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Episcopal, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Chicago, Illinois, USA.
The Episcopal Church, Diocese
Set next to the huge Donahue Building in the Printers Row section
of Chicago's South Loop, the church occupies what was once an
industrial building. The sanctuary and church offices take up
the top two floors, and the ground floor functions as a community
facility. The sanctuary is top-lit with a large encircling screen
within the double-height space. Bare brick and wooden structural
features give the building a friendly, urban look – as a loft
should have! However, many passers-by might not realize this
was a church unless they were walking slowly and read the notices.
This is the congregation's sixth church and has been occupied
as such since 1985 (ironically, the fifth church has been converted
to office space!).
They strive to minister to their community, as exemplified by
the building's attempt to blend well into its surroundings.
Among their many ministries is the Night Ministry, which serves
soup and sandwiches without judgment to the needy of Chicago's
streets. In partnership with the Lutherans, they sponsor a South
Loop campus ministry, serving the thousands of college students
living in the area. The Grace Place Playgroup is run by parent
volunteers and provides a fun, safe and casual environment where
infant and preschool children can play and interact with each
other. There are two communion services each Sunday morning
as well as "Grace in the Evening," a service of silence,
light, chant and communion.
Once home to the printing and publishing industry, Printers
Row has seen gentrification in recent years, with the old commercial
buildings being converted into residential lofts. The neighborhood
still has the feel of being occupied by urban pioneers, though
the South Loop is definitely moving up in the world with smart
condominiums as well. As I walked from breakfast to church,
several strangers greeted me on the sidewalk: a sense of an
urban village survives here. The influx of college students
has injected a much-needed youthful flavor into the area, with
many student-friendly bars and restaurants lining Dearborn Street.
The Revd Ted Curtis, vicar, and a number of dogs. The preacher
was the Revd Ellen K. Wondra, Professor of Theology and Ethics
at Seabury-Western Seminary.
The date & time:
Sunday, October 4, 2009, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Communion with Music for the Feast of St Francis.
How full was the building?
About 60, and when we formed a circle for communion there was
barely room for everyone.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered on the ground floor, I was welcomed immediately:
"Hi! I’m Ted. Welcome!" I immediately knew Ted was
the vicar. "We will start upstairs in just a moment,"
he added, as he was besieged by several excited dogs and their
Was your pew comfortable?
The benches were comfortable and had been arranged in an inclusive
circle around the small altar.
How would you describe the pre-service
The annual pet blessing had taken place just down the road outside
the old Romanesque pink granite Dearborn Station, one of Chicago's
few remaining railroad stations (now converted to retail and
office space). The vicar led the procession (if that's the right
word for a single file walk with sniffing) of dogs to the church.
People kept feeding the dogs treats and petting them, and they
seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere enormously. I petted a
few nice pooches and then went upstairs to the sanctuary, where
I was quite alone for a couple of minutes, although one or two
excited yelps could be heard. In due course everyone filed in,
many bringing dogs with them, and the service started almost
immediately. I wondered how the dogs would take to holy communion,
but most were as good as gold.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Welcome on this wild Sunday!"
What books did the congregation use during the
I had helped myself to the excellent service sheet that contained
everything we needed, including the hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
A grand piano.
Did anything distract
Throughout the service, a black Labrador beside me glanced longingly
at a sultry collie nearby, but his good manners (and judicious
use of the leash by his owners) kept him on his best gentlemanly
behavior. But his pining glances were clearly an affair of the
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The service was a relatively conventional Episcopal service,
without servers or undue ceremony. Though the shape of the service
was recognizable, several modifications had been made to the
liturgy. Sections were borrowed from the Iona Community and
Lutheran Book of Worship. This mix of the familiar
and the new was mostly refreshing. However, a versified version
of the Nicene Creed by the Canadian hymnodist Sylvia Dunstan
struck me as a little too pat in its rhythms and rhymes. The
peace was very extended and involved everyone greeting everyone
else, not with just a greeting but with chat (and on this day
greeting dogs too). I felt it disrupted the flow of the service.
The blessing included the words: "May God bless you with
discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Clear, direct, accessible and thought-provoking.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Dr Wondra had been billed on the church notice board as a "cat
lover," and I feared we were in for a sermon about St Francis
feeding the songbirds. Not a bit of it. She acknowledged the
sentimental image of St Francis and urged us to think rather
of the rich man who gave his clothes to the homeless and turned
his back on a life of luxury. This chimed in with the parish
appeal for woolen scarves to give to the homeless who came for
breakfast there. Nor did she fail to point out that our companion
animals were only one part of the animal kingdom on which we
relied; many were killed for human food.
Which part of the service was like being in
The silences. When I arrived and sat by myself in the quiet
top-lit wooden room. And after the sermon, when even the dogs
respected the need for collective contemplation.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
"All things bright and beautiful" – which as hymns
go, is perhaps my least favorite!
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I was greeted by my neighbors and the woman in front, who chatted
briefly and repeated the invitation to coffee that the vicar
had made from the lectern.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Fair traded and robust.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 if I lived in Chicago, I might well adopt it. I found
it to be a warm and welcoming worshipping community with a strong
sense of both fun and purpose.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Standing for communion in a circle of 60 humans and 20 dogs.
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