December 2019 Update

The Before We Get to Mars team has been working steadily to help the congregation make a decision about where to focus our work. We recently had two meetings for the congregation to discuss our primary options, Maywood and the Willowbrook Corner area in Willowbrook. We have begun building relationships in both areas, and been studying the needs in the realm of education. We will soon be making a decision about which location to focus on at the beginning of our BWGTM project, although the other area may well come into play in the future.

With the support of the congregation, the team is focusing in on early childhood education. Research shows that early childhood education makes the greatest impact on life outcomes for kids (see the Resource Page for more on that), and it is a great fit for the interests and skills of our congregation, given our wonderful Union Church Early Childhood Program.

As with any focus on education, our area of work will likely need to be multifaceted. Jennifer Keldahl recently quickly summarized some ways our congregation could get involved with a focus on early childhood education in a specific area:

  • Health Care – most of these kids have limited access to health care. There could be doctors who are willing to give their time for check-ups and immunizations or we could find a partner agency. Eye exams and hearing tests are a HUGE gap for these kids.
  • Dental Care – same as above but, much worse. Some of these kids never see a dentist.
  • Mental Health – there is a need for parents and children. These kids have seen a lot and been threw a lot. Again, could use a partner or someone within our community.
  • Parenting Support – people are overworked and tired. They are often drained and need healthy ways to cope and to be a good parent.
  • Grandparents – In many communities, the Grandma is running the show and could use support!
  • Meal planning and meal preparation. For example: a Sunday gathering where about 15 families would come together in the late afternoon and prepare their meals for the week. We would have the food all there, they would dice etc. and put them into pans for easy prep for the week. How amazing would it be if this included an uplifting religious piece while they prepare the meals.
  • Maintaining housing, employment etc – there is paperwork involved in so much of these peoples lives. Taxes, state health care forms, maintaining their housing status…paperwork is challenging! This could be something we offer on a monthly basis.
  • We could have a new baby crew that comes in and helps a family before their new arrival. It could be with formula, diapers, painting the room….etc.
  • Resume preparation and preparation before an interview. This could include clothing.
  • Running the laundromat.
  • All of this and more is related to early childhood education!


Special Guests on June 26 – Join Us!

All are encouraged to join us on Wednesday, June 26, at 7:00 p.m., in the Chapel:

The Before We Get to Mars Steering Team invites everyone to join us as we hear from two people with extensive experience in the Maywood community. As we seek to form relationships and learn the true “lay of the land” regarding education, we hope to help everyone be more educated about the communities near us.

We will be talking with Amy Luke, PhD, a professor of family medicine with the Public Health Sciences department at Loyola, and the Director of Research for the Center for Community and Global Health, and Lena Hatchett, PhD, who is the is Director of Community and University Partnerships in the Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago. She leads the institution in health equity research and education through program and policy development. Amy has lived in Maywood for many years, and they both know the community intimately. Join us at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26, in the Chapel.



On Saturday, February 2, 2019, we had a great all church retreat dedicated to our Before We Get to Mars focus on education. We learned some about the education issue, how to accomplish real change in the public realm, and planned our next steps. About 75 people were there to learn, contribute, and collaborate.

In summary, our BWGTM focus fits well with, and should always keep in mind our four core statements as Union Church:

· God is real, and we take time to get to know God better.
· We have power, and we use that power, with others, to make the world more like Jesus wants it to be.
· Other people are great, and we take time to get to know them better.
· We love children and youth, and as they grow, we help them develop personal, curious, generous, and socially engaged Christian faith.

The congregation settled on education as the focus area because it fits well with our interests and skills, and because it is so important in making a lasting difference in people’s lives. Education is so important, in part, because it allows people to be more in control of their own lives – to be self-determining (not simply self-reliant).

We spent a good deal of time in a “mini-seminar” on community organizing – thinking about the practices of making a difference in the public realm. We thought about the three primary public “sectors” of our U.S. form of democracy: civic institutions (broadly defined), government, and business. In the U.S., the business sector seems to be influencing more and more of our lives, especially the younger you are. Civic groups (including church, family, neighbors/local communities, fraternal groups) are having less and less influence on the overall public sphere. Broadly speaking, that’s not healthy for our society, and makes change difficult. The goal of community organizing is to develop and organize the power of the civic sphere to accomplish the things people want. This is critical to the issue of education, where the government and increasingly business sectors have so much power.

