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.



Tam House seeks part-time house manager


Unique in the world of affordable senior housing, and located in San Anselmo, Tam House provides communal living for 21 independent seniors in two homes. We are searching for a part time house manager. The position reports to the Board of RVEHA. Responsibilities include overseeing daily operations, one employee (cook/handyman) and rent collection as well as facilitating the harmony of the homes as necessary, and keeping them fully occupied by interacting with local agencies and an in-place referral network.

Experience with elder and low income populations preferred as well as an easy-going individual with a good sense of humor. The ideal candidate will be a problem solver, innovative, self-motivating, with good time-management skills and clear ability to use a computer and update a website. Informational meeting for all interested to be held on Saturday, April 16 at St. John’s Episcopal Church at 14 Lagunitas Road in Ross, 94957 at 10:30am. Please bring resumes and contact information. Salary, health insurance, paid vacation. Questions can be emailed to  No calls please until after the informational meeting.

“Race: the Power of an Illusion”

Black Lives Matter thumbnail

A New Sunday Seminar Series
April 10, 17, 24 and May 1

Last year, we explored systemic racism and white privilege through a provocative video series.  This spring, we offer a second video series as we continue delving into the issues behind persistent racism.  “Race: The Power of an Illusion” is a powerful PBS documentary that explores the extent to which racism cannot be healed until we are healed of our belief in the myth of race.

April 10:         Episode 1: “The Difference Between Us”
Everyone can tell a Norwegian from a Nubian, so why doesn’t it make sense to sort people into biological races?  Examine the contemporary science – including genetics –  that challenges our assumptions about human groups.

April 17:         Episode 2: “The Story We Tell”
Hasn’t race always been with us?  Explore the roots of the race concept, including the 19th century science that justified it and how it gained such a hold over our minds.

April 24:         Episode 3: “The House We Live In”
Race may be a biological myth, but racism gives different groups vastly different chances.  Fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement, the playing field is still not level and “colorblind” policies only perpetuate inequality.

May 1:            Discussion
What do we make of all this?  And now, what do we do?


FPCSA Choir Hits New York!

Armed Man performance at Carnegie Hall, Jan 18, 2016. Photo credit: DCINY

Having all returned safely from New York, we are basking in the memories we gained from singing at Carnegie Hall. And we are most grateful for our wonderful and generous congregation, without whose support we would not have been able to participate! We represented our part of the world very well – it was an amazing adventure!

We arrived in the Big Apple in relatively balmy weather and immediately began checking out the various restaurants, sites, and shops. Many of us stayed in midtown hotels, so we were within walking distance of Central Park. Being on West Coast time is a decided advantage in The City That Never Sleeps! Some of us went to the opera, some to a Broadway show, some to the New York Philharmonic, and some to a jazz club in the Village. Rehearsals were in Park Central Hotel for one long morning and one long afternoon. Composer Sir Karl Jenkins stopped by and there were autographs and photo ops. The rest of the time we were free to explore the city.

A reflective moment at the 911 Memorial

A reflective moment at the 911 Memorial

Many of us visited the 911 Memorial. It is very moving to look into the huge square holes in the fountains that sit where the World Trade Center towers once stood. A sacred place, where so many lives were lost. How fitting that we had come to NYC to sing of peace. And indeed, as many of you know who heard our May 9th performance of The Armed Man, the music is moving and the film heart-rending. I personally could not get the refrain out of mind as I gazed at the names on the memorial stone: “God shall wipe away all tears….”

A light dusting of snow covers Central Park

A light dusting of snow covers Central Park

Sunday morning, several worship services were attended: high church complete with incense at St. Thomas Episcopal with a heavenly Men’s and Boys’ choir, a rousing gospel choir at First Presbyterian, and the full Catholic experience at St. Patrick’s. All are on 5th Avenue.

On the eve of the concert, as it got colder outside and began to snow, 24 of us gathered at Marseille Restaurant on 9th & 44th for a lively group dinner. The French-Mediterranean fare was delicious, the company delightful! Many of us walked back to the hotel through always-brightly-lit Times Square. The next morning, Central Park was beautifully dusted with fresh snow.

