Grace special and unique is that it is a sacred space. Partly by its design—following centuries of tradition of cathedral building—and mostly because it is filled with the Holy Spirit and the spirits of generations of good, wise people who work and pray and preach and gather here.

Here’s what I found on Google when I asked for a definition of sacred spaces: “places that hold and extend the best in us beyond the world that inevitably threatens and saddens us . . . places where we feel part of a sacred reality.”

As a cathedral, Grace is the whole city’s treasure. When we steward Grace Cathedral through our financial gifts, we are indeed protecting the valuables of others: Access to a sacred reality available to everyone in our messy, complicated, troubled, amazing, and fabulous community of communities.

At Grace, we might find someone with fragile faith who finds inclusion and acceptance here in the pews after experiencing churches that rejected their identity. We might find a parent who wants to share the tradition of carols at Christmas with his child. We might find a seeker of no specific dogma quietly walking the labyrinth. Or someone attending a concert or a lecture or a sound bath because they know it will be an “only at Grace experience,” distinct from other

cultural venues. We will also find so many others who, for their own reasons, find what they need by coming here.

And what we find every time is a Grace Cathedral that welcomes all these people without exception. That is why I pledge to stewardship to support Grace, and I hope you will, too.

Fall is stewardship season in the Episcopal Church. It is a time for us to show our appreciation for the love we experience in our caring, inclusive community. Our participation in the stewardship campaign means that we make the ministry and message of Grace possible. When we pledge, we become a part of something bigger than each of us individually. Join us in pledging today.

I don’t know about you, but I’m just starting to relax into the long summer days so can’t believe it’s almost back to school—and time for the Congregation Council’s annual Backpacks for Bayview initiative!

Owned and operated by the Venerable Canon Nina Pickerrell, Bayview Mission provides services, food, and supplies to residents of the Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhoods. Visiting the mission, it’s impossible not to be inspired by its Loaves and Fishes-like atmosphere. Out of an unassuming residential garage goods, and goodwill, flow with abundance. Moreover, Nina has earned strong bonds and deep trust within the community and serves with wisdom and understanding.

Back to School is an exciting time, full of anticipation and possibility—but it can also come with jitters and trepidation. According to Nina, there are at least 250 Bayview children at risk of returning to school without basic supplies. This is not only detrimental to learning; it can foster that awkward unease about not “fitting in.” 

Last year, Grace congregants came together to provide well over fifty backpacks stuffed with supplies. The children were thrilled, not least because each pack came with a personalized card, handwritten by many of you. Nina told me about seeing one girl brandish the note to her mother, exclaiming, “Look, it has MY name on it!”  It’s lovely how small gestures can create such a big impact. As Nina put it, that child felt seen, valued, and cared for.

This year, you can help spread joy in several ways. Any or all will be appreciated!

  • Once again, we hope to provide at least fifty backpacks. To make this easy, please purchase items from our Amazon Wishlist. This represents what Bayview families have requested. Items need to be received on or before August 12. Please do not drop supplies off at Grace.
  • Write a handwritten card. On August 7, a card writing table will be set up during coffee hour after the 11 am service. Or email Phoebe Campbell for a list of names to write cards at home.
  • On August 14, join the Grace Youth Group for a Pizza and Packing party after the 11 am service to help to sort and pack the supplies. Youth and Youth at Heart are welcome!
  • On August 15, backpacks will be distributed to the Bayview families at 9:30 am, and we need several volunteers to assist.  This will take place at the Bayview Mission. Contact Phoebe for more details.

Most of all, thank you for your caring generosity!

Spoken at the 9/26/21 Choral Eucharist

My name is Phoebe Campbell.  I am relatively new to Grace, as my husband Tom and I moved to San Francisco from New York in 2019.  

I went to college in New York and lived there pretty much ever since. Over the decades, I put down deep roots. Leaving this for an altogether unfamiliar place was unnerving to say the least.  