Building power in civic institutions begins with relationships – simply getting to know people, what motivates them, what gifts they have, and what concerns/problems they have. So we spent time talking, one-to-one. It’s so important, but we don’t do it enough in the world today!

We then looked into some of the dynamics of education in our region. You can get too far thinking about education without facing the reality of racial inequality in education. We watched two short and excellent videos on this. The first video explores the source of so much of the racial dynamics of the Chicago region – redlining  – and the second video talks about how this connects to education specifically. They are short and great – watch them!

This is changing some with recent state legislation, but at least at the start of 2018, Illinois relied more heavily on local property taxes to fund education than any other state. That’s great in one sense, because local communities like having greater control over their schools. However, it also means that the racial discrimination in housing of the past (and its continuing effects) more strongly affects education today.

The United States in general, when compared to other “advanced” economies, under-invests in early childhood education in particular – although Illinois has actually been one of the best states at funding early childhood education. It’s interesting to look at how they handle this issue in Canada, for example.

We highlighted over and over again that we in Union Church need to build relationships and partnerships, getting to know the people for whom quality education is a constant battle. Lasting change will require relationships and engagement and building on the experience and skills of others, not on providing a fix to someone else’s problems.

We did a SWOT analysis of our situation with regard to education, and we listed:

Strengths: congregational interest, UCECP, financial resources, connections, people, networks, educators, financial expertise, experience in making things happen, faith-based motivation, concern for social justice, grace

Weaknesses: haven’t walked in those shoes (lack relationships), need a plan, everyone is busy, fear, language (in relating to Spanish speaking communities), apathy, all white, inexperienced in this issue, risk of being too abstract/high level, possible arrogance, no sense of urgency, geography

Opportunities: seeing God, to grow in unity of purpose, there is a need/accomplish change, get out of comfort zone, Willowbrook community, learn about strengths of others, help future generations, form partnerships, create a legacy, grow our church, blur the margins, to create lasting change

Threats: not listening – leads to failure and making worse, failure!, lack of stamina, rejection, internal church politics, unwelcome change in identity, conflict with community, lack of accountability, fear, unaware of our own biases

We then brainstormed possibly needed elements of a two year plan for moving forward: project director, create leadership team, make a plan!, research (what to do? where? scope?), decide on narrower focus, increase congregational buy-in and education, think of parents, develop working paper, decide the best structure for decision making/advancement, develop metrics, think through our congregational systems

Finally, 20 people signed up to be on a short to mid range steering team to develop a plan of action for the next two years of work Before We Get to Mars! That group will be meeting before the end of February.

Final-Area-of-Work Survey Results

We are very pleased to present the results of our congregational voting for the final area of work for our Before We Get to Mars project. The area of work with the strongest support in the congregation is…


In fact, education received both the strongest and broadest support from the congregation, with jobs a reasonably close second, hunger/food justice third, and gun violence fourth.

Choosing this area of work is a huge step in our Before We Get to Mars decision making process. The planning team thanks the congregation for its careful and thoughtful consideration of the issues. Most people have recognized that all of our four issues are closely linked together, and this was really a decision about “where we could best jump into the  circle.” With as much as people in our congregation value education, with our vast experience with early childhood education, with the long lasting impact of education, and with the deep need for greater educational quality for all, it makes good sense that we will focus on this work in the future.

Now that we have narrowed our focus down to education, the next step is learning as much as we can about this issue and forming relationships with a variety of key players. Although our first impulse may be to suggest project ideas, we have months of education and relationship building around…well, education, before we can make an informed decision about what kind of project makes sense – and of course, there will probably be some initial “baby steps” before we get to a long-term, multifaceted commitment. The BWGTM planning team will soon present a more detailed description of the way forward, but in any case, this will be a time for all who are willing to help to contribute through learning and relationship building.

If you have a passion for education and would like to contribute to the next phase of the project, please let Grant Glowiak or Rev. Mike Solberg know so we can make sure you are part of the next step of work.

God bless us all as we undertake this fascinating and important work in education, before we get to Mars!

Before We Get To Mars – April / May 2018 Survey

Quick review:

The Before We Get to Mars project is intended to be a multi-year, all-church focus on one particular challenge faced by those in need. By harnessing the fantastic and diverse resources of the people of our congregation, agreeing on one area of focus, and acting with courage, commitment and patience, we think we can accomplish something astounding for God and other people, by supporting human well-being.

