As part of a series my church is doing this summer, I was invited to share my thoughts about what First Presbyterian Church of River Forest means to me. It’s the church where I was born, and the church that I still attend. This is what I said:
As many of you may know, I spent last year living out a lifelong dream and backpacking around the world. I visited 37 countries, tasted crazy foods, climbed terrifying mountains, and partnered with incredible organizations transforming the lives of those living in extreme poverty. In every way, it was a dream come true.
When I decided to leave, people asked me why and how, and the answers were easy:
- God told me to
- I was deeply rooted in a home and a family
I wasn’t afraid to leave because I wasn’t floundering—I was firmly planted in a community that was ready to send me out, and would be ready to welcome me back when it was time for me to return.
And that community was largely created by this church.
The simplest way for me to describe what First Pres means to me is this: First Pres River Forest is my home and my family.
It’s the women who threw a joint baby shower for Jane Erickson and my mom right there in the social hall in the summer of 1988—welcoming me to the world and to this big church family before I even existed.
It’s Chris Hibbert who taught my 2s and 3s class, and Sandy McAdam who led elementary Sunday School—teaching me the books of the Bible in song form, which is still the only way I can recite them.
It’s the place I spent every Thursday afternoon with Ms. Jane and the Alleluia Singers. This church is where I learned to sing, and now, 20 years later, where I get to stand on this stage again leading worship on Sunday mornings.
First Pres is where I army crawled under these very pews, escaping Terry Studer with a Flashlight during Kids Night, and spent every Tuesday night at Breakout.
It’s the extra sets of parents at every turn: John and Jane Erickson, Jill and Steve Smith…people who are looking out for me and taking care of me, even when my own parents are far away—even now that I’m a grown up.
It’s going to get bagels every Sunday after the service for the last 18 years.
It’s Kevin Murphy who taught my 5th and 6th grade class, where my fellow middle schoolers and I brainstormed with Susie Kovic to create the program now known as Ready Set Go.
It’s the first iterations of youth group—the days before JAM and DMI. It’s Jekyll Island and Reynosa, Mexico. Inventing TN.
I was baptized from that fount, confirmed on these steps, and gave my first sermon from this pulpit.
Perhaps most importantly, this church gave me my people—my tribe of very best friends, who I love more than just about anything. We have lived sorrow and joy in this church—we have lived our lives.
We had Scott’s funeral here in this very sanctuary in 2012, but the church is also where we had Mike and Melanie’s wedding shower and Big Steve’s graduation party and, just last weekend, Kyle’s bachelor party.
This church hired me—trusting me to lead your children, and giving me one of the greatest honors of my life: befriending the remarkable high school students who also call this place home. Knowing, serving and loving them as a youth volunteer, and then youth director, and then youth volunteer again when Marc and Vanessa arrived has been one of my biggest joys. This church mentored me, and then set me loose to mentor Valerie, Anna, and Faith.
I could keep going and going…I look around this room and have stories and memories of each one of you. Because as we all know, the church isn’t a building—it’s us. It’s this incredible collection of people who willingly come together to form a lifelong community.
When I first moved back to River Forest, everyone told me that I should find another church. That there weren’t many of my peers here. That if I wanted to meet a guy, I should probably attend somewhere else.
And you know what? They’re right.
This church isn’t perfect. We have had more than our fair share of challenges in recent years—and it isn’t always easy to be a single 20-something in this community.
But I’m still here for the same two reasons I left:
- Because God told me to
- Because I’m deeply rooted in a home and a family
And here’s the thing about a home, a family. We take care of it.
When it needs something, we step up and make it happen—because it’s ours. Because we belong to it and it belong to us—it is us.
When it comes to giving, it’s the same two things again. We give because:
- God tells us to
- We are deeply rooted in this home and this family
When we support the church, the church is able to support us. All of these programs and activities and services—the things that shaped my childhood and now are shaping my adulthood—they are made possible because of the generosity of the people in this room. When you give, you are taking care of our home and investing in our family. You are making it possible for another little kid to know that Jesus loves her, and then equipping her with the knowledge and encouragement to go out and follow her call to change the world.
I don’t have adequate words for how grateful I am for this church’s influence in my life—all I can say is thank you. Thank you for raising me, teaching me, walking with me, and showing me Jesus. Thank you for sending me out and welcoming me back, for giving me the courage to both leave and return.
Thank you for being my home. Thank you for being my family.