I knew that finding a church home would be key to connecting to my new city.  I pictured myself in the pews of a small, quaint neighborhood church, 100 parishioners max, where everyone knew my name. Like Cheers, but with a communion rail instead of a bar. I had heard good things about Grace but knew unequivocally that a cathedral was not where I belonged.  Maybe for Christmas Eve at some point?  But would be way too enormous and impersonal to be my “everyday” church.   

I set off church shopping. but channeling Goldilocks, none were “just right.” Until one Sunday, kind of by default, I wandered into Grace. To my surprise, I was drawn to the space as soon as I entered. The labyrinth. The art installations. I am fussy about choirs and sermons, and both were, of course, sublime. I nervously wandered over to coffee hour, convinced I would get stuck clutching a tepid coffee by myself with everyone chatting around me.  Instead, almost immediately, several people introduced themselves and struck up a conversation. Later, when I looked on the Grace website many ministries—social justice, adult education, and even yoga, called out to me.    

Grace, it turned out, was the one that would be, “just right.”  

So here I stand, two years on from knowing for absolute certain I was NOT coming to Grace, with it integral to my life. I have evolved and deepened my faith, thanks to insightful, thoughtful peers in courses such as EFM, the Newbegin Fellowship and Sacred Ground.  I found ways to connect my faith to justice through outreach and advocacy.  I support parish life through congregation council. Most of all, I feel included and welcome in a caring, robust community of people from many backgrounds, experiences and points of view.   

In thinking about what to say this morning about why I pledge, I realized there is a kind of Grace miracle. Look up and around you—this is an imposing building.  I can’t pretend to know everyone here and imagine that’s true even if you are a long-time member. I consider myself very involved, yet there are many activities and ministries I have not participated in, whether due to time or because of life stage and interest.   

I thought about the hundreds of others who experience Grace in ways equally as meaningful to them, albeit entirely different to me. They go to different services, participate in different ministries. Each for their own reasons. Collectively, however, we form a community that – and this is the miracle part – is simultaneously intimate and expansive. 

In other words, my pledge supports what is important to me, and what is important to you. And by joining me at whatever amount is comfortable, we both help Grace to welcome many more who we may never meet or share interests with—and that’s terrific. And so right considering God’s own welcoming, intimate yet expansive spirit. 

Even if you, like me, graduated eons ago, do you still get a palpable, back-to-school sense of new possibilities as summer wanes?  I especially feel this now as life (at last) reopens. My college-age daughter is counting the days on a calendar to get back to campus. Friends are rejoicing they no longer need to juggle work with homeschooling. Socially isolated children are desperate to see classmates again.

And there are school supplies to buy! Picking out brand new notebooks and pens, plus a backpack in a favorite color to lug them around, is a welcome ritual that helps children feel prepared to learn, easing any inevitable jitters about a new school year—especially after being isolated for so long.

But the cost of supplies adds up quickly and “It is easy to overlook the families who are not in a position to purchase nice backpacks loaded with school supplies.” reminds The Ven. Canon Nina Pickerrell, Owner and Executive Director of Bayview Mission.

Bayview Mission is fully integrated into their community, and Nina says she knows of 225 children at risk of returning to school without needed items. This is not only detrimental to learning; it creates an awkward unease about not “fitting in.”  As a child (or an adult for that matter) there are few things worse.

To ensure every child returns to school with buoyant, fresh optimism, Nina asked if the Cathedral congregation could collect supplies and backpacks for at least fifty children, accompanied by a personalized note.

Each backpack will build confidence, worthiness, and ensure every child feels cared for,” she says.

Working closely with Nina, we created an Amazon wish list of specific items. Fifty bags are achievable, but we need your help.  If you feel so moved, could you please do one or more of the below?  To get them to Bayview in time, our goal is to receive the items at Grace by August 11th

1. Click on this link and purchase requested supplies from the wish list.  When you get to the checkout, choose “Backpacks for Bayview” as the shipping address and items will be delivered directly to Grace. If possible, use PRIME shipping to expedite delivery.  PLEASE NOTE…  Unlike in previous years, we cannot accept items dropped off at Grace in person, even before or after services.