Moving forward:

We are now taking the next important step in our Before We Get to Mars decision making process. Based on previous congregational voting, we have narrowed our options down to four possible areas of work. With this survey, we will select the one area of work for our Before We Get to Mars project. After this, in coming months, all who wish to help will do the research and relationship building that will be necessary for the congregation to select one specific goal/project for this all-church, multi-year effort.

Before voting, if you have not yet done so, please be sure to read the summary paper on each of the four areas:

Summary paper on education [PDF]
Summary paper on jobs/employment [PDF]
Summary paper on gun violence [PDF]
Summary paper on hunger/food justice [PDF]

Also there is much more information, including videos of the presentations about each work area from our all church retreat in early February, 2018.

The question to ask yourself with this survey, is “Which area of work would I like to see our congregation focus on for the next several years?” Or, “What area of work would I be most enthusiastic about?”

This survey has now ended. 

This Sunday – Important Decision Day for Before We Get to Mars

Dear Members of Union Church,

This Sunday will be an important day for our Before We Get to Mars project. During the worship services (both 9:07 and 10:00), in lieu of a sermon, we will be presenting information and inviting questions about each of our four possible areas of work, and then we will distribute a survey so the congregation can select the one, final area of focus.

Before Sunday, it is important that everyone read our summaries of the four areas of work. Use the links to read the materials online or download and print. (Copies will be available Sunday also.)

Summary paper on education [PDF]

Summary paper on jobs/employment [PDF]

Summary paper on gun violence [PDF]

Summary paper on hunger/food justice [PDF]

After this Sunday, we will distribute the survey to the whole congregation, with a due date of May 6.

After this step is complete, we can begin the research and relationship building necessary to shape a specific project within the “winning” area of work.

You can find much more information about Before We Get to Mars, including links to videos of our retreat presentations on each area of work at

Thank you!

The Before We Get to Mars process planning team – Sharon Cooper, Michele Crowe, Grant Glowiak, Dave Johnson, Melissa Mann, Jackie Poetter, Joel Pundmann, Vera Shively, Ross Sweeney, Katie Szafarczyk, Nadine Woodle, and ex officio Ed Spacapan, Marilyn Johnson, and Mike Solberg

Sunday April 29 – a VERY IMPORTANT day!

Sunday, April 29, will be a VERY BIG day for our Before We Get to Mars decision making process!

Quick review: Based on input from over 150 church members we are down to four possible areas of work for our all-church BWGTM focus: Jobs, Hunger/Food Justice, Education, and Gun Violence. Our February all-church retreat was highly useful in understanding these areas of work, and there is much information in the videos of that retreat posted below. Big time commitment – but worth it!

And now, it is time for the congregation to choose our final, single area of focus. On Sunday, April 29, we will use our regular worship time to present information about each of the four areas, and then we will distribute a survey for everyone to be part of the final decision. So, please be present on April 29 (either worship service), and then please respond to the survey. We will also distribute the survey to the whole congregation, but you will appreciate having all the information from April 29 to make a good decision.

(Note: remember that this will narrow us down to one AREA OF WORK, but much more work/research and relationship building will need to be done before the congregation decides what the actual SPECIFIC STRATEGY/PROJECT within this one area of work will be.)

Videos from February BWGTM Retreat

On February 2-3 we had a wonderful all-church retreat focused on the four possible areas of work for our Before We Get to Mars project. It was a truly terrific time of learning and conversation. With about two hours committed to each area – Hunger/Food Justice, Jobs, Education, and Gun Violence – we heard from experts and brought the congregation closer to being able to make a decision about a final area of work.

Here are the videos from each area/session. The first video includes  important overview/context offered by Rev. Solberg.

Session 1 – Jobs

Session 2 – Hunger/Food Justice

Session 3 – Education

Session 4 – Gun Violence

Each session is long, but given the importance of the decision we will make as a congregation, it’s worth the time!

Important Retreat on Feb 2-3

All Church “Retreat” for Before We Get Mars
Friday, February 2, 6:30p – 9pm
Saturday, February 3, 9:00a – 3pm

Lunch and childcare will be provided.

So, you know the vision right? With our Before We Get to Mars project Union Church is going to make a difference in the world, and challenge and grow our faith in the process. Before humans get to Mars, let’s make the Earth more like God wants it to be!

