Our Lenten Prayer

Dear companions on the journey:

Following the outstanding Green Chautauqua event featuring the Valve Turners on January 14, a woman from the neighborhood came up to me and asked, “But how do we stay hopeful?”

Her question echoed our worship planning team when we gathered to plan the season of Lent. We talked about how our hearts are breaking from the violence and cynicism in our culture. How we long for peace — both personal and global. How we see a need for healing in our national political scene, as well as for the planet. We talked about how we long to feel God’s presence when life is hard. We long for God to empower and equip us for the journey, but we don’t necessarily know how that might happen. The phrase that came to one of us at the planning meeting is the title of a familiar hymn: “Breathe on Me, Breath of God.” The first verse of the hymn speaks poignantly of
the longings of many of us:

Breathe on me, breath of God.
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what thou dost love,
And do what thou wouldst do.

Does this strike a chord with you? Do you long for a sense of God’s presence, of God’s encouragement, of God’s hope?

Lent is the season when we are invited to devote 6 weeks — one tenth or a tithe of the year — to recovering, remembering, and practicing the presence of God. This Lent, we are designing our worship services around practices that restore and equip us for the journey, that help us encounter God in ourselves, others, nature and the world around us, and that help sustain us and give us hope.

We’ll get a head start on Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday before Lent, when we will look at the simple practice of paying attention. Other Sundays will focus on the practices of prayer, lament, experiencing nature, story, and journeys.

In addition, we’ll off er some opportunities outside of worship to learn and practice spiritual practices. People are diff erent, and diff erent spiritual practices work for diff erent people. Lent will be an opportunity to try a few things to see what fits you.

In February, in fact on the first Sunday in Lent, we also begin designating one Sunday a month as Family Sunday, when the Sermon from the Steps will be the primary proclamation of the Word, and all worshipers will be invited to do something that’s child-friendly: perhaps a craft, perhaps some movement, and youthful songs.

Join me in the Lenten prayer: “Breathe on me, breath of God.”

Together we serve,

The Valve Turners: January 14, 2018 Green Chautauqua

Dear friends and companions on the journey:

In October 2016, five climate change activists cut chains and closed emergency shutoff valves on five tar sands oil pipelines in four states. This briefly stopped the flow of all Canadian tar sands oil into the United States. They did it, they said, because continued failure to reduce carbon emissions threatens our children’s lives, our children’s children’s lives, and life on earth, generally. They became known as the Valve Turners. They were arrested, and they are currently in the midst of the legal proceedings that follow that arrest.

The Valve Turners are ordinary folks with extraordinary courage and commitment: Emily Johnston, a Seattle poet; Ken Ward, who’s worked on the staff of environmental nonprofits; Annette Klapstein, a retired attorney; Leonard Higgins, a retired Oregon State employee; and Michael Foster, a mental health counselor. They face felony convictions and long prison sentences for their civil disobedience.

Tomorrow, January 14, 2018, at 11:30 we have an exceptional opportunity to listen to the stories of two of the Valve Turners: Michael Foster and Emily Johnston. While we usually hold our Green Chautauqua speaker events in the evening, the speakers’ schedule is such that midday works better for them. And while you would usually have read about this in our newsletter, the Kensington Press, this opportunity arose after the December-January Kensington Press went to print.

Maybe you agree with the kind of activism the Valve Turners represent; maybe you question whether it is effective. We know that the planet God has given us is in jeopardy, while powerful institutions still deny the climate emergency. Perhaps the Valve Turners’ story will inspire your own prayerful response, whatever that may be.

11:30 a.m., Sunday, January 14 in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo, 72 Kensington Road, San Anselmo, CA.

Grace and peace,

Joanne Whitt


All the Earth is Waiting – Advent 2017

Dear Companions on the Journey:

We begin the season of Advent on Sunday, December 3. Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, meaning “coming.” Since the fourth century, Christians have set aside the four Sundays before Christmas as a season to prepare for the coming of Christ in various ways: the promised coming of the Messiah, the coming of Jesus born in Bethlehem, the promised return of the risen Christ in final victory, and the continual coming of Christ into our lives and hearts. It is a time when we notice that we are living “in between”: In between the fi rst and second coming of Christ; in between memory and hope, past and future; in between the Good News of the Gospel and the culmination of God’s hopes for Creation. Advent is a time we notice that while we strive for the Kingdom, we’re not there yet.

We are not there yet. Looking back at 2017 can be painful: A resurgence of out-in-the-open white supremacy; multiple catastrophic hurricanes; the Wine Country fi re; too many mass shootings to enumerate; nuclear saber-rattling; the exposure of our culture’s hidden acceptance of sexual harassment; multiple threats to the simple assumptions that keep people safe, happy and healthy. And that’s just in the wider culture. Everyone, as well, has a personal story to tell of loss, confusion, or disappointment. It isn’t surprising that many people feel that things are falling apart. Sometimes it feels as though all the Earth is waiting not just for things to get better but for things to be diff erent. Completely new. Overhauled. That is an Advent kind of feeling.

