By: Guest Speaker | May 15th, 2016

Alec Chang

When I first read the email from Katie asking seniors to share their stories, I was hesitant to volunteer. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if my story was interesting enough, unique enough, or even entertaining enough to share with our congregation.

Then I read the “getting started” part of the email, where Katie prompts us to think about OUR personal Kenilworth Union Church story, questions like: Were you baptized at Kenilworth Union? Did you attend Kenilworth Union Sunday School? Did your parents teach Kenilworth Union Sunday School? I realized how absolutely “COMMON” my experience at Church has been. And that’s what I’d like to speak about. We heard earlier that “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket.” You put it on the lamp stand, and it gives light to ALL in the house. As someone who grew up here at Church, the second I hear this passage I think of one thing…“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

There’s something amazing about a simple tune resonating with an entire congregation. I think we can all agree that it brings back a strange happy nostalgia when we were all care free and young. Yes, I know I’m only 18 and talking about the good old days. But I think that this goes to show how badly we want to return to a childlike mindset, where we don’t have to worry about anything, but letting our light shine.

Some of the greatest memories I have of Church, are from the choir retreat when all the Rejoice boys, teenagers, and the beloved Tamaron Conseur would get a game of football or volleyball going. It was incredible because there were little second graders, playing football with cool, cocky, 7th graders trying to show off… like Nick Chang, and then high schoolers like myself. Nobody cared that some people weren’t exactly athletic, and trust me, it was a choir retreat…Many of the kids were not THAT athletic. But that’s what made it special. No one was worried that they were going to get made fun off or teased. If they tripped and made a fool of themselves, everyone laughed and moved on. The only other time that I’ve experienced anything like this, is at my own family gatherings.

When I think of family get togethers, I think of playing beach volleyball in South Carolina, I think of a Thanksgiving Day football game with my cousins. I think of basketball on a snowy driveway in Maryland, just struggling to dribble with my frostbitten hands. There’s a sense that no one cares how good you are and everyone unconditionally loves you. You don’t have to worry when your older cousin laughs at you when you air ball a layup, because you know that they still love you. During choir rehearsal, if a section is singing by themselves, everyone is there to support them. You don’t hear chuckles or sneering when they miss a note or have an embarrassing voice crack. No one thinks less of a soloist if they mess up.

Teenagers these days feel like they HAVE TO put up barriers and shields to protect themselves from judgement. Everyone is worried about what other people think and if they are fitting in. I have many different groups of friends. Band and Orchestra friends, Volleyball friends, Fencing friends, school friends, and church friends. The difference is that many of my other friend groups are competitive and everyone is trying to get ahead of each other. Any athlete knows that when you’re on the court or field everyone is trash talking and trying to get in the opponent’s head. We build up these barriers and shields to protect ourselves from our opponents. The problem is that these shields are like the bushel basket. They prevent us from letting our light shine.

At Kenilworth Union, everyone wants our lights to shine. When we are at church we don’t have to fill a persona we build for ourselves. So yes… I was baptized, went to Sunday school, sang in Rejoice Choir, and played in the talent show here. I have mentored younger kids and been shaped by older kids. Kenilworth Union has helped me get to a place where I don’t have to worry about my image.

Bishop Desmond Tutu famously said, “You don’t CHOOSE your family. They are God’s gift to YOU… as you are to THEM.” Family is TRULY a gift. No one has to hide their light. It’s a gift to NOT have to worry about shields, barriers, or judgment. And it’s a gift to always have a place where everyone is welcomed and loved.

Alex Fowkes

My journey at Kenilworth Union Church has been a long one, and there are so many parts to that journey that I recall so vividly, some too vividly. I remember my dad running into my room at what seemed like the break of dawn, even though it was probably 10:15, throwing open the shades, and exclaiming loudly that he had warned me three times to get up, and now it was my fault we were late for church, although these “warnings” seemed to have escaped my memory. I probably remember this event so vividly because it happened about 20 minutes ago.

Although I can get out of bed and make it to church on time by myself today, or I’d like to think I could, and my attitude about events at the church has changed, my involvement and presence here has not. My baptism in this very room, which marks new life and a birth into the Christian community, also signified my arrival into the community that is Kenilworth Union.

After my baptism, A Joyful Noise Preschool marked the next step on my journey. Those days were filled with juice boxes, crayons, and coloring books, which is fairly ironic because my last few weeks of high school have consisted of pretty much the same items. But at that point I still did not realize the impact the church would have on me, it was just a place my mom would drop me in the morning.

The next step was Sunday School, which remained a big part of my life up through confirmation. And although at the time I really did not like attending, it made me realize that the people I saw on Sunday mornings, despite not going to my grade school, would be friends and acquaintances of mine throughout my youth, and many of them are sitting before me today, or even sharing the podium with me.

