Olivia DeWitt https://youtu.be/5gWJkDfeDrA

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

This passage from first Corinthians has me thinking about the love I have experienced as a member of the Kenilworth Union Church community, a love that is patient, kind, trusting, hoping, unselfish, non-arrogant, and enduring.

As a baby, I was baptized here by Dr. Bowen, in the arms of my parents, Jay and Laura, whom many of you know from Sunday school or mission trips. But my Kenilworth Union story goes back farther than when I was baptized, to the 60’s and 70’s, when as a child, my mom attended this church with her family. Fast forward to now and my sister Caleigh, a freshman in college, and I have been unbelievably blessed to have been a part of the wonderful family of Kenilworth Union.

A few short years after my baptism, I began Sunday school here, with my parents as the Sunday school teachers. Every Sunday we would go to Mrs. Kippart’s chapel, loudly sing songs, and dancing. But my favorite day of the year was when we got that one tiny piece of bread during chapel and somehow, strangely, made that one piece last the whole service until we were finally actually allowed to eat it.

The next stop on my Sunday school journey took me to Mr. Johnson’s chapel where we were learning Bible stories and how they connect to our own lives. This fun time was rich with memories like dressing up as angels in the Christmas pageant, learning the books of the Bible song, don’t ask me because I’m liable to recite all 66 books of the Bible, and of course more bread once a year.

At this point, I had also been in the Church choir for a few years, lead by two wonderful women who demonstrated on a daily basis the amazing love I felt at Kenilworth Union. In fact, some of my most meaningful memories from being at the church are tied closely choir. One of the best memories I have from choir happened during the farewell service for Dr. Bowen when the choir sang the song, The Blessing. Almost immediately, Lisa Bond started crying as she was conducting us and soon after, many of the choir members were in tears as well, including myself. In that vivid moment, it was so clear how strong and deep the Kenilworth Union Church family is, connecting people of all ages through a bond that span generations.

As I move on to the next chapter in my life, I look forward to coming back at Christmas time and getting to sing Night of Silence with the choir as a returning guest, and to see all the smiling faces experiencing the same love and support I did during my time in the choir.

Confirmation class was one of the more recent experiences I enjoyed at Church, a year-long class taught by some amazing and empowered women, including my mom Laura. In this class, I was forced to come to terms with my religion within myself and create a faith statement based thereon, and where I officially became a part of the Kenilworth Union Church Congregation. As expected, my busy high school schedule made it harder to spend time at church, and particularly on Sundays, as life often got in the way. But no matter how much time had passed, I was always welcomed back with open hearts and open arms.

The last and most recent memory I will share is my IMPACT trip to Guatemala, where my eyes were opened to a completely different culture and living situation than the one I knew at home. On this trip, I made new friends and forged strong bonds with other members of the Church community I had not previously met. The feeling of love and commitment was present in simple things like hand mixing cement or sharing new types of food with our local hosts. Thinking back, I know that all my Kenilworth Union experiences really gave me the faith and perspective to embrace this challenge with an open heart supported by my Church family.

Kenilworth Union Church is an unbelievably special place. This church buzzes with a love for everyone that has been blessed enough to come into contact with this church community in some way. Since my earliest memories, I have felt that trusting, enduring, patient, kind love here at Church. As I go off and begin the next chapter of my life, I know that I will always be able to return here and be welcomed back with open hearts and shown the beautiful love that fills this Church each and every day. Thank you to everyone who has made Kenilworth Union Church a place that I can call home.

Meredith Embree https://youtu.be/JUXrWLBLxK4

Over the past few months, I’ve had to face the unfortunate reality that you can’t be a kid forever. But while I’ve journeyed through this transition into the next chapter of my life, unknowing of what adventures await for me in Dallas, one thing I do know is that Kenilworth Union is a place I can always call home.

So, I’d like to start off by giving a personal thanks to Silvi Pirn, Anne Faurot, Lisa Bond, Katie Lancaster and you, the congregation and other members of our church community, for making Kenilworth Union Church the special place it is.

Additionally, I’d like to thank the chancel choir. Every time I hear you guys sing, I feel connected to my grandpa, Bill Embree, and I feel his presence along with God’s every time you sing, so thank you for bringing such beautiful music to our services.

I’ve had to learn the hard way that not all friendships last, and that life doesn’t always go your way. But through these hard times, my relationship with God has only grown stronger. He will always be there to carry you through your hardships, and I can confidently say I see and feel God through everyone I encounter at church.

Church is a place where I constantly feel surrounded by love, and it has inspired me to touch the lives of others, in the same way it has for my own life. In the summer of 2015, I went on my first IMPACT mission trip to Guatemala. There I was given the unforgettable opportunity to immerse myself in the humbling community of Sumpango. And although I was very different from the people I met, what we had in common was most important, and that was our faith.

