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Home Explore Congo Connection - Spring 2022

Congo Connection - Spring 2022

Published by stephanie, 2022-02-18 16:20:16

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SPRING 2022 FIRST CONGO CONNECTION Bringing together faith community. FULL TO AA RREETTUURRNN TTOO TTRRAADDIITTIIOONN THE BRIM Our high school youth group alumni reflect on the impact of This season, we reflect on the parables and promises their involvement and the of God’s abundant and importance of giving back. expansive grace. CCEELLEEBBRRAATTIINNGG 1100 YYEEAARRSS OOFF EECCOO--EEVVAANNGGEELLIISSMM:: The Green Team First Congregational Church of Western Springs | 1106 Chestnut Street | 708.246.1900 |

A PASTORAL LETTER Dear friends, In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul encouraged Christians to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I think a lot about unity of the Spirit, and what it might mean for us as we engage in prayer, discernment, and learning about what it means to be a truly inclusive congregation. Years ago, when I took a seminary class about the United Church of Christ, I was charged with creating an “elevator speech” to describe our tradition to a complete stranger. And this is what I said: Christ is at the center of our community, and we gather around him. But there’s no fence constructed around us. There’s no “in” and “out.” There is a risk in being so open. There are some who might say that so-and-so has gone too far afield. There are some who might say we can hardly be united if we are just so wildly diverse in our beliefs. But I believe Christ at the center of our community is enough - indeed, that it is everything. Christ is at the center offering hope, extending his broken body so the world might be made whole again. Christ is at the center preaching love, practically jumping up and down that we might finally learn that it is by loving our neighbors that we best love God. Christ is at the center welcoming and affirming all, not because we look alike or think alike or act alike – because we are beloved, created in the image of God, and forgiven and made new. Christ is at the center, risen and bidding us rise. Diverse in thought, united in Christ - may it be so! Amen. REV. KATHERINE WILLIS PERSHEY Let Us Pray: Gracious and loving God, as we continue our journey with you,

IN THIS ISSUE 04 FULL TO THE BRIM 06 Exploring the parables and promises of 07 God’s abundant and expansive grace and 08 how some members experience God or the 09 presence of the Holy Spirit in the setting of 10 a small group. 11 CELEBRATING SUSTAINABILITY STARS: THE GREEN TEAM Moving into its 10th year, The Green Team celebrates its successes and ongoing efforts to save our planet. A GOLDEN ANNIVERARY The Farinas reflect on their love of God and one another after half a century. MEMBER NEW SPOTLIGHT: THE HUDSON FAMILY Follow the Hudsons on their journey from South Africa to their new home in our church community. ANSWERING A CALL YOU DON'T HEAR Wayne VerGowe heeds a call to feed the hungry and feeds his soul. RETURNING TO TRADITION Our high school youth group alumni reflect on the impact of their involvement and the importance of giving back. HERE, THERE, EVERYWHERE! A look at all of the alternative ways to worship at First Congo. If you'd like to submit an article for First Congo Connection, email [email protected] We pray that you will open our hearts... FIRST CONGO CONNECTION | Page 3

Contributed by A Sanctified Art, by Rev. Meredith Onion Our Lenten theme this year is Full to the Brim — An expansive Lent. Our sermons, devotionals and other ministries will reflect this theme with resources and art developed by A Sanctified Art. The scriptures for the Lenten season are filled with parables and promises of God’s abundant and expansive grace. Jesus as mother hen, a prodigal son welcomed home, a fig tree nurtured with care and hope, precious oil poured out lovingly and freely, stones shouting out with praise — these sacred texts are brimming with a gospel of grace. We’ve done nothing to deserve or earn this grace, and yet, like water, it spills over. Full to the Brim is an invitation to be authentically who you are, to counter scarcity and injustice at every turn, to pour out even more grace wherever it is needed. It disrupts the scarcity mentality that capitalism, oppression, or hierarchy can plant inside of us. When we allow ourselves to be filled to the brim with God’s lavish love, that love spills over. It reaches beyond ourselves; like water, it rushes and flows, touching everything in its path. We recognize that traditional iterations of Lent often emphasize restraint, confession, and piety. The origins of Lent were that we were to leave our old life behind to fast and prepare to be baptized into a new way of living. In essence, this was a practice of stepping away from the rat race, corrupt power, scarcity mentality, and empty rituals in order to live a more expansive and full life of faith. And so, Full to the Brim trusts the promise of our baptisms — God has already claimed us as His own and nothing we can do will ever change or erase that. Full to the Brim doesn’t ignore or deny sin and suffering. It doesn’t absolve accountability for wrongdoing. Instead, it contextualizes our faith. If love is our beginning, how can we live our lives led by love’s promises? It reminds us to live fully — as we pursue justice and hope, or express grief and gratitude. And so, this Lent, let us trust — fully — that we belong to God. Let us increase our capacity to receive and give grace. Let us discover the expansive life God dreams for us. Let Us Pray: new avenues of grace, reconciliation and hope...

