Welcome to the St. John's Blog!

St. John's Episcopal Church is located on the northwest side of Chicago, in the Old Irving Park neighborhood. You can learn more about us at our official web site. We hope you'll join us!

If you'd like to see a larger version of any picture in the left-hand column, just click on it. Use your back arrow to return to the post.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Parish Photos

Since Kara's arrival we've taken parish photos every year; yesterday we took the picture for 2009. We've now got enough of a collection (5 years' worth) that you might enjoy seeing them all in one place.

Most pictures have been uploaded in larger than usual size to make them look better when you click on them to enlarge them. Depending on your internet connection, they might take a little (or a lot) longer to load. It's a trade-off.

October 2005
We could fit everybody under the maple tree in front of the church! There was no separate photo for the
8 o'clock service – we asked them to come back at 11:30. Oops!

Early Service
June 2006

Late Service
June 2006
This is the first year we took the picture on Pentecost. Can you tell?

Early Service
June 2007

Late Service
June 2007
It had rained on Pentecost, so the picture was put off for a week. Perhaps as a reaction to the rain, the photographer decided to put everybody in the sun. That won't happen again.

Early Service
June 2008

Late Service
June 2008

And finally, this year's pictures:

Early Service
May 2009

Late Service
May 2009

Anybody want to count heads? Click on the word "Comments" below, and leave a comment with your totals. Thanks!


Here are the banners that greeted us as we walked into church today:

Thanks, Julianne!

Pentecost, as you know (ahem!), commemorates the manifestation of the Holy Spirit:
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

(Acts 2:1-4)
We observed the "Birthday of the Church" by reading the Gospel in English and, simultaneously, in any other language spoken by a member of the congregation. This year we heard French, Russian, Latin, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, and Chinese. And I'm pretty sure I heard some Tagalog when we did the same thing with the Lord's Prayer. Not too shabby for a little country church in the city.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Environmental Intersections Panel

Earlier this month, I spoke at Northwestern University at their Environmental Intersections Panel. SEED {Students for Ecological and Environmental Development} organized the program to examine the connection between the environment and another topic. This year, the series looked at the relationship of religion to the environment. I spoke specifically about the Genesis Group at St. John's.

The interfaith panel included: an Episcopalian, a Unitarian reverend*, a Catholic priest, a representative from the Jewish Reconstructionist Center and a member of the Jainist Society of Chicago.

*Reverend Clare Butterfield is the Executive Director of Faith In Place. St. John's is a partner congregation with FIP.

Some of the topics/ themes of the panel included: What does your faith’s scriptures/belief system say about humanity’s relationship to the environment? What place are humans given in the world? What is the connection between religion and social justice (clean water/land/healthy food rights) and the environment? What makes a religious approach to environmental concerns unique?

It was an interesting discussion.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Farm Tour

The Genesis Group has partnered with a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm south of Chicago. St. John's is a three season drop-off site (April-December). Farmer Vicki will be hosting a farm tour at Genesis Growers Farm on Sunday, June 28th from 1:00-5:00pm.

Genesis Growers Farm is located in St. Anne, IL (near Kankakee). The tour is open to everyone. Please bring a dish to share- Farmer Vicki will supply the drinks. Please contact Leanne if you think you might be attending; we'd like to organize a carpool. Hope to see you there!

Genesis Group

Founded in January 2007, the Genesis Group is a faith-based committee focused on Christian living and environmental stewardship at St. John's.

A sampling of some of our accomplishments:

-During Lent (2007), the GG organized a fair-trade coffee tasting and have since switched the congregation to fair trade coffee. We offer Bishop's Blend, a fair trade project of the Episcopal Church.
-We stopped using paper coffee cups at social functions and switched to ceramic mugs (which were brought from home by parishioners). We ask that everyone washes their own mug during coffee hour.
-We use cloth napkins- a Genesis Group member volunteered to wash them.
-On Palm Sunday, St. John's uses Eco-Palms. The palms come from communities in Mexico and Guatemala where workers are paid fairly and engage in sustainable harvesting in order to protect the local ecosystem.
-There are two rain barrels on the church grounds.
-The GG organized two hazardous waste collections for the neighborhood.
-We've hosted two Fair Trade Fairs- in collaboration with the Ten Thousand Villages store in Evanston.
-The church uses green cleaning products and we've installed compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.
-Last fall, the Genesis Group organized an Earth Festival! It showcased a range of vendors, live music, information on “green” living, fair trade coffee and an array of food.
-We've partnered with a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm south of Chicago.
-This past February, we hosted a Winters Farmers Market.

