Alison Faison

Calvary’s 169 Years of Change-Makers

Occasionally I hear comments to the effect of, “Calvary’s recent highlighting of political issues can deter people from attending worship services.” My response is something like, “Since July 23, 1854, for 169 years, Calvary has been addressing human rights issues directly related to Jesus’ radical welcome. In 2020, we, along with many congregations across the U.S., became a Matthew 25 church that outwardly proclaims our commitment to feeding the hungry, clothing the unclothed, housing the unhoused, and loving those who are pushed aside and threatened by the workings of established societal systems.”

In July 2021, I wrote a short children’s book called “You are a Calvary History-Maker.” I noted stories researched by former Calvary member, Joe Beyer and information written in Carol Green Wilson’s book Many Years One Message: Calvary Presbyterian Church: 1854 – 1979. The opening line of my story is, “You are a Calvary history change-maker whether you have been sitting on the velvet sanctuary pew for half of your life or have only watched a few online services while sitting in your jammies on the couch this year.”  The Protestant idea that we are the “community/priesthood of believers” calls us to participate in our own faith-formation, as well as actively respond to need. We don’t attend worship so we can watch the pastors and staff do community outreach. We attend worship to be inspired to courageously carry out the call of Matthew 25 into our relationships, work life, spiritual growth, and public action.

When I read the information in Calvary’s archives, I was drawn to stories about influential women working within a changing church led by male pastors. In 1879, Rev. John Hemphill, the third and then seventh pastor of Calvary, was persecuted by a mob acting against him because of his defense of the rights of Chinese immigrants. In 1895, with the support of Hemphill and the church community, Calvary member Donaldina Cameron headed the mission of Cameron House in San Francisco’s Chinatown to save over 3,000 Chinese women and girls from violence over a period of 40 years. She answered her call, her life’s work. We still have a lot of work to do to keep each other safe and stop human trafficking, otherwise known as modern-day slavery. Rev. John Hemphill’s September 19, 1894 sermon entitled “On the Rights of Women” Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection) focused on the work of Donaldina Cameron and educator Sarah B. Cooper.

Joe Beyer, Calvary historian, wrote, “Beginning in 1875, Mrs. Cooper taught an adult Bible class [at Calvary] that became so popular that it outgrew any of the church’s classrooms and had to be moved into the main sanctuary space.  In 1879, she founded one of the first kindergartens in San Francisco that served children free of cost. The Calvary Bible study class financially supported this and several other kindergarten classes she founded.  She became internationally known as a promoter of kindergartens and was also one of the early leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. In Golden Gate Park, by the carousel, there is a statue of a very young girl, which is dedicated to Sarah B. Cooper. At one time there was a Sarah B. Cooper elementary school, but the name has since been changed.”

Calvary Nursery School continues to thrive by promoting play-based learning and a social-emotional focus on kindness, caring, and respect. We celebrate Deb Anaya and her fruitful 25 years of work as Director of the Calvary Nursery School. We will welcome long-time Calvary Nursery School Teacher, Stephanie Rao, as the new director this fall 2023. I was able to join the Calvary Nursery School teachers during the 2020 – 2021 school year to experience the first year of Outdoor School at Mountain Lake Park and Golden Gate Park, as well as the Calvary classroom curriculum. I learned from their focus on interpersonal connection, mutual respect, academic growth, and interdisciplinary exploration through reading, art, dramatic play, nature observation, and self-regulation. The Calvary congregation shares these values.

Our Adult Education and Spiritual Formation, Racial Equity Initiative, Bible studies, and Senior Adult groups encourage community building through “one church, one book/film” experiences. Join us at Calvary this Sunday, July 30, from 11:30 am – 1 pm, as the Racial Equity Initiative will host the movie Our America: Lowballed. The film follows Black and Latino families as they fight for fair home values after lower-than-expected appraisals. Across the country, and right here in the Bay Area, this has become a recurring, systemic injustice. In some cases, the differences are staggering and potentially life-changing for families. The cost of finding themselves “lowballed” can be tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Or it can prematurely end the dream of homeownership altogether.”

During the beginning of worship on Sunday, Rev. Marci Glass reminded us that we speak out, not to be provocative, but to clearly show our support and love for those who struggle because of barriers created by long-time systemic injustice. Rev. Joann Lee and Rev. Victor Floyd consistently speak the truths generated from Jesus’ actions that express “love God, love neighbor & love the stranger.” We can be change-makers together.

It can be overwhelming and exhausting to try and make change as an individual. Over the years, I learned from the many CPR/AED/First Aid trainings that during an emergency we must immediately ask for support in order to sustain person/people during those critical minutes. The superhero model is really a team model. Without a team, the superhero is less likely to succeed. Last Sunday’s call to love, truly represented Calvary’s 169 years of people working together.

More to Explore

Summer with Children and Youth

Summer is a busy time for families as they shift from the school-year schedules to summer camps, programs, and vacations. How does church fit into families’ summer schedules? Many years ago, Calvary held summer worship services in the chapel and did not offer childcare. It was a time when pastors would go on study leave and vacations and folks would be out of town. It was a good time for families to sit together during worship. For almost ten years, we have had childcare open every Sunday throughout the year. We support families whenever they come to Calvary. Families have the choice to sit together during worship or walk their children to childcare and Sunday Studio.

More About Juneteenth

Join the Calvary Racial Equity Initiative (REI) Team after worship this Sunday, June 18, to celebrate our newest Federal holiday and the oldest known holiday that observes the end of slavery in the U.S. Enjoy Coffee Hour with treats from a local Black-owned business and information about Black heroes. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Gen. Gordon Granger announced that the enslaved people in Texas were free by the order of the president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1862. The Calvary church building will be closed on Monday, June 19 to commemorate Juneteenth. This blog will provide links to Juneteenth history resources and information about reparations. Amos 5:24 "But let justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry."

Wear Orange: When Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough

Isaiah 2:4 says, “He will settle arguments between nations. They will pound their swords and their spears into rakes and shovels; they will never make war or attack one another.” I read Sandy Hook Promise posts on Instagram and cannot escape thinking of the horror a parent experiences after their child or teen is shot. This is not sensationalism or fake news. On August 27, 2019, I took my middle school daughter to Lincoln High School for a Town Hall on gun sense, directly relating to the shooting of 15-year-old Day’von Hann, a student who lived in the Mission District. Then Speaker Nanci Pelosi, Rep. Jackie Speier, Founder of Moms Demand Action Shannon Watts, CA Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and 17-year-old Phillip and Sala Burton High School student and member of United Playaz, AJ Santiago led the meeting. After these change-maker women shared personal experiences, data, and gun sense bill proposals, I was sure we would have gun violence reform. I was wrong. The CDC says that firearm incidents are the second-leading cause of death among American children and teens. One out of ten gun deaths involve age 19 or younger. Everytown Research relays that “there were more school shootings in 2022 (46 shootings) than in any other year since Columbine.” One would think that this statistic would be enough to take immediate action to make common gun sense bills into law and enforce them in court. Money talks, so many of the proposed bills continue to be blocked by gun supporter groups. How do we empower our children and teens to use their power to urge legislative, judicial, and executive branches to make change now? We need to continue telling stories of the pain and grief that parents and adults continue to experience after a child dies because of gun violence. Speaking the truth that advocates protection of all people follows Jesus' non-violent civil disobedience against the empire. Christians are obligated to love their neighbor and care for the vulnerable. If they do not want to prevent gun violence against innocent civilians, their beliefs are not based in Jesus' life-affirming truth.