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!

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Saturday, November 28, 2009


I don't think anybody knows exactly how many years St. John's has put on a Thanksgiving Dinner, so I'm declaring this year's to be the 25th. You can declare it to be another year, if you'd like, but 25 has got to be close to right. The dinner was the idea of Irene and Bolton Anderson, both of whom I was privileged to know in my first years at St. John's, though both passed away about a decade ago.

There have been only a few changes to the menu in the years I've been around. I'll never forget standing at the stove with Gary one Thanksgiving eve as the turkey gravy, made from a roo rue roux according to instructions handed down from Bolton and Irene, burned to the bottom of the pot. What do you do when when you're supposed to serve 75 people Thanksgiving Dinner, and your gravy tastes like burned flour?

Answer: Pretend it doesn't. Guess what! One guest said it was the best gravy he'd ever had!

That was the last year for gravy prepared from a roux.

This year was another major change. For years we had served a revolting concoction known as "Jello Salad," which was Jello (with extra Knox gelatin added to keep it from melting - yum!) on top of a romaine lettuce leaf, covered with a runny topping made with yogurt, mayonnaise, and sugar. Blech! This was, I'm sure, a very popular dish in the Midwest from about the Depression through the 1950s. My mother-in-law served the same thing (minus the added gelatin) until I knew her well enough to make barf noises.

Bill and Dave had guilt pangs after preparing last year's Jello.

"How can we feed this to people?" they wondered.

"It's tradition!" was the cheerful reply.

And as you know, tradition is one of the legs of the Episcopalian three-legged stool, so we have to take it seriously.

But this year the menu was an appetizer of mixed nuts, cheese and crackers (a new tradition!), a relish tray, turkey, stuffing, green beans almondine, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, pumpkin bread, cranberry nut bread, and pie, pie, pie. N0 Jello Salad.

Some preparations for Thanksgiving Day dinner begin in October (when Suellen, aka the Turkey Commissar, starts making gravy and turkey stock), but you don't notice much at church until the Sunday before, when the turkeys get piled in the refrigerator and various canned goods get piled around the church hall. The real action begins on Tuesday night, when the round tables are put away, the rectangular tables are put out, and the tables are dressed with tableclothes, napkins, and silverware. It's a short but physically demanding night, made easier this year by the appearance of two wonderful volunteers from the Old Irving Park neighborhood

Wednesday night is food preparation night. Fifty-five pounds of potatoes are peeled:

and cut into quarters in preparation for cooking on Thanksgiving morning:

As on Tuesday, we had extra help, as neighbors (like Joe and Kim, seen in the above pictures) answered a call for volunteers in an Old Irving Park newsletter.

Gary's mother, known as the Celery Queen, comes down from Wisconsin every year just to help:

While here, she also pops by to visit her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren for a few minutes.

Nora, Deborah, Julianne (not shown), and Kim prepared floral arrangements for the Thanksgiving tables. (Hugh's just walking by.)

Finally, it's Thanksgiving morning, and the church kitchen is ready for action:

We're nervous. We have 92 reservations – almost maximum capacity – and attendance generally exceeds reservations. In 25 years, we've never turned anyone away for lack of a reservation.

It doesn't take long before the action begins.

Meanwhile, upstairs our guests have been arriving. Many attended the 11 a.m. service, and have been waiting since. Talented members of the congregation, like Susan, below, have been leading them in hymns or playing music for them.

Table assignments have been made to the volunteers, who wait for word from the kitchen that all is ready.

Some of the kitchen crew pose for a picture:

The volunteers pose for a group picture just before the doors open (click on the picture for a better view, then use your browser's back arrow to return here):

As you can see, we had an abundance of volunteers this year – a blessing, but an organizational challenge – ably handled by Lourdes, allowing Suellen to focus on activities in the kitchen.

And right on time, our guests are invited to come down for dinner:

Total attendance was almost 100.

Suellen: only 10 months until gravy production begins again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rite 13

Yesterday a new liturgical celebration came to
St. John's in the form of "Rite 13", a ceremony marking the passage to adulthood of teenagers in the J2A (Journey to Adulthood) program. As the Worship Wizard wrote in the morning's service bulletin, the teenagers are welcomed "to the journey of becoming adults." In part, this service arose from a decision by the Episcopal Church to encourage delaying confirmation beyond the early teens, making it more of an adult choice.

The photographs below were taken during the service. Most of them look a little better if you click on them to enlarge them. Return to the blog by clicking on the back arrow.

What would a 10:30 service be without a Procession? For this service, nearly half the congregation (teenagers, parents, sponsors, acolytes, and choir) were in the Procession. Mason led off with the Processional Cross:

As you can see, if Mason raised the cross much higher, he'd take out the chandelier. Unfortunately, the photographer was changing positions when the celebrants and their parents processed (good planning, that, eh?) but managed to catch the choir:

We heard a reading from 2 Samuel:

And from the first chapter of Revelation:

The Gospel reading was from John – the part where Pilate asks Jesus: "So, you are a king?" (Thus the liturgical designation of the day as Christ the King.) After the Gospel reading, Emma M. and Madeleine collaborated on a remarkable sermon:

The congregation was led in the Prayers of the People, much of it written by the day's Intercessor:

Then began "Rite 13" itself. The teenagers came forward with their parents and sponsors. Each of the sponsors, in turn, announced: "I present [Marlon, Mason, Elena, Nora, Emma, Zoe, Jackson, Emma, Claire, Ben, or Madeleine], who this day moves from childhood to adulthood."

Kara addressed the eleven young people standing before us:
By the grace of God you have lived through the pains and joys of childhood, and have grown strong. Now, as men and women, it is given to you to share God's power of creation. Human beings, because they are made in God's image, are the only creatures on earth who can choose how to use their creative power – not only to create new life, but also to shape the world according to God's purpose. God calls us to use this gift to build and not to destroy.

"Are you aware of God's gift to you," she asked them, "and the responsibility to use it wisely?"

To which they answered, "I am."

There was then a prayer for the parents, who knelt while their sons and daughters laid hands on them:
O God, bless the parents of these young people. Rejoice with them as their sons and daughters become men and women. Strengthen them that they may support their sons and daughters as they begin the journey to adulthood.

Uphold them by your Spirit, that they may comfort them although they can neither walk their road for them nor shield them from pain. Carry them all safely through this journey, so that one day they may stand together as adults and friends, a joy and a comfort to each other all the days of their lives. Amen.
After which it was the young people's turn to kneel while their parents placed hands on their shoulders.

Kara and Julianne came to each of them and prayed:
[Marlon, Mason, Elena, Nora, Emma, Zoe, Jackson, Emma, Claire, Ben, or Madeleine], may Almighty God fill you with courage, wisdom, and joy. May Jesus Christ, your strong companion and never-failing friend, make you strong in faith and defend you on every side...
...And may the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, rest upon you this day and for evermore. Amen.
After which we passed the peace, and through dewy eyes the proud parish did not seem very worried about H1N1.

For the Eucharist, the congregation's eleven honored members joined Kara and Julianne around the altar. For most it was not an unusual position, as they had served or continue to serve as acolytes.

Finally, Communion.

The energy, earnestness, and character of these young people play a big part in making St. John's the kind of place it is.

Congratulations to all of you.