If sustainability and/or social justice initiatives are of interest to you, please leave a comment on this post or chat with me, Leanne Gehrig, during coffee hour. Everyone is welcome at our meetings.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hands to Help featured in local news.

Hands to Help, which has drop in hours at St. John's, was recently featured in the Chitown Daily. Read about it! (For the record the outreach worker does not buy cigarettes for people!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Spy in Our Midst

St. John's was privileged, Sunday afternoon, to play host to a spy.

Marthe Cohn, an agent for the French Army behind German lines during World War II, sat with us for more than an hour to tell the story of her family's sad but courageous experience in the war, and of her own activities which earned her the French government's Medaille Militaire for missions which "facilitated in large measure the success of the last operations of the French Army" in the war.

Marthe narrated her story from a chair in the front of the church, rising only occasionally to point out a detail on the accompanying slide show, or to add emphasis to a part of the story.

Marthe Cohn's story is told in her book, Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany, and of course there was no way it could be condensed into an hour. Instead, she shared a few scenes of her life in wartime France. Quotations given below are from her book.


Truly memorable was her family's escape from Occupied France. Provided with forged documents for the journey by a co-worker, her family arrived in the village of St. Secondin, on the border of the Free Zone.

Marthe had been instructed to contact the local priest for help getting across the border. But when she found him he told her, "Don't you know the story of Judas? I don't trust Jews because they always squeal. If any of you are arrested, I feel sure you'd tell the Germans it was I who helped you." After an argument about the absurdity of the Judas argument, he said, "I told you I'll help you. It's the Christian thing to do." The man's true intentions could not help but be a matter of concern.

Because Marthe's grandmother was unable to walk any distance, the family placed her on a bicycle and pushed her along. But because of the bicycle, slipping into Free France across unobserved farm fields was impossible. The family would have to walk down the road, their destination obvious to everyone who saw them. Posted everywhere were posters offering a bounty equal to a French farmer's annual earnings for turning in Jews, and the road took them past the homes of several farmers whose sympathies were unknown to her.
One by one as we approached, the men stopped smoking and the women stopped talking, and they all turned to stare back at us. There was near silence as we squeaked along with our bicycle, watching them watching us.

An old man in a dark suit and working trousers stood up from his rickety old wooden chair as we passed his house and stared at us intently. I returned his gaze, my hands clammy on the handlebars. Without saying a word, he suddenly dropped onto one knee and, hand on his chest, lowered his head in prayer. Next to him, his wife knelt on both knees in the dirt and made the sign of the cross. At the next house, two men fell similarly to their knees and began praying for us, their soft murmurings carried to us on the summer evening breeze.

A teenage girl, not much younger than I, stopped scratching the neck of her much-loved horse and clasped her hands together in prayer. And so on, along the row, men and women, desperately poor, urgently in need of the money they could so easily have earned from us as a reward, each one saying a prayer to guide us on our way.

I could hardly believe my eyes. It was so beautiful, the humanity of it. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I nodded my head in silent thanks to each and every one we passed.
Sadly, Marthe's sister, Stéphanie, traveling separately, did not make it across the border. No word was heard from her. After the war, Marthe learned that Stéphanie had been deported to Auschwitz.


With forged documents, Marthe returned to Paris before its liberation. In 1944 she joined the French Army as a nurse, but when it was learned that she spoke German fluently she was asked if she would be willing to do intelligence work. Without thinking, she said she would.

In 1945, now a trained intelligence officer, Marthe crossed again into German territory, this time with documents identifying her as Marthe Ulrich. Her cover story was that she was a nurse from Lorraine, looking for her fiancé, Hans, a German soldier. With her false identity, she crossed back and forth across the German lines. On one crossing she learned the Germans had abandoned the Siegfried Line, or Westwall. On another, a boasting German colonel told her of an artillery ambush the Germans were planning in the Black Forest.

At other times, she did her best to demoralize German troops:

"How brave you are!" I told them admiringly. "I've just come back from the Westwall and found it completely deserted. All the officers and men have fled southeast. You're the only ones left between the French Army and the rest of Germany."

Not what your average infantryman wants to hear!

