Published December 27, 2012
New energy enlivens long-standing church
Grace Episcopal Church seeks to be ‘radically hospitable’ in its outreach to community
By Ken Knutson
Hinsdale Central High School sophomore Laila Drury said the launch of Youth Mission Organization, or YMO, at Grace Episcopal Church this fall was daunting.
“I was a little bit scared in the beginning to come,” Drury said, fearing she wouldn’t connect with the other teens involved.
After a few awkward weeks, the ice was fully broken after a weekend in Virginia at a dynamic leadership program.
“It was really amazing to see how fast we all became really, really close friends,” Drury said.
Building community is at the heart of the Grace ministry, according to Father Chris Pierce.
He said the church’s two morning worship times on Sundays, however, can work against that effort by engendering, in essence, segregated congregations.
“It’s conceivable that we have parishioners that come here and don’t even know they belong to the same church,” Pierce said.
To help foster, the church opened up Grace Café in September, offering breakfast from 8 to 9:45 a.m. Sunday mornings.
Linda Robinson, a Grace member for 23 years, was tapped to oversee the food-driven fellowship.
“I have no background in running any sort of restaurant,” Linda Robinson said. But that didn’t seem to matter.
People were already hungry for such a chance to connect, and the café has proven to be a big success, serving an average of 70 plates each week.
“On Sunday mornings, there’s a nice hum going on,” she said. “The camaraderie is wonderful.”
Pierce said having a chef on staff is a nice amenity, enabling groups to order meals as part of their regular gatherings during the week.
He also noted that visitors may be more open to filling their stomachs than nourishing their souls, at least initially.
“It’s easier to invite somebody to eat than it is to come and have a sacred experience,” he said. “We like to use the words ‘radically hospitable.’ We want you to leave knowing you were welcomed.”
John Robinson (no relation to Linda) volunteers at the café and sings in the choir.
He joined the church earlier this year, having attended another church for many years and in need of a change.
John Robinson said he was stirred by the authentic community he found at Grace.
“I enjoy participating in the faith life at Grace,” he said. “It is a place where I love to affiliate, and I appreciate the relationships I’ve been able to make there and am looking forward to building more.”
He also appreciates the encouragement he receives to apply Biblical teachings to his daily rhythm. Without that direction, he said, religion can become little more than an intellectual exercise.
“If we believe this stuff, it ought to be important and it ought to impact our lives,” John Robinson said.
The Grace Episcopal Churchwomen and Grace Episcopal Men are among the ministries within the parish promoting fellowship and service. Friends of St. Francis members endeavor to pattern their lives on the God-centered example of St. Francis of Assisi.
Pierce said the church seeks to meet people wherever they are on their journeys.
“Our intention is not to get into the complexity of how your life broke you up. It’s to heal you,” he said. “We want to know how we can journey with people in the various stages of their life.”
When he arrived at Grace last February, Pierce was pleasantly surprised to find little of the intergenerational tension that can undermine church growth.
High schooler Claire Meyer said the church’s embrace of a new youth ministry has been life-giving.
“We’re not following in anyone’s footsteps. This is completely different,” she said. “It’s exciting because we get to decide for the parish and the group what it’s going to be.”
Linda Robinson, who also taught Sunday School and led parish fundraisers, has seen her own family grow up in the church.
She is thankful for the way the church has nurtured their walks in faith and senses a new energy as the newly planted programs take root.
“This is probably the most excited I’ve seen the church,” she said.
Pierce said that once people realize their need for God and for relationships with fellow followers, the richness of life opens up.
“We believe philosophically that the transforming component is not eradicating poverty” he said. “We believe that encountering our own poverty is a key element for transformation. The mission for us is to build community.”
Grace Episcopal Church
Lead Pastor: Fr. Chris Pierce
Worship: Holy Eucharist at 7:30 and 10 a.m. Sundays, Christian education at 9 a.m. Sundays
Membership: 160 families
Average attendance: 250
Location: 120 E. First St.
Facility: The original part of the church was completed in 1886 on land donated by Hinsdale developer William Robbins. The church has held seven building campaigns over the years and today includes a parish house, educational building and parking, flanked by the historic rectory on the east and the new rectory, completed in 2009, on the west.
Theology: “The mission of Grace Episcopal Church is to be a welcoming, caring and enthusiastic Christ-centered community of faith, sharing in worship, fellowship, education and outreach, building a solid foundation for our ever-expanding circle of Grace.”