What really got me hooked on church were the weekly youth groups. Every Wednesday from fifth to eighth grade I would ride my bike from my house and come to the Manse. Even as school got harder and free time became scarcer, I would make time to spend my Wednesday nights with the leaders as well as my friends. Even though kids come and go from that program, the memories I have of it, like toilet paper dodge ball, the overnight lock-ins with 4 a.m. pizza, or scavenger hunts throughout all of Kenilworth stay. If you go in the Warwick Manse today, you’ll see countless pictures and memories from over the years on the walls. If you look closely you’ll see some of me, one of which is a photo of me with a crop top shirt on, eyeliner, lipstick, stuffing my mouth with cake. Although it serves as constant embarrassment and leverage for my friends and looks extremely strange to anyone outside of the youth group, it’s that weirdness that reminds me how special this place truly is.

I loved participating so much in the youth groups I stayed on as a high school leader while at New Trier. In many ways that was just an excuse to show up because I actually do more participating than leading, but it made me realize how fun church could be, it wasn’t just waking up on Sundays, putting on a tie, and singing religious songs. It was running through the hallways of the church chasing my friends or eating ice cream sundaes out of a rain gutter in the backyard of the manse, which is next week if anyone is interested in coming.

This involvement has taken me around the world, from Panama, to the Bahamas, to Guatemala, and to Jamaica next month. The work is hard, and getting 110 people through security at O’Hare is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but the friendships I have made and experiences I have had in cultures so unlike that of the North Shore are what keep me coming back year after year. Those trips with IMPACT have truly opened my eyes to the blessing that this church is, and how ungrateful I really was back in third grade when I had to memorize every book of the bible (and I didn’t hear a request so I won’t bore you with the song I still have memorized).

The verse given today mentions how God is the light of the world, and I see that everyday because this church is truly a light in my own world. If you told me in middle school that I would be standing here today speaking about how much this church has meant to me, I would’ve laughed and wondered why I would keep coming back here if I had the choice to stay home. But, no matter where my house is the next few years, whether that be upstate New York, Wilmette again if things don’t go so well after college (sorry mom and dad), or wherever I find myself living down the road, KUC will always be home, and I am so grateful to have a community like the one I see before me to provide me with that home. Thank you.

Cooper Ochsenhirt

Friendship Is The Most Valuable Asset

When I began thinking about how I could possibly condense sixteen years of church learning into a five-minute speech, I was reminded of a line from Romans 12, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection..” In that moment, I realized that the words of Apostle Paul encapsulated my experiences with Kenilworth Union Church extremely well the church helped me to love others and myself by having my back for all these years. Additionally, my many wonderful experiences with the church taught me to hold fast to the meaningful moments in life, for they are truly priceless.

Rewind to 2000, when my family and I moved to Chicago from Dallas. My introduction to Kenilworth Union was spent in the crib toddler room (or so I’m told). We were given free reign to play with a myriad of toys, and free crackers from the Cracker man himself Mr. Kiphart, a church leader known by the aforementioned title because he would sit on the ground and hand out the salty snack to kids. However, there was not total anarchy. The teachers made us learn to play with other children, which full disclosure I was not so hot at in the beginning. I still think I may remember a few stern-talking-to’s. That being said, it was those many trials and occasional errors that set me on the right path, beginning my journey towards the person I am today.

Fast forward to 2006. It was the beginning of my third grade year and the time in which I began to study the Bible with a little more fervor; I really wanted the Good Book from Dr. Bowen and had my game face on. I quickly realized that I did not really understand the words, the Bible having been written so long ago. As a result, I found it a little tough to internalize the messages. However, as I soon found out, that was not going to be an issue. I was fortunate to have amazing teachers by the way, shout out to Mr. DeWitt and to be afforded the religious experiences I was, from Club Night to The Habitat to singing in the Chapel. It was through dedicated teaching in the classroom and my experiences in those activities that gave me the ability to see beyond the text of the Bible and to pinpoint the important messages of Christianity.

I was well on my way. On to 2008. I was in fifth grade and going to my first Middle School Youth Group (MSYG) meeting. It was right around this year that I was dealing with some problems at school. It was tough to socialize with people away from friends and family that I didn’t trust, for fear that I’d get wounded again.

Consequently, I came into the Manse a little wary and unsure I’d last beyond one meeting. However, I was very quickly proven wrong I was welcomed with open arms by leaders, Silvi Pirn and Sarah Garcia. They introduced me to the other adult leaders and some of the kids present. My discomfort quickly disappeared, and I knew I was in for the long haul. With every meeting, I felt my relationships with my peers and God growing stronger. As a result, I ended up going every Wednesday from then on out until the end of sixth grade, then to every Junior High Youth Group (JYG) meeting until I graduated from middle school. Thanks, Silvi.

