Invasive Species in Our Lives

by John Cawood

Illustration: Lolium temulentumCrown vetch. Phragmites. Garlic mustard. Buckthorn. Spotted napweed. Reed canary grass.

Ask a restoration ecologist in Illinois, “How’s your summer going?” and you are likely to hear about some of these pests. We call these invasive species – organisms that are brought to a new area, often by humans, and take over quickly. In the plant world, invasives grow quickly and crowd out the native plants, like orchids, trillium, purple cone flower, and baby oak trees. Some plants poison the soil so other species cannot grow, and some produces 10s of thousands of seeds.

And it’s not just plants. The brown headed cowbird lays its eggs in the nests of native birds – its unhatched offspring replacing the unhatched offspring of the native birds. Today you are likely to hear about the voracious big-headed carp knocking on the doors of the Great Lakes – which were fundamentally changed in the 90s when zebra mussels and quagga mussels were accidentally introduced by passing freighters. Or the emerald ash borer decimating hundreds of thousands of Midwest ash trees.

Ecologists around the world are constantly in battle with these invaders, pulling weeds, shocking fish, chopping infected ash trees, and creating new bird habitat. But mostly pulling weeds… In pockets they are successful. In order to achieve success, constant attention must be provided to these areas. In our forest preserves and our Chicago parks we are fortunate to have site stewards who volunteer their time to do this work – removing acres upon acres of invasive species – in order to allow natives to prosper.

Successful invasive species management can be difficult to achieve, and even when it is achieved it must be justified. One of our favorite stories has to do with Mayor’s Native Landscaping awards, formerly given to dozens of Chicago residents every year for planting native prairie plants in their yards.

Then, along came the city’s Streets and Sanitation officers who cited several awardees for violating the city’s weed ordinance, with tickets around $600. They saw the tall, billowing prairie grasses as weeds! The ironic miscommunication has since been resolved, but it’s a good illustration of differences in perception about what a weed actually is. For example, a golden, ornamental daffodil would not be welcomed in the middle of a tallgrass prairie!

Invasives are prevalent in landscapes across our region, and around the world. Generally it takes many dedicated souls to keep them under control, and even after they are under control we need to answer the why question.

Throughout August, we'll be drawing parallels between managing invasives in nature and managing invasives in our lives. Check out the schedule of diverse indoor and outdoor events for restoring ourselves, our communities, and our planet.

Jesus told a parable about invasive weeds (cheatgrass) taking over the wheat fields. Nanette wrote a commentary on it over at Question the Text: The Cheatgrass Is In Us


Here I Stand: Defining Our Identity, Becoming Community

by Wes Pitts


Lent is a 40 day season (not counting Sundays!) of spiritual practices meant to strengthen our spiritual lives and prepare us for the celebration of Easter. Common  practices include prayer, fasting and “self-examination,” or honest self-evaluation.

In the early church, Lent was a time of preparation for the celebration of baptism at  the Easter Vigil, the night before Easter, as communities waited for the sunrise of a  new day. In many communities of faith it remains a time to equip and nurture  candidates for baptism and confirmation, as well as to reflect deeply on questions  about why we follow God in the Way of Jesus, and how we might best do that.

“Confession” is a word that carries lots of baggage. The word “confession” and other manifestations of it are typically associated with wrongdoing and have a very negative connotation, but in the early Christian tradition the meaning was much more positive.

In the early church, confession meant openly affirming, declaring, acknowledging  or taking a stand for what one believes to be true, regardless of what others may believe or the persecution that may occur from taking such a stand.

During the season of Lent at Grace Commons, we’re taking a deeper look at what it means to be a community that confesses, or professes, certain things. What would we declare to the world about who and what we are, what we believe, and what we resolve to do?


The spiritual practice schedule for Sunday Gatherings for the season of Lent will be:


Feb. 17 - Dinner Church: Why Stand?

Feb. 24 - Poetry Vespers: What Do We Stand For?

Mar. 3 - Holy Conversation: Believing in Ourselves

Mar. 10 - Taizé Vespers: Believing in Grace

Mar. 17 - Dinner Church: When Our Beliefs are Challenged

Mar. 24 (Palm Sunday) - Poetry Vespers: Finding Our Voices

Mar. 28 (Maundy Thursday) - The Courage to Speak in the Darkness

Mar. 31 (Easter Sunday) - Here We Stand



As I Walk On My Journey...

