MAY 4, 2011

Montclair Presbyterian Church

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I was invited to a luncheon for local clergy at the Pacific School of Religion.  As we ate, we introduced ourselves and we were supposed to answer the question “Are you preaching about Osama Bin Laden’s death in church on Sunday?”  There were 20-25 of us gathered around a large table from a variety of denominations.  The answers varied widely and it quickly became clear that our clergy group was a mirror of what is going on around the world.  Some of the clergy spoke about rejoicing in his death while others spoke of being horrified by those who were rejoicing in his death.  What struck me was that the clergy who spoke about rejoicing in his death had all been impacted personally in some way.  One pastor lost a relative in the twin towers.  A couple of other pastors were living and working in New York City at the time and were involved firsthand.  Most of the pastors gathered said they were going to preach on it on Sunday.  Honestly, I am not sure yet.  I am not changing my text or the direction of my sermon to fit it but if it naturally belongs in the sermon, I might include it.  Stay tuned…

The other interesting part of our time together yesterday was meeting in small groups and answering the question “How has ministry changed from the time you began as a pastor until now?”  Half of the pastors in the room have only been ordained in the past ten years while the rest of us have been ordained for 20 to 35 years.  There were some big differences in our answers!  Almost everyone talked about the depression of the denominations and how quickly churches will be taking on different forms.  The new President of PSR happened to be in my small group and he said almost 50% of students now are not there to seek pastoral ministry but are there to pursue non-profit or other kinds of work.  He also said they are training more and more students bi-vocationally as the reality of having paid clergy is certainly harder to achieve for many congregations.  I asked him to consider how congregations like Montclair can be involved in the kinds of conversations that are occurring at seminaries like PSR.  They are beginning to do some real out-of-the-box kinds of thinking and planning and it would be exciting to partner with them as they try out some new ideas.  One idea he threw out was that instead of having a seminary student go to a church to intern (which he said means following the pastor around and learning from the pastor as the old model), he is suggesting sending 4 or 5 students to a congregation to partner with the congregation and a local non-profit agency to collaborate on a project.  What a great idea!  It sure spurs further thinking about some different possibilities!  If any of you know the new President, I encourage you to talk to him about partnering with us in conversation and work.

On another subject completely, last December I led a class on Loss and it was well attended.  As part of that ongoing journey, Polly Johnson has agreed to lead a writing group on loss.  Please see her description later on in Contact and let her know if you are interested.  Loss is not just death but covers a variety of losses (moving, separating or divorcing, children moving away, physical health deteriorating, aging, financial, etc…).  What a powerful experience to be able to write about our losses and experience some healing.

At the Session meeting last night we heard a report from the Stewardship Committee.  So far we are staying about the same in terms of pledging but we still have many people who have not responded.  We laughed as various Session members guiltily raised their hands or turned in their pledge forms on the spot!  Please remember to send your pledge in so we can begin to accurately determine how our budget for next year will be impacted.  If you are someone who has not pledged yet because you are not sure if you plan on coming in the next year or ever again, I want to encourage you to talk to me or someone else in the congregation who knows you.  If the Montclair Church Family has been your community, please make it a point to talk to someone about your concerns or your life circumstances that have changed or your displeasure.  Have you ever been to a family reunion and really missed someone who was unable to attend?  That’s how it feels when someone in the church stops coming.  You are missed!  We don’t always do a good job of letting you know it, but it’s true.

Susanne Lea has done a wonderful job below of reporting on last night’s Session meeting.  If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to me or someone else on the Session.  We welcome conversation.

When I introduced myself as the “Interim from Montclair Presbyterian” yesterday, I was aware of being deeply proud to be walking with you and deeply grateful.



“Supersize Me”: This movie took on new meaning as 22 members of our Youth Group watched the DVD with Julia Dunbar, who led a discussion of the effects of most fast food on our health and the environment. Julia noted some positive changes that have taken place since this documentary film was first made. Many have noticed that the industry has shifted its advertising to adapt to consumer awareness of the issues: for example, linking their organization to charity-giving or making some still-not-so-healthy menu choices sound healthy. Our youth already appear to be savvy consumers, thanks in part to an informed Bay Area culture, with parents and peers, and even some schools, providing healthier choices.

