All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

Forgiveness: When, What, Why, How...

September 14, 2014
Mathew 18: 21-35
Bonnie A. Perry

This sermon is influenced greatly by my reading of Amish Grace: When Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, written by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zercher.

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy seven times." Or in some translations Jesus replies, "70 x 7".


Opening Scene October 2—Amish 9/11

Do you remember October 2, 2006? It was a Monday, a clear, blue sky, a cloudless day, in Lancaster County, PA; a day that some say very much reminded them of September 11, 2001. In fact, it has been called, by more than one person, the Amish 9/11.

This is the day of the Nickel Mines School Shooting. I'll spare all of us the grim details, save to say an assailant slayed 5 and critically injured five others all under the age of 13.

Do you remember how the headlines changed from talking about murder to forgiveness?

Do you remember the media's confusion as reports went out that the relatives of the Amish children who were shot, were bringing food to the family of the assailant?

Do you remember that over half of the people who attended the assailant's funeral were Amish?

I've spent some time reading a wonderful book about this incident, entitled, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B Kraybill, Steven Nolt, David Weaver-Zercher, all of whom are scholars who study the Amish. Although they themselves are not Amish they each have close ties to the community.

The book, written in three parts describes the events on the day of the shooting, the roots of forgiveness in the Amish Culture and the last part looks at the practice of shunning and excommunication in the Amish.

It's an amazing piece that is even-handed and thoughtful and at least for me, extremely helpful in wrestling with the idea and notion of forgiveness.

Take a minute—When was the last time you felt the bottom of someone's shoe step down on your soul? Does a time or an incident come to you?

Separate, or perhaps linked to that—when was the last time you forgave someone?

For me, it was a bit easier to think of how and when I've been wronged, and I was bit slower on coming up with times when I have forgiven someone. Coming up with defined moments or events where I've been injured or hurt... yup—I have those—times.

When I've let go of those injuries--- times when I have forgiven someone for what they have done—well I'd be fibbing if I said that those moments were as readily at hand.

Because I think this is an extremely difficult topic I'd like to offer some

Who, What, When and, Why's of forgiveness for you to think about, most which I gleaned from reading this book. Perhaps some of it may be helpful to you.

What is Forgiveness?

So what exactly is forgiveness? What I really liked about this book, Grace: How Forgiveness transcended tragedy—is how the authors point out that the Amish differentiate forgiveness from both pardon and reconciliation.

In forgiveness, the victim forgoes the right to vengeance. If I forgive you, I give up my need or desire for revenge.

In pardon, the offender is released from punishment altogether. If I pardon you, I will actively seek from the ruling bodies that adjudicate such things— to have you released from all punishment.

Whereas, Reconciliation is the restoration of a relationship, or the creation of a new relationship between the victim and the offender. When I reconcile with you, both of us are creating a new relationship.

The Amish are clear, Reconciliation is not necessary for forgiveness to take place. Reconciliation does not always happen, because it requires the establishment of trust between two willing parties.

I found differentiating between forgiveness and reconciliation to be incredibly important. I can forgive you, you can forgive me, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you and I will continue on in a relationship of sorts. We might—and that may in fact be a possible and even an ultimate goal—but it is not assumed in that first step of forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn't mean a resumption of trust, nor does it mean we put ourselves back into a possible position of harm.

For example, in the instance of domestic abuse, I can forgive the person who abused me, but I that doesn't mean I'm going to continue living with that person or stay married to that person.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation.

Another piece about forgiveness—it is not ours to make someone else do. As the Amish parents said, of their children who were in that school house on that ill-fated morning: "We can tell them what forgiveness is and we can offer forgiveness to the assailant's family, but we cannot make them forgive anyone."

When to Forgive?

The Amish would say quickly.

Why Forgive?

We forgive, so say the Amish, because of scripture.

Matthew 18—For the Amish, citing today's scripture, it is pretty clear. They say, "We forgive to be forgiven." If we don't forgive, then God won't forgive us."

Which is somewhat at odds with some protestant theology that says, "Because God died for our sins, because Jesus died on the cross and has forgiven our sins, we must forgive others." Personally the former Catholic in me, likes the Amish twist a bit better.

"I forgive, because then God will forgive me." This take on forgiveness requires some agency from me—and I'm a big fan of agency.

The Amish then point out that this theology is echoed in the Lord's prayer. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..."

Amish History and Culture

Forgiveness is also embedded in the Amish culture and history.