Too soon, our time with Marthe concluded. Her daughter-in-law Barb, a St. John's parishioner, and son Stephan invited everyone to their home to spend more time with her, and many of us availed ourselves of the opportunity.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Julianne, M.Div.

Congratulations to our seminarian, Julianne, on receiving her Master of Divinity degree yesterday at Seabury-Western's commencement ceremony. Doesn't she wear her hood well?

The cermony was held at the beautiful St. Luke's Church in Evanston:

The festivities were bittersweet because Julianne's was Seabury-Western Theological Seminary's last graduating class, concluding 151 years of educating ministers for the Episcopal Church. Below, Dean Hall introduces the faculty, who were gathered together for the last time.

The faculty received a prolonged standing ovation, led enthusiastically by the new graduates.

This picture captures two faces familiar to St. John's: Julianne (third back) and (in front) Heidi, who is now vicar at the Church of St. Benedict in Bolingbrook.

They were preceded by the Seabury-Western banner:

Then it was back to the seminary itself, a mile or two away, for a celebratory repast. Rain forced those festivities indoors, which is a shame because the Seabury grounds are beautiful.

The room got considerably more crowded.

Julianne will be ordained to the transitional diaconate on June 6 at St. James Cathedral downtown. In December, she will be ordained to the priesthood.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pruning Vines

In Kara's sermon this morning, she read an email she received some months ago from Vicki Westerhoff, who delivers the produce from Genesis Growers to St. John's every week. The email was so remarkable that I asked Kara if we could share it here, too.

Happily, Kara sent the whole sermon:
Every morning, when I was a little girl, my mom brushed and combed my hair and braided it into two tight braids behind my ears. She knew a woman who was fifty and had never cut her hair, and that was my mom’s goal for me. I hadn’t bought into her goal, and every morning I complained, sometimes cried, even screamed, “It hurts!” It did hurt!

It will not surprise you to know that when I grew up and had girls of my own I tortured them in the same way. “You have to brush your hair to keep it healthy,” I said. “A little scratching of the scalp with a comb is good for it, as is combing out the hair that is damaged and broken. Pay no attention to the clumps of hair caught in the comb. It’s good for you!”

This Sunday Jesus tells us that he is the true vine and that God is the vinegrower, or “husband” in the old English version. God removes every branch in him that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. Sounds like my theory of keeping healthy hair, and just as painful.

There is no question that the theme of this week’s readings is Love. The word appears 26 times in the first letter of John. But while last week we heard about how God loves us as a Good Shepherd who guides and comforts and protects us, the love of God in this reading from the gospel of John is tougher, even frightening.

I tried to reassure our Wednesday reflection group. “God just prunes away the parts of us that are dead and damaged, the parts that are hurting us,” I said in my most motherly, soothing voice. “But it says, 'Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.'” said Suellen, “That’s not part; that’s the whole branch!” I began to realize why some priests thought it would be dangerous to let lay people read the scriptures: they might quote it back at you! And then John H. said, “Have you ever seen how vineyard keepers prune their grape vines? They cut away about 90% of the branches and only leave a very small branch with a few green shoots on it.” I looked back at the reading again, “Gosh, even if you are bearing fruit, you still get pruned, to make the vine more fruitful. No one escapes the pruning knife.” Ouch! It hurts!

I don’t know much about gardening or growing grapes, but this conversation brought to mind an e-mail I received from our farmer, Vicki Westerhoff, who grows the vegetables and fruits delivered here each week. Last fall she had to let go of all but one of her farm workers, because of lost profits. I wrote to say how sorry I was to hear the news. She wrote this back to me:

“I have learned to trust in God. There are easy times. There are difficult times. Both are necessary to life. I learned a great spiritual lesson from my plants that has helped me so often when things get tough. If I raise a plant, such as a tomato, inside the greenhouse where it is protected, it will grow up to be weak in stature. The stem is thin. The leaves are spaced out. The plant easily breaks when a wind or hard watering occur. But, a plant that is raised outside where it experiences the stresses of life, such as wind, rain, storms, insects, etc., it grows and strong and sturdy. The stalk is thick. The leaves are tougher and spaced closer together. It becomes resilient to the storms of life. Where the coddled plant will bend and break, the battered plant stands strong. It takes a monsoon to break it. Anyway, the moral to this story is, life requires hard times so that we can grow strong and resilient. A coddled human will whine and cry at every mishap. A seasoned human stands strong, grows and matures into a much better person who can smile even when adversity comes their way.”

