Church of the Ascension, Chicago

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Church of the Ascension, Chicago
Denomination Episcopal Church
Churchmanship Anglo-Catholic
Dedication St Michael
Diocese Chicago

The Church of the Ascension is an Anglo-Catholic parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. Founded in 1857 as a mission of St. James Church,[1] it is now located on N. LaSalle Blvd. on Chicago's Near North Side. The church became a part of the Anglo-Catholic movement in 1869. The principal service on Sunday is the Solemn High Mass celebrated at 11 a.m., according to Rite II in the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer (1979). This Mass is celebrated at the High Altar (facing east), and includes three sacred ministers, many acolytes, incense, and music provided by a professional choir. The mass includes processions and other devotions on certain feasts and holy days.

Special liturgies and observances[edit]

The Church of the Ascension holds many special services throughout the church year, including a Solemn Festival of Lessons and Carols on the First Sunday of Advent, a Solemn Procession on Corpus Christi, Solemn High Masses on Festivals of Our Lord and Our Lady, Requiem Masses on All Souls’ Day, as well as Stations of the Cross and Benediction on the Fridays in Lent.

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament[edit]

Ascension was the first parish church in the Anglican Communion to offer benediction of the Blessed Sacrament since the Reformation.[2] Benediction is offered monthly after Evensong, from October through May, as well as on Fridays in Lent following Stations of the Cross, and at the end of the Corpus Christi Mass and Procession.


The Rev. Patrick Raymond was called as permanent Rector during the summer of 2017. Father Patrick Raymond is a native of California and a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and the General Theological Seminary (NYC). Father Raymond’s entire parish ministry has taken place in the Diocese of Chicago, where he served parishes in Barrington, the City of Chicago and Evanston, and in the Diocese of Milwaukee. Father Raymond was trained and earned certifications in interim ministry leadership and in both individual and couples counseling in the Internal Family Systems model of therapy. He was elected and served as Deputy to the 2006 General Convention (Columbus) and has made contributions to the ministry and witness of the larger church in the realms of transition ministry, clergy continuing education and summer camp chaplaincy. Concurrent with his call as Rector, Father Raymond has been appointed by the Right Rev. Jeffrey Lee, Bishop of Chicago, to serve as Dean of the Chicago North Deanery — ten congregations on Chicago’s north side.

Father Raymond and his wife Brooke have been married 26 years. They have three children.  Brooke is trained and certified in the Internal Family Systems model of therapy. Her several other ministry related disciplines include recent enrollment and participation in the Episcopal College for Congregational Development. 

The Rev. Gary P. Fertig retired in 2012; the parish was then led by an interim rector, the Rev. Milton C. Williams, Jr., who served in that position until February 9, 2014, when he departed to accept the position of interim dean of St. James' Cathedral in Chicago. The Rev. David Cobb of Christ Church, New Haven, Connecticut, took office in March 2014 and resigned in September 2015.[3] The Rev. Shane Patrick Gormley is currently serving as the priest in charge on an interim basis while the Vestry prepares to name a longer-term priest in charge.

Also attached to the parish is the convent of the Order of St. Anne.

Musical tradition[edit]

The church has a fine musical tradition.

Recent musicians[edit]

Benjamin Rivera, Choirmaster and David White, Organist:[edit]

In July 2016 Dr. Benjamin Rivera was invited and agreed to serve as Interim Music Director and Choirmaster. In October 2016 David White was invited and agreed to serve as Interim Organist. Both musicians’ appointments became permanent in 2017. 

Jeffrey Smith, Interim Organist and Choirmaster[edit]

In 2015, the rector, Fr. David Cobb, appointed Dr. Jeffrey Smith as interim organist and choirmaster. Jeffrey Smith has served on the faculty of Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and as Interim Director of Music at Christ Church Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Smith was Music Director at Saint Paul’s Parish, K Street, in Washington D.C. from 1992. In 2004, Smith was appointed Canon Director of Music at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, where he conducted its Choir of Men and Boys in an extensive liturgical program, devised tours and recordings, and directed a weekly concert series.

Thomas Wikman, Choirmaster 1984-2015[edit]

Former choirmaster Thomas Wikman (choirmaster from 1984 to 2015) has had an extensive career as a choral and orchestral conductor, voice teacher and organist. He has conducted hundreds of concerts in repertoire from the Renaissance to the 20th century, specializing in the large choral masterpieces of the 17th through 19th centuries. His discography includes numerous CDs among them a critically acclaimed Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (1610) by Claudio Monteverdi.[3]

During his time as choirmaster, Wikman, conducted the professional choir in more than 1,700 worship services replete with masterpieces from 1000 A.D. to the present, including pieces by Orlando di Lasso, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, Liszt, Brahms, Herbert Howells, Leo Sowerby and Ralph Vaughan Williams. In May 2002, The University of Illinois at Chicago awarded Wikman the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts (Honoris Causa) for “…making an incomparable contribution to the musical life of Chicago.” Wikman maintains a voice studio producing students who have performed roles at the Metropolitan and Chicago Lyric Operas as well as the major European Houses including La Scala, Bayreuth, Vienna and Berlin.

