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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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.