Oakland church

WISE Congregations for Mental Health Conference – March 2 in Oakland

Mental health conditions are common everywhere, including in our churches.  People are dealing with a variety of mental health and substance use challenges every day.  Due to stigma, many people may be reluctant to either seek help professionally or to speak about it with their pastor or other members of their church.    But we want to create a place of belonging, where truly everyone…including those with mental health challenges…is welcome, no matter where they are on life’s journey.

Congregations are invited to explore becoming WISE: Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged for Mental Health by attending a conference on March 2 at City of Refuge in Oakland, offered by the UCC Mental Health Network.  

This conference is an opportunity for clergy, church members and leaders to:

  • learn about mental health
  • explore how our faith communities can support those among us with health challenges
  • attend workshops
  • begin the steps to become a WISE Congregation for Mental Health, following the UCC resolution passed at General Synod in 2015.

The conference brochure is attached, or can be seen on the Mental Health Network website, mhn-ucc.org.  All are welcome and encouraged to attend.   Questions? Contact Robin Kempster, member of the UCC Mental Health Network, at rkempster@fccb.org.

UCC WISE Conference (Oakland, CA 3_2_19) for more information about break out sessions, speakers, and schedule.

Our Calling and Vocation to Love

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

This week, our adventures continue as we explore our calling and vocation to love. Jesus calls his first disciples, who are fisherman, to cast their nets out into the deep where they will find abundance; and re-defines them as fishers of men. It reminds me of this beautiful quote by the French novelist, author of Le Petit Prince,  Antoine de Saint-Exupery: 
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
It helps to keep the big picture in mind.
  1. Notice where you have settled for a small life, for a life that is shallow, or wasted on trivial things.
  2. Plunge into the deep. Take up the practice of contemplative prayer, or selfless service, or whatever helps you to relinquish your small self and to discover again that the deep

    Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

    ground of your being is love –  Ephesians 3:17. When our consciousness is open to the divine Presence in which we are submerged, then we can return to our ordinary tasks with fresh energy and a new perspective.
  3.  And finally, listen for your call. God has a mission for you! When you know that you are loved; when you know that your deep self, your real self, is in God and that you are made for union with God; then God will send you back out into the world to speak and act fearlessly for peace,  healing, and reconciling and setting free. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus says to Simon, and to us, as well. The outcome of our efforts is in the hands of God, and we trust that God will work through us, and that, in a way we cannot possibly  imagine, our lives will bear abundant fruit. God is whispering in our hearts, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, and we dare to reply, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8 )
Blessings upon your week, Pastor Laurie 

“Agape is love seeking to…create community” MLK

This week we explore the meaning of the Greek word, agape.  Every time you hear the word “love” in the passages like the First Letter of John, and 1st Corinthians 13,  it was agape in the original Greek.  “God is agape, and everyone who abides in agape abides in God and God abides in them.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. contributed his own experience to the traditional interpretation of agape.  King saw this kind of love from the perspective of someone whose church had been bombed, killing four young black girls.  King knew the power of agape as someone who struggled with the temptation to hate and fight violence with violence, to get revenge and oppress those who had oppressed his people.  King spoke about the power of agape as someone who had seen it work miracles, not only in enabling his own heart to transcend its hate but also overcoming a vast systemic evil that no one thought could ever be overcome.  King saw firsthand that the love a person wields when they become zero is the most powerful force in the universe.

We need that power now for the overwhelming challenge ahead of us, bringing about a revolution of values in human civilization within a very short period of time.  We need King’s wisdom about it.

He called us in his book, Stride Toward Freedom, to project the ethic of agape love to the center of our lives.  He said, “Agape…. is the love of God operating in the human heart….  It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor…. Agape is not a weak, passive love.  It is love in action.  Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community…. The Holy Spirit is the continuing community creating reality that moves through history.  He who works against community is working against the whole of creation…. In the final analysis, agape means a recognition of the fact that all life is interrelated…. Whether we call it an unconscious process, an impersonal Brahman, or a Personal Being of matchless power and infinite love, there is a creative force in this universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole.”

Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse Story by Steve Beck 

First, that was a wonderful Black Moon Eclipse gathering on Sunday evening at Church.
Bless you Catherine and Michael for bringing the delicious Rustica pizza and fine wines.
To go with my cup cakes!
While the skies looked dismal at first, it was cold and raining and cloudy, we waited patiently.
And eventually our patience and faith paid off big time!
We first gathered in the Fellowship Hall, watching the live video stream of the Moon from the Griffith Planetarium and Observatory in Los Angeles.
High up on Mulholland Drive – they had a great moon camera view….we had clouds and rain at Church at that time!
But that didn’t last for long……..
Then we viewed together the moving and powerful “I Have a Dream” poetic, emotional speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Still so very relevant today as it was in March of 1963 when he gave it on the Mall in Washington DC.
It was great, specially after Pastor Laurie’s children’s time. 
She taught me how he came to have the name Martin Luther, among other things.
Then the clouds began to part, I was out doing Moon Watch patrol at the labyrinth.
First a few bright stars appeared, and then Ms. Moon!
We saw her gradually become covered from the bottom edge by Mother Earth’s shadow.
Clouds kept coming and going, making for a most dramatic viewing experience.
Pastor Laurie arrived and a few others, and we got to see totality begin!
I had to play some of my Black Moon Etudes on the Sanctuary piano – that seemed to encourage the clouds to part again.
We had all moved into the Sanctuary in almost complete darkness – it was awesome.
But then we moved back to the Labyrinth together.
Chilly it was, but worth it!
Then a large stratus cloud layer moved in, and it appeared that we were done seeing much after that.
So most everyone departed, but I stayed.
And then the stratus clouds vanished to the east.
And a totally clear sky was there for all of the totality phase.
Many major constellations became crystal clear.
The Pleades, Taurus the Bull with Aldebaran his bright orange eye.
Orion in all his glory, with his trusty hunting dog Canis Major!
His nose, eyes, and ears were so clearly visible, with the brightest star Sirius glowing pure white!
Over to Gemini with the twin stars Castor and Pollux super clear.
Even Cassiopea on her throne was revealed, along with the Big Dipper and Polaris, the north star.
It was one of the best 10 clear view nights I ever saw around this large urban area of Oakland/Berkeley.
It was totally dark at the Church, but then a voice called out around 10 PM – it was Mimi Chan from HEIA!
She is the Board Chair for HEIA.
I had set up my 90mm Meade telescope so we got some great views of Ms. Moon in totality.
By 10:30 totality had cleared and the light edge of the Moon was coming in from the left side, not the bottom!
So I decided to pack up my gear and head to home, 1/2 mile away.
Could view the Moon there because now she was high enough in the sky.
But then it started to rain again! HAH!
It was very nice and quiet and dark up on Skyline at that late, wet hour of a Sunday night.
Pastor Laurie texted me from her home about how clear the skies had become!
She was viewing Ms. Moon there – Thanks!
And I replied that I was still up at Church.
She replied “All alone?”
I replied “Not Really alone, here with The Goddess and it’s beautiful. She’s Divine”
So to those who came (Carolyn, Rod, Mirtha and Johann, Nancy, my wife Candice, Pastor Laurie, Jim Schubert & family) it was very special to share this unique and blessed experience together with you.
And it worked out great to see so much of the eclipse from such a special location and together!
I may well host other “Astro Nights” in the coming months at Skyline Community Church when special events occur.
Meteor showers, more full moons rising in the east, star and constellation tours – stay tuned!
Or if there is just plain great “seeing” nights – dry, clear, crisp skies – but it’s often on the chilly side for that.
Cheers, peace, blessings, Steve Beck
(C)Copyright 2019 Steve Beck

Let us Delight in our Diversity that Offers Glimpses of the Mosaic of Your Beauty

On that rainy Sunday, we honored the Spirit of God, remembering the prophetic life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in inspiring music, in preaching, and in community. 

On Sunday evening we were blessed with a glimpse of the lunar eclipse.

We lift up prayers of gratitude, as we are called to creating the Beloved Community.

