Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A Story of Belonging

Anniversaries are a good time to take stock of things. Whether it's a birthday, wedding anniversary, or the commemoration of some other major watershed moment, these days urge us to reflect on where we've come from and where we're going. St. Helena's turns 60 this month, and so I've been doing a lot of reflecting on the parish's long life and the path that lies ahead for us.

I spent some time yesterday at the Starbucks in Burr Ridge Village Center sipping an almond-milk decaf cappuccino and poring over some old dog-eared histories of the parish. I smiled at Peggy Anderson's reverence and wit as she recounted in her elegant, lyrical style some of the high points of the parish's history: the first meetings at Pleasantdale School and Fr. Soukup's study, the burning of the mortgage on September 12, 1976, and the various social and outreach events we hosted: pig roasts and salad luncheons and autumn festivals. Peggy also spends a lot of her history documenting the origin and meaning of many of the features and furnishings of the church building, for as Fr. Johnson put it, "the church has an opportunity, even a responsibility, to encourage beautiful artistic expression as a means of recognizing and experiencing the divine image in creation." It would seem that she and Fr. Johnson were of the same mind on such things. One only need look back at our Advent Service of Lessons and Carols last December to know that the aesthetics of worship have always been and continue to be an important current running through the parish's life.

But what was most compelling about Peggy's history were the affectionate vignettes of the people who have belonged to St. Helena's family over the years. And there were some characters! Fr. Johnson returning from Europe yet again with a statue or another set of gorgeous vestments to support the parish's high-church worship. The arrival of the Petraseks and the Oommens. The wedding of my fellow priest and friend, Mark Geisler. Fred Boskovich dressing up as a clown on the Fourth of July at Pleasantdale Park. A lot of life has unfolded within these walls. Peggy documents meticulously each priest who served the parish over the years, some with long, distinguished tenures and others for a short season, with never an kind word or uncharitable comment. As an historian, she is always professional and gracious. It's a rarity to experience such writing nowadays. What a privilege and a pleasure.

But both priests and parishioners came and went, and most of the people she talks about are no longer around. That should not make us sad. Churches shrink and grow. People are born and die. As I've said to many of you, Jesus started the Church with just twelve of his friends, and so similarly, we are no less St. Helena's because we are few. Most Episcopal churches are small, as it happens. As we cross the threshold of our 60th anniversary, I want to tell you that I think great things are ahead for us, even if we remain small and intimate. Great things lie ahead, because St. Helena's is stiil full of great people, you, who will continue our story of belonging.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

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