May 19, 2019

2019 Senior Sermons


This prayer is based on the Faith Statements written by this year's graduating class of seniors, back when they were in confirmation in 2015.

God of peace, joy, hope, grace, and love; God who shares with us the wonders of the earth and guides us toward a more meaningful life; God who is with us from the time we are born to the time we die, and for every day lived to the fullest, we give you thanks.

We give you thanks for this church community that has supported us, whether for just a few months, or for most of our lives.

We give you thanks for the gift of community here in this place, for friendships that matter, for family to accompany us along the way, for mentors who make a difference. We do not walk alone.

Life is a long journey of figuring out who we are and how we are to live in this life, and yet, day by day, we have the opportunity to start again, to turn toward the joy and love that you call us toward.

In the days that are challenging, when there is sorrow, when it seems as if there is no way through, we are grateful for your presence, O God. Whether it is here in this sacred place, or at home, or in our everyday life, we know that you are present with us; that you guide us, that you give us friends for the journey, and traveling companions to walk the way with us.

You make a way out of no way, O God.

We give you thanks, especially, for the graduating seniors; for friends and confidants, classmates and kindred spirits, who have lived side by side in this complicated world. Give each graduating senior an extra measure of your love, your grace, your presence as they prepare for what is ahead, and reflect on what is behind.

Give them rest and peace, and a spirit of kindness not just for others, but kindness toward themselves. For mistakes we have made, for things we have left undone or unsaid, for things we wish we could undo, forgive us God, and make a path toward reconciliation possible.

For the places in this world where there is not enough food or water, shelter or safety, be light in the darkness O God, and send your spirit to all who might listen, so that healing and hope might be made tangible. And for each of us, give us humility and honesty, and bind us up together, so that we might live for your glory, for your love, for your clear vision for this world.

In Jesus name. Amen.

Click here to listen to the podcast of this sermon.

Good morning. I’m Chris Sciortino, and I’m a graduating senior from New Trier High School. I’ve attended youth groups and participated in the youth programs here at Kenilworth Union Church for as long as I can remember. And oddly, this kinda feels like a graduation itself. Don’t worry, I know that my time here is far from over. I have lots to look forward to participating in, and I’ll be back to visit as much as I can. But it’s the end of a routine that I’ve established within my life for almost nine years. Youth groups are my thing, and it very quickly became my thing. When I started coming in 5th grade I looked forward each week to seeing my friends, the high school helpers, Sarah Garcia, Bev Kirk, and Chris Johnson. It felt like a mid-week pick-me-up. I could walk through the doors in the Manse and be welcomed into a big world of smiles, laughter, jokes, and most importantly every single kind of snack cracker you could think of. Seriously, Cheez-its, Cheetos, Doritos, Goldfish, name a cracker and it was there. Soon I moved on to Junior High Youth Group, where I got to hang out with the “cool kids.” I got to meet Silvi and Katie and hang out with them each week. I felt like I hit the jackpot! I was surrounded by amazing people, it was an hour and a half instead of an hour (something my 7th grade self was really excited about, those extra 30 minutes let us fit in an extra game or two), and in lieu of diverse orange snacks, we got to eat dinner each week. In my head, that was serious youth group domination. And when we finally reached my high school years, I became a CORE helper. Getting to work with the middle schoolers and junior high kids has been some of the most rewarding and exciting times of my high school experience, but I am most thankful for my CORE family. CORE has helped me establish such a great support system of people who are caring, loyal, and completely open-minded. With them I’ve been able to get through the stresses of school, helping my mom battle cancer, and my coming out process. They have taught me so much and given me so much love, but most of all have helped me realize that I love youth groups and the youth program because of the family it creates. That’s God. The creation of a section of life where you can feel bliss in the most normal of situations. To laugh or cry uncontrollably, and still emerge supported and happy. I am forever grateful for everything that CORE and Kenilworth Union have given me, and I want to extend my greatest appreciation towards everyone who’s been a part of my Kenilworth Union experience. I can’t wait to bring my appreciation for orange snacks into the rest of the world. Thank you.

Click here to listen to the podcast of this sermon.

