All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

Backpack Blessing

P.J. Karafiol
September 17, 2017

Good morning. My name is P.J. Karafiol and I am the principal of Lake View High School. First of all, I'd like to thank you for having me today. When I received the email asking me to give today's sermon, I felt simultaneously honored, humbled, and—forgive me—more than a little surprised. So I'd like to take a minute to tell you about my path to this pulpit, and then share some thoughts about today's readings and how they relate to today's theme, education. I won't be too long: as a twenty-year teacher and principal, I've learned the hard way that after about ten minutes, time when I'm talking is mostly time wasted.

Twenty years ago, it would have been hard to predict that I would wind up here. My own upbringing in Hyde Park was consistently, if not stridently, nonreligious. My father's family is Jewish; his mother was the granddaughter of the grand rabbi of Warsaw (a pope-like figure for the three million Jews living in Poland and eastern Europe). As family legend has it, my grandmother, a fervent socialist, renounced religion in firebrand fashion on her eighteenth Yom Kippur, and never looked back. My mother—fierce, and fiercely intellectual—was raised Dutch Reform in Brooklyn. But when she asked her minister about predestination, whether God's knowledge of everything included "advance warning" of who was going to heaven and hell, he told her not to worry her little head about such things. She was done. I came to religion in college, and to the Episcopal Church in premarital counseling. And when I started in education twenty-two years ago—as a math teacher with a background in philosophy—I would never have thought myself an administrator—much less principal at a high school on the North Side. So one lesson I bring to today's texts is that life has twists and turns.

Today's texts talk to us about forgiveness. In the Old Testament reading, we see the final chapters of the story of Joseph and his eleven older brothers. You remember: the guy with the cool coat, his father's favorite? The story starts way back in chapter 37: Joseph's brothers are so jealous of him (and that coat) that they sell him into slavery and tell their father, Jacob, that he has been killed by wild animals. Years later, during a famine, the brothers go to Pharaoh to beg for grain—only to discover that the Pharaoh's most trusted advisor and right-hand man is their long-lost brother, Joseph. Talk about twists and turns! Joseph forgives his brothers then, giving them grain and sending them back to their father, Jacob. But in today's reading, just after Jacob's death years later, the brothers crave reassurance that Joseph's forgiveness is real.

Their doubt is rational; Joseph's act of forgiveness is the most extraordinary that I can think of in the bible. Imagine for a moment: remember a time when you were hurt, betrayed, by someone you loved very much. Now multiply that by eleven older brothers—the very people who were supposed to protect you. And think of the harm, the years of hurt and longing that preceded Joseph's eventual accession—and even then, the homesickness he must have felt. So it's not crazy to think that Joseph might still, in the words of the text, hold a grudge. Joseph's response does more than reassure: in asking, rhetorically, "Am I in the place of God?" Joseph renounces revenge and grudge-holding altogether. God's job is to punish; our job, he implies, is to be generous of heart.

It's interesting to pair this text with Jesus's words on mercy for two reasons. At the start, we are told to forgive seventy-seven times someone who sins against us. Reflecting on Joseph, we might think about how hard that task is—especially when, unlike Joseph's brothers, the offender doesn't seem to repent or change his ways. The parable that follows contrasts a lord who forgives a servant's debts with the hard-heartedness of the servant himself, who sends a debtor fellow-servant to jail. If we think of God in the role of the lord, one way to read this is that God is simply asking us to do for each other what he does for us—and suggests that God's role has changed from punisher-in-chief to forgiver. But if we put ourselves in the position of the servant, we're reminded how hard forgiveness can be: the hundred denarii owed him might be that week's rent, food for his children, or all that stands between him and having the gas turned off. And, perhaps ironically, it's implied that the one sin God will not forgive is our inability to forgive each other—to treat each other with the love He shows us. I think that it's because forgiveness is hard, isn't fundamentally in our nature, that Jesus's parable concludes with a thinly-veiled "or else"—bringing us back to God's role as punisher.

As an educator, I think about forgiveness a lot. A saying often attributed to Mark Twain is that good judgment comes from experience, but experience generally comes from bad judgment. It follows that to develop adults who have good judgment, we need to let them experience the consequences of bad judgment in ways that develop better judgment. Forgiveness plays a key role in mitigating these consequences so that they can be a source of learning rather than simply the end of the road. In Jesus's parable, the debtor servant isn't off the hook: he offers to repay the money he owes. But forgiving him and keeping him out of prison makes it possible for him to pay his debt—which of course he never would be able to do in prison. And forgiving the debtor makes it possible for him to learn from his mistake. So while sending the debtor to prison is the easy choice—you can imagine how good it would feel for the fellow servant—it just doesn't make sense for anyone. What makes sense is making bad judgment part of learning, instead of the end of it. Education requires forgiveness.