LECTIO DIVINA: \"WHAT IS GOD UP TO WITH YOU?\" by Rev. Meredith Onion We often hear from members that the to us and how these ancient words of place they have experienced God or the wisdom affect us and still have value in presence of the Holy Spirit most deeply is our lives today! in a small group. It can be in a particular reading from a faith-based book, or in a I look forward to every Monday because I discussion that creates an \"aha moment.\" know, no matter what is going on in my or in the sharing of joys and concerns life, I will be greeted by the group among members when profound members with a smile. We will share our compassion and caring is shared. For the thoughts on the 'Reading of Scripture,' past few years, we have heard this said and we will begin our week refreshed, about the Lectio Divina groups that have valued and supported!\" met during the liturgical season of Lent. Marv Baldwin has led Lectio groups and Lectio Divina is a sacred reading of said this, \"Lectio Divina has become a scripture — literally translated it means helpful and inspiring part of my spiritual divine reading. It is a simple, yet often journey and others with whom I’ve had the profound, practice of listening to scripture honor to practice over the years. Whenever with an open heart for what God might we enter into a Lectio Divina practice, in have to say to you. People are often essence we’re asking God to provide hesitant to try something that feels new guidance and understanding through our and unfamiliar, and yet those who have reading and listening to scripture. I am joined a Lectio group will often say how consistently amazed by the depth, breadth their faith was enriched in the process. and diversity of Sacred experience each participant has. It becomes clear that Gail Avgeris shared, \"In September 2021, scripture is relevant, connecting and Meredith very kindly invited me to join her multifaceted as we approach Lectio with a zoom Lectio Divina. I immediately seeker’s mind and heart. A good friend of responded with an enthusiastic, 'YES!' mine often asks 'What is God up to with Then I realized I did not know what Lectio you?' Lectio group practice helps us answer Divina meant! I looked it up (I do that that question.\" often) and found it meant 'Reading of Scripture.' It was the beginning of a First Congo will be forming small Lectio beautiful friendship! Probably for the first Divina groups once more during the time in my life I was reading Bible season of Lent! We hope you’ll prayerfully passages and really wanted to try to consider joining. Please feel free to reach decide what they meant! With the help of out to [email protected] with any the other group members, during our questions about lectio or other small meeting, we decide what the words mean group offerings. ...and clear new paths of understanding of your presence. FIRST CONGO CONNECTION | Page 5

WHAT ON EARTH IS OUR GREEN TEAM DOING? by Sue Klein and Joe Skvara THE GREEN TEAM’S MISSION PROMOTES ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE BEHAVIORS AND PROVIDES GUIDANCE TO OUR CONGREGATION AND COMMUNITY ON WISE PRACTICES TO PROTECT GOD’S CREATION. The Green Team was formed in 2012 — 10 “I think the Green Team’s role is to help us years strong! — with assistance from Faith in understand our call as disciples of Christ Place, a nonprofit dedicated to and caretakers of this glorious planet, for all empowering people of all faiths to be of us to enjoy for generations to come.” leaders in caring for the earth and its vast, but fragile resources. We are one of 180 — Mike Tilden, Green Team member Illinois faith-based teams to connect our faith community’s spiritual practices and traditions with solutions for climate change and other environmental justice issues. Sustained by our spiritual grounding, we strive to “do the right thing” in our desire to be advocates and stewards for our earth and its resources. Many people may know us through our holiday lights and Styrofoam collections partnership with the Village of Western Springs. This season, we collected over 50 large bags of holiday lights to recycle copper and brass plugs., and every month 400 cars drop off Styrofoam that would otherwise go into the landfill. (Please don’t throw Styrofoam in your garbage; and, it’s not allowed in your recycling bin!) Now, our biggest ideas are focused on education. Although our planned events were delayed by COVID, we are hopefully back on track to teach everyone about recycling Do’s & Don’ts, and holding workshops about home solar energy, electric/hybrid vehicles, how to create a backyard nature oasis, a summer organic produce CSA subscription…and, a Spring Green Expo! Go to team/ or watch for weekly Happenings announcements for more info. Let Us Pray: We are grateful God...