For many of us, life presents difficult situations that force us to mature; for others the tough love of a mother or father shapes and teaches us, urging us to bear good fruit. All of us are invited to abide, live in, trust, rest in, the love of God, the great source of life. Alone, we cannot live or produce good fruit; we will be cut off and wither and die. If we are willing to remain connected to the vine, even when it is difficult or painful, we will find strength and energy, a life rooted and growing in Love.

During Easter season we are using a Communion prayer from “Enriching Our Worship,” a supplement to the Book of Common Prayer. The goal of the new materials is to enrich our language of God, using feminine imagery — which is found in Scripture but not often used in worship — as well as masculine imagery. In general I think this is a wonderful idea, but I find myself stumbling over one line that I have to say in the communion prayer. In recounting God’s work in the world it reads, “As a mother cares for her children, you would not forget us.” Every harsh word, every forgotten duty, every evening away from home plays through my brain as I say it. I want to edit the line and shout out, “Like a mother on a good day, you would not forget us!” or “You love us as an ideal mother, not as a imperfect human mother.” I think of mothers who hurt their children, or those like me, who inflict pointless hair-pulling in the name of “it’s good for you.” I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about God!

I think of the picture that one of the children living at Lydia Home drew for our Martin Luther King celebration. She drew a mother and a child next to her with tears in her eyes. “Love hurts” was written in the heart shape between them. Ouch. That hurts.

Our God is like a mother, like a father, but God’s love is perfect, endless, without condition, tough when tough is required, gentle when gentle is needed. That is why Jesus invites us into relationship with God, the root and source of love. “Abide in me as I abide in you.” The first letter of John echoes Jesus’ invitation “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.... There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

Do not fear. Love your mother, love your father, love your children, your friends and your enemies. If that love abides in God, it will be perfected in God.
The readings appointed for today were:
Acts 8:26-40
Psalms 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

Friday, May 8, 2009

Did You Know ... ?

... that St. John's once had its own track team?

It was only 98 years ago!

[Photo courtesy of Hugh.]

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one of the best ways to avoid contracting the flu is to wash your hands frequently, for about 20 seconds.

Bishop Lee says he times his hand washing by saying the Lord's Prayer. That's a perfect blend of science and religion, isn't it?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Kara's Birthday Bash

Here are some pictures from Kara's 40th birthday yesterday, starting with a view from the Wagner-Sherer's back steps.

If you spotted that splash of purple in the above picture, you've already figured out that we were happy to welcome Bishop Lee to St. John's for the first time (of many, we hope). Below, John is explaining to the bishop the manufacturing process employed for the tar pitch used on the Titanic's life boats.

No captions for the next few pictures. Write your own.

Kara had suggested that everyone wear seersucker to the party. Everybody who did gathered for a group shot, below.

In everybody else's defense, it wasn't quite seersucker weather, yet.

The photographer missed the best pictures in this sequence, where Lourdes and Kara were opening the champagne bottles. Kara sent two corks over the 12-foot high hedges. I am not making this up.

Bill and Alice won the Cutest Couple contest.

Ken and Melissa were a very close second.

And we were happy to see former parishioner Nanette, who has moved away but came back specially for Kara's Birthday Bash.

Here are some more scenes captured as the photographer walked around. Don't forget: click on the picture if you want to enlarge it, then click your browser's back arrow to return here. [Warning: Because most of these pictures are uploaded at 72 dpi, larger won't necessarily mean prettier.]

Kara asked that in lieu of presents, contributions be made to Hands to Help Ministries, an organization near and dear to her heart. Hands to Help gives assistance to our Irving Park and Portage Park neighbors who need help with rent, a fare card to get to a new job, a Jewel grocery card, or some other special need. That explains why you couldn't get a blueberry scone without seeing this:

That wasn't the camera getting blurry on the last number, it was the blood rushing from the photographer's head. He doesn't know how to pronounce numbers with that many zeros. Dream no small dreams, Kara!

[Actually, the generosity of the St. John's community came through again — though in pronounceable numbers.] [Later note: Kara gives the total in Comments, below.]

And if you haven't seen your picture yet, you can now breathe a sigh of relief. The camera's battery died, and the photographer had a new entry for his list of "Stoopid Photography Mistakes".