As someone said to me recently, “When you figure out that what you’re doing doesn’t work anymore, it’s time to think differently.” Advent asks us to open our eyes to what isn’t working, to lament what we see, and to remember God’s vision:
“The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid” (Isaiah 11:6)
“…they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fi g trees,
and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:3-4).

That is the vision for which we wait, and for which we hope. All the Earth waits for that vision. That is this year’s Advent theme: “Toda La Tierra – All Earth Is Waiting.” All the Earth looks with hope to a time when what Christ began is completed. Join with all the Earth — “Toda La Tierra” — and with our companions at First Presbyterian Church, as we wait in hope this Advent.

Together we Serve,
Joanne Whitt

Capital Campaign Kicks Off

Our faith. Our future. Our time.

On Sunday, May 14th we joyfully kicked off the public phase of a new capital campaign to raise funds for much-needed improvements to our buildings, energy conservation, and landscaping. The vision behind these improvements, in a nutshell, is to no longer be one of Marin’s best-kept secrets. We want our light to shine in a world where people seek refuge, for mooring, for grounding in something hopeful and something bigger than themselves. We want to welcome people more warmly, hospitably, and safely whether they come to worship or to one of the many other ministries we offer here because we have been blessed with these buildings.

More details can be found here. Look for packets in your mailbox this week, or pick up extra materials in the narthex in the coming Sundays.

During the initial phase of our 2017-2020 campaign, we encourage you to make an outright financial gift, or a pledge that can be paid off over a three-year period. Our Facilities Planning Team led by Dave Jones has worked tirelessly to assess our facilities for safety, accessibility, comfort, environmental concerns and other criteria. They’ve come up with a host of plans, including replacement of the education wing and preschool roof, modernization of bathrooms, installation of double-paned windows and more solar panels, and better access for people with disabilities, to name a few. Our Capital Campaign Leadership Team has also been busy – developing campaign materials and a video, plus reaching out to our church officers and other members for leadership gifts.

Questions? Ideas? Contact any member of the campaign leadership team – Dave Jones and Margaret Melsh, co-chairs, Laurie Buntain, Erica Heath, Ernie Hubbard, Martha Olsen Joyce, Marita Mayer and Joanne Whitt.


Lent 2017 Carbon Fast

Consider participating in our Lenten Carbon Fast

For Christians, Lent is the time to remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, facing challenge and temptation and preparing for his ministry of proclaiming God’s reign.  And so during Lent, we, too, reflect on God’s purpose for our lives.  Fasts or “giving something up” have long been practiced during Lent.  Lenten fasts are intended to help people examine whether their lives reflect the love of God revealed in Christ.  A “carbon fast” serves this same purpose, and at the same time, reduces our actions that damage God’s Creation.  During Lent, we’ll offer daily practices that help people take small steps for a more sustainable world, and by doing so, rediscover a different relationship with God, with Creation and with one another.

Click here if you missed a daily practice

We Support the Standing Rock Sioux

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a planned 1,172-mile oil pipeline, with an expected capacity of 500,000 barrels of oil per day. The pipeline would originate in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and terminate in Pakota, Illinois. Since April, 2016 a growing popular movement lead by indigenous people has formed at the site of pipeline construction. As of mid-September, thousands of native and non native protestors have demonstrated support at the Sacred Stone Camp, site of the protest camp, and an unprecedented 180 tribal nations have sent letters of solidarity. These camps are being monitored by the National Guard, and private security companies have attacked some protestors with dogs, among whom number women and children.

On Sunday, November 13, we commissioned church members Peter Anderson and Christina Van der Plas who traveled to Sacred Stone Camp and delivered support and affirmation.  They brought with them a 12 foot diameter tepee made by Nomadics Tipi Makers in Bend, Oregon in authentic Sioux fashion, designed to manage bitter cold, snow and wind. Peter and Christina will share it with others while there, then it will be given to the tribe. (If you would like to share in its cost, you may still do so by writing a check to FPCSA with “Standing Rock” notation in the memo line and mailing to the church office at 72 Kensington Rd, San Anselmo, CA 94960.)

To learn more about our stake as Presbyterians in this issue and an Action Guide, please visit The Office of Public Witness blog of the Presbyterian Church USA. Additional links may be found here and here.

Photo credit: Thane Maxwell

Rock for the Homeless YOUTH!

