All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

 

Pointing the Way

William Koehler
April 14, 2017

So, we all just got to hear a little bit about Saint Stephen. Poor guy—he was witty and reverent and apparently relatively kind, as a deacon assigned to take care of his people’s suffering elders, but perhaps he was a little too good at his job as a minister.

He was very effective: In fact, he was so effective at conducting religious discussions that the number of converts from Judaism to Christianity rose dramatically in his parish. And this began to violently tousle the trousers of some of the more ornery citizens who lived nearby—which is understandable, to some extent, considering that the Romans had just destroyed Jerusalem. Having your holy city destroyed, after all, does not exactly put one in the mood for feeling as if your religion is losing its membership.

That being said, there’s another reason why I told you Stephen was probably too good at his job. And that reason is as follows: If you’re so good at converting people to your religion that it begins to actually scare the people around you, who—mind you—are not quite feeling like being scared, it stands to reason that eventually, a few of them will snap—and not in a very nice way, considering the impact that religion tends to have on conflict.

And most of Stephen’s neighbors did end up snapping, big time. They ended up charging him with defamation of their city and their laws, and he was summoned before Sanhedrin—a council whose name roughly translates to “people you don’t want to be summoned before.” Though, to be fair, he was given a fair trial. His response to the accusations set against him was sound—nearly perfect, even—deriving its structure and cadence from the beauty that is and was traditional Greek rhetoric. The court wanted to let him go. But an angry mob of Stephen’s neighbors had come to watch his trial, and they weren’t exactly giddy at the thought of him getting off scot-free. So, when they figured out that the trial wasn’t quite going their way, they charged toward him, dragged him away, and beat him to death with rocks. You know, as one does.

You would think that this would unnerve Stephen, but his last words before his stoning, as you already know, were:

“Look. I see the heavens opened and the son of man standing at the right hand of God!”

He was steadfast and full of faith to the end.

In a way, it’s easy to relate to that sort of faith—at least to the extent that faith is another form of passion, and almost all of us have something we are passionate about. I, in particular, find the story of Stephen’s stoning to be thoroughly relatable. In fact, being passionate and knowledgeable about a subject, then being interrogated and tortured for it is something I’ve gone through over the course of my high school career!

Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little bit there.  But that’s sort of how high school felt for me. I went into it knowing what I liked—writing—and I held onto that for quite a while. I’m still trying to grasp at some fragments of that passion now, even after three, almost four years of being pelted from all sides with inspiration-draining chunks of mind-blinding regulation and inane departmentalization that have, frankly, done a wonderful job of draining most all my desire for self-improvement. And grasping at straws is difficult when testing and quantitative standardization of a fundamentally subjective topic like writing is involved.

Like Stephen with faith, I’ve long felt that writing—and instilling in others the passion to write—is one of the great joys of life. And like Stephen, I try not to lose sight of hope even when my interests are under attack. But it’s harder for me. I’m not a saint, and I think I’ve started to lose hope. Right now, I just don’t see much value in being a writer.

So maybe I can’t always be like Stephen. Maybe I can’t cling to the whole joy of writing the way he clung to his piety even on the verge of death. And maybe I’m still having trouble forgiving the people who took it upon themselves to metaphorically stone all the subjectivity out of my life, condemning me to a high school career that has more closely resembled jumping through hoops than learning.

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try. And it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to learn from Stephen. I think that life tries its best to beat most of us senseless, to stone the happiness out of what we once enjoyed. But I also think that if we can just try to copy Stephen and sit up, keeping our eyes on hope as life tries its hardest to pry them away, then maybe we can turn all these stonings into something good—into a reason to keep looking up and realizing that there’s hope for us. Stephen found it in himself to do so. That’s why we’re talking about him now. And though he may be a saint, while he was alive, he was still only human. So what’s stopping us from doing the same?

There’s something different for everyone, I suppose. But we’re all going through this together—we’re all facing the hardships that come with having a passion. And if we’re all facing them together, than who’s to say we can’t help each other forge ahead into this wilderness called life?

After all, sometimes all we need is for someone to reach out to us in a time of darkness, clasp us on the shoulder, and point up to the heavens, and say: “Look. There’s the light.”

Junior Year is when that happened to me. I started the year miserable, sluggish, thoroughly thrashed and beaten down by the barrage of impossible-to-meet expectations and promises of terrible importance that had been flung at me by a fair number of teachers—whose names will not be disclosed—during my previous year at Northside.

I had pretty much given up on myself. Being repeatedly unable to meet other people’s expectations, even if those expectations are—admittedly—a little unreasonable, will do that to you.

So when I walked into my AP Lang class for the first time, a weary and cynical junior, my main focus was on getting the year over with. I still liked writing on some level, don’t get me wrong. But I was just so tired. I’d been pushed into performing so many arbitrary tasks over the course of my first two years of high school that I just didn’t have the energy to even think about writing for fun. And it probably would’ve stayed that way. Maybe for the rest of the year—or longer!

If I hadn’t had the teacher I did. Again, I’m not naming names, but he was absolutely brilliant. Or, at least, he was the kind of teacher I needed. Some people were a little frustrated with his teaching strategy—either they found the remarkable open-endedness of his class to be too inconclusive, or they just didn’t benefit the way others did from discussions from other students. But most of us seemed to enjoy the class. I, in particular, remember thinking to myself in the middle of a deconstruction, This is it. This is what writing is about.” For once, I was able to escape from the labyrinth of quantitative expectations being placed on my writing.

