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.


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Weekly Message for December 10

Weekly Message for December 10

Dear Friends,    

Tomorrow morning, Saturday the 9th, from around 10am to 2pm, I’m looking for people who might want to assist me in doing some Christmas decorating for the outside of our church building. Ahn Gallagher has graciously agreed to hang some lights in our bell tower, now I’m looking for assistance is getting lights in our oak tree out front. I’ll be able to put on my climbing saddle and rig a belay and climb the tree, but it will be much easier and way more fun if I have assistance. Right now our beautifully restored building looks GREAT in the day and kind of dark at night. I hope to fix that tomorrow. Dress warm and come join the fun!
Two Wednesdays from now, on December 20th, our evening prayer will be extended to include more silence for reflection, more music for our souls, and an opportunity for anointing. Christmas can be a very difficult time, particularly if we are in the midst of a transition or have lost someone we love. We hope to create a time and some space to acknowledge those difficult feelings and offer some solace and consolation. I invite you to take an hour to care for yourself with some prayer and music.
This Sunday I’ll be preaching, Emily will be celebrating, the children will be rehearsing our presidentially-recognized Christmas Pageant, #HamiltonmeetsJesus, and Colin and our choir will be creating seasonal music that will lift our spirits.
I look forward to seeing all of you!
All the best,
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.