Nanette & Len FARINA by Nanette Farina It was Paul Stiffler who brought us to First Congo. When he joined the staff, we came when he preached and did Meditation groups and Taize’ services. When I became unhappy with the staff at my Villa Park church, we began coming to all the services here. It was the warmth and love of this community of faith that kept our hearts here. Paul walked with us through many experiences. One of his favorite things to tell me was,” Don’t “should” yourself.” This refers to the times where Paul would say to do the things that you want to do rather than what you think you should or are 50 Y E A R S OF BLESSINGS responsible for to keep others happy. As far as when we got married, he told us to be good to yourself as well as each other. God’s love is always with you. Call on God when problems arise. Our words of wisdom are that everything worth having in life requires your complete commitment, and marriage is not an exception. Always remember that you are working together to build a lifetime of love. The support of the church has helped provide examples of God’s love as seen in the couples of the church. The church supports and encourages us through times of joy as well as times of difficulties. It provides a spiritual home away from home where we can grow in faith and know that we are always loved. be Your servants to one another, FIRST CONGO CONNECTION | Page 7

NEW MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: THE HUDSONS Chelsea, Matthew and their daughter Paige moved to Western Springs from the city at the end of 2020. As was the case for most, the pandemic made the initial winter months a little isolating, but by the spring and summer of 2020, they were meeting lots of new people and loving their new little town. They were told about First Congo through various new friends they had made as well as neighbors. They started to watch online services and met with pastor Rich whom they found to be very welcoming. He took an interest in their history living in South Africa and was very supportive of their family's struggles with cancer — both Chelsea's mom and younger sister have cancer. Chelsea also attended some play dates with the Congo Tots group, which her friend Joanna recommended. And Engagement Coordinator Jeanette Lloyd was extremely helpful in providing their family with school options at the church for their daughter Paige. What drew Chelsea and her family to First Congo was the diversity, acceptance and extremely welcoming nature of the church. Chelsea and Matthew were both born and raised in South Africa, a very diverse country. In terms of their religious experience in South Africa, they were part of the Methodist church while growing up. The church was actually not that different from First Congo. Chelsea went to Sunday School/kids church, her mom attended a women's bible study, the church had many local missions they supported in South Africa, and they performed nativity plays at the end of the year. They have found it comforting to join a church that has a similar approach and environment to how they were raised. Chelsea is expecting another baby in May and is looking forward to meeting new moms through the church. Their whole family is grateful to have found First Congo. Let Us Pray: To hold the Christ candle of hope for one another...

THE GOOD SHEPHERD SOUP KITCHEN IS CALLING!!! by Zada Clarke and Wayne VerGowe Wayne VerGowe, a long-time member of Congo, was on the golf course one day when he got a Call. No one heard it, but Wayne answered it. Now, you might wonder how you can answer a Call if you don’t hear it (or maybe, see OR feel it). That’s where our story begins. About 18 years ago, Wayne and his golf buddy had talked enough about missed putts and the shanked drive on the last hole. They both had a common interest in food and cooking, and Wayne told his friend he was interested in adding some extracurricular experiences to his post-retirement life. His friend said he had been helping Bart McCartin at a soup kitchen at Union Church in Hinsdale for five years and had found it to be very satisfying. Bart had been a bit unprepared for retirement, so he asked his priest what he should do. His priest answered, “Feed the hungry.” So, Bart took a six-month course at the Cordon Bleu to learn how to cook. The Soup Kitchen came to be. Wayne started volunteering the following Monday. Wayne worked alongside and learned from Bart for about three years. When Bart hung up his apron to move to North Carolina, Wayne stayed on. Fifteen years later, The Good Shepherd Soup Kitchen provides weekly pots of soup and other donated food to San Lucas UCC Church in Humboldt Park, Chicago; BEDS in LaGrange, and LaGrange Congregational Church’s Saturday walk-in meals program. On average, the kitchen makes enough soup to serve about 200 people on a weekly basis. Since Wayne assumed the helm, the kitchen has provided almost 150,000 soup meals to the hungry. (200 x 50 weeks x 15 years). How are they faring during the pandemic? They are very proud to say that they have provided soup and other food items every single week since the start of the pandemic. Since they could not assure social distancing prior to development of the vaccine, Wayne asked all volunteers to shelter except for four; Greg Vichick, Dave Marburger, Warren Sejud, and Dr. Larry LaPalio. These dedicated volunteers have enabled this ministry to continue without pause during a very trying period. It takes 10-15 volunteers to handle weekly jobs, ranging from picking up food supplies, chopping and cooking, and delivering the soup. They gather on Monday mornings to chop and prep. Food pickups in the area are usually Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and soup deliveries on Tuesdays. Wayne is ready to share the leadership responsibilities so that when he decides to decrease his involvement, there will be a smooth transition in leadership. He is hoping to teach and work alongside people who have a love of cooking, as well as working with many personalities, have an eye for details, and see the ultimate blessing of the soup that’s provided to the hungry. Congo members Greg Vichick, Joe Skvara and Cynthia & Bob Kos are volunteers. Here's what they have to say about their experience at the soup kitchen: Greg: On any given Monday, a group of us picks up food donations, chops vegetables, makes 25 gallons of wonderful soup, solves the world’s problems (while the soup is cooling) and then delivers it to people in need. The entire process is a beautiful thing! Joe: It’s amazing how a bowl of soup simply says…we care for you. Cynthia & Bob: The gratitude that’s expressed by the people who receive our soup is more of a blessing for us than for them. How do you answer a Call you don’t hear? A lot of us wonder what we can do to make a difference in the world around us. Many don’t know where or how to start looking. ...And reach out our hands and extend Your word of love to everyone who longs to hear it.

