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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Annual Meeting Jan. 28, 2018: Rector's Address

Annual Meeting Jan. 28, 2018: Rector's Address

Here is a link to download Bonnie's address.

Weekly Message for February 18

Weekly Message for February 18

Dear Friends,    

 

How much longer will the killing continue? 
 
Here are some groups and activities you might consider supporting with your time and your money: 
 
  • The IL Council Against Handgun Violence 
  • Moms Demand Action 
  • Gabby Giffords' PAC 

  • And here's a list of congressional representatives who have received the most amount of money from the National Rifle Association. Apparently they are all praying for the people in Florida directly affected by our country’s latest mass shooting. I invite you to pray for their souls and to drop them a note wondering if God is answering their prayers. Will it make a difference? I don’t know. But, being held hostage by a diabolical association that has convinced our elected officials that it is the God-given, constitutionally-sanctioned right of every American to wander around with a semi-automatic rifle is absurd. Seems like all of us ought to start loudly pointing out this insanity.
     
    I’ll be at the Moms Demand Action Lakeview gathering on the 24th of February. Let me know if you’d like to come with me. Please let me know what other courses of action you plan to take to end gun violence in our country.
     
    This evening, All Saints’ will be hosting a gathering for the friends, family, and neighbors of our long-term neighbor John Vanzo at 7:00. Tomorrow morning at 10:30 there will be a visitation in the sanctuary and a memorial service at 11:00 am. All are welcome. 
     
    I’m super excited that we will finally kick off the All Saints’ Youth Group with an overnight this Saturday. Please RSVP to Hilary Waldron if your 7-12 grade child is planning on attending. 
     
    Following the 11:00 Worship service we will have a Newcomer’s Brunch at O’Shaughnessy’s at 12:15. Please join us!
     
    This Sunday, Emily will be preaching, I’ll be celebrating, and our choir will be singing some wonderfully moving Lenten music. It seems like the right time to be praying and repenting. So please come and join me.
     
    All my best,
    Bonnie

     

    Annual Bake Auction

    Annual Bake Auction

    Dear Friends,
     
    For nineteen years, All Saints' has been creating an Africa Bake Auction that changes people's lives. Last year we raised over $26,000 by buying cakes that we baked! With the money raised during the auction between our 9am and 11am worship services, our young people chose to fund:
     
  • wells and clean water for people in South Sudan
  • a women's collective tea store, creating a place for women entrepeneurs
  • scholarships for Sudanese refugees in Uganda
  • financial aid for two scholars working on LGBT issues in Africa
  • health care for women, children, and men in the Diocese of Renk, South Sudan
  • In terms of what it buys in South Sudan, our money is multiplied by a factor of ten. And now, more than ever, our assistance is needed. What you do--what we give--helps people so very much.
     
    So come with your debit cards, bring your friends, bake some goodies, and get ready to make an investment in the lives of people in South Sudan.
     
    Susan and I will be spending at least $750 to make a difference. I'll be baking my no frills, simply chocolate, kinda ugly, really tasty cake!
     
    And during our worship services on Sunday, each offering that isn't marked "pledge" will be given to our friends in South Sudan.  
     
    Please start baking, and email a title and brief description to Polly Tangora so she can streamline check-in by preparing your bid forms in advance. Then post your amazing goodies on Facebookor Instagram, tagging All Saints' and using the hashtag #AfricaBakeAuction. 
     
    All the best, 
    Bonnie
    March For Our Lives - A Lenten Pilgrimage

    March For Our Lives - A Lenten Pilgrimage

     

    Dear Friends,

    I invite you to join me on a pilgrimage to Washington DC on March 24th to support the young people from Florida who are marching in memory of their slain friends, murdered in their high school.

    I believe this journey to DC or a shorter trip to Downtown Chicago needs to be an intrinsic part of our Lenten Discipline this year. This country can no longer sigh and wring our collective hands and be lulled into thinking that there is nothing else we can do. We can show up. We can show up by the thousands, by the hundreds. That showing up begins when each one of us changes a plan and alters a schedule to be there to show we care. Because we do. 

    For DC, we’ll leave Friday evening at 5:00, March 23rd. Click here for more information and to purchase bus tickets. We’ll March during the day on the 24th. And return Saturday night so that we all may be back in time for Palm Sunday Services, March 25th. Know that the procession we take part in on Saturday will be a Palm Sunday Procession for the world and not just our church.

    I hope you can be there, with your family and friends in either DC or Downtown.

    All my best,

    Bonnie

     

    Lenten Evening Prayer

    Lenten Evening Prayer

    On Thursdays, February 15-March 22, brief services of Evening Prayer will be offered at 7:00pm, with scripture, poetry, and song. Come find rest for your souls.

    Inquirers’ Class

    Inquirers’ Class

    On Thursdays, February 15—March 22, the Inquirers’ Class will take place in the Reading Room next to the sanctuary. Designed especially but not exclusively for those new to All Saints’ and/or the Episcopal Church, this 6-week series is an exploration of adult spirituality through history, prayer, scriptures, theology, church polity, and more. If desired, it may also serve as preparation for the rite of confirmation or reception into the Episcopal Church in May or June.

    The book we’ll refer to occasionally in the class is called Jesus was an Episcopalian (and you can be one, too!): A Newcomer’s Guide to the Episcopal Church by Chris Yaw. If you’re interested in joining the class, consider getting a copy to look over.

    Contact Bonnie or Emily for more info.

    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!

    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.

    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 

    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

    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.