Last Sunday, we baptized new members into the household of God – it was a wonderful and joy-filled day. Each time we baptize, there is a portion of the baptismal rite that asks us: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?” It’s a part we’re used to hearing, and may reflexively answer “yes” to, but this Sunday’s Gospel lesson reminds us of what that looks like.
Sunday, we will hear the story from John’s Gospel about the calling of Phillip and Nathanael; we hear of Phillip’s immediate “yes” to follow Jesus, and his subsequent proclamation of his faith by proclaiming this truth to Nathanael. This brief call story reminds us that discipleship is active, and not passive. We mustn’t sit back and simply offer our “thoughts and prayers” when we see a need around us, or injustice occurring. We offer thoughts and prayers because we care, and we want our neighbors to know that we care, to know that they’re seen. But this sentiment can often be hollow and short-lived. Heeding the call from Sunday’s gospel, we notice that Jesus and his new disciples, were always on the go.
“Jesus decided to go to Galilee,”
Jesus’ ministry was one spent on his feet – being in community. His ministry was that of prayer and movement. When we pray, we must also “go.” During the baptismal rite, we are reminded of this fellowship. This active call to pray, break bread together, and be in fellowship with all. Our baptismal covenant specifically calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Even those we may disagree with, or those who are different. We are to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. We are to recognize Christ just as Phillip and Nathanael did; we are to recognize Christ in those around us.
During this season of Epiphany, may this calling of the disciples remind us of our own call – our own charge to “go.” To go into the world – to move our feet. It may look different for each of us, yet by doing so, we help bring the light of Christ to others who may be struggling in darkness. My prayer is that we will embody the light of Epiphany this season and go – go out into the world and rejoice and love in the power of the Spirit.
The Rev. Joe C.Williams
“Happy Advent!” is not something we hear with any regularity, usually. This time of year usually brings the familiar “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” coupled with impressive storefront displays, Santa visits, and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” playing on repeat. However, for those of us familiar with a liturgical tradition in our communities, the season of Advent isn’t just chocolate calendars; it’s a time of preparation and expectation. It’s a time of hope.
Most of our prayers for Advent recall darkness in some form, empowering us to cast away the mystery of the dark and embrace the power of light. This is especially relevant for us, as the nights become longer, and we experience the longest night of the year, just before the bright majesty of the Incarnation. In order to revel in the light of the birth of Christ, we must be acquainted with darkness; we must, for a time, live in that tension between light and dark. Advent prepares us to look ahead, toward the horizon.
Advent invites us to imagine a world as it could be, which, in turn, allows us to recognize the injustice that surrounds us. Imagining the world as it could be causes us to see the imbalances and exploitations of the world as it is. Advent is an invitation to hope, and hope can sometimes be tough; it can sometimes take grit. Hope means living with complexity and not settling for easy answers. When the world seems dark, when injustice, war, and persecution dominate the news, we can use the skills we’ve cultivated during Advent. The outside world with festive lights and chocolate may not prepare us to live through difficult times, to cope with the tensions of a world that is not as it should be. We need the capacity to look beyond the dark, our eyes firmly fixed to the horizon, to trust in the promise of God.
Some of my favorite times growing up in Oklahoma is when my dad would let us get on the roof of our house with a blanket and watch the stars. Sometimes we would see a meteor, though, often we would simply look at the moon peeking over the hills or name constellations. No matter what was going on in the world, at school, or even a silly argument with my sister, sitting in darkness and seeing glimmers of light in the sky, gazing toward the horizon, gave me hope that change was possible. It was a “mini-advent” of sorts.
Today, instead of sitting on the roof and looking at the sky, I like to remind myself of God’s promise by praying. One of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer is said during Evening Prayer, reminding us that God comforts and provides hope for all, regardless:
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angles charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.”
May the God of light and peace keep watch over you during this holy season of Advent, and may your eyes be fixed on the horizon awash in hope.
The Rev. Joe C.Williams
We were able to witness history this week as world leaders descended just steps away from the cathedral as the city of San Francisco hosted the APEC Conference. Street closures around the Close, rerouting of public transportation, and the security that corresponds with world leaders staying just a few short blocks away didn’t quell the sense of community and joy we enjoy at Grace. Just as we do each week, we sang together, prayed together, and were present for each other. From our Thanksgiving celebration on Senior Wednesday, where nearly fifty people came to share a meal and stories of thanks culminating in gathering around the table at the noon eucharist, to poet Jay Hulme sharing his evocative poetry in the voices of saints with the Vine Congregation, the Spirit was active at Grace.
It’s weeks like these, gathering with friends old and new, that reminds me of going to church with my Granny. Walking down the sidewalk to the front doors each week, before we entered, she would always reach into her well-worn purse, hand me a hard butterscotch candy and a dollar bill, telling me to “put the money in the offering plate – we give because this place gives us so much.” That simple statement has stuck with me through the years and inspires my own theology of giving.
This Sunday at 11 am, we will celebrate Ingathering, where we recognize our Stewardship Committee and will bless the pledges of our congregation. We mark this season annually and remember our promise to support each other and our cathedral community. Our gifts make it possible to sustain programming and create a safe and healthy place for our seniors to gather, our youth to explore, and families to thrive. Over a century ago, those who worshiped at what would become this cathedral probably had no idea the fruit their gifts would produce or the legacy they would leave.