 Blessings upon your week, Laurie 

O God, You who created the sun, moon, stars and this planet earth,
and set them all in motion, Who’s beauty we honored, 
in beholding the rare lunar eclipse, when the shadow of the earth,
illuminated by the sun, is cast upon the moon.

O God, all people are your Beloved,
across races, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations
and all the ways we are distinctive from one another.
We are all manifestations of your image.
We are bound together in an inescapable network of mutuality
and tied to a single garment of destiny.
You call us into your unending work
of justice, peace and love.
Let us know your presence among us now:

Let us delight in our diversity
that offers glimpses of the mosaic of your beauty.
Strengthen us with your steadfast love and
transform our despairing fatigue into hope-filled action.

Under the shadow of your wings in this hour
may we find rest and strength, renewal and hope.
We ask this, inspired by the example
of your disciple, Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Water and the Divine

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

I am grateful that our liturgical year always begins with watery readings and rituals that reflect God’s spirit. I am also grateful for the rains this week and the deep and varied shades of green; and that the fragrances of the earth are returning and coming back to life.

On Monday afternoon, just before the New Year, we took a familiar walk on the shores of Lake Chabot. The sun was shimmering, the sky a clear blue, and the wind sounded like the ocean.  As we walked I couldn’t help but recall the Creation story from Genesis, and those waters of the deep that existed before creation; with God’s spirit moving, even brooding above them, and the spirit hovering above the waters. I couldn’t help but recall the story of Jesus’s baptism in the waters of the Jordan River.  Both of these watery images mark Divinely inspired beginnings. God and time come out of water in a wave or a cloud or a Divinely uttered word of precious and foundational affirmation, like “it was good” or “you are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.” 

Join us this Sunday, as we remember that we too, are God’s beloved child, and are called to the renewal of our lives by the Spirit.

A Movement of Epiphanies: Let the Light of God Shine Through Us

Have you ever felt discouraged about the world lately and powerless to do anything about it?  In need of hope that it’s possible for ordinary people with no weapons but the truth and courage of their convictions to overcome oppressive forces of hatred, injustice and violence? In need of an epiphany to shine forth and give us ways to shine this little light of ours so that we may be an epiphany to others?  You’re not alone!

Jesus said that if his followers were to fall silent the stones themselves would shout out their praise. (Luke 19:40)  The light we see in Jesus is as old as the universe—older, for it brought this universe into being.  It has filled and  moved all things, held together all that cohered, evolved and changed all toward higher levels of organization and life and eventually consciousness, and brought life out of death, forming new stars and planets and living beings out of the old.

It’s this force speaking through Jesus in The Gospel of Thomas saying, “There is light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world…. I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all come.  Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there…. The realm of God will not come by watching for it…. Rather, it’s spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.”  from the Gospel of Thomas, 24, 70, 77 & 113

Join us this Sunday, for the story about an ongoing movement; a movement of freedom, of light, and of epiphanies that draw us forward. Epiphanies are not for us alone.  They recruit us to a Movement, the same movement that Martin Luther King Jr. led, Jesus led, Isaiah led, and Moses led; and the movements of our time.  Epiphanies transform us by the light of God they reveal so that we will transform the world around us to be more like God’s realm of mercy, justice and peace.  Let us see and be radiant and go out into our homes and into the beloved community of this town and into this divided and endangered world and shine in every way we can so that others see our light and are inspired to shine their own.

Join us as together we look for the light within our deepest heart, and open ourselves to be led to new ways to shine.