The class wasn’t about producing a certain word count, nor was it about introducing any specific array of stylistic devices or grammatical techniques. No. It was about exploring what it means to mean something. It was a year-long exercise in deconstruction of literature. It was all about conveying ideas, which is the entire basis of writing, in the first place! As cliché as it may sound, that class—and more importantly, that teacher—is responsible for my continued attempts at writing; it’s why I have this sermon in front of me.

With that teacher, I found someone who could show me the light that had gone missing from my life. I’d found someone who could show me what I had been striving for, even in the midst of ever worsening workloads and deadlines. In a time of crisis, I’d found someone who could help direct my eyes back toward the stars. I couldn’t have done it on my own . . . but then, no one should have to.

The stoning of Stephen is a reminder of that. It’s a reminder that, though it may be difficult, we can persevere. We can, in defiance of pain and uncertainty, continue to search for hope. And, unlike Stephen, we don’t have to be alone. When disaster strikes, when our passions our pushed to their limits and our inner fires are doused, we can each of us find someone to fall back on. But that all starts with the people who are willing to be that someone. As I said before, we’re all in this together—but hope can be elusive sometimes. So occasionally, it comes down to us, to kneel down next to our suffering brothers and sisters, clasp them on the shoulders, and say, “Look. There’s the light.”

 

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Dear Friends,

Emily, Colin, vestry member Joe Wernette-Harnden, and I have all just finished a week of intense training at the College for Congregational Development. It was a real honor for me to do my second round of training at "the college" with colleagues from All Saints'.

What has become ever clearer for me, doing this training as a group, is that we have the people in place for All Saints' to take our next big step in our community and world. I'm not even sure what that step may be. What I do know, although we are not perfect, we are a faith community called to take significant actions to alter the condition of our world, even as we feed ourselves and our neighbors, body and soul. With our gifts, resources, leadership, and faith we have no other choice but to take part in and initiate movements of change and meaning. Our vestry (governing body) has been exploring these questions for the past several months, they'll be working on them even more in the month of August. I hope that we'll have some thoughts to guide a congregation-wide conversation in the fall. I'm thinking that congregational conversation may happen on Sunday, October 22. It's all very much in flux and formation now-but I wanted to let you know a bit of what I've been thinking about and what our vestry has been contemplating.

Tomorrow our former seminarian, current youth group leader, and Bishop Anderson house Chaplain, Paul Goodenough will be our preacher tomorrow. I've had a preview of his sermon and I found it wonderfully challenging and intriguing. Emily will be celebrating and Colin and some of our choir members will be creating wonderful music.

I'll be away tomorrow and for pretty much the remainder of the summer. I'll be doing some paddling trips in Canada and Scotland and spending some significant time in Virginia with my dad and siblings.

Please know how very much I enjoy being a priest at All Saints!

All the best,
Bonnie

We 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. 

revelationsMonday nights at 7:30, Beginning July 10

Bible study is back! If the current U.S. presidency and administration is causing you to wonder if we're living in "apocalyptic times," then studying the Book of Revelation is perfect for this summer's Bible study! The Monday nights for this, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. (6 to 7:15 p.m. for dinner beforehand at O'Shaughnessy's), are July 10, 17, 24 and 31.

Your "tour guide" on this journey will be parishioner Jerome Wilczynski. Jerome holds a Master's degree in Systematic Theology and New Testament from Catholic Theological Union, and a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology. He is Associate Professor/Core Faculty in the department of Counselor Education and Supervision at Argosy University, Chicago. The point of our study will be to de-mystify this all too often misunderstood text from Scripture. The main commentary Jerome will use to assist us in unearthing the rich symbolism of this book will be Wilfrid Harrington's Revelation from the Sacra Pagina series, in case you want to buy it—but don't feel you have to.

 

Summer Lineup Selected
 
The All Saints Book Club met on May 11th and decided on a lineup of books for the next year. The book club is open to anyone who enjoys reading. 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:
  • July 13 -  "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson
  • August 10 - "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt
  • September 14 - "Operation Breadbasket" by Martin Deppe
  • For additional information, contact Mike Burke (mebcat@gmail.com)

     

    Gardening at 10am
     
    churchschool2010
    For the rest of June and July - although Sunday school classes do not meet at 10 during the summer - Atrium I will continue to be open during the 9 o'clock service until the end of July. Atrium I children who attend the 11 o'clock service will be welcome in the nursery during the service.
     
    At 10 o'clock children are encouraged to come help water, weed and harvest vegetables from the garden we're planting to support the Ravenswood Community Services kitchen and food pantry

    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!

     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!

     

    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.

     

    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.

    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 website@allsaintschicago.org and he will send a user name, password, and instructions.

    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 care@allsaintschicago.org. You'll be contacted when a need arises and you can sign up to help at your convenience.

     

    tinaParishioner, Tina Tchen, accepts Bishop Maryann Budde's invitation to preach at the National Cathedral Sunday, May 8. Click here to see the video.

     

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

    1883 Construction web 

    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.
     
     

    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

    Email info@allsaintschicago.org 

    Information about pastoral care.

     

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    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.