He is also an active organist who has played more than 600 recitals. For seven years, Wikman was the artistic director of the Paul Manz Organ series for the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and he was the organist and artist in residence at the Chicago Theological Seminary, where he played weekly recitals. He has toured Europe seven times as an organist, playing recitals in France, Germany, Switzerland. Hungary, Denmark and Italy. Highlights include recitals at The Friars' Basilica in Venice; Saint-Sulpice, Paris; and The Royal Castle at Hillerod, Denmark.

David Schrader, Organist 1980-2015[edit]

Church of the Ascension's organist, David Schrader, held this position for more than 30 years, beginning his tenure in 1980. The Schlicker Organ Company of Buffalo, New York, installed the parish's organ in 1964.[4] The organ has three manuals and 64 ranks. A new console was installed and some tonal alterations performed by the Berghaus Organ Company of Bellwood, Illinois, in 1984, 2001 and 2014. During the latter years of Dr. Schrader's tenure, the main organ also had a “loft-mate” in the form of a two-stop cabinet organ (Daniel Jaeckel), which is owned by Dr. Schrader. This delightful little organ was heard in preludes and interludes. The small organ is tuned and winded differently than the main organ, which gave the parish an aesthetic option in pipe organ sound.[3]

Musical practices[edit]

Chanting of the minor propers[edit]

At all Church of the Ascension Solemn High Masses throughout the year, members of the choir sing five pieces of Gregorian chant called the “minor propers”. In Anglo-Catholic parishes, a “proper” is a bit of Scripture that changes from week to week (or day to day for daily Mass) according to the Roman Gradual (or in Latin: Graduale Romanum), an official liturgical book of the Roman Rite. The most obvious Scripture that is “proper” for any one day of the church calendar is the appropriate text of the Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Gospel; these propers vary in a three-year cycle called the “Lectionary” and might be referred to as the “Major Propers” although that term is rarely used. The minor propers are Scripture that are of lesser importance and according to the Book of Common Prayer are optional in the worship service. Minor propers are Biblical texts that comprise the traditional Introit, Gradual, Alleluia (or in Lent, the Tract), Offertory, and Communion of the Roman Gradual.

A “proper” can be contrasted to the “ordinary” of the Mass, which are elements of the liturgy that do not vary from time to time. The usual or ordinary parts of the Mass include the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.

Most of the Biblical texts for the minor propers are drawn from the psalms, although some text is drawn from Old Testament Apocrypha, Prophets and, occasionally, the Gospel. The text reflects or comments on and reinforces the major Biblical readings of the day. The major purpose of these musical interludes is to provide musical accompaniment to the non-verbal liturgical aspects of the worship.

The first minor proper, the introit, occurs right after the entrance hymn and accompanies the initial censing of the altar. Since the Middle Ages, this Gregorian chant usually is made up of a single verse in a psalm called the refrain. The chant starts with the refrain and then the “Gloria Patri….” is chanted followed by a repetition of the refrain (or antiphon). Since the Introit is the first thing that happens in the worship service, its first word is sometimes used to designate the entire Mass. For example, the first word of the Introit for the Third Sunday in of Advent is “Gaudete” so this Mass is called “Gaudete Sunday” and the Fourth Sunday in Lent is called “Laetare Sunday,” the first word of the minor propers for this Sunday’s Mass.

The second minor proper is the Gradual, and it is sung between the reading of the Old Testament and the Epistle.

The third minor proper is the Alleluia and is sung in the transition between the Epistle and the Gospel including the Gospel procession into the center of the church. The Alleluia is added as an exclamation of thanksgiving for the word of the Gospel and is sung around a psalm. The Gregorian chant for the alleluia often ends with a very long melody sung to the last vowel of alleluia. During Lent, the Tract replaces the Alleluia since the joyousness of the Alleluia is deemed inappropriate at this time. Tracts are not necessarily sorrowful or penitential, but tend to be longer in length and have no refrain.

The fourth minor proper is the Offertory and is sung when members of the parish bring the gifts of bread and wine to the altar as the priests prepare for the Eucharist. The last minor proper is the Communion and is sung while the celebrant distributes the bread and wine to the other ministers and acolytes.

It is very rare to find all minor propers chanted in Latin using Gregorian chant in every Solemn High Mass as is done at the Church of the Ascension in Chicago. Most parishes use only hymns to accompany the transitions filled at Church of the Ascension by the Ascension Schola Cantorum chanting the minor propers in Latin.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Giles, George (1984). "Chapter I. The Early Years". History of the Church of the Ascension, Chicago, Illinois 1857-1982. Aberdeen, South Dakota: North Plains Press, 1984. Retrieved 23 November 2012. 
  2. ^ "History of the Church of the Ascension, by George C. Giles, Jr. (1984)". Retrieved 2015-09-22. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Church of the Ascension - An Episcopal Church in the City and Diocese of Chicago". 
  4. ^ Northway, Dennis; Schnurr, Stephen (2005). Pipe organs of Chicago. 1. Oak Park, IL: Chauncey Park Press. pp. 180–181. ISBN 9780966780833. 

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