Virtual Easter Vigil 2020: songs and talk about waiting and beauty

From the artistic soul of Sam Baker

In lieu of the 5th Annual Easter Vigil that was scheduled for Sam’s Town Point on April 11th, we’re very excited to mark this time with a very simple and intimate Zoom conversation with live songs from Sam Baker, Carrie Elkin, and Danny Schmidt. Stephen Kinney will moderate. It is scheduled for this Saturday with a start time at 7:57pm, sunset.

This is free and open to the first 300 who can join us via the live virtual link. To join us this Saturday evening, just join by using this Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/105130651
(If a Meeting ID is needed: 105 130 651)

Here is the Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/events/232690131263522/

While this is a free offering to mark a holy night, please make a donation to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians–our local musicians need our support in this time of uncertainty. https://myhaam.org/
——-
We’re marking the in-between times: between cross and empty tomb, between fear and courage, silence and word, hate and love, darkness and light, social distancing and getting back together.

Please join us!

Transitions!

Dear Friends,

It’s become clear to me over the past few months of personal discernment that the Front Porch has run its course and given its gift. And it’s been a great run and grand adventure in missional ministry over the past decade! I have no doubt that the Front Porch will continue as an idea and brand—as a way of thinking, really. But I believe it’s now time for the vestry and board to officially dissolve the Front Porch as a 501c3 nonprofit.

In the meantime, I’ve accepted a position as director of development for Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT). I am also helping the Fiji fraternity across the street to be more involved in community service—over the next few months they will be paying for and building two new mini-homes for folks who are homeless at the Community First Village.

At All Saints’, I’ll continue assisting with the Sunday liturgy, with pastoral care and with teaching programs, like the Lenten Catechumenate class, the Bailey Lectures, and the adult forum on Sunday mornings. We’re also discussing how I might help support our outreach ministries, especially Loaves and Fishes and Home Cooked Fridays. My primary office hours will be on Mondays and Thursdays.

As I begin this new chapter, please know how grateful I am for the chance I’ve had to serve as the director of the Front Porch at All Saints’. It’s been fun and fruitful!

Gratefully yours,

Stephen   

When I’m Sixty-Four

When I began to do the Front Porch in earnest, I was about 53. Now I’m 64. 64 is an auspicious number, even before the Beatles made it so famous: it’s the square of 8, the cube of 4 and the sixth power of 2; it’s the total number of squares on a chessboard.

The normal age for retirement in Texas is 65. So I’m on a cusp of sorts. I don’t know about the retirement part, but I’m excited about getting older–even as I’m aware that there is a lot more sand at the bottom of my hourglass than at the top. Life is palpably more precious now. And there is more rank gratitude.

At the start of a new year and new decade, I’ve been musing about the life I’ve lived for the past 11 years, ever since we began hosting Front Porch events and building the Front Porch community. On reflection, I’m astonished by all the amazing people in Austin that I’ve had the chance to meet and know and collaborate with on the porch! And we’ve done some very cool things–week in, week out; year in and year out.

Now, as I contemplate the future of The Front Porch, I’m going to embark on a new experiment. First, starting with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th, I’m going on a fast of sorts: no alcohol, no sugar, and few carbs until Easter. During that time, I’ll be resetting my intentions, keeping a journal, and reading deeply. Mostly, I’ll be opening myself up to the Spirit, waiting on God. That’s the experiment.

Of course I’ll also be doing other things…helping at All Saints’ and Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT). And I’ll be keeping my ears to the railroad, listening for the next assignment on The Front Porch.

Stephen W. Kinney, Executive Director of The Front Porch

Last Pub Church of the Year: Front Porch Celebration and Christmas Party

Rembrandt on Incarnation

Please join us at Scholz Garten on December 15th, 5:30-7pm, for a spirited end of the year Christmas celebration of the Front Porch.

We’re blessed to have Pittman McGehee, Sr. riff with us on the mystery of the season. Wendy Colonna and Erin Ivey will lead us in singing carols.

Pittman McGehee

Porch Time in November

Back in the days before Google conquered the earth and enslaved its people, families would sit on their front porches in the evenings and discuss the news of the day. Wandering neighbors and strangers would join those conversations and the strangers became new friends.

The internet keeps us connected 24/7. But are Facebook updates and 140-character tweets really an acceptable replacement for face-to-face conversation?

Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist who lived from 1901 to 1978. She authored 20 books, received 28 honorary doctorates and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Margaret valued and loved her front porch days, saying, “No society has ever yet been able to handle the temptations of technology… We have to use our scientific knowledge to correct the dangers that have come from science and technology.”

Our Front Porch Project may be an impossible dream in these painfully divided times, but when you learn to “think globally yet act locally,” we trust the value of human connection in the stormy sea of technology and strive to provide gathering places where ideas are exchanged, conversations begin and friendships blossom–the kind of place where Margaret Mead and James Michener and Stevie Ray Vaughn would come.