The spirits in the people I met were so loving and lively. Joy radiated through the room as we prayed and sung to God, and the memory has since only inspired me to strengthen my relationship with him. Thanks to Kenilworth Union, I developed a passion to help others. Since that summer, I have looked forward to every opportunity I have to come to Church.

Whether it is volunteering, helping out with youth group on Wednesday nights, teaching 4th grade Sunday school, or sitting in on the 9 a.m. service with my grandma Mary Embree, I always enter and leave the church with a smile on my face. A smile that represents genuine happiness, a smile so contagious that one’s guaranteed to catch if they walk through the doors of our church, and I’ve witnessed this smile be shared so many times.

At the choir retreats in Wisconsin as we sat around the campfire making smores, in the faces of the children of our Church as they painted biblical houses for Habitat, or in the men living at St. Leonard’s halfway house in the city, which some of us from IMPACT visited. But most importantly, no matter who’s sharing the smile, God is always smiling back. And as I venture out into the world, I am determined to continue to spread the smile and love Kenilworth Union Church gave to me.

Caroline Martin https://youtu.be/8znsbLe1Hrg

“I don’t want to go”. That’s what I told my mom six years ago when she requested I attend youth group at Kenilworth Union Church. I was an incredibly shy seventh grader who had just started a new school in a new state. The idea of being surrounded by people I didn’t know in a place I had never been was utterly terrifying.

Here’s the moment my mother has been patiently waiting for the past eighteen years… Mom, you were right. You pushed me to do what I was scared of and it couldn’t have worked out better.

The first time I entered the manse, I was greeted with kind faces, big smiles, and an overwhelming number of people saying “Welcome to JYG!”. We sat on couches and went around saying our highs and lows of the week. And everyone listened. I mean they really listened. No matter how small or big your problems are, they’ll help you. No matter how small or big your achievements are, they will be proud of you. We care about each other, whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned veteran. You are welcome here. That unconditional support and love is what makes youth group such an incredible community to be a part of. God doesn’t judge us by our cleavages but by our common love for Him and for others. Kenilworth Union welcomes our differences and embraces them with warm, open arms.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, youth groupies range from fifth to twelfth grade, a critical period in our lives. Adolescence is the time to start deciding what kind of person you want to be. Every decision you make will shape the person you become. And, there are a lot of decisions to be made: who to be friends with, what to wear, what music to listen to, what sport to play, whether or not to try in school, how to treat others, where to go to college and most importantly, which filter to use on Instagram. Youth group has guided my decisions and supported them unconditionally. I’ve learned how to be kind, to be patient, and to have faith. I’ve learned to be a leader and a friend.

Youth Group and CORE have been a part of me for the past six years and while I’m sad to leave, I’m excited to take what I’ve learned at Kenilworth Union to the next phase of my life. While everyone is dressed in their Sunday best today, most of my memories of Church are in jeans and t-shirts running up and down this very aisle and climbing over or hiding under these pews. The Culbertson Room is not a reception area to me but the home base of the game Catacombs and where we pray at the end of middle school youth group. The closets are not storage spaces but hiding places. The stairs are safe zones. The hallways are racetracks. The elevators are for surprising unsuspecting middle schoolers. This church is more than a church. It’s a community.

Thank you to those who have made this community especially welcoming. Thank you to Christopher Johnson who is truly a fun-loving middle schooler at heart and an incredible person. Thank you to Bev Kirk, who is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet and who never fails to bring orange snacks. Thank you to Carolyn Raitt whose strength has helped me through every struggle. And thank you to her dog Gracie, one of the cutest dogs to ever exist. Thank you to Katie Lancaster and her wonderful growing family whose faith and kindness inspire me every day. Thank you to Silvi Pirn, who goes above and beyond for the people she cares about. All of you have been phenomenal mentors and even better friends.

Lastly, thank you to my fellow youth groupies. None of my experience would have been possible without you. It’s an honor to be in your lives and to have you in mine. You have made this community a home.

Hebrews 10:24–25 says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” I believe that the simple act of meeting, as we are all doing now, cannot be overstated. This is how we share our love and inspire others. This is how we do good, not just for the world but also for ourselves. My Wednesday evenings have been dedicated to our meeting and in doing so, this community has given me a remarkable and unforgettable gift. Thank you.

Meghan Minturn https://youtu.be/fUy7WCRsu4A

Romans 8:38–39

I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things nor future things, not powers or height nor depth, or any other thing that is created.