We warmly and strongly encourage everyone to come to our All Church Retreat on Friday and Saturday, February 2-3. This will be an important time of learning as the congregation decides what our one focus area of work will be. For each option we will have a panel of experts here to teach us more about working on that issue. The schedule is:

Jobs – Friday, 2/2, 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.
• Growing Home
• IC Stars
• Recycle Force (via Skype)
• North Lawndale Employment Network

Hunger/Food Justice – Saturday, 2/3, 9:00 – 10:45 a.m.
• HCS Family Services
• Purple Asparagus

Quality Education for All – Saturday, 2/3, 11:00 a.m.- 12:30 p.m.
• Hinsdale South High School
• Union Church Early Childhood Program

Gun Violence – Saturday, 2/3, 1:15 – 2:45 p.m.
• St. Sabina
• Do Not Stand Idly By
• Hinsdale Police Department

Please come for as much of the time as possible.

(For those on Ministries, Saturday 3:00 – 3:45 will be Ministry planning time)

Before We Get to Mars Survey of Congregational Interest – Round Two

Dear Members and Friends of Union Church,

Bottom line: By November 10, please fill out the second-round Before We Get to Mars survey online or via the letter you received in the mail. Thanks!

We are happy to write you again with information about the Before We Get to Mars project and the second round of our congregation-wide survey of interest. First, key points of where we stand:

♦ The Before We Get to Mars project is intended to be a multi-year, all-church focus on one particular challenge faced by those in need. By harnessing the fantastic and diverse resources of the people of our congregation, agreeing on one area of focus, and acting with courage, commitment and patience, we think we can accomplish something astounding for God and other people, by supporting human well-being.

♦ The first step is for the congregation as a whole to decide what type of work we want for our focus.

♦ A second step will then be to figure out exactly HOW we address a particular challenge within that focus.

This past summer we distributed a questionnaire to the congregation with about 25 possible focus areas, asking people to select the ones they would most like to see as our focus.  Here are the top ten selections, in order:

• Hunger / Food Justice
• Quality Education for All (K-12)
• Healthy Chicago Neighborhoods
• Health Care Justice
• Jobs
• Environment / Care of Creation
• Gun Violence
• Drugs / Substance Abuse
• Quality Preschool Education for All
• Mentoring

Following that survey we encouraged the whole congregation to read the book Charity Detox, by Robert Lupton. We believe the book offers a valuable perspective about how we think of our Before We Get to Mars project. At the risk of oversimplification, Lupton encourages us to think beyond addressing the immediate “crisis” needs of individuals, and think of how to really “move the needle on poverty” through various strategies of economic development. We know that many people in the congregation have read the book, so we hope it will in part help guide our considerations in the future.

At this point, we are ready for a second-round congregational survey. Bottom line: By November 10, please fill out the second-round Before We Get to Mars survey online or via the letter you received in the mail. Thanks. All the directions are on the survey. We eagerly await hearing the direction of the congregation!

Based on the results of this survey, we will know the top three or four areas of work the congregation should consider. Then, through early 2018, we will help the congregation learn about these possible focus areas in depth, enabling the congregation to a make an informed final decision about the one area of focus. And then finally, with extensive input from the congregation, we will present specific strategy proposals, again for the congregation to make a decision about how, specifically, we will address the selected area of work.

So, in another format:

By November 10 —->
The survey results will give us three or four top areas of     interest

November – February —->
Congregation takes in depth look at the top areas of interest

By March 1 —–>
Congregational decision about one single area of interest/focus

By May 1 —–>
Congregational decision about one particular strategy for working on that area of interest/focus

After May 1 —–>
We’ll have an exciting challenge to work on, before we get to Mars!

Over the past few months, we have learned that our “Before We Get to Mars” vision is an innovative way of working as a church today. It captures some of the macro currents of church life, including being truly other-focused, being “hands on,” and making a noticeable difference in support of human well-being. We are happy to be part of this work, and we look forward to helping the congregation come to a good decision for our final area of work and our chosen strategy.

All the best to you!

In Christ, the Before We Get to Mars Process Planning Team:

Sharon Cooper, Michele Crowe, Grant Glowiak, Dave Johnson, Melissa Mann, Jackie Poetter, Joel Pundmann, Vera Shively, Ross Sweeney, Katie Szafarczyk, Nadine Woodle, and ex officio Ed Spacapan, Marilyn Johnson, and Mike Solberg