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,    

This seems to be the year where I realize that the young people who were 8 and 10 years old 18 years ago, are now in their late twenties; time doing what time does. This week is particularly poignant for me as I spend the weekend watching Patrick Pressl, (the man whom many of you know of as our amazing Christmas Pageant Donkey) become a 2nd Lt. in the United States Marine Corps. 
 
I won't be with you all on Sunday because I've flown to Quantico, VA to be with Patrick and his family to celebrate his wonderful achievement. My dad is a retired Lt. Col. in the Marines, so I find this milestone for Patrick to be particularly moving. It is such a gift to be with this faith community for this long and to see our children become faithful adults with purpose, pride, and an abiding sense of justice. 
 
This Sunday, Emily will be celebrating. Parishioner and retired pastor, the Rev. Martin Deppe, will be preaching and Colin and the choir will be creating compelling music. I'll be back Sunday night.
 
Many thanks to Parker Callahan and Emily Guffey and the very, many volunteers who enabled last week's All Saints' Cafe to be one of our best ever. The food was amazing and the dishwashing crew was stupendous. 
 
Advent evensong and reflections begin Wednesday, November 29th. I am looking forward to having the beauty of Holden Evening Prayer wash over me and to then spend some extended time studying and reflecting on W. H. Auden's poem, "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio." Please join me Nov 29, Dec 6 and Nov. 13. 
 
Enjoy the return of Fall. 
 
All my best,
Bonnie

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. 

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 (mebcat@gmail.com)

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.

 

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.

 

 


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.