The Amish are descendants of the Annabaptist movement in the 16th century. The Annabaptist didn't think that either Luther or Calvin went far enough in their efforts at reformation. They were not reticent to make known their misgivings. As a result the Amish ancestors became the persona non grata of both the original protestant reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. Thus ensuring that they would be prime targets by both sides for martyrdom. A central piece of the Annabaptist's martyrdom was to do as Jesus did and publicly forgive their persecutors as they were being put to death. Forgiveness is in the Amish DNA.

Why else forgive? This last bit is extremely practical.

Gid, one Amish minister says, "If I hold a grudge for a day, it is bad. If I hold it for two days it is worse. If I hold a grudge for a year then that man is controlling my life. So why not just let go of that grudge now?"

"Otherwise," says Gid, "You live with that grudge forever and it controls you."

So What's the process for forgiving?

Everett Worthington—identifies two different types of forgiveness—decisional and emotional.

Decisional forgiveness is a personal commitment to control negative behavior, even if negative emotions continue.

A Person practicing, "Decisional forgiveness" writes Worthington, "promises not to act in revenge or avoidance, but it doesn't necessarily make a person feel less unforgiving [ or more forgiving]."

"Emotional forgiveness", says Worthington, "happens when negative emotions—resentment, hostility, and even hatred—are replaced by positive feelings."

An Amish grandfather of two of the slain little ones, when asked if he had forgiven, said, "Yes—in my heart." Said the minister, Gid, "That family will have to struggle with the forgiveness issue for a long time, forgiving again and again and accepting the loss of those children again and again."

Regardless of how many times you forgive, forgiveness needs to be practiced again and again.

That's when it came to me! Forgiveness is like a muscle—that we can train and build... Just like a muscle that has:

Fast twitch, powerful fibers, that twitch quickly and provide short bursts of power and strength, there are also

Slow twitch fibers, which take awhile to contract. These are the muscle fibers needed for endurance. Forgiveness is made up of both of these metaphorical muscle fibers.

The fast twitch fibers are the ones we activate when we make the move toward decisional forgiveness, the slow twitch fibers are the ones we use as we possibly make our way to emotional forgiveness.

Forgiveness then, is a short term act and a long-term process, and the two are connected.

The initial decision to forgive may spark the [eventual] emotional long-term change of heart.


Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project writes that forgiveness means, "Becoming a hero instead of a victim in the story you tell of your life."

I like that, when I forgive, I become the hero instead of the victim.


Forgiveness means:

I give up the right for revenge or recompense.

It doesn't always lead to reconciliation.

It's hard work that can begin with a quick action and can continue with a long process of change.

It's an act that I can practice and train up in my soul.

Creating the muscles of forgiveness, will be less work than being a victim and being held hostage to the grudges I cannot bear to relinquish.

The Amish have a 300 year cultural head start on us with a community that reinforces this practice. Maybe that's something else we can learn from them. Like those barn raising parties it all seems to go quicker if we give each other a hand.

Forgiveness is something we might consider practicing. According to Jesus, 70 x 7 times.


Copyright Bonnie A. Perry 2014

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Weekly Message for December 17

Weekly Message for December 17

Dear Friends,    

Tomorrow is our long awaited and much anticipated #HamiltonMeetsJesus Christmas pageant. As I write this note, I remember Fonzi and the writers’ of that beloved 70s TV show, Happy Days, and conclude that this year’s pageant may truly have "jumped the shark." That said, our young people have spent an inordinate amount of time working on this year’s production. Tomorrow you will see that the camel and sheep legislators are busy amending the celestial republic’s founding documents, the shepherds are trying to figure out their new tax bills, the innkeeper offers Joseph some sage advice, “Smile more, talk less,” Mary is adjusting to a new donkey, the archangels have an opening rap that really puts some flesh on the notion of the virgin birth, and King Herod is quite sure that the immigrant Wise Men will be back. All of which is to say, it’s pretty much business as usual for the All Saints’ Christmas Pageant which will be premiering at the 9 and 11 o’clock worship services. 

In the midst of the Hamilton hoopla one truth I hope to offer to all of us is that God, in the infant Jesus, came into this world to show each of us the unending power of love. While Alexander Hamilton and the founding parents of our republic took a step toward liberty and justice, I invite you to remember and hold dear that the real revolution, the true up-ending of our world, comes not through government policy, but through our ability to live our lives in such a way that the love of God is made real in all we do. Please let that revolution begin.