2.  Write one or more of the personalized notes that will accompany each bag.  Email Phoebe Campbell at with how many you are able to write and I will provide names and arrange to collect them.

3. Share details of the drive and the Amazon with friends, colleagues, family, classmates, etc. by email and/or through social media.  Many items are low-cost, all are needed. So even if a person is only able to purchase one or two it will be a huge help.

Most of all THANK YOU!

“The past must have been safe because we survived.”  — Susan Sontag

My cookbooks are bookended by a small metal recipe box of Mother’s, collected when she was first married. By the time I appeared, decades later and unplanned, she was middle aged and weary. Supper was frozen Swanson’s. It’s hard to imagine her at twenty-one, barely out of college, caring for the newborn who precipitated her wedding, hoarding meal ideas. Some jotted in her penmanship class cursive. Others clipped and saved. “Sweet potato in new roles. An important dish for holiday,” begins one, torn from a newspaper in December 1941, just after Pearl Harbor.

Weren’t there more important things than sweet potatoes that Christmas? Serious, brutal, world-splintering things? Or did Christmas dinner feel very important in the narrowing realm of what Mother could control.

“What a lovely day,” I distinctly remember thinking, looking out from the commuter train at a vibrant sky over the Hudson on September 11th.

Mere hours later, as we collected him from school, my first-grade son asked, “What kind of a world have you brought me into?” An immense question. I was too caught up with his fiddly car booster seat buckle to respond. My English mother-in-law was visiting to meet our newborn daughter. We called to tell her the news. “Shall I start lunch?” she replied. She grew up in London during the blitz. Perhaps starting lunch is what one does when buildings explode. 

My boss had a complicated relationship with empathy, so the next day, as if it was an ordinary Wednesday, I was back on the train. Dozens of National Guard were waiting, ramrod straight and watchful, in a deserted Grand Central. “This doesn’t feel like America!” I thought, rattled, afraid and naive. Soon “new normal” entered the lexicon. Soon, preoccupied by an important meeting or how much I hated my boss, I stopped noticing those soldiers.

“We might stock up on non-perishables,” my husband commented in March 2020. NPR said things could get bad. I bought shelf stable soup. It’s still unopened. My family didn’t need (or like) soup from a box, despite how essential it seemed that day in Safeway, watching jittery people pile carts to the brim.

Once again, pundits pontificate about the “new normal.” Work has changed forever! People (with secure jobs they can do “anywhere”) are fleeing San Francisco in droves! Will jobs return? What is not normal is over a half million dead. Police shooting black bodies is. I deliver foodbank groceries to folks in middle class neighborhoods. Were it an ordinary Wednesday, I never would have thought, “so this is what food insecurity looks like.” 

Friends spend lockdown training puppies or rethinking life. One says her furniture company is booming. That’s great! I say, thinking of the saved jobs. But is anyone sick at their factories? Hopefully all the puppies get housetrained. My two-cent prediction is travel will rebound; everyone I know who hasn’t suffered badly is longing to get away.

I wonder how to reconcile suffering and abundance. Or guilt about my own good fortune.

I don’t have a tidy, solutions-colored bow to tie this up in. It’s Lent, so give me a pass. Take it as a glib hodgepodge of ways God doesn’t deliver definitives. Or how I could have assured my young son that the world is just the same, minus pesky delusions of invulnerability and permanence. Or how I can, sometimes, find breadcrumbs of joy and meaning, even while bristling at my Ash Wednesday, ordinary Wednesday, dustiness.

I hope Mother made important sweet potatoes at the start of a terrible war. My mother-in-law’s lunch was probably perfect in that awful moment. Last night, our dog looked me in the eye and peed on the sofa, so housetraining is a fail. I won’t reconcile suffering with abundance, except to plant tiny seeds with faith they might eventually, someday, flower. Even if I am no longer here.