Spiritual Retreat in Canada: This coming weekend I will be leading 6 adults from MPC to New Denver, British Columbia to a Spiritual Retreat with the Rev. Therese DesCamp. We will spend a week there, as the Youth Group did last summer. The group attending includes Marilynn Moore, Carol Miesner, Janet Mulshine, Pat and Paul Underhill, Linda Benson, and myself.

Calling All 2011 Grads (all ages): On Sunday, June 5, there will be some special activities in our Graduation Sunday Celebration that you won’t want to miss. Please save the date.


Youth Group: We will meet this Sunday, in room 2, from 7-9 PM. Don’t miss this special session with Jay Gregory joining us. We are looking forward to the May 14 Mini-Mission Trip for middle AND high school! We will do some work on the same theme as the mission trip: sustainable food and community-supported agriculture, right in West Oakland. We will partner with City Slicker Farms. Bring a water bottle, grubby clothes, gardening gloves, sunscreen/hats, and snacks! We are full already but if we get seven more people wanting to go, we can go in two groups. RSVP to if you want to be on a wait list, or if you cancel, let her know so someone else can go. Meet 12:30 pm in church lot; return about 4:30 pm.

Godly Play for Grownups: This will take place May 22nd after church (11:15-12:00). We’ll dig a little deeper into a bible story, Godly Play style. The WHOLE CHURCH is invited, but teachers and parents are encouraged to attend; older kids and teens can join too. Please RSVP if you want childcare for a younger one.


We had a blockbuster session meeting last night, Tuesday, May 3, with three major items to report:

  1. Deacon Program: Session approved in principle a deacon program of 15 commissioned lay persons, meaning that both members and non-members can serve as deacons.  Refinements will be worked out at the June session meeting, with an anticipated rollout of the program slated for Fall, 2011.
  2. Mission Study Team: Session and its Mission Study Team Identification Group have put together an initial list representing the various composition factors required for this seven-person team. The identification Group will begin finalizing commitments this week.
  3. Staffing Configuration: Session approved the following part-time positions commencing July 1, 2011:
    • A 25-hour per week Associate for Education position that includes the current work of the Associate for Children and Youth (Susan Hunn) and the Coordinator for Children and Youth (Talitha Phillips), as well as adult education responsibilities. Susan Hunn will be retained in this position.
    • A 20-hour per week Associate for Care and Congregational Life position centered on offering pastoral care; building community, particularly intergenerational community building; and outreach using technology and social networking tools. Talitha Phillips will be hired for this position.
    • This staffing configuration eliminates the intern position devoted to children and youth and reallocates resources to respond to unmet pastoral care and community building needs. With renewed commitments from education committee members and parents to work directly with the children and youth program, we anticipate that the impact of reallocating time from children and youth to pastoral care and congregational life will be minimal.


Circle of Life: Many thanks to all the children, youth, and families who helped make Easter’s intergenerational choir so inspiring! I love the song “Circle of Life”, and your performance of it will remain in my memory forever.

Coming in May: There’s a lot of great music coming up in May that you won’t want to miss.

  • This Sunday, we welcome guest soprano Jessica McKenzie. A graduating senior and music major at UC Berkeley. Jessica was recently the soprano soloist in a campus performance of the Faure “Requiem.” On Mother’s Day, she will sing the “Pie Jesu” from that piece, and a spiritual entitled “Give Me Jesus.”

Baroque Music: If you love Baroque music, then the following two Sundays are for you.

  • Sparkling trumpets play Vivaldi on May 15, and our choir and a Baroque orchestra will perform a Bach Mass on May 22. Stay tuned for details!

STEWARDSHIP – IT’S UP TO YOU: As of last Sunday, May 1st, we had received pledge forms from a little more than two-thirds of last year’s pledgers. Honestly, this is pretty typical, the usual procrastination. Please remember that responding to the pledge drive is a responsibility of membership and one of the Co-Chairs of Stewardship. Most likely Jeanne Dunn will be calling those of you we haven’t heard from yet. Save her a call, email your pledge to Barbara Vaughn ( or call Jeanne (834-7559) or Barbara (482-5181) with your pledge. Please… do it now. Session is already working on next year’s budget, but needs total pledge numbers before it can be finalized. Thank you.

Left to Right: Pat Hoggatt, Jan Smith, Earl Sawyer, Cliff King, Carrie McKiernan.

ADULT EDUCATION, BALLROOM DANCING: This class has been postponed till the Fall.

