Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 5, 2017

2017.11.05 “A Gallery of Saints” – All Saints’ Sunday

Central United Methodist Church
A Gallery of Saints
Pastor David L. Haley
All Saints’ Sunday
November 5th, 2017

All Saint's Sunday

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. . .” – Hebrews 12: 1, the New Revised Standard Version

Each year, if there is any Sunday that knocks us down, then picks us up and helps us go on, it is today, All Saints Sunday. All Saints Sunday is when we remember those who have died, especially those who have died over the last year.

It knocks us down because it powerfully reminds us of our losses – not just those who have died over the last year – but all those we have lost who were and still are dear to us.

Each year I approach All Saints Day like one walking on thin ice, afraid that it will crack and I will fall through, overwhelmed with grief for all those whose deaths I mourn. Nobody tells you when you start out in the ministry that one of the saddest things you will have to do is bury the older members of your congregations, one by one, especially when you have long pastoral tenures, as I have. For me, it has worked out to be about a third of the congregation per decade. After five congregations over 44 years, it becomes a cumulative load of grief and loss – like that thin ice – threatening to give way at any time.

But you don’t have to be a pastor to feel this way. Those of us who are further along in life understand: as we age, so many of our family and friends die before us, if we ourselves are fortunate to survive. Recently on a late-night talk show, the British actor John Cleese remarked that he doesn’t fear death, because the best people are there. (and some of the worst ones are here!) Some of us appreciate such statements more and more.

Given this, it should not be surprising that one of the major ways people have dealt with grief and loss, in addition to facing our own mortality, is through religion and faith. And – of all the metaphors and images religion offers – one of my favorites has become the one suggested by the writer of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, in chapter 12, verse 1:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . .”

Did you catch the image: that our lives are like a race we run, in an arena, watched and cheered on by a gallery of spectators, our “cloud of witnesses.”

Several years ago, the Rev. John Buchanan, former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, focused this image even more when he compared our “cloud of witnesses” – our saints – to “our balcony.” If you remember, in the past many gymnasiums, theaters, and churches had balconies. When, as children or youth we did something, such as play basketball or a role in the high school play or read Scripture in church, our parents may have sat in the balcony, cheering us on. So, says Buchanan, now, in life, our saints are “our balcony,” the people who influenced and inspired us and now, in heaven, cheer us on. All Saints Sunday becomes our day to look up, acknowledge and wave to our saints, our balcony.

While All Saints Sunday may remind us of many; today, we want to remember five saints from Central, who have died in the last year.

Ilene KoniorThe first of these is Ilene Konior, who died November 17, 2016, at the age of 82. Ilene Ehrhardt was born in Chicago on September 10, 1934 to James and Ina Ehrhardt, graduating from Lake View High School in 1952.

During High School Graduation practice, Ilene met her future husband Ron Konior, when they were introduced to each other by a mutual friend. They ended up going to a square dance with a group from Lake View Lutheran Church – which is ironic, since Ron does not dance – and began dating after that. They got married April 2, 1955 at Lake View Lutheran Church, where they were members for many years. They would have two children, Karen and Christine, and in 1968 the family moved to Skokie; soon after they became members of Central.

We remember Ilene in many ways. She was a wonderful cook, and a world class cookie baker. She was also a musician, playing the piano at church and at local nursing homes, and also singing in the choir. She was a caring and loving person, caring not only for her family but for people beyond her family. Even after she began to exhibit signs of dementia, she continued to be her caring, loving, mild mannered self. As the disease progressed, the one thing she never lost was her contagious smile, which those of us who knew her will always remember.

Helen BextelHelen S. Bextel died May 20 at the age of 102. Helen was born at home in Providence, Rhode Island, October 13, 1914, to Karl Wilhelm and Emma Kristina Sward, immigrants from Sweden. Her father died when she was just 4 years old. After her father’s death, her mother struggled to care for their four daughters and one son. Faith, which was an important part of their family life, helped them through hard times: Every Sunday it took two streetcars to attend the Swedish Congregational Church, where Helen was eventually confirmed.

Helen was the only one of her siblings to receive an education, graduating with a secretarial diploma. Eventually, she was employed with a jewelry company. Her boss, Harold Van Cleve Bextel, eventually became her husband, in 1934. Helen worked until she became pregnant with her first child, Harold. A second son, Donald was born eight years later. When Mr. Bextel invested in a new business with his brothers, the family moved to Skokie. Mr. Bextel died in 1970 at the age of 64.

Helen volunteered – both in the community and at Central – in many ways. She served as PTA president for Lincoln school and served four terms as president of PEO Educational organization. For two terms, Helen tutored one day a week at Thomas Edison school, of which she says: “I loved every minute.”

Helen was a member of Central for 70 years. Although she served in many ways, the way we knew her was as the Rummage Queen, organizing an annual rummage sale. Her real claim to fame was her hard work, constant smile, good nature, and peaceful negotiations, at the “right time.”

