What the Union Church means to me (Laine Gamrath, Matt Stauffer and Emily McBean)

October 28th, 2018

What the Union Church means to me…

Laine Gamrath, Matt Stauffer, and Emily McBean

October 28, 2018

Hello everyone, I’m Laine, and I’ve been going to the Union Church of Lake Bluff for almost 10 years. Having seen and been a part of 8 Christmas pageants, 3 work trips, and countless Sundays, this church has grown to be a part of me and my family in many ways.

First, the outreach. Other than work trip, the highlight of my summer every year, every Sunday that we get to give back to the community or just give in general are my favorite Sundays; whether it be from making PADS lunches or bagging supplies to send to the military. In youth group, H2O, we get to do these as well, and there was one youth group meeting I remember where a mother came in with her 5 year old foster son, Ray, who had been put into foster care at age 3 because of certain familial circumstances. Ray’s foster mother ran a program where children in foster care could receive boxes, about the size of a shoebox, that had all sorts of things like small toys or coloring books to make them happy, even if they were uprooted from their homes time and time again in the foster care system. WE got to decorate the boxes and fill them with these toys so they were ready to be given out on holidays like Christmas or their birthdays. Ray was the sweetest little boy, as he ran around the table we were working off of, talked to all of us, and even helped Sam Rappin decorate a box, becoming so close with him that at the end of our meeting he said he wants to go home with Sam. Seeing this child with all of us after learning what he had gone through, I was more than grateful to be able to contribute a bit of my time to helping more children like Ray, who just need some joy in their lives. I had known it before, but I realized then that the lives we have now in our North Shore community are extremely cushioned and I realized how much we really take for granted, especially compared to what lives Ray and these children have lived thus far.

Another part of the church that I have grown up looking forward to every year has been the Christmas pageant. We don’t fall short of diversity here, what with the “We 4 Kings of Orient Are” or the one year where one of our livestock animals was a toucan. I remember seeing Grace Lynch sing “Mary, Did You Know?” and now getting to see the Clifford sisters sing the same song, I remember Mrs Ragsdale teaching the liturgical dancing angels, me being one of them myself for several years. Having that one Sunday in December where all of the children of the church can come together and create something not only creates a sense of accomplishment for all of them, but also helps them learn something that they may not have understood before by being a art of the story itself. For me, seeing all those children putting something like that together and seeing the pride on their faces as they stand up there in costume is one of the best parts of the Christmas season. Like I said, this church is a pat of me, and I’m very glad for it.

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Good morning- for those of you who don’t know me, I am Matt Stauffer, or as I am known around town, “Buffy’s husband.” My time spent outside church is filled with work as an E.R. doctor in Wisconsin- crossing the cheddar wall each day and pretending to be a Packer’s fan for 8 hours at a time.

Various themes come to mind when thinking about “what the Union Church means to me,” I’d like to share them with you…

For those in the room of similar age, we remember when MTV actually played music and videos. I fondly remember the “unplugged” series of performances where rock bands would strip away the electronics and play acoustic versions of their songs.

Sunday mornings here at church are the opportunity to “unplug,” to listen to the acoustic version of life, void of the distractions my usual life includes given I work in the equivalent of a casino- lots of noise, constant interruption, no windows to see natural light or the passage of time. Here I can sit, stained glass, quiet, 1 hour of reflection mixes with a reminder to take time to find my center before returning to my hectic, clinical life.

Buffy and I were married 16 years ago, not here at the Union Church, but were blessed to have Mark and Tracy, a couple I admire and respect, perform the ceremony. We wanted to raise our children within a church community that reflected our values and a commitment to service to others. We found that here.

A strong sense of community and service was lacking in my own prior faith-tradition. Children were to be seen, not heard. Here a crying child is just another member of the congregation- not hermetically sealed in a glass room in the back of the church. I was never involved in making meals for others, coat drives, or outreach programs- if they took place- we as kids were not involved. We wore uncomfortable clothes, did a lot of kneeling, and tried to be good.

But here are UCLB, life is different…. Where else do you see dogs in church? Folk bands? Blue jeans? Coffee and cookies every week?

As my brother calls it- “hippie church.” I do find it ironic though, when he visits over weekends with his family and gives his kids the choice between mass or Union Church; hippie church wins every time. I take it as a compliment- peace, love, community…. come as you are…. truly hippie ideals.

I actually feel we are less hippie and more amish (but with zippers and alcohol) in our sensibilities, in our attitudes of doing the work we are called to do… from work trip to PADS to soup and prayer shawls; the “barn raising” we do provides me with pride and joy and reinforces my belief, that I have found a home here among you all.

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Our family’s decision to join this church stands near the top of my list of “best family decisions.” The Union Church family has been a key part of “the village” that has not only had an invaluable impact on my children, but on Colin and me as well.

This place means so much to us, in so many different ways, and I’ve been trying to distill that for awhile. However, it turns out, that the keynote speaker at the Illinois Math & Science teachers’ conference, nailed it. This man, by the name of Dr. Tim Kanold is a former Superintendent at Stevenson District 125, leader in mathematics education, and author of a new book called “Heart- Fully Forming Your Professional Teaching and Leading Life.” He covered many topics at a recent convention, but he focused on the importance of not just knowing what you do (professionally, recreationally, etc…) but also WHY you do it.

His quote was, “When you know your why, your what has more impact, because you are walking in and toward your purpose.”

And he used this video example of a man who is a musical director at private school, and he asked to sing a few verses of “Amazing Grace.” The man breaks into a beautiful acapella rendition of the song. Then, more context is put around WHY he is a musical director- and then he sings again. And he had many math and science teachers in the Tinley Park convention center  in tears with this absolutely beautiful, creative, and unique rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

And I had this little “ah-ha” moment right then and there… The Union Church recharges my “why.” Every time I come in here, I’m reminded in the gentlest way that this life isn’t about me or my list of things to do or my girls and their places that they need to be driven, it’s about allowing God to bring out the best in all of us and open our eyes to the ways in which we can meet the needs of others- and be a peaceful, loving presence in a world that is thirsting for it.

Mark’s closing words every week- “to be a source of GOd’s light and God’s love” is the WHY. Whatever I’m doing- teaching, laundry, cooking, driving- when I’m recharged- I can see the world from that perspective. It’s not even close to perfect…. Some days and moments are easier than others… but when I can respond and move from that purposeful place, everything has a more positive impact.

I am- my family is- very grateful for this special church and all the ways it works to inspire us to move forward our purpose to make this world a better place.

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