My name is Holly Fessler. When I think of Kenilworth Union Church, I think about the connections I have made. Connections not only with God and my faith but also to people here. One person who has shown me the power of connection is Bev Kirk. If you’ve ever met Bev, you understand how her endless positivity and joy has a way of making you feel welcome, always. I first met Bev at youth group when I was in middle school. I didn’t get to know her too well during my time there, but I do remember her spunky personality. I had always admired her connection to the church, so I asked her to be my mentor for confirmation. From there, I got to meet her dogs and be a part of her annual adopt-a-family Christmas tradition. My favorite experience with Bev has been mentoring and tutoring the Abedi’s, a family of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the past two years this experience has shown me how meaningful our Kenilworth Union connections can be. In the beginning, there were maybe seven or so Kenilworth Union families involved when they found out that the Abedi family had nine children. At this point, many of the potential mentors were a little hesitant. A family of 11 is pretty overwhelming and no one was sure that they could give each family member the attention they needed. Except Bev. Bev kept saying “if not us, then who?” She was determined to make it work and knew they just needed a few more hands—that's how my family got involved. When the Abedi family got off the plane at O’Hare airport, on a hot June day all bundled up in their winter coats, I wasn't sure how this was going to go. But, through mentoring visits and tutoring that year, things began to look up. From where they had started, every one of them had made enormous strides. Whether it was reading a book, getting their addition down or learning how to take the bus, the Abedi’s kept pushing forward, always with a smile. They didn’t have much, they couldn’t speak English when they arrived, and they had never gone to school, but they did have each other and a resilient faith. So, I guess they did have a lot. We don’t get to see the Abedi’s much anymore because they moved, but I still think about them. They definitely made a lasting impact on me. While I was teaching them to count, they were teaching me resilience and the power of a positive attitude. So, thank you Bev for inviting our family on this special adventure. And thank you Kenilworth Union for connecting me with our amazing group of sponsors, and of course, to Bev.

Click here to listen to the podcast of this sermon.

My name is Paige Hurley. This church has a long history in my family and means a lot to many of my family members. My mom grew up coming here as a child, my aunt and uncle were married here, and my grandfather’s headstone is in the Memorial Garden out back. However, it wasn’t right away that I found my place at Kenilworth Union. I came to middle school youth group every Wednesday. I even brought friends a few times to show off how my church was cool and that we played fun games. As I got older, I helped out in the crib room and Sunday school classes. Although I enjoyed all the time I spent here, it did not mean as much as it could without a connection to God, and that is not something I had really developed yet. It wasn’t until confirmation that I realized I knew nothing of my faith and of what I believed in. As part of the confirmation process, I had to write a faith statement. It was supposed to be exactly how it sounds, a page explaining your faith. I sat in Katie Lancaster’s office going over it with her. She was asking me questions about my own writing, and I couldn’t answer them. I didn’t know the answers, and it was then that I realized I wrote down some random words on a page to get the assignment done, but I was clueless with what my faith actually meant to me. The IMPACT program is what gave me direction. A group of about 70 of us were packed into this boiling hot, tiny, concrete room in Kingston, Jamaica. The local pastor got up before us and gave a type of sermon I had never heard before. His belief in God was so strong, and he was so grateful for the life he was given, even though he had little to nothing. This room was not close to fitting the stereotypical church, no high ceilings, stained glass windows or even pews, but it did not matter to this man. I learned that religion and faith aren’t some extreme vow and commitment. They can be whatever you want them to be, and how they apply to you and the life in which you live. Discussions with peers in this community, as well as conversations with adults in third world countries have only strengthened this new-found belief. This program and this church give each of its members a base and the resources they need to take their faith in whichever way, but they don’t tell you how to do it, and that is what is so special about Kenilworth Union Church. Kenilworth Union has given me many gifts: the gift of friendship, the gift of ___________, but most importantly, the gift of exploration: the space and time to explore my faith, the people to help me define it, and a place in which I can live it.

Click here to listen to the podcast of this sermon.

My name is Will Embree. My parents had just moved from the city with five young kids and one on the way when I was four. Our involvement with Kenilworth Union Church became routine soon after; I was baptized at Kenilworth Union before we moved, received my gold encrusted bible in the third grade, I was in the choir up until fourth grade, and I was confirmed at the end of my freshman year. But it wasn’t until then when I truly found my place in the church and discovered my true faith in God. During my freshman year, I unwillingly joined Kenilworth Union’s service group IMPACT. My older sister’s enthusiasm about her involvement led my mom to make me join as well with the hope that I would have as much fun as my sister. Despite my opposition, I realized that IMPACT was more than just an exciting week with my friends. I quickly came to appreciate IMPACT as something that is essential to understanding me. On my first trip with IMPACT, I traveled to Jamaica with over 100 teens and adult leaders. My group of fourteen worked in a community for the retired and disabled, and renovated three concrete homes. When my team and I painted the interior of one of the homes we wrote our names on a wall, knowing it would soon be covered. Before we could lay on the final coat of paint, the owner insisted we didn’t change a thing. She said that she never wanted to forget the names of the people she loved or how we changed her life. It was in that moment when I felt a new sense of purpose. Upon returning from Jamaica, I knew I wanted to become more involved with IMPACT. Since then I have ventured to Belize, Houston, Cuba, and this summer, Colombia. I served as the Junior Board Activities Director and Coordinator, until I was recently elected Co-Chair. I now oversee almost all IMPACT operations. Being a part of a team who loves to serve God and his children is something that defines me. Since I have spent so much time with IMPACT, I have heard all the words of unsolicited advice from Silvi Pirn, however, one really stuck out to me. On our way to a boxing club for underprivileged children in the South Side of Chicago called Crushers Club, I was allocated the DJ responsibilities. After every song I played, Silvi gave me her full analysis of the lyrics and how they related back to God, I asked her how she was able to take a Frank Ocean song and turn it into a sermon, she said “If you try hard enough, and allow Christ to lead you, you’ll find that everything connects back to God.” Since then, I have had a different lens on life. I can now see how everything was constructed so meticulously in order to follow through with God’s plan. I am so thankful that I have found my place in the church and have been given this opportunity to share God’s friendship with the world.

