To Don Borling In Recognition of 35 Years
Recognizing All the Saints
By Karri Brady
I haven’t lived in the Chicago area for over 20 years, yet my church is still All Saints, my Pastor is still Don Borling. It’s a curious thing because I have tried other churches in the past 20 years, in many different cities. I even worked as a church choir “ringer” for a year or two. But, it doesn’t matter where I go; All Saints remains my church home.
When I first moved out on my own, I made a serious attempt to find a church, not necessarily to join, but to provide that sense of community that is really at the heart of what makes All Saints, All Saints. Living in NYC, I tried all the big, famous churches, with the famous, or in some cases, infamous preacher.
For a while there, I was going to Unity Church in Avery Fischer Hall at Lincoln Center. It was a beautiful place and the service was led by husband and wife team, Eric & Olga Butterworth, both in their 70s. Olga, dressed in a floor length, flower printed skirt and a billowy blouse would start the service with a meditation, led in an overly soothing voice. Then Eric would have a message that always resonated with me. At the end, the couple would stand, hand in hand, at the top of the long escalators to greet worshippers as they departed. Both of them glowed beneath a halo of heavenly white hair. The line was always so long it circled the lobby, and I could never imagine what I would say in the two seconds it took to step on the moving escalator. So, I didn’t really connect to the community there.
I had a friend who took me to an interfaith congregation with an extremely charismatic Irish minister. He was a former actor who always watched the clock on the back wall and when 55 minutes (yes, 55 minutes) expired, he would “beg our forgiveness,” in his best Irish brogue, while he carried over the rest of his sermon to the following week. The coffee hour was down a couple flights of stairs and after sitting for 90 minutes, I needed more than coffee, I was ready for lunch.
Once when I was traveling in a show, I got this idea about wanting to “give back” or “serve.” We were in Florida and it was around Easter time. I looked up churches in the Yellow Pages and called one up. I said, “Hi, my name is Karri Nussle, I am in town with Victor, Victoria. I am a classical singer and would like to offer to sing at a church service.” I guess it does seem silly now. But, I kept thinking, that if someone called All Saints, Don would probably say, “come on over.” Anyway, they pretty much laughed at me and told me their soloists were booked months in advance.
Back in NYC, I attended services in all the famous, landmark buildings; St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. John, the Divine, Riverside Church…Riverside had an amazing preacher, James Forbes, a former Baptist, who could really put on a show and yet touch you at the same time. But, the first time I brought Graysen there, a well groomed usher, wearing a black suit, with a white carnation pinned to her lapel, met me at the door to escort me down to the child care room. Graysen was only about 8 months old at the time, and the usher could sense my reluctance. She cheerfully offered me an electronic beeper, like the kind you get at TGI Fridays, and said they would beep me if they had a problem. I ended up listening to the service over the intercom in the child care room, with Graysen and all the other babies.
Actually, once we had Graysen, it was hard to get to church on Sunday. After working all week I found I was protective of my mere two days with family. I made peace with the idea that I/we could live a spiritual life without attending church every Sunday, at least for the time being. After all, we are Don Borling sermon subscribers. Ted and I both read them and sometimes when there aren’t too many props, we read the children’s sermons to Graysen. Some might think that reading a sermon a week is a poor substitute for regular church going. But somehow we have managed to find a “community of saints” outside of the church.
It started one cold, February weekday in NYC. Ted and I were both working for Columbia University at the time and had to discuss some sort of legal matter. We decided to use our lunch hour and didn’t have time to go very far or wait to be served in a restaurant. Ted suggested we meet at the falafel cart on the corner between our buildings and take sandwiches back to my office. We arrived almost at the same time and stood in a short line (even in February) and watched the falafel man, in a short sleeved shirt, carefully tending to his onions, smiling and laughing with customers while serving up gyros and falafel sandwiches. When it was our turn, Ted asked, “Aren’t you cold?” The falafel man smiled and said, “Oh, no, I have my grill, my customers, all of you, to keep me warm!”
As we carried the sandwiches back to my office, we shared a smile and both said, “He’s like a Don Borling sermon…the falafel man, his humble cart, impeccably kept, smiling even in 20 degree weather, warmed by the heat of his grill and the enjoyment of his work…” We had to laugh! Were they the best falafel in the neighborhood? No, but we passed him every day and took note of the care in which he prepared his sandwiches and the perpetual warmth of spirit he passed on with each order served.