Margaret Mead left us this word of encouragement: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Join a conversation, attend a Front Porch event, volunteer some time or make a tax-deductible donation to keep The Front Porch in the here and now.

I want to call your attention to five important events in November:

  1. November 12Logos Collective with Nick Courtright and Kimbol Soques @ Lazarus Brewing, 7:15
  2. Pub Church at Scholz Garten on November 17th (5:30-7pm) with Dr. Kristin Neff and musician Wendy Colonna. Dr. Neff is at the forefront of the “self-compassion” movement, an approach towards self-development that goes way beyond self-esteem: it’s a way of understanding self and others that has been adopted by world leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Brene Brown. Wendy is one of Austin’s most popular troubadours, with her swampy, Cajun soul.
  3. Bailey Lectures: November 21, 23-24. This year’s Bailey offers perhaps the finest cultural thought leader we have ever hosted—Dr. Steven Shankman! See details in this newsletter.
  4. November 24—Interfaith Action of Central Texas (IACT) annual day of thanksgiving @ Riverbend, 3pm. This is hosted by the great Hindu community.

It’s Time to Get Back on the Porch!

It’s time to get talking on the Front Porch again

While we’re still grieving the loss of our dear friend and Front Porch associate, Riley Jackson Webb, we’re confident that Riley would LOVE our upcoming fall season. And so…the Front Porch is proud and excited to announce the return of Pub Church at Scholz Garten on October 6th! It will be so fine to be back together with the beloved community–those curious, open, and eager to reconnect through art, music, questioning, and communion with so many different others!

On October 6th, we’re hosting Robert Harrison of Cotton Mather renown to talk about his life quest as a human being through the perennial wisdom of China, particularly the I Ching Book of Changes. Robert has written and will play some amazing songs that interpret this uncanny wisdom in a way that will excite and inspire new ways of thinking about our quest to partner with God and each other for common good, across all the usual divides.

This inaugural Pub Church reunion launches us into the fall season! And it’s a great season with some amazing people who will inspire us to engage in conversation and dialogue about living more loving lives. Here is the line-up for the rest of October (check details in our Calendar):

+ October 13: Pub Church with theologian Tony Baker with Dave Madden

+ October 20: Unplugged on Front Porch concert with Carrie Newcomer

On any good front porch worth its salt, a spirit of compassion, humor, openness, and honesty prevails. These are the conditions for the kind of dialogue that builds community and inspires friendships across our cultural, political, and religious differences. Yet traditional front porches in our culture are disappearing. Our apps and social media remind us only of our own beliefs and allow us to ignore or dismiss those of the other. That’s what we’re up against. Let’s ditch our screens and start the edifying conversations. Hope to see you on the porch!

Practical Hope for Widespread Malaise

Dear Friends and Partners of The Front Porch,

I’ve been watching the documentary, “World War 2: The Price of Empire.” As a student of this war, with a Dad who participated in it, WW2 has always been a terrible, but romanticized part of the fabric of my life. But through this 2015 documentary, I now find myself waking up to the horrifying fact that an estimated 70-85 million people perished in under a decade through a contagion of violence and genocide that put  the whole world under a spell of hatred and fear. It was all out: everyone had to take sides, demonize the other side, and literally fight to the death; there was no in-between.

The older I get, the more it seems that World War 2 was not that long ago. And it really happened. Those of us born into the relative security of the post-war United States can not imagine the magnitude and grief of such a war. Yet there is something in the narration of this particular series that has me thinking it could happen again. I see how the first step–demonizing others–can happen rather easily. Entrenchment follows.  I see anew how vulnerable we are and how tenuous life on the planet can be.

It now feels like there is a widespread malaise. Young people especially are feeling more stress and anxiety over climate changes. The political climate is crazy making. People are on edge. Shooters show up randomly and kill people in public places.

Lest we get overwhelmed and give fear too much attention, let’s dial it back and look for practical hope: the kind of hope, for example, that finds ways to team up with others to better protect the earth’s lungs, the rainforests; the kind of hope that comes from treating other people–especially people who look or believe differently from ourselves–with more compassion and care; or the kind of hope that emerges from the simple human connections that can follow from good music, art, or table fellowship.

By hosting programs and events in festive spaces, The Front Porch strives to offer a practical solution for the malaise wrought by too much isolation and fear and suspicion of the other. Our increasingly compartmentalized culture makes it difficult to form trusting relationships with other people who believe or live differently. What can we do? We can keep trying to cultivate a culture of dialogue and respect that promotes ways of interacting that lead to understanding, acceptance, and friendly collaboration!