In the seventeen years since I opened one of the first classrooms at Walter Payton College Prep, our city has created a system that's long on consequences and short on forgiveness, as if the purpose of public education were primarily to sort children and allocate rewards accordingly. As you know—or will know, if you're the parent of a young person—for most families here today, the consequence of a single B in seventh grade—a single missed assignment, a blown test, a project that just didn't get done—is an insurmountable barrier to entering any of Chicago's top four selective enrollment schools. That system is, literally, insane. It seems much better matched to the lectionary's alternate reading for today: the passage where God, having sent Moses and the Israelites safely across the Red Sea, slams the waters down to drown the pursuing Egyptian army. It supposes that access to our top educational resources should be reserved for children who have never once experienced bad judgment—who have never, in other words, been children, or even human. And it forces parents who want to preserve their children's access to those resources to shield their children from the consequences of bad judgment and the learning that comes from it—in some cases, by taking away the option of judgment altogether. Parents of seventh-graders and high-schoolers, you know what I'm talking about: those nights when you sat next to your twelve-year-old to make sure that the homework "got done," those projects you revised and edited in the guise of "helping", those anguished emails sent to teachers asking for a grade bump. We hate doing it, because we know that every time we do, we're depriving our children of an opportunity to learn a more important lesson than the principal imports and exports of Venezuela. But we think that we must.

The promise of neighborhood high schools like Lake View and Amundsen is to create another way. Forgiveness and learning are "baked in" to what we do. We know that children aren't perfect, and we don't expect them to be. But we expect them to learn and grow from mistakes, and we commit to making great offerings like AP and dual-credit courses, summer internships, and exciting extracurricular programs available to kids who want to learn, take risks, and grow. Last year, students in Lake View's Innovator Academy visited technology innovators at Northwestern, DePaul, Microsoft, and Google—most of whom, like the students themselves, had earned at least one B. My seniors of the class of 2017 are at Bates, Colorado College, IIT, U of I, Michigan, Wisconsin-Madison—in many cases alongside my former students from Walter Payton. And my Lake View seniors have the good judgment that comes from a few bruises and scrapes, the confidence that they don't have to be protected from all of life's storms, and the understanding of the value of forgiveness that can only come from having received it .

Scientists know about scrapes: as we at Lake View teach our students, the part of the scientific method they'll encounter in every course, from Art to World Studies, is the struggle of trying something only to find it doesn't work and then figuring out a way to improve or adjust it. Those "scrapes" and mistakes have led to some of our greatest scientific discoveries, from light bulbs to penicillin. In life, opening ourselves up to those scrapes gives us a life that doesn't go straight from point A to point B; it's full of twists and turns. Embracing those twists and turns—as Joseph did, saying that "God intended for it to be good"—requires forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard, as these texts remind us, but it's as essential as faith.


  1. This Week
  2. Services Times
  3. Contact Us
  4. Sermons
Annual Meeting Jan. 28, 2018: Rector's Address

Annual Meeting Jan. 28, 2018: Rector's Address

Here is a link to download Bonnie's address.

Weekly Message for February 18

Weekly Message for February 18

Dear Friends,    


How much longer will the killing continue? 
Here are some groups and activities you might consider supporting with your time and your money: 
  • The IL Council Against Handgun Violence 
  • Moms Demand Action 
  • Gabby Giffords' PAC 

  • And here's a list of congressional representatives who have received the most amount of money from the National Rifle Association. Apparently they are all praying for the people in Florida directly affected by our country’s latest mass shooting. I invite you to pray for their souls and to drop them a note wondering if God is answering their prayers. Will it make a difference? I don’t know. But, being held hostage by a diabolical association that has convinced our elected officials that it is the God-given, constitutionally-sanctioned right of every American to wander around with a semi-automatic rifle is absurd. Seems like all of us ought to start loudly pointing out this insanity.
    I’ll be at the Moms Demand Action Lakeview gathering on the 24th of February. Let me know if you’d like to come with me. Please let me know what other courses of action you plan to take to end gun violence in our country.
    This evening, All Saints’ will be hosting a gathering for the friends, family, and neighbors of our long-term neighbor John Vanzo at 7:00. Tomorrow morning at 10:30 there will be a visitation in the sanctuary and a memorial service at 11:00 am. All are welcome. 
    I’m super excited that we will finally kick off the All Saints’ Youth Group with an overnight this Saturday. Please RSVP to Hilary Waldron if your 7-12 grade child is planning on attending. 
    Following the 11:00 Worship service we will have a Newcomer’s Brunch at O’Shaughnessy’s at 12:15. Please join us!
    This Sunday, Emily will be preaching, I’ll be celebrating, and our choir will be singing some wonderfully moving Lenten music. It seems like the right time to be praying and repenting. So please come and join me.
    All my best,


