All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

On Holy Ground

M. Jeanne Wirpsa
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
June 12, 2016
Luke 7:36-8:3

Santa Tierra. Holy Ground. In a few minutes, the choir will sing an uplifting offertory that celebrates the experience of standing “on holy ground.” I must admit when I first listened to the recording of this piece that Scott shared with the choir I was slightly disappointed. I was ready either to belt out the gospel version I love or bask in fond memories of our beloved diva Barbara Streisand singing her rendition. (I’m guessing there are a few of my gay brothers here today who could join me in singing that Streisand version; but let’s not). To assuage my disappointment, I downloaded my familiar versions and listened to my heart’s delight, before buckling down to learn today’s anthem, “On Holy Ground.”

Tony came to Northwestern Memorial Hospital from New York City to receive a life-saving stem cell transplant for the debilitating autoimmune disease he contracted almost 15 years ago as a first responder on 9/11. Now unable to walk let alone rescue others, he wept as we invoked the spirit of those who had perished that day. He wept as I prayed that his healing be a tribute to the courage of deceased first responders. He wept as I invited him to release the burden of survivor guilt he had carried all these years. He wept as I invited him to imagine strength and vitality returning to his limbs. I wept too – for I was standing on holy ground.

They came to his room. One by one they came to Juan’s room. The patient care tech who had swapped stories with Juan about parenting young children. The physician who had fought so hard to cure Juan’s leukemia. The housekeeper who had spent her own money to buy Juan the tacos he so loved. The chaplain who had prayed tirelessly for a miracle. The nurses who had seen him fail chemo treatment after chemo treatment. One by one we came. As we had created a circle of care around Juan for the nearly 8 months he had been in the hospital, we came now at the time of his death to form a circle of love and support around his grieving family. We all wept – for we were standing on holy ground.

He grew up as a young African American man in the era of Jim Crow and became the greatest heavy weight boxer the world has ever known. He fully embraced his Muslim faith, adopted a name that proclaimed to the world - “I am a proud black Muslim” - and sacrificed money, titles, and future glory for his commitment to unity and peace. This past Friday, Imams and Rabbis, close family and those whom he had never met, dignitaries and the masses paid tribute to Muhammed Ali. They all wept – for they were standing on holy ground.

“A woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.” The woman in our gospel wept – for she was standing on holy ground.

Santa Tierra. Holy ground. Where do we find it? How do we know when we are standing on it? What transforms the space we inhabit from being mere ordinary soil to “holy soil?” Our gospel story today provides some clues, maybe even answers, so let’s look a closer at what is going on.

The Pharisees. They get a bad rep in the New Testament where they are caricatured as legalistic and holier than thou. Today (according to the Webster dictionary) we even use the name to mean a self-righteous person; a hypocrite. The Pharisees of old were actually respected members of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law – in some ways not so different from modern Orthodox Jews or maybe even the Amish. The meaning of the word "Pharisee" is related to the Hebrew root that means to "separate" or "detach." From whom did the Pharisees separate? From priests and clerics such as the Sadducees who had a different interpretation of Jewish law. From the common people of the land. From Gentiles or Jews who embraced Hellenistic culture. Certainly from women, lepers, Samaritans, sinners, the outcast, tax collectors, and anyone who might be categorized as “unclean” under their interpretation of Jewish law.

For the Pharisees, holiness was something that had to be secured and protected. It required building fences or hedges to keep out the messiness of sinful behaviors and the impurity of illness, bodily fluids, and death. Holiness was something that, in turn, could be defiled, lost, or sacrificed -- if one crossed the line. The Pharisee in our gospel passage could not help, therefore, but be aghast when “that kind of woman, a sinner” dared to touch Jesus.

Throughout the gospels it is exactly “that kind of woman” who has eyes to see the holy. (Remember the woman at the well, the woman with the blood flow, and the women on the road to Emmaus?). Time and again in the gospels those who are labeled as unclean, sinful, or outcast encounter Jesus and recognize him as the Holy One. As in our story today, it is those who have very little “purity” to protect or lose who dare to reach out and touch the holy in their midst. It is “that kind of woman” who stands on holy ground.

In contrast, those who focus on following the letter of the law, getting it right all the time, being scrupulous in their religious observance run the risk of not seeing the holy when it is right before their eyes. Certainly those whose energy is directed toward keeping a tab on the sins of others and promoting their own pious character run an even greater risk of being blinded to unconventional manifestations of the holy.

We at All Saints may not think we fit this last portrait – we are pretty loosey goosey when it comes to strict religious observance, making sure we get to church every Sunday, or do our morning devotional readings and prayers. We don’t like to think of ourselves in the same category as “those kind of Christians” who judge the behavior of others, label certain kinds of people as sinful, avoid socializing with the wrong elements. If we act like the Pharisee in our gospel today it is probably in more subtle and, perhaps, insidious ways.

Where do we get stuck in our ways, demand perfection of ourselves or others, get bogged down by the mundane, ordinariness of everyday life? Where do we build fences, protect ourselves from pain and chaos, separate ourselves from those whose perspective or behavior might take us out of our comfort zone? Where do we cast our gaze expecting to see the holy while averting our eyes to places and experiences that may challenge or surprise us?

Our gospel today invites us to relinquish all notions of where holiness is to be found. It invites us to abandon categories and definitions that separate us from them, the pure from the impure, sinners from the saved. We are invited to cross the line with “that kind of woman” -- to break bread with the homeless, to bind up the wounds of our injured city, to anoint the ill, and weep with those who mourn – to stand on holy ground. We are invited to cross the line -- into the messiness of life, the suffering of others, places of vulnerability, woundedness, and mortality – to stand on holy ground.

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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.