Hope to see you soon on the Porch!
Stephen 
Hiroshima in 1945 (above). Hiroshima in 2019 (below)

Summer 2019: Dedicated to Bringing People into Communion through Art, Music, and Open-Hearted Conversations!

Stephen Kinney @Unplugged on The Front Porch with Sam Baker

Dear Front Porch Family,

As many of you know, my dear colleague and friend on The Front Porch, Riley Jackson Webb, died in mid-May. The past two weeks without him have been surreal and grievous, though it has been beautiful to see how Riley touched so many of us during his time with us on The Front Porch from 2014-2018. His Resurrection Party on June 1st was filled with Spirit, Beauty, and Love.

Given the fact that we didn’t know if The Front Porch was going to survive beyond this past December, our rebirth in January has been extraordinary! It has the makings of a great story, a story of grace and adventure. While we’ve had to dial some things back and are currently operating The Front Porch on a part-time basis, we’ve been able to do so much in such a short time! More than that, we’ve been able to go a little deeper and our platform continues to give us access to so many amazing and diverse people in the Austin community. Call it luck, but it’s hard not to feel it as blessing.

Moving back to Scholz Garten on Sunday evenings was energizing and we’ve had robust attendance for each of our Public House Churches, aka, Pub Church! Getting to do a 3-week deep dive with artist/musician/trickster Sam Baker was a huge gift to all. Getting to know Rabbi Neil Blumofe more personally over a couple of weeks was fun and deep. We had an especially rich time with Muna Hussaini—her conversation with John Burnett and the short documentary based on a hate crime she experienced after 9-11 made us more compassionate to the plight of the stereotyped and stigmatized. The past three pub churches have focused on immigration, as we’ve discussed the displacement of millions of people all over the planet for political, religious, economic, and climate related reasons. Thanks to guests and musicians like Glenn Smith, Dave Madden, Gavin Rogers, Bekah McNeel, Tish Hinojosa, and Aimee Bobruk, we’ve been able to face the dilemma between security and humanity and to empathize and ask more questions about how we might respond to all refugees in kindness and love.

Over the past four months, we hosted, sponsored, or participated in so many beautiful community gatherings. We hosted five contemplative communion services during Lent that reenacted the festive meals of the 1st century. We were key partners in the New Story Festival that drew over 1000 people from all over Austin at Huston-Tillotson in March. We supported the Interfaith Action of Central Texas’ HOPE Awards. We hosted an Iftar Dinner with our Muslim friends from The Dialogue Institute near the beginning of Ramadan for over 100 people.  We also lead a weekly men’s group and are in the midst of developing a Front Porch type community with college students. 

Perhaps our proudest and most transcendent happening over this spring was the 4th Annual Easter Vigil.  There were about 400 adventurous souls from all over Austin, who gathered for the Vigil at the legendary Sam’s Town Point under the oak trees on their outdoor stage. Our gathering was a sacrament of creativity and love—we went from a bonfire to a Lakota Sioux prayer, to a New Orleans’ Second-Line dirge, to Biblical stories, to a slam poem on creation, to original songs from the Shinyribs’ savant, Kevin Russell, to a “Down by the Riverside” procession with seven Episcopal priests following and sprinkling the congregation from buckets of water, to a communion for all with 10 loaves of sourdough bread.

As we wrap up yet another season of incredible experiences on the Porch, I remain so grateful to all of you for continuing to support our vision year after year. As we near twenty years of Front Porch conversations over dozens of iterations, it is truly amazing that we continue to endure, to come together, to evolve, to grow, to dream a wider spiritual existence together through open dialogue, music, art, history, philosophy, theology, and so much more. The fact that we continue to adapt and grow shows that our message is resonating: that there are many here in Austin ready to come together to celebrate the gifts that each and every person and perspective brings “to the table.”

Over the summer, I will be participating in Sunday services, planning for a new season of porch programs, collaborating with the new missioner for the Episcopal Students’ Center at All Saints’, Rev. Dr. Travis Helms and his missional community, The Logos Collective. Finally, this September, Gwen and I will be joining one of the Front Porch’s originators, The Rev. Jimmy Bartz and his family, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for three weeks to serve as the guest chaplain of the Yellowstone Chapel.
As I begin looking forward to yet another season on the Porch–talks about a next edition of Unplugged on the Front Porch with Carrie Newcomer are already in the works for October, as well as the usual pub church planning–I’ve also decided to try and do some written reflections on the Front Porch in order to spread our message further, and I am still working on the editing of a book that Riley and I were working on together over the past two years—a book written by a mentor, Rev. Sherman Beattie, whose ideas have informed the Front Porch since its inception. 

Gratefully yours, Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, PhD

Keep going, Riley!