Composer Sir Karl Jenkins and Conductor Jonathan Griffiths

Composer Sir Karl Jenkins and Conductor Jonathan Griffiths

On performance day, we had a “short” rehearsal with the orchestra, and the production crew showed us how to get on and off the stage. As there were almost 300 singers, this took a while. Small groups of singers were bustled into separate rooms, some of which were 4 or 5 stories higher than the stage level. Our queues snaked down the stairs and gradually we were able to get into place. Whatever organization of voice section had been no longer applied, yet we managed to all fit onto the stage. The full symphonic orchestra was fantastic! What an incredibly special experience to sing on this hallowed stage.

Gala Dinner. Dave Jones, Marita Mayer, with Linda Adams from FPCSR

Gala Dinner. Dave Jones, Marita Mayer, with Linda Adams from FPCSR

Aprés le concert, we attended a gala buffet banquet at Rosie O’Grady’s on 7th Ave. There was plenty of scrumptious food and an open bar. The Swiss and German groups serenaded us with a couple of traditional songs, but we all joined in on the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann and Dona Nobis Pacem.

We are very proud to have been the only American choir to sing in The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace (the first part of the program included other American choirs doing other Jenkins’ compositions), and we are already talking of doing something similar again!


FPCSA Chancel Choir sings in Carnegie Hall!

Karl Jenkins concert 2015 promo pic

On January 18, 2016, the chancel choir with FPCSA Music Director Daniel Canosa will be singing with 16 other choirs from Spain, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, England, Northern Ireland, and the United States to present Karl Jenkins’ Armed Man: A Mass for Peace.  The work is a contemporary mass based on a 15th-century French song (L’homme armé). We were invited by DCINY (Distinguished Concerts International of New York) to participate. Composer and maestro Jenkins will be in attendance. Rehearsals begin January 16th for the performance on Martin Luther King Day, January 18th. We are privileged indeed to participate and look forward to meeting other singers who share our love of this beautiful music! Look for photos of our trip to appear soon!

Youth Mission is AWAY!

NOLA Work Party 3

2 adults and 5 youth left this afternoon for a week of service at Project Homecoming in New Orleans, LA. We are so grateful for all of the support our communities and families have shown as we got ourselves ready for this adventure. We represent 3 churches and lots of love – we will share your love and support with the people we meet.

In case you’d like to imagine what we’re up to each day, here’s a basic schedule:
Sunday & Saturday are travel days.
Monday – Thursday work on a home from breakfast through the afternoon
Friday – work at a community garden (we’re gonna play in the dirt!)

Each night we’ll have something new to do like tour the areas devastated by hurricane Katrina (levies, 9th Ward, etc.), meet and talk with Katrina survivors, tour a bayou and learn about conservation, go to a museum on slavery, and, yes, play in the French Quarter!

If you signed up for emails, they’ll be coming soon. If not, do check back here for a mid-week update. We appreciate your prayers for a safe and fabulous trip learning and serving in New Orleans, LA!

Together We Serve!

Youth Mission Trip – New Orleans

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FPCSA Mission Trip

We will spend one week be working with Project Homecoming, a nonprofit devoted to helping the people of New Orleans rebuild from the devastating events surrounding Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We will be part of a large (80+) team of people from across the country coming together with the people of New Orleans to rebuild homes/neighborhoods. Check out this video and PH’s website. We will work with our hands rebuilding during the day and we’ll get a flavor of the people and creation (bayou tour!) of the Gulf coast.

When: Saturday, June 14 – Sunday, June 20, 2015
Where: New Orleans, LA
Who: High school youth who have already complete their first year of high school
What: rebuild the New Orleans community, build relationships & faith, have FUN
Cost: $1,000/person* (may decrease when we purchase tickets)

*This is a trip that we want our community to support. Thus, we will not ask our parents to cut a check for the entire amount. Rather we will ask our community to support us directly with a letter writing campaign, pancake breakfast, and a third option we need to plan (similar to last year’s “nail sale”). Yes, parents can support us, but it is important that we raise money ourselves.

We will meet regularly (every 3-4 weeks) throughout the spring to get to know one another, prepare ourselves for service, and serve together before we go.

I hope you will prayerfully consider being part of the mission team to build relationships, faith and help rebuild a community. Please contact me with any questions and concerns.

