Like several other members of St. Nicholas, I originally came from the Roman Catholic Church. I was baptized in November, 1960 at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Dubuque, Iowa, the first child born to my parents, who were lifelong Catholics. My mother had attended Holy Trinity all of her life, and my parents were married at Holy Trinity in 1957. It was not until I was probably a teenager that I learned that my maternal grandmother, who was born in Sweden and who died when I was 3, was raised in the Lutheran church and became a Catholic when she married my grandfather shortly after World War I was over. During my teenage years I also discovered that I had several Lutheran relatives on my father’s side of the family. The things you discovered when asking questions about genealogy!
When I was very young, my parents didn’t take me to church that often, perhaps once a month until I was about 5 or 6. When I was ready for kindergarten, off I marched three blocks to St. Columbkille’s Catholic School which was the parish my parents moved our family to just after my fourth birthday. My first experience with a Roman Catholic nun was not a very good one. Sister Mary Basil was my kindergarten teacher, and she didn’t want to be a kindergarten teacher. She wanted to teach art to high school students, but the order of nuns that taught at St. Columbkille’s assigned her to teach kindergarten students. Now I am left handed, and to this day, I have a hard time cutting with a scissors for extended periods of time. When I started kindergarten in the fall of 1966, one of the main goals for the kindergarten students was to learn how to cut with scissors. Being left handed, cutting was difficult for me, and Sister Basil was none too happy with my lack of progress in mastering the art of cutting, and she often chastised me for this. But I managed to survive kindergarten, and fortunately most of the other teachers I had at St. Columbkille’s were much better, more patient teachers. I still have strong memories from second grade of having to memorize a lot of prayers before I could make my first communion and how impressed I was to get a cake shaped like a lamb for my first communion. Then in when I was in the 6th grade I was confirmed. The rumor was that during the confirmation, the Archbishop would slap each person being confirmed across the face. Actually it was a very light tap on the cheek from the Archbishop, but a slap sounded much more dramatic.
Flash forward to the fall of 1978 – I am now a senior at Wahlert Catholic High School. My senior year religion teacher, Father Ressler, and I would get into some spirited debates – why can’t women be priests? Why can’t priests get married and have a family? How come it seems like men make all of the decisions in the Catholic Church? It was at this time that I started struggling with these issues, but it would be another 16 or 17 years before these issues became more than an occasional struggle for me. After high school I attended Loyola University in Chicago, which is run by the Jesuit order. On Sunday nights there would be an informal mass for the students celebrated by one of the priests in the main gathering area of the Jesuit residence. Loyola also has a beautiful and quite large chapel, Madonna Della Strada, located right next to the lake. If you ever go to the Loyola’s campus in Rogers Park, be sure to check out Madonna Della Strada.
In 1994 my mom started showing signs of dementia which would get progressively worse over the next three years. She was also in renal failure which meant she needed dialysis. When I would go to Dubuque for a weekend or holiday I could see my mom’s health deteriorating. By this point in my life I was working full time and attending and singing in the choir of a large Roman Catholic parish in Arlington Heights. It was at this time that I really started to struggle with some of the official teachings of the Catholic Church. How could I sit in the pew (or sit in the choir section) and just agree with all the official church doctrines when I felt so many of the doctrines were wrong? I couldn’t just go along with the old saying that a good Catholic “pays, prays and obeys.”
Around 1995 I started researching other Christian denominations. The internet was still in its infancy at this point, and I did not have a computer at home, so I hiked over to the Schaumburg Township library to do my research. I asked a few coworkers about the churches they attended. I had been in churches of other denominations before to attend weddings and even a couple of baptisms, but I was nervous about going into another denomination’s church to investigate possibly joining that church. Was I “cheating” on the Catholic Church?
Would I be struck down by lightning if I entered another denomination’s church to worship there? I checked out a Lutheran church in Schaumburg — not bad. I checked out a Methodist church in Schaumburg – a definite contender. No lightning bolts came from the sky to smite me when I visited either of those churches.
During my “church shopping” time, I remember one of my coworkers suggesting that I check out the Episcopal Church, as the liturgy of the Episcopal Church was pretty similar to the Roman Catholic liturgy. So I looked in the yellow pages for Episcopal churches near Schaumburg. For those of you reading this who are under the age of 35, the yellow pages or telephone directory were those large paper books that had listings of residential and business telephone numbers. There was no using Google in 1996 to look up phone numbers. In the yellow pages I saw an advertisement for St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Elk Grove Village. The ad said “Where the spirit of Christmas lives year round.” That sounded good to me. So one Sunday in the late spring of 1996 I entered the doors of St. Nicholas for the first time.
St. Nicholas was configured quite differently in 1996 than it is today. There was no Holy Innocents Hall, and there were still pews in the worship space. In 1996 the altar was located where the baptismal font is now located. And St. Nicholas was definitely the smallest church I had ever worshiped in. Everyone was very welcoming that first Sunday I attended. I especially remember Bonnie Liess and Gloria Hansen being so friendly and helpful. I attended St. Nicholas a couple of more Sundays after that. Then I went back to the Methodist Church in Schaumburg and attended their services for a couple of weeks. The Methodist Church in Schaumburg that I visited was quite a bit larger than St. Nicholas, and I liked this Methodist Church, but something kept telling me to go back to St. Nicholas, and I did. I became a member of St. Nicholas in the summer of 1996. I was officially received into the Episcopal Church later that year when Bishop Frank Griswold visited St. Nicholas.
Now I don’t want my story to sound like I am bashing the Catholic Church. I have many members of my family who still are Catholic. My dad attends Mass every morning at 7:30 a.m at his home parish, which is the Cathedral of St. Raphael in Dubuque. There are many things I like about the Catholic Church, even though I have joined another denomination. I often think of this passage from Scripture: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). All Christians are in the Father’s house, but we (the different Christian denominations) are just in different dwelling places. That is my interpretation of that passage from Scripture.
I cannot say I am an expert in Episcopal Church news or even follow it diligently. I was so happy when President Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori chose to celebrate Sunday liturgy at St. Nicholas in 2008 when Bishop Lee was installed at Bishop of the Chicago diocese. And I was very happy that I could be a part of St. Nicholas’ 50th anniversary celebration last year. In a few weeks Bishop Katherine will step down as Presiding Bishop, and Bishop Michael Curry will become the Presiding Bishop. I am happy to worship with a faith community where “all are welcome.” Not every faith community can say that or even wants to welcome all of God’s children.
Now that I have been a member of St. Nicholas for 19 years, I guess I am an “old timer.” It has been a privilege to sing with the St. Nicholas choir these past several years. I feel lucky and blessed to have discovered the little church on Ridge Avenue. The little church that has chugged along for 51 years!