MAY 4th DEADLINE: Art Gang Event at Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma. This will be on Saturday, May 7, and the admission is Free. We will tour twenty walk-through gardens designed by the world’s finest landscape architects and designers. There will be lunch onsite or bring your own. We will meet in the church parking lot at 9 am to carpool and return late in the afternoon. We need a minimum of 8 people. Please RSVP to or 658-6655. The deadline is on Wednesday, May 4, to reserve a spot.

WHITE ELEPHANT SALE: Piedmont Gardens, 100 Glen Avenue, Oakland, between Linda and 41st Street on Saturday, May 7, 2011 from 9:00 A.M. – 1: 00 P.M. Great bargains and we can only accept cash. Most items are things left in an apartment when someone moves out.

MOTHER’S DAY CONCERT AT MPC: Pacific Boys Academy’s Continuum choir is performing their free annual Mother’s Day concert at Montclair Presbyterian Church. Come join Continuum as they sing music from Thomas Tallis to Linkin Park, including spirituals recorded last fall at Skywalker Ranch. Make sure to bring mom to this celebratory concert! There will be a reception after the concert, Sunday, May 8 (Mother’s Day) at 4 PM. Montclair Presbyterian Church, 5701 Thornhill Drive, Oakland, CA 94611-2199.

MPC FAMILY CAMP: Don’t forget to register for this year’s 34th Annual MPC Family Camp. If you can’t come for the whole week, then why not come for part of the week? In addition to our morning programs on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, & Friday – Wednesday starts with a group Pancake Breakfast in the campground & ends with a beach barbeque near the lake. Dates are June 18(19) until June 25. There will be a Family Camp table in the Family Room after church on Sunday. Co-Deans: Debbie Fallehy & Carrie McKiernan – Registrar: Cindy Gullikson

CLOSE TO HOME: Close to Home will be hosting a talk and slide show on Monday, May 9, 7:30pm in the Thornhill Room. Celebrating Sibley’s Round Top – Volcanoes have been, and continue to be, major players in shaping the surface of Planet Earth.  From its vantage point high in the East Bay hills, Round Top peak in Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve has witnessed and endured many of the powerful forces that have shaped the Bay Area’s natural and human history. Local science teacher Tom Tyler will offer some of stories that this mountain could tell – about our geologic past, about the evolution of life here, about the people who have come and gone, about our attitudes toward the land, about our place in the larger cosmic picture. For more info:

WESTMINSTER HOUSE: The Campus Ministry at Westminster House in Berkeley will be having a service of Thanksgiving on Sunday, May 15, from 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm. They are located at 2315 College Avenue, Berkeley. Please RSVP with number of guests attending to Lillian Mark at or (510)813-3047 by Wednesday, May 11, 2011.

MEASURE Y BRUNCH, MAY 15, 11:30 AM: Worried about crime in Oakland? We are living in troubled times of recession, crime, and violence, and we are concerned about safety and social justice. Come to a brunch on Sunday, May 15, 11:30 am to hear an update on “Lifelines to Opportunity.” This Oakland program focuses on intervening directly in the lives of youth caught up in cycles of violence through street outreach, “call-in” sessions and directly engaging the community. The program is funded by Measure Y, but in order to continue last summer, it needed Measure BB to pass by a two-thirds majority in the November election. Because of the support of MPC and Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) it passed! Since then the program has expanded. Come and learn more about this life-saving program from the directors and hear testimonies from outreach workers on May 15!

MEMORIAL DAY CELEBRATION: On Sunday, May 29th, Talitha is working with the Spiritual Activists to create a service that honors those who have given of their lives – both in armed conflict and in peacemaking movements. It will be a nontraditional service of prayer and meditation. A planning meeting will be announced shortly, but in the meantime we have questions. Have you served in armed forces, or given your time to peacemaking efforts? Have you lost anyone in conflict? Whom should we honor or mourn? Do you have any concerns that you want to see addressed in the service? Talitha would be glad to hear from you via email, a call at the church, or on an in-person visit.