By Sarah Lanzi

The last couple weeks have been quite a whirlwind to say the least. I left my job, moved out of my apartment, said goodbye to my friends, family, and the place I’ve called home, and moved roughly thirteen hours away to a city I had never even been to. What in the world would make someone do this? This last week that question has been asked a multitude of times, so one would think after a couple weeks of practice I would have mastered the answer and mastered talking about myself. Unfortunately not so much.Talking about myself is still something I am hoping to grow in, but first things first, who am I?

I am first and foremost a person seeking to grow closer to God and strengthen my faith. I am looking to discern where God is leading me, calling me. I hope to expand my knowledge of faith and what it takes to do ministry full time.

I was born in a suburb outside of Philadelphia called Bucks County, and lived there until the fourth grade. In fourth grade my family moved to a county that most people don’t really know about or at least don't know where it is. Even people in our own state look at me puzzled sometimes when I mention it.

Anyway, fourth grade I moved to St.Mary’s County, Maryland, and other than two brief years spent in Greensboro, NC, for college, I’ve lived there until now. I grew up in the church, ever since I can remember it was what we did every Sunday morning, and we attended every possible church event we could. I was confirmed in the sixth grade at St. Paul’s United Methodist, now First Saints Community Church, and that is the church I grew up in, and then served in.

Although I grew up in the church there were definitely some rough spots along the way. I decided in about 7th and 8th grade that I was too cool for school and a lot tougher than I really was. Therefore it was decided that I was going to private school. Catholic school here I come.

All through school I was involved in my youth group doing small groups, mission trips, retreats; you name it I was there. After graduating high school I left the county and went to school in North Carolina. While there God and the whole church thing kind of took a back seat to what I felt was important, and to me my social life was more important than my spiritual life.

Needless to say I didn’t last too long there, I returned home after two years, and that’s when things changed. I returned home in two ways, one physically back home with my parents, and back home to my church, to my God. I started attending regularly again, and helping with the youth group. While “helping” lead a small group of 8th grade girls, I had a moment of “uh oh”.

They weren’t letting me off the hook with Sunday School answers, and I really had to start thinking about my faith. It was then that for the first time my faith became mine, not my parents, not my leaders. It was then that it became about my relationship with Christ. It took on a whole new meaning and importance for me. I continued to work with the youth group throughout the remainder of college, and became really involved in many aspects of the church.

I eventually graduated college in 2010 from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a degree in psychology and a minor in educational studies. Since then I have worked two different jobs, one monitoring a crisis house for a non-profit mental health organization, and most recently I was a Child Protective Services Investigator for my local Department of Social Services. The whole time working and going to school, I always wanted to do more, to be more involved in the church but time was limited. I would often say “I just want time away to be able to focus on where God is leading me, to be able to do ministry full time and see what it is all about”. That has led me to now.

I am currently living in a community through an organization called DOOR;  living with three other young adults in East Garfield Park. I will be working as an intern here at Grace Commons for the next year, and I am excited for that opportunity. I'm looking forward to the experience, the opportunity to grow in faith, to serve along side you, and to figure out my next steps.



Doing Church Differently

By Rachel Duncan


As I think about my time at Wicker Park Grace (now called Grace Commons), it's become very clear the influence it played on my ministry discernment.  One of the greatest lessons and points of hope for me, as a Christian, was that church could happen another way and that the community of believers could operate in a way that I hadn't found in the many other churches I had already attended.  The worship and the approach to worship was different.  But more than that, it was meaningful and helped me (and other Christians and seekers) to have real worship in which we felt God's presence.  This is not a small point, especially as traditional church worship tends to leave so many empty these days. 

Grace Commons is a place where people can explore and express their faith and encounter Jesus.  For many I met there, it is the first place they've been able to do that since leaving the churches of their youth.  I cannot emphasize enough how important this is for a modern generation of believers and sometimes-believers.  Grace Commons does so much to help people re-encounter or encounter for the first time the living body of Christ in this world. 

As I proceed in my ordination and as I work as the pastor of a much more traditional church (both in theology and in worship), I am more and more convinced of the importance of Grace Commons (and of other churches like it).  I am certain of the positive impact it had on my faith, on my place in the church, and on my call to ministry as a pastor.  I hope and pray and will work to do church like that in my own ministry, God willing.

After participating in the life of Grace Commons, (then called Wicker Park Grace), Rachel went on to Yale Divinity School to receive a Masters of Divinity degree and is in process of moving towards ordination in the Methodist Church.

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