To avoid donkeys, camels, and chaos, attend the 8:00 service and then return for the absolutely amazing Advent and Christmas Lessons and Carols that our choir will be offering at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon. To end a long day at 5:30 we’ll all journey to the back room of O’Shaughnessy’s Pub for Beer and Caroling! At noon—we’ll be serving a light lunch and transforming our sanctuary from Advent austerity to Christmas greenery. Please come and join in any or all the activities that may feed your soul in this season of expectation and birth. 

All my very best to you on this my MOST FAVORITE WEEKEND of the year,


Working Against the Virus of Racism

Working Against the Virus of Racism

kellybdWe are very excited that the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas will be spending a weekend with us this fall, September 23 and 24. Kelly was formerly the Canon Theologian at our National Cathedral. In the fall she will become the first Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, now located at Union Theological Seminary. We've invited Kelly to spend the weekend with us so that we might again return to our work on confronting racism. Kelly is an amazing preacher and theologian and we are beyond honored that she is making time in her incredibly busy schedule to be with us. Look for more details in the next few weeks on the spirituality and theology that we will be exploring together. 

In the event that you find yourself looking for some interesting summer reading, here are some books she has suggested we investigate: HomecomingThe Color of Law, and one by Kelly called Stand Your Ground. She also suggested that watching 13th on Netflix would be helpful.

Racism is an issue that we are called to confront and challenge and end. It is not something that will just die a gentle death. Our hope is that with our time with Kelly and one another, we may again return to this important work. 

All Saints' Book Club

All Saints' Book Club

midnightFall Reading List Selected

The All Saints Book Club has defined its reading list through the fall. The meetings start at 7:30 PM usually at the home of a member. The locations and further details are on our Facebook page. Here is the schedule for the next several months:

  • August 10 - "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt
  • September 14 - "Operation Breadbasket" by Martin Deppe (meet in the Reading Room at the church)
  • October 12 - "Saints and Villains" by Denise Giardina
  • November 9 - "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson
  • December 14 - Pick your own poetry book and share favorite poem(s)

For additional information, contact Mike Burke (

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!

Evening Prayer at The Breakers

Evening Prayer at The Breakers

 Sundays at 2pm

breakersbibleWe are very excited to announce that every Sunday at 2:00 pm, All Saints' offers something new at the Breakers - An Evening Prayer Service! Our first event was Sunday, December 4th, and went marvelously well - we had 13 attendees! Folks are very pleased that there's a Protestant service being offered in addition to the current choices (which are Catholic and Moody Bible.) The Prayer Service itself is printed in large print and in bulletin style with scripture taken each week from the Common Lectionary.

The weekly service starts at 2:00 pm, upstairs on the second floor Meditation Room, and lasts about 15 minutes. Please contact Paul Mallatt if you have questions, or comments at 773-860-4649. When you can, stop by the Breakers (5333 N Sheridan Rd) where the parking is free (for 2 hours), the coffee is hot, and the folks are friendly!


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.

New Opportunity: Hospitality Ministry

New Opportunity: Hospitality Ministry

helloDo you feel called to create an open, welcoming, hospitable environment at All Saints? Do you like meeting and connecting with people? Join the new Hospitality Ministry! Members of the Hospitality Ministry will help the clergy and vestry create a welcoming culture by greeting new members, engaging new faces at coffee hour, and helping connect new members of All Saints with our various programs.

Interested? Contact Diane Doran or Michelle Mayes. Include "Hospitality Ministry" in the subject line.

Join Our Member Directory!

Join Our Member Directory!

Our new Associate Rector, Emily Williams Guffey, is enjoying getting to know everyone in our congregation. Help her put names and faces together by adding yourself to our online directory!

If you are a member of All Saints' and haven't already registered for the directory, please contact our resident web guru Jim Crandall at and he will send a user name, password, and instructions.

Love on a Plate

Love on a Plate

Join the All Saints' Care Ministry! 

casseroleThe Care Ministry at All Saints' is a quiet one, simply providing meals after a new baby arrives, after surgery, during an illness. Because when life gets complicated, dinner is often the last thing on our minds--but sometimes a meal and visit from a friend is exactly what we need!

If you can provide a meal, give someone a ride, or run an errand once in awhile, please email You'll be contacted when a need arises and you can sign up to help at your convenience.


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 

This OLD Church

This OLD Church

This week’s stories of the bell tower: The beams and posts in the bell tower are being filled with epoxy and fungicide to prevent future insect damage and to restore their strength and integrity. Here are some photos of the work currently taking place. Everywhere you see white is where the post or beam is being rebuilt, restored and protected.
The blue hue in the photo is from the tarp surrounding the bell tower enabling Ron Young and his crew to continue working in the dropping temperatures.
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.