All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

Radical Incarnation

M. Jeanne Wirpsa

August 16, 2015
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

True confessions. I’ve haven’t been at All Saints much lately. In the late spring and summer months, my garden and the bike paths become my sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Stooping low to pull weeds, dripping sweat while mowing or digging holes to plant bushes, and savoring the sweet aroma of basil, thyme and arugula as I harvest the fruit of my labor—this is how I worship God. Pedaling hard and fast until my thighs burn, feeling the cool breeze caress my arms, reveling in the majestic calm of Lake Michigan, filling my ears with the breath of runners—this is how I worship God.

It is not merely being in nature that connects me so deeply with the holy. It is something more. It is something about the fleshiness, the embodiment, the engagement of all my senses that allows me to taste and see the holy so fully. It is the same experience I had as a martial artist, sinking into the earth in a low stance, breathing deep into my tanden and exhaling power with a loud shout, KIAI. It is the same experience I had when nursing my children, smelling their baby-ness, gazing upon their angelic, relaxed faces, feeling their warm flesh mashed up against mine almost dissolving the skin that created a boundary between us.

At first glance, both the writer of Ephesians and the Gospel of John seem to dismiss the importance of the flesh, of embodiment to our spiritual life. From Ephesians, “for our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly seats.” And from John, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.” Useless! Hmm. Pretty strong words. Such passages—influenced by Greek and Gnostic world views—became the foundation for the other-worldly, body-negating, spiritualized Christianity promoted at various stages of history and still embraced by some churches today.

Thank goodness this is not the only understanding of the relationship between the flesh and spirit found in scripture or held by communities of faith – or I might not be a Christian today. If we look more closely at both the Ephesians and John readings for today, we catch glimpses of that form of Christianity that values, embraces, and upholds the material, incarnate, fleshly world as the dwelling place of the divine.

Back to Ephesians. Now don’t get tripped up on the armor and war imagery, as I sometimes do. Look deeper. Notice how the writer names just about every part of the human body as a locus of the divine – our waists, breasts, feet, arms, and heads -- all are to be clothed with the divine. Around our waist we are to fasten the belt of truth, our chests don the breastplate of righteousness, our feet receive shoes of peace, our heads the helmet of salvation, and our arms the shield of faith. God’s Spirit couldn’t get much closer or all enveloping, now could it?

Well maybe it could. Take a look at the opening lines of our passage from John. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Now while we may read these words as purely symbolic or metaphoric, the fact is we participate in a ritual where we really do eat and drink. We ingest the body and blood of Jesus, of God. We taste the holy with our lips, our tongues, our taste buds. We chew the bread, feel it pass through our esophagus, and land in our stomach. The heat from the wine burns ever so slightly as we swallow. This is REAL. That which seems remote, inaccessible, spiritual is not really so far off after all. We eat and drink so that God abides in us, and us in God.

Sara Miles, in her spiritual memoir, Take This Bread, writes about her transformative experience of stumbling into an Episcopal church and eating bread in the form of communion. This experience converts her from an atheist chef to an activist Christian, feeding the hungry. “It was the materiality of Christianity that fascinated me, the compelling story of the incarnation in its grungiest details, the promise that words and flesh were deeply, deeply connected.” She goes on to make an extraordinary, graphic, connection between eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ with the bodily process of reproduction: “I grew inside my mother, the way Katie grew inside me. I came out of her and ate her, just as Katie ate my body, literally, to live. And it was the same with my father: He had helped make me. . . . Like Jesus, he had gone inside someone else’s body and then become part of me. The shape of my hands, the way I cleared my throat, the color of my eyes: My parents lived in me—body and soul, DNA and spirit. That was like the bread becoming God becoming me.”

Materiality. Physicality. Incarnation. Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Around your waist fasten the belt of truth. Take. Eat. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. How much closer can we get to the holy?

When many of his disciples heard it they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Why do so many Christians prefer the spiritualized, other-worldly version of faith? Because the flesh is messy and costly. It is painful and grungy and stinky and limited and it dies. It is not all gardens of abundance and smooth bike paths laced with beautiful sights and sounds.

Last week I visited a patient I’d known for over six years, ever since she was first diagnosed with leukemia. As the oncology chaplain, I was blessed to walk beside Carolyn during chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, and a year-long process of regaining strength and a purpose in serving others with cancer. I was blessed to be with her when she relapsed after 4 ½ years and had to “start the process all over again.” And, I was blessed to visit her when she returned hopeful and determined for her second transplant only to develop a major life-threatening infection.

The afternoon before Carolyn was transferred to the intensive care unit, I found this very faithful Christian woman alone in her room, feverish, her whole body achy beyond belief. When I asked about her spirits, she told me she was terrified. She told me she’d shared this with her husband of 30 some years, and he was so overwhelmed that he had just walked away, not even giving her a hug. My heart nearly broke. I paused for the briefest of moments then gestured for Carolyn to move over. Without further hesitation, I climbed into her hospital bed and gently took her in my arms, holding her while she sobbed. I had nothing to offer her by way of real reassurance that she would be well, beat the infection. She wound up on a ventilator in the ICU later that night. What I had to offer was me—my body, my flesh. Take, eat, this is my body given for you.

A radically material and incarnational Christian faith is messy and costly. The flesh is painful and grungy and stinky and limited and it dies. A radically material and incarnational Christian faith is not all gardens of abundance and smooth bike paths laced with beautiful sights and sounds. An otherworldly, disengaged, spiritualized Christianity would indeed be easier as Sara Miles admits:

“I began to understand why so many people chose to be “born-again” and follow strict rules that would tell them what to do, once and for all. It was tempting to rely on a formula—“accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior, “—that kept you from experiencing God in your flesh, in the complicated flesh of others.

Before this glorious summer ends, I invite you to open all your senses to experience the holy in your body, in your flesh. (You don’t have to skip church on Sunday mornings to do that either!). Where and when do YOU experience the holy mostly fully? How do you experience holiness in your flesh? How do you experience God in the complicated flesh of others?


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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.