Big fast forward here all the way to the beginning of 2013. I was halfway through my freshman year of high school at North Shore Country Day. This time, the script was a little different I was a new student at a small school, forced to navigate a brand new socialenvironment, all while balancing football and my studies. Nevertheless, IMPACT always found a way to cheer me up. I could have been having the worst week, but knowing that a Sunday meeting was coming up fueled me to stay strong through it. Whether we played fun games, or watched a group movie, I was always excited for the fellowship and connection to God that those Sundays provided. When the service trips rolled around each June, things became even better. I was able to work alongside my new friends, help others, and live out God’s mission. Those trips always gave me a feeling of fulfillment.

Looking back on the sixteen years I’ve spent at this church, I know I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Throughout the ups and downs of my life, there was always someone from the church community who would step up alongside me and help me move forward, making sure I always felt supported. This encouragement, help, and approval has consistently been part of the Church environment and lets me know I’ll never be alone, even as I leave the North Shore area to attend college in Pennsylvania. Kenilworth Union Church has become a part of me, and will remain with me forevermore.

Emily Irwin

First I’d like to introduce myself, my name is Emily Irwin and I’m graduating from New Trier this year, well actually next weekend. I’ve been a member of Kenilworth Union Church since January 1998 when I was baptized here. From then on I continued my way to Crib all the way to Confirmation class my Freshman year. I didn’t start realizing that church is more than over sugar lemonade that Alex would make and cookies until I joined youth group. Although, I did love singing with Chris Johnson in the chapel. Middle school is not an easy time for anyone and youth group provided me a sense of belonging. Once there, I was mesmerized by the high school kids that hung out with us every Wednesday and I promised myself that I would become just like them, so I did.

When I started high school I joined the youth choir and also became a high school helper in the crib room where I once had crawled around as a baby. I shared many laughs in and out of the church building with my Kenilworth Union friends whether it be on a ski trip, at youth group, acquire a tree or a mission trip, I will always remember my times with Kenilworth Union. When I was asked what Kenilworth Union Church has taught me, my list could go on forever so I decided to narrow it down to three key lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

The first lesson is be yourself. Growing up on the North Shore is not an easy task. All you want is to be accepted. Unlike the majority, Kenilworth Union has accepted everyone. Big, small, short or tall, Kenilworth Union is for you. Church taught me to embrace myself and be who I wanted to be, not what everyone else wanted me to be. The games we played in youth group can sometimes seem silly, but looking back I realize what the real goal was. Shooting Kix cereal out of your nose seems pointless right? Silvi and Katie knew what they were doing. They were pushing me out of my comfort zone so that I can apply this to later things in life, like applying to college. The college process is very competitive and sometimes it feels hard to apply to the schools you really want to rather than the schools that the majority of people around here apply to. I decided to go for it just like I had with the cereal and be myself. You don’t have to change who you are or how you act to be a part of Kenilworth Union and that’s one of the things I love about it.

Another lesson I learned is have fun. Unlike many other churches Kenilworth Union is not a “sit down” and “be quiet” type of place. My favorite memory of worshiping with Kenilworth Union was on the mission trip to the Bahamas. I don’t know how but somehow Silvi got 60 high schoolers standing up and singing and clapping along to a song about Jesus and we are having fun. I don’t know how she does it. I learned that even when you’re learning I think you can have fun like me play Catacombs. A game that seems just chaos and running around the empty church at night seems just to be fun game but actually we are learning about the Romans and the Christian’s conflict. Throughout the rest of my life I know I’ll be able to apply this even in tough situations. I learned not everything needs to be taken so seriously and who am I kidding? Having fun make every situation better.

The final lesson that I learned from Kenilworth Union is that I’m going to share with you is that you are my world. My junior year of high school I was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder. My disorder made me feel alone and isolated and afraid even when I stopped coming to youth group because of episodes of depression youth group didn’t stop coming to me. Every Wednesday I would get a text from Katie or Silvi saying how they hoped that I could make it but understood if I couldn’t. Every time I did manage to make it to youth group Carolyn would always check in with me and that meant the world to me. This made me feel so special and important. No amount of self-hatred could take away from the love Kenilworth Union continues to give me throughout my struggle with my illness. As Matthew 5 says that “you are the light of the world” I didn’t start believing this until the support of Kenilworth Union showed me I was. Throughout hospitalizations and treatment center, I always felt like Kenilworth Union was with me the whole way. I received cards in the mail from Lisa. Katie and Silvi came to visit me twice in the hospital and Silvi even drove 2 1/2 hours to see me and my treatment center. If that’s not amazing support, I don’t know what is. Even in the darkest of times the Church never left my side. I always feel like to have someone to talk to and that someone is always here for me. I plan to cherish these memories I have from Kenilworth Union and take the three lessons with hundreds of more smart-alecky in the fall.