RESUMING TRADITIONS By: Hannah Van Nest, Matt Wolszon, Hope Spangler, David Nehf, Tiernan Murrell, Hannah Dunne, Frankie Enrietti, and Julia Nehf This Christmas Eve, many of us Plymouth Fellowship (PF) adults tuned in to watch the church’s service on YouTube. In his sermon, Kirch spoke about tradition. He spoke about how tradition can be conflated with boring or mindless repetition. But when it comes to Christmas (really, to anything important enough), our congregation demands tradition. We want to sing the same carols, to hear the same passages, to eat the same foods. Tradition is a stabilizing force in our lives, and during these years of incredible disruption, returning to tradition feels powerful and comforting. When eight of us former PFers gathered to figure out what we wanted to write about, this felt like the strongest theme. We are all moved and relieved to be with PF as our group returns to the long-held traditions of youth room meetings, trips, retreats, and service. PF has been able to pick up where we left off, combining fun, service, and reflection. What made you feel so strongly about helping as a PF Adult leader? The short answer: “Tilden asked us to.” BUT the experience of being a PF adult leader is powerful and meaningful. When we were in high school, our adult relationships were so important to us. How could we turn down the chance to be on the other side, give back, and volunteer with organizations we’ve cared about since we were 14 or 15? By participating in PF, we get a regular and impactful volunteer opportunity. And even better: We have an incredibly fun time doing it. What was your favorite memory from either the fall retreat or the past year and a half? The highlights: The return of Congo Hoops, Sophomore Work Tour in June, Canoe Trip from July, and Fall Retreat in November. Many of the current PFers have missed out on years of PF experiences, and we were a little worried that this would shake the culture of the group. To our joy and relief, over the last 6 months, we have been able to pick back up where we left off, to be together and support each other, and to combine fun, service, and deep discussions. How does being a leader deepen your faith? The biggest cause is the PFers themselves. They impress us constantly with their actions. PF student leaders go out of their way to spend time with newer students and create an inclusive environment. On Fall Retreat this November, they planned a Secret-Santa-esque activity where each student made a friendship bracelet and wrote a kind note for another PFer. The kids spent hours of their short trip working seriously on this project. They trust each other with vulnerability and openness; they encourage and challenge each other; and they show us God’s presence in this world. One of PF’s strengths is that it balances service and vulnerability with joy and play. We all grapple with the same questions together, and PF is a safe space for us to drift, reconnect, question, and explore. The PFers are empowered to make PF the space that they need, one that meets them where they are. As adult leaders, we get to be involved and make the space we need as well. If you were a PFer, do you have any favorite memories or advice that you were given by your adult leaders? We all have memories of PF adults telling us, “you should be a PF adult,” or “you will want to come back.” When we were freshmen, it was powerful for us to see that the PF adults were still so close with their friends from the group. We could see how strongly PF builds relationships, and it made us excited to be a part of a group with such a strong legacy and history. Plus, they were fun and silly and spent time with us playing cards or filming skits for the PF videos. What is your advice for our youth as to how they should deepen their faith? It's one that’s been repeated to us over and over: If you get the chance, come back as a PF adult. Keep volunteering and contributing to others. Follow the somewhat cliché idea that “you get out what you put in.” Ask all of the questions. Be as vulnerable as you can and go all in when you find spaces that are safe for you to grow. We also want to encourage young people to go to church and listen to Kirch. He’s a great senior pastor with great sermons. We pray this in the name of the One who came to remind us...