The Ambassadors for Hope and Opportunity (AHO) Youth Team is putting on a fundraiser, “Rock for the Homeless YOUTH!”, On Saturday, October 1st, at the Hopmonk Tavern in Novato.  All proceeds will go for much needed support programs and supplies for homeless youth in Marin County, ages 18-25.  This is a FUNraiser for ALL ages with music by The Happys and two other bands, all donating their time, plus raffles, youth stories and more — all for a $10 cover charge: doors open at 6:00, show starts at 7:00.

Finding the common heart in democracy

If you are a neighbor of this church, you may have found a leaflet near your door or mailbox. It’s called an “Invitation to Wordless Prayer.” It simply says:

With fewer than 100 days to go before the presidential election, it often feels as though we’ve heard enough words. And yet, regardless of our political affiliation, we all long for the same thing: We long for what’s best for our nation and its people.

We invite you to offer your own silent hope for our country. Simply tie the attached strip of fabric to the prayer net at the corner of Ross Avenue and Kensington Road. If ‘prayer’ is not a word you use, then please offer your intention, gratitude, and/or hope.

It’s no small thing to canvas the neighborhood with fliers and strips of fabric. Yet we feel this is one small gesture we can make in modeling the respect and caring that lies at the heart of our imperfect democracy. Surrounded by the hyperbole of the pre-election season, it’s easy to focus on what makes us different. As a neighborhood church, we want to be a part of what makes us the same.

So as you drive or walk by the corner of Ross Avenue and Kensington Road during the next 100 days, glance over at the prayer net. Know that each streamer represents someone’s deepest hopes for this country. Taken as a whole, we hope it becomes a powerful metaphor for what creates and sustains community.

The pre-election prayer net at Kensington Road and Ross Avenue. Tying a streamer to the net is one way of expressing our highest hopes and dreams for our country.

Jo Gross Shares Stories

A note from Jo Gross…
Since writing and sharing the first edition of Sunrise, I’ve been encouraged to publish and make the book available to a larger audience. With slight revision from the original text, these early childhood stories offer a glimpse of the rural landscape and life on a family farm during the last years of the Great Depression. My hope is for school children to learn history from my stories and older people to  find joy in remembering, either as a child or a grandchild, the long ago times of one-room school houses, small towns, scarcity of conveniences, lack of communication, reliance on neighbors,  country social gatherings, national pride, disputes and gratification of living off the land.

Sunrise, my book, is now available on

Social Justice and Good Music: It’s Who We Are

Social justice and good music. Those are the two pursuits, the two ministries that folks keep mentioning in connection with First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo. In a number of discussions lately, both more and less formal, if you ask people to answer a question something along the lines of, “What is it that we do well, that most people identify with us, and that we should keep on doing?” they will say, “Social justice and good music.”

That doesn’t mean that’s all we do, or that’s all we are. We have an exciting ministry to children, youth and families (much of it revolves around social justice) and we care deeply for each other, both in times of need and in the ordinary process of building community. We worship together, we play together, we work together. But we’re best known for social justice and good music.

This congregation has a long history of social justice activism. In 1965, our pastor boarded a bus with students and faculty from the seminary next door, and went to Selma to march with Dr. King. We continue this commitment to justice through our ministries to the homeless of Marin County, rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, fighting hunger globally and locally, a commitment to the environment, welcoming our LGBT brothers and sisters and insisting that “Black Lives Matter.”

A couple of years ago, Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” ( formed the centerpiece of our leadership retreat. Sinek explains that people don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it, and that is why we “start with the ‘why.’” When asked to define the “why” of our congregation – why do we exist? – what is our purpose? – our leaders came up with this: “We believe that we are all children of God. We express that belief by sharing God’s love for creation through worship, service and community. We believe God calls us to do justice in the world and to offer the peace and joy of God’s love to all.”

This social justice “why” is rooted in our reading of Scripture. Both the Old and New Testaments emphasize that God loves all of God’s creation, and in response, wants us to love each other. Shortly after beginning his ministry, Jesus announced his mission statement by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

(Luke 4:16-19)  And so we agree with Cornel West, who said, “justice is what love looks like in public.”

Our love of great music has a long tradition as well. Music speaks to us in ways words cannot, and is an important way we connect to the holy. Our sanctuary houses two of the best pipe organs on the West Coast and we’re proud of the legacy of excellent musicians who have served and continue to serve as music directors, organists, soloists, and choir members. While we have a definite bent toward the classical, we also love gospel. A couple of times a year we enjoy a New Orleans jazz band; every World Communion Sunday we welcome West African drums; we remember our Scottish heritage on Reformation Sunday with the Highland bagpipes and snare. Our congregation is blessed with fine musicians (flute, clarinet, violin, guitar, keyboard) who offer their talents even on ordinary Sundays.

“Social justice and good music” doesn’t sum up all of who we are. But it’s a pretty good start.