Published Sept. 13, 2012
UC members living, learning, serving in faith
Mission has been a priority for Union Church of Hinsdale since the
days of its founding
By Pamela Lannom
When longtime member Joan Hurst sat down to look through the history of Union Church, she made some interesting discoveries.
“So much that was done is still being done here. We carry on our heritage,” said Hurst, who has been a member since 1963.
The church dates back to 1866, when a group of men met at the Hinsdale train depot to consider forming a new church, Hurst explained. They eventually built a little stone church, the Congregational Church of Hinsdale, at Third Street and Garfield Avenue. In 1918, the congregation merged with the Presbyterian Church of Hinsdale, which had been meeting at First Street and Garfield Avenue (now the site of Grace Episcopal Church).
“They tell the story that on the first Sunday after the merger, the members of the Congregational Church walked down to the Presbyterian Church and they all walked up the hill together and held the first service as the Union Church,” transitional senior minister Tom Zoelzer said.
The congregation adopted a covenant that day that is the same one used today, Hurst said.
Of course, much else has changed.
“I’m now the only one in the church that wears a hat,” Hurst said. “When I came everyone wore a hat. Some people don’t recognize me without my hat.”
The church now offers two types of worship, a traditional service at 9 a.m. and a contemporary service at 10:30 a.m. that features a band and what Zoelzer described as a more “free-style” approach.
The two services have created a bit of division in the congregation, Hurst said, with older members preferring the earlier, more familiar service.
“One of the feelings with us is that we don’t see the younger people that much and we don’t see the children growing and (we’re not) being a part of their religious life,” she said.
But attendees at both services share a passion for mission, something that has been a hallmark of the church since its founding, Hurst said.
“It started way back,” she said. “The church from the very beginning was a mission-concerned church.”
That mission work is what appealed to Hurst’s daughter-in-law, Stacey, who joined the church after marrying Ross.
“The church came with the family when we got married in 1997,” she said. Dick Nye, who as pastor at the time, flew out to Cincinnati to be part of the service.
Stacey and Ross started attending regularly after moving to Clarendon Hills in 2001.
“Slowly I found my own place in the church, and that has really become mission work, and I’m serving on the mission board currently,” Stacey said.
“Locally there’s a lot of opportunities to help with our mission partners. I especially like that I can bring my kids with me to some of them.”
Ginny, 9, and Carly, 7, helped make ham sandwiches one August afternoon when Union Church members staffed the P.A.D.S. shelter at Redeemer Lutheran Church. Nathan, 12, returned with his mom the next morning at 5 a.m. to make breakfast. Ross worked the cleanup crew later a few hours later.
“It’s nice when the whole family can help out like that,” she said.
The experience also helped show her daughters, who had a chance to meet some children who were staying at the shelter, that people in need are not all that different.
“When we left, they said, ‘They look just like us,’ ” Stacey Hurst said. “I said, ‘That’s right. They are just like us and that’s why we help, because it could be us.’ ”
The church’s annual resale raises about $40,000 every year and helps fund much of the church’s mission work, Zoelzer said.
The women’s association, of which Joan and Stacey Hurst are both members, also is very active, especially with HCS Family Services.
“Every unit has a family or two that they support and bring to the resale and provide Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner,” Joan Hurst said.
Stacey Hurst also plans to return to Guatemala next year for her second trip with the church to do a Habitat for Humanity build.
The mission projects the church supports are too numerous to list.
“This church really takes seriously Jesus’ comment to remember the least among us,” Zoelzer said. “The church really takes that seriously and tries to live that out.”
Music also is important to members at Union Church.
“We have a wonderful choir now with Joanna Wernette,” Joan Hurst said. “She’s just wonderful and the older people in the choir — and it’s lots of older people — just enjoy her.”
Members also are enjoying the organ music played by Jim Winfield, who is serving on an interim basis following Michael Surratt’s 32-year stint in the position. Winfield is the founder and former music director of the Tower Chorale in Western Springs.
“We have him and it’s just wonderful,” Joan Hurst.
A permanent organist will not be named until a new minister is hired for the church. Zoelzer is a year and a half into what he anticipates will be a two-year term as the congregation searches for a new leader.
The church has had only three permanent pastors in the past 38 years. Henry Rust served from 1974-84, followed by Dick Nye from 1985-2002. Verlee Copeland became the church’s first female senior minister in 2003 and served until 2010.
No matter who is standing behind the pulpit Sunday morning, Hurst, who has moved to King-Bruwaert from the Hinsdale home she lived in for 47 years, will be in a pew.
“It just became our church and we went through many different ministers with it, but it was always our church,” she said. “I have always felt this is my church and I stay with it, come what may. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
Her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren also feel very connected to the church. Ross and Stacey make attendance Sunday morning a priority for themselves and their children.
“It’s the primary way that we teach them our values and pass on our faith and our belief in Jesus Christ and how we act according to that belief, serving others,” Stacey Hurst said. “It’s just what we do on Sunday.”
Union Church of Hinsdale
Affiliation: United Church of Christ
Lead pastor: The Rev. Tom Zoelzer, transitional senior minister
Worship: 9 a.m. traditional, 10:30 a.m. contemporary
Average worship attendance: 260
Location: 137 S. Garfield Ave.
Facility: the 50,000-square-foot building includes a 450-seat sanctuary, a chapel and a three story education wing that houses the Early Childhood Program
Theology: “The United Church of Christ is a progressive Christian denomination that says that God is still speaking. We say that God is always helping us live faithfully in the current time while we look back to the Scripture to guide us,” Zoelzer said.