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.