I pray you will consider a gift this year if you’ve never pledged – or continue if you’re a long-time financial supporter. Our gifts make a difference by ensuring Grace has the resources it needs to connect our community through meaningful prayer, offer compassion to our neighbors, and engage in social justice initiatives. If you have questions about giving, our Stewardship Committee will be at coffee hour this week and would be happy to talk with you to share our stories about why we give.
“Put the money in the offering plate – we give because this place gives us so much.”
This community has blessed me so much in my short time at Grace. I’ve made lasting friendships, celebrated, mourned, and have deepened my faith. Won’t you join me in giving to ensure future generations have the same opportunity?
The Rev. Joe C. Williams
For several weeks now, we’ve listened to the story of Moses unfold. We’ve heard of his encounter with God at the burning bush, the first Passover, and this week, we will hear of the parting of the Red Sea and the saving of Israel, one of “God’s saving deeds in history” as The Book of Common Prayer introduces the story during the liturgy for the Vigil of Easter.
The story of Moses is one of courage. The courage to put aside your fears, and trust in God. To face those who intend harm. The courage to lead.
Courage takes many forms, which is one reason this virtue was chosen as this year’s theme for our stewardship campaign. Fall is a season each year in the life of our congregation when we promise our support together. This demonstration of courage supports the entire cathedral community; it enables us to create and sustain programming, unlocking the doors that separate us and inviting the spirit in.
At one time or another, we’ve each had to summon the courage to do or say something that frightened us, just like Moses. God told Moses to throw down his staff, the instrument he used to make a living, to survive. It’s not difficult to imagine that this frightened Moses a bit. He could’ve said, “I depend on this! I can’t do it. How am I going to survive?” but instead, we read, “he cast it on the ground.” He obeyed. His faith supported him in his fear. Faith gave him courage.
For Stewardship 2023, we engaged 528 households during the course of our campaign. We met our increased fundraising goal. Because of you. Your gift may not part the Red Sea, but it will open doors of opportunity for people who seek the fellowship of the church. Giving will not strike water from a stone, but it will enable those in our community who need it the most to buy groceries or maybe nourish their soul by attending one of our formation opportunities. We may not conquer enemies by giving, but we may provide the resources and community needed to overcome obstacles standing in the way of becoming all we are here to be and do. When Moses threw down his staff, he didn’t know what to expect. When God allowed him to pick it back up, he used it to perform miracles we still recount today. When we trust God enough to throw our possessions down, in service to others, think of the miracles that will burst forth from our gift.
As Dean Young said in his Ingathering sermon a few years ago, “Giving makes us human. Giving is how we experience ourselves as we were made to be, in the image of God.” I pray you will consider a gift this year if you’ve never pledged – or continue if you’re a long-time financial supporter. Coffee hour this week is sponsored by the stewardship committee. I encourage you to have a conversation with committee members (they will be easily identifiable by name tags!) after church on Sunday. Ask them questions – see how the cathedral community has shaped them and formed their spirit. Gifts made by generations of our cathedral family have ensured we are the beacon of hope on the hill. Won’t you help continue that legacy of courage?
The Rev. Joe C. Williams
So many wonderful things have been happening at Grace Cathedral these past few weeks, one needs only to look around them to see the Spirit moving among us. We blessed backpacks for youth returning to school; we welcomed seven new members into the household of God on the Feast of the Transfiguration; we invested eight new choristers, and this week, installed the Rev. Greg Kimura, Ph.D. (Cantab.) as our Vice Dean and Cathedral Canon, and we celebrated my priestly ordination.
Years of study, self-reflection, and prayer have led me here, but just as our Canon Precentor has given insight on the election and consecration of the Ninth Bishop of California, I wanted to take a few moments to take a brief look at the service itself. This is especially important because this service occurs infrequently — typically, twice per year as diocesan-wide celebrations — and may be less familiar.
The earliest text from an ordination rite was that of the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (c. 215), which is thought to be representative of early rites in Rome. In this rite, the bishop was elected by a local congregation, and was ordained on a Sunday by a group of bishops who laid hands on his head. In turn, when presbyters (what we would now call priests) were ordained, hands were laid by the bishop, and other presbyters joined for he was being admitted to a corporate body presided over by the bishop. Today, we still follow this custom.
In the Anglican tradition, the prayer book of 1549 didn’t include a rite for ordination. However, in 1550, “The Form and Manner of Making and Consecrating of Archbishops, Bishops, Priests and Deacons” was published. This model served as the principal form and source for subsequent rites published in 1552 and 1662.
In The Episcopal Church, a form for ordination has been included in each approved Book of Common Prayer. This rite includes a presentation of the ordinand (person being ordained), and a verbal and written declaration of consent that expresses their promise to uphold this new ministry as well as their belief in the scripture and doctrine of the church. The service also includes the litany for ordinations and a hymn calling on the Holy Spirit before the laying on of hands. Following the prayer of consecration, the newly ordained person is vested according to their order (deacon, priest, or bishop), followed by participation in the Eucharist.
