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.