I can genuinely say I wouldn’t have minutes of this moment without the amazing people in this Church and I want to sincerely thank Lisa Bond, Silvi Pirn, Katie Lancaster, Anne Faurot, Chris Johnson, Bev Kirk, and Carolyn Raitt for mentoring me through these wonderful times at Kenilworth Union and I can’t wait to come back and visit you. Thank you.

Mia Solberg

Hi, my name is Mia Solberg. I am here today, as a graduating senior, to talk to you all about how Kenilworth Union has played an unforgettable role in my faith journey. I have grown up here, from my Baptism to Joyful Noise Preschool to Confirmation to mission trips and now, Kenilworth Union has been a leading factor in making me who I am today. My license defines me as Mia Victoria Solberg, Female, 5’03, blue eyes, and born on December 19, 1997. But if you really get to know me you’ll learn that my eyes are really more grey than blue, sometimes even green. I enjoy watching movies, especially the classics, I am obsessed with my Newfoundland dogs Lyla and Riggins, I like camping, hiking, skiing, and hanging out with family and friends. I’m an older sister, a younger sister, a daughter, a cousin, a granddaughter, and a friend. You will also learn that one of the most important things in my life that I don’t always have the opportunity to talk about is my faith. My relationship with God is one that will always be a part of my life. I have always been more of a tomboy, and when I was younger, I was a huge tomboy, and so when church came around, that meant dresses and tights, too. I kicked and screamed begging not to go. My frustration had nothing to do with Sunday school, or God, the act of going to Sunday school was only guilty by association, because I had to wear those darn white tights. They were not my style, I wanted to be in shorts and my favorite blue junk food T-shirt with Scooby-Doo. I was continuously forced to attend wearing those itchy garments. I was in the choir from second to fifth grade. My voice was atrocious so my parents slyly encouraged me to start playing sports and soon enough I was only singing in the shower. Finally, I was confirmed and by my freshman year I couldn’t wait to sign up for my first mission trip. I remember writing an essay before being confirmed. I talked about God as a light, that shines through people’s smiles, laughter, tears, and hugs. That was at a very early stage in my faith journey. It was easier for me to think of God and his love like that during a time in my life that I hadn’t experienced very many perspectives in the world. After being confirmed, my faith wavered because it was now up to me to force myself to attend church. I rarely followed through and my relationship with God suffered due to my lack of effort.

On my first mission trip, I remember sitting in a circle with my group, it was our night time devotional and I had been having serious doubts about God. I thought people only believed in God because they needed something, and He was just something to keep them sane through the suffering. But something hit me that night in Panama. I felt a sense of trust and comfort from God. Through mixing cement, painting, dancing, singing, and playing with the kids, I gained a new perspective of the world, one with God in it. I saw people in pain and with so little, praise God, and trust Him to help support them. I have also been lucky enough to be a part of IMPACT trips to the Bahamas and Guatemala, and have been looking forward to this summer’s trip to Jamaica ever since we landed from Guatemala last summer.

I believe that someone’s relationship with God is personal and unique. Your relationship doesn’t have to be like your moms or you dads, it doesn’t have to be like your friends, it is yours and His. It’s only what you make it. God isn’t going to force you to recognize him, it’s a two-way street. I cherish my relationship with God, He is a Father and a friend. I believe He has so much love for us, we are his children, and no matter what happens, he will still love us. Faith is taking that leap and believing without proof. Trust in your faith. And know that it is okay to have doubts. Although it’s hard to understand how He can love us all so much, my mom always says “Mia, you’ll never know how much I love you until you have your own kids” and that is the kind of love God has for us. We are all his children, and through thick and thin he will love us. But what is love? Something I will always remember is when my dad said “lf I could write love as an equation, it would be love=caring” and in that moment it really hit me. I always saw God’s love as light, but it is so much more than that. Love is caring, and proving you care through actions more than words.

One of the most important things in our lives is forgiveness. To forgive takes strength. When you ask God for forgiveness, know that it is granted, and even if others do not ask you for your forgiveness, forgive them. We aren’t accepting what happened and saying it was okay, we’re just acknowledging the fact that it happened. Forgiving is the willingness to see the person in the light of love and not in the action of what occurred.

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” —Luke 6:37

As my faith has grown stronger, I have been lucky enough to actually want to attend church. I love the music and will never forget the “Letters from Prison” sermons I was blessed to listen to. Even if I am sitting alone in the corner, I cherish this beautiful place. But my relationship with God is not perfect, I didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly have faith. It has been a journey, one that wouldn’t have grown this much without Kenilworth Union Church. So thank you for being a part of this incredible community here at Kenilworth Union Church, it wouldn’t be such a warm place in so many people’s hearts if it wasn’t for everyone here.