The service is a sacred and holy moment for all involved: those who are called to serve in ordained ministry, and the people who support them in that ministry. I am thrilled to have shared this time with you all. In my time at Grace, I have grown and learned so much, and it’s because of the community that surrounds me. Each of you brings special gifts to this sacred place, and I am thrilled to continue this new chapter in my ministry, surrounded by you all.
The Rev. Joe C. Williams
Earlier this week, I took my usual walk down to the corner market to get my coffee after morning prayer. It’s a walk I take almost daily–this quick, five-minute journey gives me the opportunity to allow our prayers to wash over me, and I’m able to set intentions for the day ahead. It’s usually an uneventful stroll. I walk over, exchange pleasantries with the woman at the register and walk back.
This time, however, one of our unhoused neighbors was standing outside the door as I was leaving. As I walked out, he noticed my collar, crossed himself, and got down on his knees. He looked up at me and asked, “Will you pray with me?” I asked for his name and how best I could pray for him; he replied that he didn’t have a specific intention but wanted to thank God for all the blessings in his life. We prayed together, and he continued walking down the street.
I was struck by my reaction to the brief conversation–I had assumed he was going to ask for money. I assumed he had a litany of prayer requests to help him out of his situation; I assumed he was suffering. Instead, he was thankful–he was blessed.
This past Sunday, we celebrated the feast of Pentecost. We rejoiced at the descent of the Holy Spirit; the reversal of Babel, where God confused their tongues and scattered the people across the earth. On Pentecost, people from across the known world were gathered in Jerusalem, in one place, and experienced a new unity. This feast encourages us to recognize our humanity and lead us to understand–not just languages, but each other; to not make assumptions.
Understanding, recognition, unity. These themes are a perfect segue into Pride month, a month in which we honor a holy diversity. A month of celebration and revolution sparked by trans women of color who declared that they had had enough of the status quo. They deserved to be recognized, called by their name, and treated with dignity. This idea of radical welcome and inclusion, regardless of differences, is at the heart of Christ’s message. Here at Grace Cathedral, we intentionally and prayerfully attempt to embody that Great Commandment.
I pray you will walk alongside us through this journey through Pentecost. Join us for the Pride Mass 2023, which will be held Sunday, June 4, at 6 pm. Witness the dedication of the Pride Steps before that service – a visible sign to the community that, here, everyone is welcome at God’s table. Pray with us each weekday morning. Join us online. We want to know your name – we want to know how we can pray with you, and for you.
Just as the decent of the Holy Spirit provided understanding to those gathered so many centuries ago, she still swirls around us, encouraging us to embrace our differences, to learn and understand from each other, and to share our stories. Just as I was confronted with my own bias and assumption, I was also blessed and learned from a thankful stranger. May you be open to the possibility of love and unity that could be hiding in plain sight just around the corner.
A little over a week has passed since I arrived in San Francisco, and I’ve never been so aware or grateful for the blessings God continues to provide. I was greeted by a community of faith that has intentionally welcomed me as one of their own and have the privilege of working with colleagues, clergy, and lay, who embody Christ’s commandment daily to love one another.
I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself and tell you a bit about me. I’m the Rev. Joe Williams, and I’ve been called to Grace Cathedral as Succentor. In this capacity, I will assist the Rev. Canon Anna Rossi in the preparation of the cathedral liturgy and in the care and formation of all who serve our worship life. I’m a sixth-generation Oklahoman and a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. My family still resides in Oklahoma, just north of Tulsa, and regularly joins the cathedral community online in prayers from the family farm.
Coming here was a big step and one I didn’t undertake lightly. In this Sunday’s final hymn, we will sing, “Awake, arise, go forth in faith and Christ shall give you life…” As I finalized this Sunday’s leaflet, that particular line jumped out at me. My entire vocational journey has forced me to “go forth,” and this chapter is no different. While sometimes we may understand the need to “go,” at times can be difficult, which is why prayer is foundational for each of our vocations. It allows us to settle ourselves and be receptive to receiving the light and life offered by Christ.
In the Gospel of Mark, we are told that after the resurrection, Jesus met the disciples and implored them to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Jesus met them where they were, and they went. They walked around the known world proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s love by word and by deed. The people of Grace continue this legacy by living out our baptismal promises, “striving for justice and peace…respect[ing] the dignity of every human being.” Philosopher and social activist Dr. Cornel West famously said that justice is love made public. I’m blessed to be a part of an institution that embodies this philosophy, a congregation that models the great commandment by welcoming all.
I pray your week is filled with every blessing. If I’ve yet to meet you, please say hello the next time you’re on campus or online. If I’ve already met you on Sunday, please say hi again! This Sunday is packed with excitement as we welcome Bobby McFerrin and Motion, who will lead Circlesongs at 10:30 am. We will also welcome special guests iCantori, a superb chamber choir from Walla Walla University in Washington State, and guest preacher Mary Lomax-Ghirarduzzi, the inaugural vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion and chief diversity (DEI) officer at the University of the Pacific.
May the light of Christ give you life.
The Rev. Joe C. Williams