We are preparing for our yearly Anglican Synod at the end of April, which will be held here in the Bay Area after two years in Redding. It will be good to see old friends and make new ones, and be able to attend some of the local events. Our Diocese of the Western States will share the synod with our neighboring diocese, the Diocese of the Southwestern States, which means seeing more old friends from out of state and meeting more new ones.
Our own St. Joseph’s Collegiate Chapel and Seminary in Berkeley will be co-hosting the synod with our Clayton parish, St. Martin of Tours. On Tuesday, April 25, St. Joseph’s is having an Open House with Mass, lunch, history tours, videos, and items from our archives, ending with Solemn Evensong. The Open House is a prelude to the beginning of the Synod on Wednesday and is open to all who are interested.
In preparing a booklet that speaks to the history of the seminary and the Berkeley location, one block from UCB, I have pulled out files from our archives, journeying back to 1960 when a certain Fr. Robert Morse, Episcopal Chaplain at Cal, desired to build a student chapel for corporate worship. A trusting priest, he thought he had the support of his bishop, but not so. Bishop James Pike wanted to derail the project for the local parishes saw the young chaplain as competition. Yet somehow, our faithful Fr. Morse did not give up. He patiently, over the next fourteen years, listened to that still small voice he heard in his prayers, and finally saw the chapel rise from the corner of Durant and Bowditch in 1974. Along the way, I wonder why he didn’t give into despair, but continued on, one step at a time, faithfully. He listened and he waited on God, as individuals appeared in his life who would make all the difference.
In the process of researching this story, it occurred to me once again how unique each one of us is, with unique talents and temptations, no two alike. How can that be? Scientists studying Evolution and Intelligent Design call the genetic code one of “infinite complexity.” It is this complexity that puts the lie to evolutionary theory as being the only path of human development. We are far too complicated and evolution far too simple. We were designed by an intelligent creator and, one might add, designed by a loving creator.
When I am in a group, be it my Curves ladies who exercise with me on machines in a circle, or be it my friendly faithful on folding chairs in church, or be it simply a line of folks at the Post Office, I like to watch each person and delight in their differences, their uniqueness. For we are not robots, no matter the ChatGBT artificial intelligence tool, and each one of us is beautifully intricate, with our own purpose designed by our loving creator. Those who study history know this – the uncanny ability of one person to make a difference, to be in the right place at the right time to enact another chapter in humanity’s timeline, hopefully a chapter of grace.
As a friend at Curves said to me one day, “Everyone has a story. I like to know the story.” Simple and profound. This particular lady has the most beautiful smile I have ever encountered, with curious eyes, and a sweet way of tilting her head as she listens. Yes, listening is a great talent too. I am trying to do more listening and less talking, for when I do, I get to inhabit another’s story for a time. I am never disappointed. It is true I do like to chat, perhaps too much, and I try to resist the temptation and listen, riding the wave of infinite complexity that is on offer in the other.
And so, I wonder in awe, at the many little moments of decision that Fr. Morse made in the early sixties, finally maneuvering to the safer waters of the early seventies, one day at a time. He must have been a good listener, waiting on God, desiring God’s will. For he was led to the right individuals that would protect not only his priestly vocation, but his vision of the chapel on the corner of Durant and Bowditch. He was listening, and he was led. I can see him now, listening to me babble, his thoughtful face absorbing my words and solving my problems of the moment. He would nod, his eyes growing large in recognition of a shared thought or discovery. He was transparent, trusting.
Looking back, as historians do from their high perch of the present, it all seems logical and inevitable. But when I imagine myself in his position, when I imagine what it was like when he realized he had misguided and nearly prosecuted by the Diocese of California, despair would surely have nipped at my heels. To be sure, Fr. Morse was only human, as they say. But I believe he laid his temptations, his worries and his fears, at the foot of the Cross, went back to listening to God, and patiently and prayerfully pondered the next step.
Not knowing what the next moment will hold, or the next day, or the next year, can be frightening. And yet with Our Lord in charge of our lives it can be exhilarating. We must follow the Cross, for all is grace, and nothing is lost. Everything counts. Our failures, our missteps, our wrong turns are all redeemed. He picks us up and dusts us off and sends us out once again into the world of infinitely complex human beings, our brothers and sisters, our parents and our children, each creation glorifying the creator. Then we bask in the light of his love.
And we remember to listen. For each one of us is making history in our own time, step by step, prayer by prayer.