Hi my name is Meghan Minturn and I have been a member of Kenilworth Union Church since I was born—I was baptized right here 17 years ago by Dr. Bowen. Church is a community that makes it nearly impossible to feel alone or isolated. There is always a group to join, people to talk to, and someone to trust in all the groups that I’ve been a part of. I will start at the very beginning of my journey at Kenilworth Union. Two people that created a welcoming environment at Church right of the bat were the Kipharts. As a toddler, parents do this scary thing where they leave their small children alone with strangers in the crib room while they go to church. As your average temperamental child, this did not sit well with me. But Mr. Kiphart would always be there to offer me crackers and a smile. Mr. Kiphart (whom I then referred to as the Cracker man) recently passed away, but I will always remember the many times he stopped my tears and made the crib room a more welcoming space. Next came Sunday school where I moved on to bigger and better things like singing songs and coloring bible scriptures. I sang countless round of “This is the Day” and “Deep and Wide” with Mrs. Kiphart in the A Joyful Noise Chapel. Although I was young and can’t remember much, I remember the love and kindness that were offered to me by these two people.

I’ll fast forward to IMPACT. Being a part of this youth group has had quite an impact on my life and the way I view my faith. At first I thought the group was called impact because of the impact we have on the people in the different places we travel, whether that be locally or abroad. But now as I’ve traveled to the Bahamas, Guatemala, Jamaica and now my fourth trip to Belize, I realize that an equally important impact is the impact this group has had on me. I admit I got involved in IMPACT because of my two older siblings, Emmy and Jamey. As I do most things because they did, including this speech. To my younger sister Tessa- good luck! However, as a quiet freshman I was still grateful to have them by my side as I embarked on my first trip to the Bahamas. I feel lucky to have had Silvi Pirn as my group leader. If there is one person in this church that can make a shy person comfortable, it is Silvi. In The Bahamas it hit me how amazing Silvi is. She approached our group with endless positivity. At the end of each mission trip, we always write notes to the people in our group. As I was writing this speech I dug out my notes from the Bahamas. Here is what Silvi wrote to me: “Meghan, I pray you embrace and grow your positive spirit and that you continue to shine your light wherever you go. Most of all I pray you know that God is always with you and so are we! Love, Silvi”. There is a sense of community that this church offers that gives anyone reassurance that you have someone with you, and I have been sure to remember that for the past 4 years. As said in the Romans 8:38–39, I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love. No matter what obstacles I have faced throughout high school, never once have I doubted my strong relationship with Kenilworth Union Church, thanks to the lessons you have taught me Silvi.

In Guatemala, we spent our time building a one roomed home for a family of 6. Throughout the years I have realized that it is pretty rare to ever see a project you are working on be completely finished within the one week you are there. There is simply too much to be done and one week is too little time. But I was lucky enough to experience even roofing this house and seeing the final project in Guatemala. After we finished, the local pastor came and brought all of us together to bless the house. We each laid a hand on one of the finished walls of the house. It was completely silent, and I saw the family praying as they touched their new home with so much faith. It was a small room, but I could feel so much gratitude and amazing spirit flowing throughout. My connection with God and with Kenilworth union Church never felt stronger than in that moment.

It is moments like these with Silvi in the Bahamas, with my team and Guatemalan Family in that tiny house, and with the many special people at Church I have met along the way that made me realize how amazing it is to be a part of a community like this one. The feeling of acceptance and belonging that I feel at Kenilworth Union will stay with me as I travel to upstate New York for college this fall. I know I will always have an amazing place and amazing people to come home to here at Kenilworth Union Church. Thank you

Tommy Solberg https://youtu.be/frBH0Zwjh84

Hi, you might know me as Liza’s sister, Gunnar’s sister, Matt’s sister, Mia’s sister, the last Solberg but really my name is Tommy Solberg. Kenilworth Union has been in my family and my life forever.

When I was younger, my mom would drive all five of us to school like superwoman. She would jump in the car with her clip holding up half of her hair while I was on her back, Matt was fighting Mia while Gunnar and Liza civilly sat in the car waiting. I watched from behind waiting to be fought with. When everyone was dropped off the car got quieter till it was just me and my mom. This was exactly like the house and Kenilworth Union. Every other year I would hear my sibling’s speech saying goodbye to our Church family and wait for it to be my year. Finally, its here.

You might know the Solberg family as competitive, but when you’re in it, it’s almost a fight who is the most competitive. I would try to give my dad the most kisses out of all of us and beat everyone to bed, then wake up at the break of dawn to find my dad downstairs doing push ups or spinning. (not surprising I know). I would jump on his back while he counted to 50 and flipped over to pick me up and look at the clock. 1 hour and 30 minutes till choir. My first day of choir was unforgettable. I woke up singing in my too loud of voice a LITTLE off tune every time. An hour went by when my dad tried to get me to calm down and tell me to wake people up so he could get a break from my awful singing voice. I ran upstairs and woke up Mia. “MIA MIA WE HAVE CHOIR LETS GO LETS GO.” As always Mia rolled out of bed… literally, and we rode our bikes to choir. The first day I sat in the second to last seat in the third row of sopranos, and Mia in the last seat next to me. Every once in a while, Mia would nudge me to sing quieter until finally Lisa said, “if you can’t hear the person next to you, you are singing too loud.” I had to simmer down my competitive drive during the one activity that made thirty people into one. Despite my horrific voice, Lisa always reminded me that every voice mattered. Finally, our concerts came along and my number one fan, my grandma Tommy, always glowed while I smiled at her. Up until now I still see her sitting in the pews smiling and listening. Thank you Tommy. This was a community. Community that taught me to listen to others, be caring, and have a blast.