When Graysen was born, he came 5 weeks early and my doctor was on vacation in Italy. We had taken the tour of the hospital where we were to deliver the week before. Rated #1 in the city for maternity and infant care, this was the hospital with valet parking and river views. Of course, with my doctor out of town, we had to go to the hospital where the doctor (Dr. Ferroochi, a woman I had never even met) had privileges. There was no valet parking, Ted used a parking meter, and as for a view, we barely had a window. The signs weren’t even in English. And, I can tell you, it didn’t make the ratings of the best hospitals in Manhattan for anything, let alone maternity care. When we got there, scared and unprepared, we were assigned a nurse with a soothing, island accent and a smile that lit up the room. Again we heard the voice of Don Borling, “…the delivery nurse, from the islands, and who with one touch on the shoulder let us know all was well…she worked with us for 15 hours before the doctor even arrived, always with that bright smile and her soothing, island voice. Her shift ended before Graysen delivered. And, even though she was not scheduled to work, she came to check on us the next day, and to see the result of all our hard work together -- Graysen.”
One of our favorite restaurants in NYC was a neighborhood Indian place with only 7 tables called Bengal Express. The manager, host and sole waiter in the place, was Maboud, an extremely soft spoken man with dark eyes and a gentle spirit. We ate at Bengal Express enough that he knew our names and our “usual order” and that we always ordered extra spicy onions. This was our “diner” our “regular place.” When I broke my wrist, Ted took me to Maboud’s to cheer me up. Maboud signed my cast, as did everyone in the restaurant. We celebrated Valentine’s Day with Maboud, he brought me a rose. We met his son, who, at nine, had gotten into the best public school in the city. Maboud was so proud. He told us of his move to NYC and, again we heard the voice of Don Borling, “Maboud, living the American dream, working ‘round the clock to provide for his wife and son, always, always serving whether waiting tables, seating customers or answering take out calls…always with his soft voice and gentle spirit…”
When 9/11 happened, the city stood still. We were all paralyzed. For a few days none of us knew what to do or how to act. By the third day, we got it together enough to order food and since we needed comfort, we ordered from Bengal Express. All the restaurants were slammed with take-out orders, so it took over an hour for our food to arrive. The intercom rang, “Delivery,” the guy said. We buzzed him in and when we opened the door, there, in place of the usual delivery guy, was Maboud. He said he recognized our order because of the extra onions and wanted to do the delivery himself. He hadn’t seen us since the attack and wanted to be sure we were okay. We were relieved to see him, too, comforted. We shared a hug, there in the doorway of our humble home– I don’t think I have ever hugged delivery guy before or since. It was a humble restaurant, but Ted and I were grateful for the meals and the Don Borling sermons we shared there through our knowing of Maboud. Our bodies and souls were always well fed.
When we moved to New Haven, a rather startling transition for me, after over 20 years in NYC, we moved on to Court Street, a garden block, right down town. Our neighbor Bill, who lives across from us, is the unofficial “Mayor” of Court Street. He is one of these guys…on weekends when the weather is nice, you can always see him out puttering about, sweeping the street, gardening, watering…but you can also see him in the spring, planting, all on his own, at the Head Start School around the block and snow blowing the sidewalks for the entire block during the winter.
Bill has three grown boys, so he often joins or even instigates games of catch or stick ball with the kids on the block. During a recent neighborhood water balloon fight, Bill launched a surprise attack, complete with spray bottles. All parties, including Bill, were completely soaked with water and hilarity.
When Graysen told him that he was going fishing for the first time, suddenly a child’s fishing pole appeared in our doorway. We never heard who left it, but we were pretty convinced it was Bill. Again, we heard the voice of Don Borling, “Bill, a humble college professor, who lives his life with joy and abandon and needs no recognition for his good deeds…a living example of the Gospel…”
These are only a few living examples of Don Borling sermons, there have been so many more in my life, most of which I recognized thanks to Don and the “community of Saints” from which my spiritual beliefs were born. When looking for a new church home, I now understand that I was looking for more than a just a moving sermon, or a charismatic preacher. I was seeking the “humble temple” with “Fred” and prop filled children’s sermons. I was looking for the Swedish coffee and the Christmas tree with homemade ornaments; the street sign that not everyone “gets,” and the Catholics. I wanted to be touched by the butcher at Randy’s, Danny Nagel, the kids at the Kennedy School and Heartland. I wanted to eat Naomi’s cookies and Kristie’s $100 pies. I wanted to sit in Grandma Helen’s chair. I wanted to hear a Mattie Stepanek poem and be touched by Adam, Amy, Don’s Mother, Father, Brother, Grandmother, Q, and all and other “saints”… Is it any wonder that I have come up a little empty when looking for an alternative house of worship? Luckily, over these 35 years, when I couldn’t get to the “humble temple” in Orland Park, Don taught me to see the Gospel in all the “saints” around me…and perhaps, even the “Fred” in me.
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