Riley’s Obituary; Resurrection Party this Saturday

Riley Jackson Webb, October 4, 1990-May 16, 2019

Riley Jackson Webb passed away suddenly on May 16, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio, after suffering from complications of undiagnosed congenital heart disease. Riley was 28 years old. He was born on October 4, 1990, in Jackson, Wyoming, but his family moved to Texas before his first birthday. Riley spent most of his youth in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Riley grew up the only child of Kevan and Donna Webb, and he was formed in a close-knit community that placed unique emphasis on relationships, art, music, and storytelling. He found passions for acting, reading, writing, and playing music. 
Riley spent summers in both the piney woods of East Texas, where his beloved maternal grandparents lived, and in the Rocky Mountains where his beloved paternal family lived.

Riley was always infatuated with the arts, and he pursued interests in both acting and music from a young age. In high school, Riley was lead guitarist in a band with his musician friends. Playing in spots in and around Fredericksburg with the “International League of Super Pals” brought him great joy and happiness.

Riley followed his passions to Southwestern University, where he enrolled as an English major in 2009. While he served in admissions, giving prospective students tours of campus, he was also active building unique and lifelong friendships, especially with the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Riley’s door was always open, and because of his great music collection and ability to talk openly and deeply, his room was always full. At Southwestern, Riley’s final project compared jazz musicians to dialogue, and he developed the idea of jazz as the art form that most embodied spontaneous human connection and interaction.

After graduating in 2013, Riley chose to live in Austin, Texas. He got a gig guiding Segway tours, gliding through Austin with strangers-in-tow, a job that provided him with endless chances to explore his love of human interaction.

In 2014, Riley became the program director for The Front Porch, an Austin nonprofit and mission of the Episcopal Church dedicated to bringing people into communion through art, music, and openhearted conversation. Riley’s impact upon this organization and the community it serves is immeasurable. His luminous presence “on the porch” gave joy to so many.

He energized hundreds of amazing efforts and events that brought people together in a spirit of love. As the director of The Window, a Front Porch interfaith outreach program for youth, Riley helped lead the effort to raise over $20,000 to provide rubber sole shoes for students at a school in Loro, Uganda—an effort he called “Love For Loro.”

In 2017, Riley served at The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, where, as usual, he wove his way into the hearts of everyone with whom he worked.

Along this path, Riley met Jess Hughes, the love of his life. In 2018, Riley and Jess moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Jess began work on a Master of Fine Arts degree at The Ohio State University. Riley was recruited and hired to work at Quantum Health. At Quantum, Riley served as Disability Care Coordinator and Patient Advocate, in yet another position that allowed him to help others. Riley and Jess were planning to be married in the near future.

Riley will be terribly missed by every single person who ever crossed his path. His singular spirit, effervescent smile, openness to all, and love of life make his passing tragic. In life, Riley was special; in death, Riley asks us all to carry on his work of meeting people where they are, with kindness, love and understanding, every single day. Those of us who survive him are so grateful for such a consummate gift.

Riley is survived by his Parents, Donna and Kevan Webb; Grandmother Joy Richards; Aunt Monica Rosowski; Uncle Curtis and Aunt Kristy Webb; Aunt Carolea and Uncle Bruce Wright; Uncle Barry Webb; Cousins Melanie and Anna Rosowski, Kyle Richards Ross, Ian and Amy Wright, and Katharine, Clark, Alexander, Nichole and Anne Webb; his beloved Jess Hughes, and Bandit.

Riley was preceded in death by his Grandfather Bruce Richards, his Grandparents Lloyd and Barbara Webb, and his Uncle Rodney Richards.

Riley’s life will be celebrated on Saturday, June 1st, at 3:00 pm at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 209 W 27th St, in Austin, Texas. A reception will follow in the UT Student Center next door.

Memorial contributions may be made to The Riley Webb FHS Scholarship for the Arts (c/o Debbie Tiemann, Treasurer, 421 Cross Mountain Dr, Fredericksburg, TX 78624) or The Front Porch (209 W. 27th, Austin, TX 78705 or www.frontporchaustin.org)

We Will Miss You, Riley Jackson Webb

Dearest friends of the Front Porch,
I’m so sorry to have to post this for those of you who have not yet heard, but our beloved Riley Webb died yesterday in Columbus, Ohio of some kind of congenital heart failure. It’s unreal, but true. My heart is broken for Riley, for his heartbroken Mom and Dad, Donna and Kevan, and for the love of his life, Jess Hughes. Right now, I’m focusing my attention on the gift of Riley, whom we will celebrate at a memorial service at a time to be announced. His time with us on the porch was beautiful and transforming. Please pray for Donna and Kevan and Jess. May the indomitable, exuberant, life-affirming, people-loving spirit of Riley bring us more hope, faith, and love. 
Stephen

Riley Jackson Webb, after graduation from Fredericksburg High School