The next year was 3rd grade. My dad’s favorite year to teach me the 10 commandments and learn the Lord’s Prayer. The singing turned into reciting the Lord’s Prayer over and over and over. At the end of it when my dad would quiz me I could say it in almost 10 seconds. Church taught me obedience. A type of obedience that I learned to have fun with and ended up biking early just to sit with Emma Fitzgerald and Meredith Embree.

Rolling out of bed freshman year for the last days of Sunday School didn’t feel right. I needed more of Kenilworth Union. I joined the IMPACT group Freshman year and never went back. People call each mission trip a “family” but seriously I always had two or more actual family members on the trip. These trips taught me to keep in touch with people, without phones, and with just a small hang out place and a hot room, I became thankful for everyone and everything around me. On these trips, I always meet new people from here and from there; Bahamas, Guatemala, Jamaica, and soon to be Belize! Like our family, every person contribution and attitude matters.

When I sat down to write this speech, I had to take a step back to realize that my life at Kenilworth Union has made me feel important with my voice, at the mission trip, and with my family, I matter and so does everyone here.

While everyone has been dropped off at different schools and it has been only my mom and me this past year, I finally am being dropped off and kissing my dad a million times goodbye. My family was Kenilworth Union Church and Kenilworth Union will always be my family. Thank you Kenilworth Union!

Caroline Ross https://youtu.be/-uzItHpsvVg

Good morning everyone. My name is Caroline Ross and preparing this speech has reminded me why I will not be going into public speaking. But here it goes: I’ll be graduating from New Trier in 2 weeks and I’ve been going to Kenilworth Union Church since I was 12. Though the beginning of my life in the church didn’t start here, I have grown to feel deeply rooted in Kenilworth Union. But it’s hard to always feel so connected to the church: as most of you know, high school can be notoriously consuming. It’s filled with sports, classes, friends, dances, and loads of teenage angst. I have personally felt the weight of these components of high school tug at my attention and distract me from what I consider to be truly important in my life, God’s love.

And when I reflect on how I have continued to feel God’s presence throughout my high school career, Church is the common denominator. I have seen and experienced God’s love so many times at Kenilworth Union, but there are three memories in particular that stand out.

The first memory I’d like to share is from last year on the IMPACT mission trip to Jamaica, where we had the opportunity to hear one of the local ministry leaders named David give his testimony. He spoke to us about his life of violence, gangs and drugs. David talked about the shoot outs he had witnessed and the constant partying that dominated his behavior and perspective. But David discovered God and relied on Him to get his life back on track. He began regularly attending church and growing his faith in God. As he told us these stories, I was amazed by all that he had endured, and I knew that only the love of God could help someone through these difficulties.

The second memory is actually from outside Kenilworth Union: two years ago, our field hockey team was driving down to St. Louis for a tournament. Some of the girls were using a speaker to play music and one of the songs that we sang frequently on the Guatemala mission trip came on. At the risk of putting them in the spotlight, two other seniors who were also on both the Guatemala trip and the bus to St. Louis: Meghan Minturn and Erin Joseph recognized the song and we immediately began singing along together. This experience reminded me that our time together on the mission trip connected us in God’s love.

The third one is from the Guatemala IMPACT mission trip, where my team worked in an orphanage/school for HIV positive children. One day during lunch, I was sitting with one of the little boys who lived there. As he was eating a piece of watermelon, he turned to me and offered me a bite.

Despite his incredibly tough circumstances, this young boy was extraordinarily generous: he did not hesitate to share his food with a complete stranger with whom he did not even speak the same language. His altruistic actions reflected the powerful love of God by selflessly putting another person’s needs before one’s own.

As Romans 8:38–39 states, nothing will ever be able to separate us from God’s love. The experiences I’ve had with Kenilworth Union Church have taught me this by opening my eyes to God’s all-encompassing, all-fulfilling love. I cannot describe the joy I feel when I think about how much Church has shaped and strengthened my relationship with God by helping me grow in ways I that I could have never imagined. It is a blessing to be a part of the Church community and I am forever grateful to the people of Kenilworth Union Church.