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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Dear Friends,

Tomorrow afternoon I'll hit a milestone that astonishes me. I'm honored to be officiating at Kate Gannett and Jamison Merrill's wedding. Katie was one of the five or six little ones who were here at All Saints when I first arrived almost 25 years ago. She was five years old... Now she's working on a graduate degree at Johns Hopkins. She and Jamison met while working in South Africa.

So much has changed since then and yet this community of faith, although much bigger (and heaven knows our building looks much better), retains the same "let's just give this a try and see what happens" spirit. Back then we had Clyde Propst and a few dedicated church school teachers who were willing to give their time to be with our young people and let them know that they mattered. Today we still have Clyde Propst, and more than 10 other people, working with and serving our young ones. In addition, one of the little ones from back in the day, Hilary Waldron, now facilitates our incredibly active 7-12 grade youth group. Taking young people seriously can make a huge difference in their lives! I am so grateful to our nursery, church school teachers, and youth group advisors. Thank you for all that you do and give.

This weekend, in addition to Kate's wedding, I'll be getting my sermon ready for Sunday and anticipating our amazing end-of-the-church-school-ice-cream social. 

Colin and the choir will be creating some lovely music and Emily will be catching some time away after an incredibly packed Spring!

I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday!

All the best,


The last few Sundays of our church school year are quickly approaching:

Sunday, June 18th - The Annual Ice Cream Social when church school hosts coffee hour and what's better than ice cream! There will be a variety of ice cream flavors and many possible toppings for do-it-yourself Sundaes served on the lawn in front of the church. Children help with set up serve (and eating!) ice cream, and clearing away the debris

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 Services Community Kitchen.


redbirdUnderstanding Vocation in a Complex World

Parishioner Liz Futrell and her colleague Kate Rademacher both work in international public health with a focus on trying to increase access to contraception for women in developing countries. Both women feel a sense of vocation in this work. However, with birth control remaining a controversial topic in the political and religious landscapes, understanding this work as a vocational calling can raise challenging questions. Liz and Kate will talk about how their work intersects with their faith. Kate will read from her new memoir about her recent conversion to Christianity, and Liz will read from a piece about her career path that's been included in a new anthology of women's stories.

Discussion will take place Sunday, June 25, during coffee hour. There will be time for open discussion and the group will be invited to share their experiences and thoughts about discernment and understanding vocation.


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 (


    Individual Actions Towards Racial Equality

    Volunteer Opportunities, Events, and Recommendations

    (re)imagining: Racial Justice Summit Sponsored by YWCA Evanston/North Shore:

    Thursday, April 6 from 6 - 8 pm
    Friday, April 7 from 9 am - 4 pm
    Unitarian Church of Evanston
    1330 Ridge Ave., Evanston, IL
    Goal: "To bring people of all ages and demographics together to deepen their understanding of their own racial identities, develop skills to work for change, formulate action plans and engage with others."

    For Information and Registration, click here

    "The Scottsboro Boys" at Porchlight Theater through March 12th
    A musical production that is getting rave reviews, "nominated for 12 Tony Awards, and presented in the style of the notorious "minstrel show", this true-life story of nine African American teenagers accused and put on trial in Memphis for a crime they did not commit is one America's most notorious episodes of injustice; inaugurating a wave of social changes leading up to the modern Civil Rights Movement."

    For information and ticket prices, click here

    Suggested reading, non-fiction: 
    Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson, January, 2017

    This book has been described as "...a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted."

    Recommended as a "companion piece to the film rather than a stand-alone book." One reviewer recommended "seeing the film first, and then using the book for meditation and revisiting afterward."

    Volunteer opportunity: GROWING HOME "We have a vision of a world of healthy people and communities. Everyone deserves to have a good job, and everyone deserves to eat well." Since 2002, Growing Home has trained and employed and, most importantly, given a second chance to people with employment barriers. You may be familiar with their Wood Street farm in Englewood. Their farms are the first and only USDA-certified organic high-production urban farms in Chicago, and because they strive to also feed their community well, all their produce is grown, harvested, cleaned, and sold within a 20-mile radius. Read more at

    Volunteer opportunity: Non-profit Reading In Motion has successfully refined its mission over its 30+ years to help give kindergarten and first grade students foundational reading skills they need to start on a path for lifetime learning. They partner with public school teachers and have been extremely successful in making a difference in children's lives. Click here for more info.


    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!


    Jeff Lee
    Dear Polly and All Saint's Kids,
    I am writing to you from a meeting of the board of Episcopal Relief & Development in Bogota, Columbia. We are meeting here to visit some of our partner ministries with people in need. I have seen the amazing results of this year's bake sale (in fact, I'm looking at photos of some of the cakes - wow!), and you have reminded me that we don't have to travel to Columbia or South Sudan to make a huge impact for the good of God's people.
    I am so proud and grateful for you and the work you do. You guys are heroes. Our friends in South Sudan will be blessed by your effort.
    In Christ,
    Jeffrey D. Lee
    Bishop of Chicago

    Sundays at 10am

    The phrase Imago Dei means the Image of God. Specifically, the image of God as it is found in humanity. The image of God in us - it is what makes us spiritual people - valued as whole and complete. What does it mean to creatively live as whole people? How do we live in relationship with others - respecting and sharing one another's security and one another's discomfort?

    Join us on Sunday mornings between services as we figure out together how to help one another take practical responsibility for living in this world - especially as racial and spiritual beings.

    True - our time will be uncomfortable because it will mean talking about race, violence, personal helplessness, and personal failure. Also true - this will be comforting and supportive because it will mean getting to be honest, practicing together, and caring for one another.

    Every week we will ask one another "What have you done in these past 7 days with who you are and within your sphere of influence when it comes to the realities of race?" the answers will be different for each person and it won't be a competition. We will be lifting up the everyday choices we make and don't make. Sometimes we will like what happens and sometimes we won't.

    And - we will be doing it together.

    The Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants served by the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society were deeply moved by the notes of welcome from All Saints. We shared them at our community lunch on Thursday, and now they will hang in our conference room to remind people of your warm welcome in the days to come. Thanks!

    Laura Youngberg

    breadbakersSignup online to bake for a month

    Calling all bakers! If you love the smell of fresh-baked bread filling your kitchen, please consider signing up to bake communion bread for our services. This involves a one-month commitment that you'll share with another baker, and you can do all your baking at once and add to the reserves in our freezer.

    Signing up is easy, just click here for our page on Signup Genius and reserve your favorite month.

    Contact Jennifer Simokaitis, or Anne Ellis if you have any questions.

    Yard Signs Available 

    Grow Community has created yard signs for anyone who would like to display support for our local public high schools. Signs and sign holders are available in the Reading Room.



    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 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 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


    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.