Click here to listen to the podcast of this sermon.

My name is Margot Paschen. My journey at Kenilworth Union Church started much later than most of the seniors. I first came here for IMPACT when I was a sophomore. I decided to do it because my friends came home from Jamaica with only amazing things to say, and I wanted to experience the life changing trip, and extreme joy they got out of it. I am not a member of Kenilworth Union, so I expected to go to the meetings and kind of fly under the radar because nobody from the church knew me. I did not think that anyone would care that much to get to know me because I was not a member. My assumption was that I would just go on the trip and I was okay with this. But now I am glad to say that I was absolutely wrong. From the moment I walked into this church for the first time I was welcomed. It did not matter that I was a member of a different congregation, or that I had never been on IMPACT, I was welcomed into the family from day one. After just one meeting, I was in awe of the sense of community and family that this church has. I have gone to a church my whole life and had never seen anything like it. I thought it was so cool that anyone could go talk to anyone, and the conversation would be as easy as two close friends talking. Everyone considered everyone as family. Much to my excitement, I very quickly felt like a member of this family. As I spent more time at the Church, I learned more about the Sunday school program, youth groups, confirmation and everything else that is done here to make kids actually want to take part. It fascinated me that there were little kids running around with huge smiles on their faces, truly excited to be at church, because it is something I had never seen before. I grew up complaining weekly about going to Sunday school, only to arrive and sit down in the classroom and have the girl sitting next to me say, “so your mom didn’t let you skip this week either?”. We got through every Sunday until eighth grade when we finally got confirmed and could stop going. This always made me feel so guilty. I wished that I could have a stronger relationship with God but truly did not know how. I began to get discouraged, but I did not do anything about it. I would tell myself that one day I would do something to get more connected with God and my religion, then would brush the thought under the rug. Unknowingly, signing up for IMPACT was that something I needed to do. Within months of attending Kenilworth Union for an hour every couple of weeks, I felt a stronger connection to God than I ever had. For the first time, I was having conversations about God, sharing my opinions and beliefs, opposed to being told what they were. Bible verses were presented in a relatable way that made me start to actually listen and try to understand what they meant. Everything that I had been hearing in black in white for 16 years finally came alive to me. My three years of coming to Kenilworth Union have truly changed my life and my beliefs. Without even being a member, Kenilworth Union has offered me the strength and guidance to grow as a person and a Christian. I now have a family here and this is a place I know I am always welcome.

Click here to listen to the podcast of this sermon.

My name is Clare Kenney. As a young girl, I wasn’t the biggest fan of waking up, stretching on my opaque tights, and wearing a frilly dress every Sunday morning. It often felt like going to church was simply a task of my day and the Sunday School classes felt endless to my little self. As I got older, I found my ears perking up at sermons and could relate to the stories that were recited at church. It wasn’t until my family joined Kenilworth Union Church just six years ago, however, that I felt like church was somewhere I belonged. I will never forget the day that I knew I belonged here: my family of six walked in five minutes late (as usual), slowly open the door to the building and attempted to silently find seats (we ended up in the standing room). Reverend Evertsberg began to relate his sermon and the story of Jesus to the 2016 Summer Olympics. He talked about the idea of human imperfectness and the fact that our journey of life is composed of bumps in the road, and sometimes, failure, which many of the athletes faced. As a fifteen-year-old who just had a horrible freshman year, I felt a unique connection to Reverend Evertsberg’s words and found comfort in his story. I reflected on the feelings of unworthiness and imperfection that I had dealt with. It can be easy to feel lost and lonely in such a busy community. People can seem to have it all together, and when things aren’t tied up in a pretty bow, it is easy to start pinpointing things about yourself that may not be perfect. That same summer, I packed my bags, along with only one of my close friends, Paige, and we went to Kingston, Jamaica. It was my first time on an IMPACT mission trip, and I had only heard amazing things from my older brother, Ryan. I was fortunate enough to be in a group with Silvi Pirn as my leader, but nobody else I really knew. Once again, I felt hesitant about admitting my struggles and failures under God to a group. That changed quickly. I was amazed by the open-arms I was greeted with and how special our conversations and devotionals were. Aside from the connections that grew between myself and my Kenilworth Union community, the connection between us and the children living in Kingston was even more remarkable. I learned on this trip how unbelievably grateful I am to have the people, time, and resources to help others in communities such as Kingston. The children smiled brighter and my heart was full. The same feelings occurred after 12 months when we traveled to Belize and then to Cuba. The sense of trust and community was something I had not experienced on any of my sports teams or school classes. In the words of Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” I have been so lucky to be with all of you for my four years of high school and look forward to keeping this family. Thank you, Kenilworth Union, for providing me with my connections that will last a lifetime. I know that we will keep the lessons we have learned in our hearts and minds forever.