Several years ago, Helen moved to Tamarack Retirement Home in Palatine, to be closer to her family. It was there she lived out her last years, cared for by family and new friends. We were blessed to have Helen in our congregation and in our lives.

Ruth JaklinRuth Jaklin, died June 18th, in Bluffton, SC., at the age of 87. Ruth was born on January 17, 1930; I think Ruth grew up in Chicago, and at one time, I think she was a deaconess, for sure a long time Methodist.

How we most knew Ruth at Central was as part of a team, with her husband Roger. Roger and Ruth were often seen, organizing the golf outing for HARP (Happy Active Retired Persons), maintained the rose garden, and also serving in the office as Central’s bulk mailing experts.

After Roger’s death in 2012, Ruth had a hard time of it. Her health was deteriorating, but even so she hated leaving her home and moving to a assisted living center. Then – last year – the hardest move of all, to South Carolina, to be near her family. Most of all, Ruth missed Roger. My favorite saying of Ruth’s throughout all of this – which I heard her say often – was: “What are you going to do?” Ruth is survived by her son Roger Jaklin, Jr. and his wife Robbin and her grandsons Benjamin and Daniel.

Leone O'RoarkLeone O’Roark, died July 19 in Glenview, at the age of 101. Leone Nelson was born September 30, 1915 in the upstairs back bedroom of her parent’s home on Kostner Street in Chicago. Her father, Louis, was an auditor at the Chicago Post Office, and her mother, Mamie, stayed home to care for the family. She had two brothers, and a sister who died at the age of three from scarlet fever. Her family attended Irving Park Methodist Church, which her mother had attended since 1901.

After high school, Leone’s first job was as a cashier for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and 1934. While still living at home, one night her brother brought home a school friend, Joe O’Roark, to sample their mother’s home cooking. They were going to a movie and asked Leone to join them. One thing led to another and Leone married Joe in the living room of her home in 1941. They had three boys, Joe Jr., Bob, and Michael, who blessed them with grandchildren and great grandchildren. Tragically, her husband Joe was killed in an auto accident in 1961, leaving Leone a widow for 56 years. Her oldest son, Joe, Jr., died last year.

Besides raising her family, Leone worked in the Devonshire office of Skokie Park District for twenty years. After her retirement, she volunteered for Meals on Wheels, delivering meals for 25 years, and was honored for her service by the Village of Skokie.

Leone joined Central Church in 1949 when services were still held in the log cabin. Through the years, she did everything: she picked up the altar flowers at Margie’s every Saturday morning; she took care of the altar; she was an offering counter; and every month she folded, put on labels and stamps, and mailed the newsletter.

On her 97th birthday, Leone moved out of the home she had lived in since 1949, into a nearby assisted living facility, the same one Ruth Jaklin lived in. Two of my favorite Leone stories are these: Once when Kathy Shine remarked to her at Bible Study on Sunday morning that she was glad she was there, Leone replied: “Where else would I be?” (I hope Kathy did not explain her options). The other is once when I visited her at Lincolnwood after she could no longer come to church, she told me that on Sunday morning she sat and watched the clock, thinking: “Now they’re starting the service, now the choir is singing, now the Pastor is starting his sermon, etc.” (“Where else would I be?”) For 73 years, Central and those of us who were late-comers to Central were blessed with Leone’s cheerful personality, her presence and her service.

Russ NelsonRuss Nelson died September 8th at the age of 95. Russ grew up with 4 siblings on the north side of Chicago. As a teenager he and his older brother, Harry, were members of a gospel quartet and sang in Chicago churches.

Russ was a veteran of World War II, where he served as a Navy Radioman aboard two oil tankers that refueled aircraft carriers and supplied high-test gasoline for the Air Force, serving one year in the Atlantic and one year in the Pacific.

Russ enjoyed roller-skating at the Riverview Roller Rink, an interest that was to prove significant. On one of his leaves, a girl skating alone caught his eye. He asked her to skate with him. She said, “No.” Russ persisted. Eventually she joined him, not only for roller-skating, but as his life’s companion. Russ and Mildred were married for 55 years, until her death in 2003. They had one son, Kevin, who lives in Evanston.

Russ and Mildred came to Central in the late 1960’s. Russ made his living as a commercial artist, winning seven design awards, and over the years, gave Central many artworks. Russ’s final oil painting of the Church now hangs in the Narthex. We are thankful for Russ’ life, his talent, his generosity, his service to our country and to Central.

If there is any Sunday that knocks us down – as we remember those we have lost – it is today. But – at the same time – by remembering these and all those we have known and loved – All Saints picks us up and helps us go on, filled with gratitude and hope. Inspired by their friendship and their examples of generosity and service – how well they ran the race set before them – let us lay aside every weight and run with perseverance the race set before us.  Amen.


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