For more information, contact The Rev. Diana Bell, Associate Pastor
415-456-3713 OR

Together we SERVE

Pancakes for Youth Mission



This Sunday, February 22nd, worship will be a little shorter so that we can all enjoy a meal together! We’re celebrating in a “Fat Sunday” way with colorful decorations and pancakes to go around.

Proceeds will support our youth mission trips this summer. We are leading a trip to New Orleans and some of our youth will go back to Mexico. This breakfast will support all of the youth who are willing to do mission this summer.

Bring your appetite and celebrate youth, mission, and short stacks!

(Suggested donation $10/person, $25/family)


*image credit: Lara604 “Fluffy Pancake Recipe” CC 2010, Flickr

Mexico Mission


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Summer is upon us. For some this means the end of school and a much-deserved break. For some we are planning trips and vacations to be with loved ones or perhaps to venture forth to new destinations. For some, it’s a chance to catch our breath and enjoy walking around this beautiful area.

A few of us are preparing to go on the Mexico Mission Trip with Sleepy Hollow Presbyterian Church. (Follow us on the blog.) Thank you to everyone who’s helped us raise money and have offered us your warm wishes. We are truly blessed to have such a supportive community! Upon our return, perhaps this fall, I hope we’ll hear from Zach, Jennie, and Cheryl about our experience. For now, I’d like to share with you about a video we watched.

Which Way Home is a documentary that follows several migrant children as they try to make it to the United States via Mexico.1 The children face harrowing dangers and come face to face with situations I, as an adult, would prefer to avoid. I’m not sure which part saddened me most. Is it the poverty that leads children to thinking a 1,000+-mile journey by themselves is worth it? Is it the lack of hope and opportunity in their own families and communities? Is it knowing that America isn’t necessarily as ideal a place as these kids seem to think? Is it feeling absolutely helpless as I watch children jump on and off of trains?

This film was part of our pre-trip training. It gave us an opportunity to hear stories from children and youth and to begin to appreciate the complex situations of immigration and poverty. It put a human face on the poverty and migrant influx that leads to needing shelter…shelters like the ones we will be building in just a few weeks.

This video reminds me of a song I heard for the first time recently. It was the benediction response at the installation service for the new associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian church, the Rev. Bethany Nelson. She said she learned this song at a camp growing up and, clearly made a difference in her life. Here are the lyrics:

“How Could Anyone” by Libby Roderick
How could anyone ever tell you
you are anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
you are less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
that your loving is a miracle?
How deeply you’re connected to my soul.

I’ve looked this music up on YouTube and recommend you do the same. It’s short, simple, and repeatable. The last two lines catch in my throat. It feels almost too vulnerable to sing them aloud. I’ve seen videos where this is sung as a lullaby. What a grace-filled turn of phrase to acknowledge a child’s love as miraculous. It is certainly true. How deeply I want to be connected to people whose faith can be so expressed. It is comfortable for me to sing this song and think of people I love easily. We Christians know that the next step is harder which is to try singing this with people we don’t like or don’t even know in mind. I would like the children riding the Mexican trains to know they are loved and that we are connected. It seems a small thing, for I cannot lift them out of poverty with a song. Perhaps it is I who will be changed in the singing and praying?

While we are swinging hammers in Mexico, our denomination will gather in Detroit, MI for the biennial, national gathering we call General Assembly. Many issues are taken up at GA, and it warms my heart that we have so many people from our congregation attending as advocates on numerous bills and issues. I know some people’s eyes glaze over at the mention of big, denominational politics, but here’s the thing: compassion and justice cannot happen without politics. We are deeply connected to the welfare of others. If we feel warm thoughts at the camp song, how can we then turn away when opportunities arise to make a difference in peoples’ actual lives? What a gift to be in a community of people who (tolerate if not) appreciate the need to act politically for the sake of love.

I hope that you will remember to hold the 57 participants of the Mexico Mission trip in your prayers. I hope you will also hold our denomination in your prayers as we all try to remember that we are deeply connected even when we are divided. And, whatever you do this summer and wherever you may go, may you feel God’s loving embrace surround you. If ever you doubt that you’re loved just the way you are, please start singing this song, and repeat.

Together we serve,

1Which Way Home can be found on Netflix streaming.
Image taken from the documentary.

Sleepy Hollow Mexico Mission Blog: