All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

Alzheimer's, God and Grace

Bonnie A. Perry

Sunday. A group of 20 of us were sitting in the back room of O'Shaughnessy's passing eggs, potatoes and pancakes. In the midst of balancing plates and getting hot eggs into my mouth in a timely fashion I asked the fellow to my left, how it was that he and his wife made it to Chicago from Texas. I had in my mind as I asked the question an expected answer. I was thinking to myself, it must be because they have kids and grandchildren here.

Ben, in the midst of the noisy table answered my question in a quiet southern drawl. "Our daughter lives here, she and her husband and their two children." Bullseye. I had guessed the answer. I nodded and turned to pour myself some more tea. Then I heard him say something about retiring and someone being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. That's when I turned and asked, with all of my brain engaged, "Who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's?"

He said, "I was."

"Holy, expletive deleted," said I.

Ben's wife Robyn said, "Well now there's a reaction."

"How is the care here in Chicago for Alzheimer's?" I continued the conversation minus the swear words.

"Good," he said, "I haven't changed too very much in the last three years."

Later Ben's wife, Robyn said to me. He doesn't usually come out right away.

God abhors a closet; those places where we hide and lock our true selves away, usually for very real and good reasons. A number of us know all about closets. Closets: those, perhaps safe, yet confining, suffocating places where we lock away the deepest most vulnerable stories of our lives. Our sexuality, our gender, our fears, histories, addictions, our disabilities, our kid's struggles, there's shelf for all of those stories and a hanger for our vulnerabilities. We leave them all behind a closed, locked door. We then emerge, pretend, and lead lives that any Facebook algorithm would applaud. Yet those closets are small, confining and eventually that which we constructed to keep us safe is closing in around us, stealing our oxygen, and depriving us of the connections in the world that might be able to lift and carry us along.

God abhors a closet but so many of our families and friends living with dementia and or Alzheimer's disease have little choice but to move into that small world, lest they be known, pitied and dismissed.

A couple of weeks ago I heard N. R. Kleinfield the author of the stunning New York Times Piece, "Fraying at the Edges," being interviewed. Then I read his article, a profile of Geri Taylor, an accomplished hospital administrator and nurse. Three years ago Geri was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer's disease. She and her husband Jim Taylor agreed to be followed for several years by Mr. Kleinfield.

Kleinfield said of his article, so many of us believe we know what Alzheimer's disease is, "A withered person with a scrambled mind, memories sealed away. That is the familiar face of Alzheimer's. But there is also the waiting period."

What Kleinfield documents is Geri and Jim Taylor's decision to "live the most fulfilling days they could at what seemed the bleakest possible time...to just plunge ahead."

What I read in Geri and Jim Taylor's story, I am seeing and hearing in the ever so brief conversations I've had with newcomer's Ben and Robyn Ferguson.

Ben and Robyn like Geri and Jim Taylor are amazing advocates for people living with this disease. They graciously shared a bit of their story with me. And I am so honored that on their second week in this community they are up for having conversation with us between the 9 and 11 o'clock worship services.

Ben a clinical psychologist, in telling his story says, "Robyn had asked me over and over again to get evaluated, but I don't remember that. What I remember is that I was unable to learn a new computer program at work. That's when things started to unravel. I couldn't work if I couldn't learn. I was ashamed and scared and quit before they could ask me to leave. I had neuropsych testing, blood work, PET scans and an MRI. Then when the condescending jackass of a neurologist said, 'Alzheimer's I felt the deepest despair of my life.'"

Robyn says, "I wish I could tell you how I felt the day Ben was diagnosed, but I can't. All I remember is what Ben said as we walked out of the neurologist's office: "I know I'm a dead man walking, but I promise I'm going to do this as gracefully as I can." She says, "But the next day—that I remember. I grieved—grieved harder than any time in my life. I keened, I sobbed, I wailed—all in the shower, with a washcloth against my mouth to muffle the sound."

I am in awe of much of Robyn and Ben's story, the bit I know, but the part that stands out to me, is the part that brought them here. Robyn said, "I wanted to figure out how to bring Ben back to so we could enjoy the time we had left together. I mentioned to our daughter that I wished we could move to Chicago." Robyn said, "I was a little surprised when she said yes, 'I'll pray for it.'
One hundred days later they moved into an apartment in Uptown, around the corner from their daughter and her family.

Then after seeing it mentioned in an article he was reading in The New Yorker, Ben found the Center for Cognitive Wellness in Evanston and Dr. Sherrie All, who referred them to a support group at Northwestern. It was at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where they met Mary O'Hara and their lives changed.

Not healed, not perfect, changed. Ben says, "I have lots of friends. I can't remember their names, but they can't remember mine either. We still manage to have a good time." As part of a Northwestern program, Ben mentors a first year medical student, helping to humanize the disease and dispel some of the stigma. Last week at the end of the year banquet, his medical student stood up and said, "I had no idea Alzheimer's could look like this. Ben beats me regularly in Chess."
Robyn and Ben are advocates for people living with the disease. Ben says, " What I know is that now I am contributing."

Not out of sight, lost in a closet.

Biblical Scholar, Amy Pauw, tells a story of one of St. Augustine more fanciful theological speculations. Augustine once said, "That God could have taught all persons individually and immediately by means of angels. Had God chosen to do so then all the wisdom that every human being needed could have been obtained in this direct and effortless way. Instead, said Augustine, 'God's plan was for us humans to learn wisdom from one another, because he says it makes, 'A way for love, which ties people together in the bonds of unity and makes souls overflow and intermingle with each other.'"

We are, concludes Amy Pauw, "All bound together in the laborious and precarious enterprise of seeking wisdom so that we will learn at the same time to love one another, "(P. xviii A Theological Commentary on the Bible and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes).

More than anything, Geri and Jim, Ben and Robyn are risking putting themselves fully in the midst of life. We who like to fix things are some times befuddled by things that are not readily cured, yet while that cure comes to be, we are called to see and be with each other—through it all--all of us—all of us-- children of God—in search of hope and wisdom.

Amen.

Copyright Bonnie A. Perry, May 22, 2016

 

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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.