    Memorial Service for John Vanzo

    Memorial Service for John Vanzo

    AUGUST 13 2013 11The memorial service for our friend and neighbor John Vanzo will be held at All Saints' this Saturday the 17th, at 11:00 am. There will be a visitation in the sanctuary prior to the service, beginning at 10:30am. All are welcome. 

    On Friday evening, the 16th, we will host a time of conversation and story telling for John's friends and family. All are invited from 7 to 9pm to share a drink, and hear and tell a favorite story of the very many sides of John.

    May John's soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


    Lenten Evening Prayer

    Lenten Evening Prayer

    On Thursdays, February 15-March 22, brief services of Evening Prayer will be offered at 7:00pm, with scripture, poetry, and song. Come find rest for your souls.

    Inquirers’ Class

    Inquirers’ Class

    On Thursdays, February 15—March 22, the Inquirers’ Class will take place in the Reading Room next to the sanctuary. Designed especially but not exclusively for those new to All Saints’ and/or the Episcopal Church, this 6-week series is an exploration of adult spirituality through history, prayer, scriptures, theology, church polity, and more. If desired, it may also serve as preparation for the rite of confirmation or reception into the Episcopal Church in May or June.

    The book we’ll refer to occasionally in the class is called Jesus was an Episcopalian (and you can be one, too!): A Newcomer’s Guide to the Episcopal Church by Chris Yaw. If you’re interested in joining the class, consider getting a copy to look over.

    Contact Bonnie or Emily for more info.

    Bags for RCS

    Bags for RCS

    We're running low on paper and reusable bags for our Tuesday night pantry. Please bring us your extras! 
    We will be taking donations on Tuesday evenings, M-F 9am-4pm, and on Sundays during church services. Look for the bins by the doors. Thanks for your help!

    Community Kitchen Volunteers Needed

    Community Kitchen Volunteers Needed

    Tuesdays 6:15-8:00pm 

    RCS is looking for help serving and cleaning up after dinner on Tuesdays from 6:15-8:00pm.

    If you're able to volunteer, contact Emily or Operations Manager Parker Callahan, or call 773-769-0282.

    Donate to The 1883 Project

    Donate to The 1883 Project

    Please consider supporting the restoration project of our historic building. To make a donation, click here

    1883 Construction web 

    Fixing This Old Church

    Fixing This Old Church

    Here is a collection of photos of the progress of our 1883 Project. Here is a collection of bell tower photos. Check back often for updates.

    Sunday Service Times

    8:00 am Inclusive Language Eucharist
    9:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir
    10:00 am Children's Church School
    10:00 am Coffee Hour
    11:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir


    Contact Us

    4550 N. Hermitage in Chicago, IL 60640 (Directions)

    Phone (773) 561-0111


    Information about pastoral care.



    Bonnie on Huffington Post

    Occasionally Bonnie's sermons are published on the Huffington Post. Here are some links.

    Pain. Change. Hope.

    November 15, 2015

    What Does St. Francis of Assisi Have to Say to Us Today?

    October 4, 2015

    Wake Up Calls

    September 6, 2015

    Christmas Reminds Us That We, Like God, Are Human, Too

    December 24, 2014

    The Deep Sleep of Racial Oblivion: One Pastor's Sin of Omission

    November 30, 2014

    Pulpit Swap

    The Pulpit Swap between St Thomas and All Saints is part of our ongoing effort to bring our parishes closer together as we engage in a conversation about systemic racism and how we can work together to forge new possibilities and outcomes.

    Going Home—Changed

    Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Bonnie Perry of All Saints Episcopal Church on October 16, 2016.  

    When Prayers Go Unanswered

    Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Dr Fulton L Porter celebrating at All Saints Episcopal Church on Oct16 2016.