PRESBYTERIAN WOMEN’S PROGRAM: PWP will have its Annual Gathering on Saturday, June 4, 9:30 – 1:00 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church, 194 West 25th Street, San Mateo. The Program will be “Caring for our Sisters in Uniform”. It will be presented by Chaplain Lyn Juckniess, Department of VA, and Palo Alto Health Care System. Donations sought for our sisters in uniform. Our women veterans have many needs, so please bring items to the June 4 Gathering that can be delivered to them. They would truly appreciate receiving the following items; clothing in good condition, feminine sanitary products of any kind, toiletries (travel/hotel sixe), including sunscreen and lip protection, hats, backpacks, sturdy tote bags, bras and cotton underpants – size medium to extra large. So, ladies, search your closets and your hearts, and see what you can provide.

POLLY’S NEW WRITING GROUP: Triggered largely by the acquisition of a walker for my body and a “handicapped” placard for my car, only recently, at the age of 83, have I begun to come to terms with the varied losses that have accompanied my aging process. The walker immediately struck me as such a powerful metaphor for the point at which I find myself in life, that I simply could not ignore it.

I began, reluctantly, to look at the hard truth that loss appears in many forms, tangible and intangible, sometimes like a bolt from the blue, sometimes gradually, and affects us at any and all ages. As I pondered, I realized all too clearly that I needed to write about my losses, and the undeniable grieving they have engendered.

Since many in the MPC family struggle with loss of all kinds, great and small, now and always, it struck me that getting together in a small intergenerational group to reflect on these matters and write about them, could be meaningful for all. For me and for countless others, such writing is highly therapeutic – and sharing that writing in a small, secure group could be enormously beneficial.

It would be my great pleasure to facilitate such a group, time and date to be determined, to meet at MPC on a regular basis. I would love to hear from any of you who may be interested, whatever age, whatever the loss. Along with the benefits I’ve mentioned, we would be building community in powerful and unexpected ways.

Do let me know if you’re interested! Polly Johnson. Email Polly at or call the church at 510-339-1131.

UPDATE ON FORUM WITH MAYOR QUAN: The SPLASH Team’s forum was an uplifting event last Sunday. The guest speaker, Emily Kirsch from the Ella Baker Center, began with a touching account of reading MPC’s mission statement on the website which she said brought tears to her eyes and gave her goose bumps. She didn’t know a church congregation could admit to being joyful and imperfect instead of judgmental and preferred. She gave a fascinating history of the work on environmental protection and the energy and climate action plan (ECAP) which the City of Oakland adopted, making it one of the most ambitious plans in the country. And Mayor Jean Quan was terrific! Did you know that Oakland was the fifth hippest city in the USA? And one of the greenest? And we’ve got goals, oh yes we do! We’re going to get greener yet. Do come out on First Friday (yes, this Friday) and see why Oakland is so terrific and hip. Oh, aren’t we proud to be Oaklanders! Thank you SPLASH Team for treating us all to two wonderful, enlightening speakers. Stay tuned for the next forum. You don’t want to miss it.

COME JOIN THE MPC TEAM! There is going to be a “Relay for Life” event at Skyline High School on August 13th & 14th. We are trying to put together a team to represent MPC. If you would like to be part of the team, please contact Sherrill in the church office, (510)339-1131.

WHAT’S BLOOMING? (From our own gardener): The wonderful blooming plant this month is Fremontodendron, a.k.a. Fremontia, a.k.a. Flannel Bush. Its bright gold blooms can be spied on Thornhill Road. This native shrub takes no water once established, although it is difficult to get started. Also flannel bush must be planted where it can go un-pruned as it has a sharp, irritant to the skin when touched. Along with Ceanothus, considered one of the most stunning natives

DEADLINES: To submit announcements for the bulletin and Contact, please send them to  The deadline for Contact is Tuesdays at 3 pm and the deadline for the bulletin is Wednesdays at 12 pm. This is a change for all of us, so let’s try to remind each other!

MPC Calendar:




5701 Thornhill Drive, Oakland, California 94611, (510)339-1131

Office Hours: Monday – Friday, 9:00am-4:30pm

Rev. Beth Buckingham-Brown, Office hours Monday-Wednesday, 10:00-3:00 pm

Susan Hunn, Associate for Children & Youth: Office hours, Tuesday-Thursday, 9:30-2:30 pm

Sherrill Figuera: Administrative Assistant, Office hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30-4:30 pm

Talitha Phillips: Coordinator for Children and Youth

Kim Rankin: Music Director

Marcia Roy: Organist

Gil & Maria Chiguila: Caretakers

Rev. John Hadsell: Theologian in Residence

Rev. Kathy Ray: Parish Associate

Ajit Abraham: International Partner in Residence