Update from Wes and the Wardens

Dear Beloved of God: Members, Friends, and Neighbors of the St. Chrysostom’s Community, 

With a heart full of gratitude and love for my time as your pastor, I am writing to share with you that during a period of intense reflection, I have discerned the call to change the direction of my life and ministry. Since I first felt called into ministry as a teen-aged person, I have been drawn to live in solidarity with people who exist on the margins of society. This vocational pull has not gone away, and in recent years it has increased. While on retreat at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico, I decided that I must take seriously this calling. I do not yet know how this will manifest itself in the next season of life: it may be outside of parish ministry or perhaps in addition to it. 

This decision has not been an easy one. You have been my church, my community, my home. You have nurtured me in the love of God and have taught me so much. I hope that, in turn, I have helped you to grow spiritually as individuals and as a community of Christian discipleship. 

I have shared my intention with Bishop Chilton, the wardens, and our vestry. Bishop Chilton gave me her episcopal permission to resign as your rector—and together the bishop, the wardens, and my wife Lori and I decided that my last Sunday as your pastor would be at the start of this summer on Sunday, June 26th, 2022.  

This summer is a special time for me for two reasons: first, it marks my twentieth year of ordained ministry working in and among three, wonderful congregations—including of course St. Chrysostom’s; and second, it marks my ninth year serving as rector of St. Chrysostom’s Church, which is my longest tenure in any church community.  

When I arrived in 2013 this congregation, the larger Church, and the world were all in a very different place than where they are now. At that time, I felt the Spirit of God nudging and beckoning me into your midst as pastor, priest, brother in Christ, and most of all fellow struggler on the journey of faith. Nine years later, I see this congregation continuing its good and faithful work with a new rector who will have new gifts to share with you and who will partner with you in the next season of your life and ministry. 

In the coming days leading up to June 26th, please know that my door and my heart are open. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul describes Christian people as “clay jars” and “earthen vessels” who can be filled with God’s power but who also break easily and frequently, making a mess when they do. I know myself to be one of these clay creatures, which is to say that while I have always tried my best to do the right thing, I have at times missed the mark. If you have been wanting to tell me something that you have been holding onto, if there are unresolved issues weighing on you, or if you simply have some good, old-fashioned advice to share, please come and see me.  

The next three months will also give us time to celebrate. To celebrate those moments together when something beautiful and holy and perhaps unexpected moved us to tears, to laughter, to friendship, or to that soul-awareness that we are all deeply and intimately connected and held by a Love that will not ever let us go. To celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of this faithful and generous church community: opening wide our arms to the needs of this extraordinary and complicated city; renewing the sacred spaces entrusted to us in our buildings so that with them we can love God, each other, and our neighbors for the next 130 years; raising up faithful, gifted, and loving leaders in our midst, lay and ordained; grappling honestly with injustice; and responding with creativity and agility to the pressing human needs revealed during a global pandemic. I feel such a deep sense of privilege and gratitude to have buried our beloveds together, celebrated life’s joys, and followed Jesus as modern-day disciples. Let us take this time to say thank you to each other and to God. 

Finally, in the next twelve weeks, we will move through the most profound moments of the Christian faith in real time: into the endings of our lives that scare us by the appearance of their finality (Good Friday); through the wilderness of waiting and not knowing and fighting to hold onto hope (Holy Saturday); out into the light of new life, healed and made whole (Easter Sunday & Easter Season); then empowered and sent into the world on the adventure of a lifetime, not alone but filled with the wild Spirit of the living God breathing on us and in us and through us in powerful, new ways (Pentecost). If you remember only one thing from my time among you, let it be that I know this story to be true. 

I want to close by sharing a message that I heard and felt God saying during my recent stay at the monastery. Protected in silence by the enormous cliffs in that remote part of the desert and by the ancient Rule of St. Benedict, the voice I heard was forceful and overflowing—and directly for you, the St. Chrysostom’s community. I don’t know what it will mean for those of you who read and hear this message, but I believe God gave it to me to share with you: “Dear People of God—specifically you, the St. Chrysostom’s community—I have so much love for you.”  

May God the Father bless you, God the Son heal you, God the Holy Spirit give you strength. May God the holy and undivided Trinity guard your body, save your soul, and bring you safely to that heavenly country where God lives and reigns forever and ever. AMEN.  

Yours in peace, 

The Rev. Wes Smedley

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

It is with both sadness and hopefulness that the Wardens, with the affirmation of the Vestry, have reluctantly accepted the resignation of Rev. Wes Smedley. We listened with heavy hearts and a deep love for him, as he recently shared his sabbatical journey toward reaching this difficult decision. In consultation with Assisting Bishop Chilton Knudsen and Wes, we together agreed that he will complete his service with St. Chrysostom’s on June 30th, with his final Sunday service and celebration on June 26th.

The years at St. Chrysostom’s during Wes’s leadership have been transformational for our church and our community. When Wes arrived in 2013, our buildings were in disrepair, our finances were tenuous, and our engagement with children and families was dwindling.

Under Wes’s vision and leadership, St. Chrysostom’s has:

  • Seen significant growth and increased vitality of our church and church school, with renewed engagement, particularly with families.
  • Completed a capital campaign that exceeded initial projections by more than $3 million. As a result, we have replaced our crumbling walls and broken windows, modernized our day school and church school classrooms, and built a brand-new kitchen and Harding Room to meet the current needs of our robust feeding and hospitality programs.
  • Achieved the strongest financial position our church has seen in nearly two decades, reflected in a healthy cash position and balance sheet.
  • Managed a successful transition of day school leadership that has led to an even stronger and more diverse program for children.
  • Significantly increased our outreach programs and services, connecting us with one another and extending the church’s reach throughout our community and the city of Chicago.
  • Navigated worship during a lengthy pandemic, pivoting quickly to provide live streaming services, and safely reopening to conduct in-person worship, while also offering programs connecting parishioners in new, spiritually fulfilling ways.
  • Shared countless life events – births and baptisms, confirmations, deaths and funerals, and weddings.

Change is often difficult. But if we have learned anything from the pandemic and recent staff transitions, it is that St. Chrysostom’s is a resilient and blessed community. Our parish is spiritually strong, financially healthy, and has dedicated lay leaders and staff to carry us forward at a time when many other churches are struggling. St. Chrysostom’s will be able to call the best candidates to serve as our next rector, and work has already begun with the Diocesan staff who lead transitions. We will soon share more about the selection process used in the Diocese, with details to come regarding interim leadership and our upcoming search process. 

While we prepare for the next chapter in the life of our parish, addressing pastoral, practical and strategic matters, we will be focused on showing our appreciation for Wes and his family, and celebrating his tenure with us. We ask that you support and lift him up as he too looks forward to the next chapter of his career and their family life. Please keep the Smedleys in your prayers, as well as your Vestry and our church staff, as we together find the path the Lord has laid before us.

With gratitude,

John Bankhurst, Senior Warden
Ginny Van Alyea, Junior Warden

Please visit the Transition Page for updates and events.