Worship: Here, There & Everywhere! By Rev. Katherine Willis Pershey Eugene Peterson wrote that “worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.” At First Congo there are many opportunities to attend to God’s presence through worship, through our traditional Sunday morning worship services of Word, Sacrament, song, and prayer — and beyond. Christian Ventures coordinates several alternative ways to worship. For many in our community, walking the labyrinth is deeply worshipful; Dozens came to our recent Longest Night walk accompanied by live harp music. Our monthly Taizé services are particularly resonant. Guitarist Jeff Kust recently reflected on his experience: “If you have never attended one, instead of a sermon, the middle of the service features 10 minutes of meditative silence. It was my job to break that silence. I thought about the quote — I can't remember who said it — that says if you are going to make sound, it needs to be better than the silence it replaces. It was just a D, third string, seventh fret, but when it rang out after all that silence, I was so amazed that I almost forgot to play the notes that followed.” The committee also offers monthly Contemplative Prayer gatherings via Zoom. Participants experience simple prayer, silence, and reflection together for about 25 minutes, then remain on the call for fellowship and sharing joys and concerns. Some may say that our Words & Music performances aren't worship — but according to Peterson’s definition, they actually are. These monthly festivals of story and song, hosted by All In — The Congo House Band, are always powerfully infused with the presence of God. Faith & Flow yoga classes invite participants to integrate mind, body, and spirit as we practice in the presence of God. Each class begins with a prayer: May the movements of our bodies, the meditations of our minds, and the intentions of our spirits be one with you, O God, the ground of our being. May we continue to be interrupted by God’s abundant grace and faithful presence — here, there, and everywhere! MILESTONES BIRTHS BAPTISMS MEMORIALS MEMBER DEATHS: Catherine Tracy William Frett Henry Ivanisevic William Gerberich Tom Crown William Gerberich Holden Dzija Clara Rankin Ruth Vogele Warren Whitesel Larry Framburg We make every attempt to include the milestones of every member. If we've somehow missed yours, please email [email protected] so we can include it in our next edition. ...To share one another’s burdens, until we’ve seen this journey through. Amen. Page 11

First Congregational Church of Western Springs First Class 1106 Chestnut Street U.S. Postage Western Springs, IL 60558 PAID Western Springs, IL Permit #50 Join Us in This Season of Lent: Sun., Feb. 20 at 5PM: Words & Music presents Fat Tuesday, Congo Way! Sun., Feb. 27 at 10:30AM: New Members join during worship service Wed., March 2 at 6:30AM: Ash Wednesday Service in the chapel Wed., March 2 at 6:30PM: Family Ash Wednesday Service in the chapel Sun., March 6: Lectio Divina Lenten Connection Small Groups begin Wed. evenings, March 9, 16, 23, 30 at 7:30PM: Vespers via Zoom Tues., March 15 at 7:00PM: The Green Team's Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Workshop Sun., March 20 at 5PM: Words & Music presents Lenten Devotional Live! Fri., March 25 – April 3: High School Youth Group Work Tour Sun., April 10 at 9 & 10:30AM: Palm Sunday Worship Sun., April 10 at 11:30AM: Palm Sunday Parade Maundy Thursday, April 14 at 8:00PM: Worship & Labyrinth Walk Good Friday, April 15 at 10:00AM: Family Worship Service Good Friday, April 15 at 5:00PM: Stations of the Cross Easter Sunday, April 17 at 7:30, 9:00 & 10:30AM: Worship in the Sanctuary or live-streamed on our YouTube channel at 9:00AM. Sun., April 24 at 9 & 10:30AM: Easter Pageant Sun., May 1 at 5PM: Words & Music presents Happiness is Love. Full Stop. First Congregational Church of Western Springs | 1106 Chestnut Street | 708.246.1900 |

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