Community Involvement

Transfigure Rockford

My View: Transform Rockford begins with transfiguring ourselves

Fr. Jonathan Bannon


Transform Rockford! We hear it often, and have seen it on the news much lately. This motto is the slogan for a new program and recent summit where 1,400 people gathered to hear prominent leaders of the community come together to share ideas of how to stir a dying city to life again.

As a new priest from Connecticut and having lived in Chicago for a year before being assigned to Rockford, I only had an outsider’s look and hearsay about the city that would become my new home. Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times all seemed to have something to say about Rockford.

Each painted a similar picture that resembled a broken mirror reflecting fragments of a backward city in disrepair filled with poverty and danger. At first, I ventured into the city somewhat fearful because of the news these articles conveyed.

I am discovering how wrong these groups are because of what I see live and ever present each day. Rockford’s light is not flickering out but is just beginning to glow strong once more with the life and movement of Transform Rockford.

To a Christian the word life means more than a smoking chimney and empty hangers in a local department store with lines of people out the door. Life to a practicing Christian is full of hope. With the sorrow and pain that life is often filled with, we know no greater joy than having a promise of bringing life back from a darkened world.

For Transform Rockford to really take hold in our community we must do more than “transform” this city, we must “transfigure” Rockford and we can start by transfiguring our hearts.

This term transfigure stems from the Latin and Greek metamorphosis (some of us may have seen the famous Dutch artist MC Escher’s panel series where a fish shape becomes a bird). The term means to undergo a change, and our view is that change is for the better — something enhanced, something higher.

Will fresh paint and bright new signs on the highways be enough to transform Rockford or rather would a heart generated by love and a soul filled with grace better help our city? We know the answer.

People desire to see a sermon in action, not just hear one. The chants of Transform Rockford must be lived if we are to see progress. It starts with our hearts before it does the potholes of our roads and trash in our streets. We must rinse our souls, refresh our minds and think of each other as brothers and sisters. Then we can move forward and reach higher.

Rockford is not going under but going beyond and above the hype given to us by the media. There is still meat on the bones of the skeleton that once was this great city. A fatter wallet is not what makes a city nor a person great.

Transfiguring a city starts with transfiguring a people. It is about having a heart overflowing with love, filled with humility by thinking of others. We can contribute not only financially but finding a gift we have, a talent and our time and see what the needs of Rockford are.

This winter may we grow into the new year with love in our hearts. If we keep Christ as a baby in the manger we never leave the darkness of the cave in Bethlehem.

So too will our city only ever have new life if we each begin renewing and sharing the light in our own hearts with each other through love.

Father Jonathan Bannon is pastor of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church


Orthodox Church Parishoners Gather in Rockford to bless Rock River

By Jeff Kolkey Rockford Register Star

January 19. 2014 3:00PM



 ROCKFORD - Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church parishioners gathered Sunday on a frosty dock along the Rock River behind the Burpee Museum of Natural History to revive an ancient ritual.

 In celebration of the Christian holiday of Epiphany, about 50 people led by the Rev. Jonathan S. Bannon gathered despite the cold and wind to pray, chant and bless the Rock River.

 "With our city's desire to transform Rockford, we felt it was important to bring this ancient tradition to life in our region," Bannon said. "It is one way for our parish community to help transfigure Rockford. It will not only be enriching for our own church communities, but is one way in which we ask God to bless all who reside in this area."

At the end of the service, Bannon knelt on the metal dock to dip a wooden cross through a hole in the frozen surface of the river and into the frigid water. Bannon said it was symbolic of Jesus Christ's baptism in the River Jordan, a focus of the holiday in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

 Many orthodox churches have in recent years revived the outdoor ritual that had been replaced with an indoor service. This is believed to be the first time the Rockford church held the service outdoors, Bannon said.

 Among those who gathered for the service was Paula Grady of Poplar Grove, a member of the church who said she thought it was a beautiful service and a show of support for positive change in Rockford and the region.

 "Blessing the water is a church tradition and to actually bless the Rock River, Father (Bannon) really wants to be part of the Transform Rockford movement to try to revitalize the city and I think this is an interesting step," Grady said.

Christ the Saviour Church is an Orthodox Church founded by displaced people from Belarus, Ukraine and Poland who had moved to Rockford after World War II, according to information from the church.

 Jeff Kolkey: 815-987-1374;