“You are the Light of the World, Let Your Light Shine”


My heart is full of gratitude for the greening of the earth, and for the timeless stories of hope and justice that live on in our time in the countless acts of courage and love.
I am reminded of our closing ritual in our Christmas Eve service, that in lighting one candle and passing it on, together, our light shines in the darkness. I am reminded of the words of Jesus in John’s gospel, reminding us, “You are the light of the world, let your light shine”.  Even during the brief neighborhood power outage, the light and the music shined on!
I am grateful for the light which shines so brightly in each one of you!
  • The inspired vision of Sunday’s Christmas Pageant, the Bethlehemian Rhapsody, through our very own Tim Carter and David Guerra, our resident Rogers and Hammerstein! Special thanks to our Holy family (Amie, Justin, & Josiah), Angel (Anna), Herod (Boyd), and our choir!
  • The soulful, joyous music from Monday’s Christmas eve service, featuring so many songs from black spirituals, like Rise up Shepherds and Follow, Mary Had a Baby, Ain’t that a Rockin, songs that emerged from the sufferings of slavery, that lift up the timeless scriptures, and inspire God’s timeless vision of freedom and liberation, and good news for all people. Special thanks to Benjamin Mertz and the choir!!
  • Our kitchen angels: led by the wonderful Marcella Hardy, supported by Paula & Dave Byrens, Becky Taylor, Philippia Pegram, and all of you who donated treats!
  • The recent generosity to support the children of East Oakland Community Project, the largest transitional homeless center in Alameda County. Special thanks to Nancy Taylor, chair of our justice & witness teams!
  • The Green team for their recent community sing, to support for the Camp Fire victims, to their consistent dedication in maintaining our beautiful campus, especially in this Christmas season! Special thanks to Catherine Kessler, and Michael Armijo!
  • Our spiritual life team in offering the well -received Saturday morning advent bible study
  • The joy of welcoming those of you who have been away, the pleasure of welcoming those of you who are new, and the love that unites us all, across time and space.
I encourage you to enjoy the photos (see below) and the videos (see links below) from our worship together!
My heart and prayers are with all of those for whom this season carries grief and sadness. You are part of the circle of light. You are part of this family of love. May you experience God’s healing light, bringing comfort and peace to you and to those you love.  
Video Links

Prepare a Space for God “to be Born Within Us”

It’s Monday, December 17 at 7;30 pm, and as I type this, it’s hard to believe that next week, literally at this time, we will be celebrating our Christmas eve service! 
    It’s so easy, in the midst of grief, to feel that the promise of new life is not meant for us. 
    It’s so easy, in the midst of stress,  to lose sight of the deeper meaning  of God with us
    It’s so easy, in the midst of fear, to want to close ourselves off from the hope and promise of love. 
   As the great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart once wrote, “God is always wanting to be born within us” 
    I believe that it’s true, and like pregnancy and birth, we need to be active participants in the process. 
    I offer you some suggestions for preparing a space within yourself. 
  • Take time to read the timeless words of the prophets, that speak to us, personally and collectively,  as people 
  • living in the wilderness, in need of comfort, living in a land of deep darkness. I love the words of Isaiah 40, and 35, and 9.
  • Take time to read the birth narratives, especially  Luke 2.
  • Take time to be still, to breathe deeply, to breathe in peace, to breathe out fear, and to allow yourself to be fully open, vulnerable, and real, with the God who loves you completely. 
  • Take time to be grateful, even in the midst of all of the pain,  violence, and suffering,  for the gift of life, of love, of this moment, of the beauty that is all around  and within us. 
Blessings and peace to you this week, with love, Pastor Laurie

“Let Us Walk in the Light of Our God”

copyright nathan mcbride 2018 unsplash

In this season of Advent, may you walk in the light of peace! God bless you and thank you, for the privilege of serving as your minister.

An Advent Reading

Some day,

the Lord’s house will be there,

on that highest mountain.

And people will climb the mountain

and learn, from the Lord, how to live.

And they will spread the word to others,

so that everyone will know

how to act in the right way.

No nation shall invade another nation.

No, never again shall anyone be trained for war.

Swords shall be hammered into plows for the farm,

and spears recycled into tools for the garden.


let us all walk in the light of the Lord. 

                             adapted from Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah reminds us that Advent is about creating a new world in which there will be only one center, one people, one Light and one reason to be. “The mountain of God’s house shall be established as the highest mountain . . . and all nations shall stream toward it…O house of Jacob, come,” Isaiah pleads. “Let us walk in the light of our God.” 

In this season of advent, let us look up, to the mountaintop, let us walk together in the light of God. 

With love, Pastor Laurie