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 BeforeWeGetToMars.com.

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)

Results of First Survey of Interests are Ready!

We were happy to receive 144 responses to our first survey of congregational interest in various possible areas of work. Thanks to everyone who filled out the survey!

The raw data / full report can be found here.

In summary, here are the 10 areas that received the largest degree of support from the congregation, in order of support:

Area of work:                                                             Percentage of people who named it as one of four priorities:

Hunger / Food Justice                                                            36.1%

Quality Education for All (K-12)                                          35.4%

Healthy Chicago Neighborhoods                                     29.9%

Health Care Justice                                                                  28.5%

Jobs                                                                                                  26.4%

Drugs / Substance Abuse                                                      25.0%

Environment / Care of Creation                                        24.3%

Gun Violence                                                                              22.2%

Mentoring                                                                                    21.5%

Quality Preschool Education for All                               19.4%


Of course, some of these areas of work overlap, and the Process Planning Team is still working on how best to clarify, define, or group the areas before presenting the next step to the congregation.

For now, the Process Planning Team encourages the whole congregation to read a book that has been challenging, enlightening and motivating to us as we have thought about this work:

Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results, by Robert Lupton.

Copies are available at church for $10, and several copies are available at the Hinsdale library and the Clarendon Hills library.  Please, everyone, read it!  It may well change the way you think about this Before We Get to Mars project!  But we also want to say…

…to be honest, this book might shake you up a bit, as it did all of us.  It questions the way churches (and other wonderful organizations) have often gone about their charity work.  But we believe the challenge is worth the education the book gives about how we can do things differently and more effectively in the future.  One of our members offers this brief encouragement:

The book “Charity Detox” contains some thought-provoking examples and challenges us on our traditional way of assisting others.  If you start reading the book and you find it “challenging,” please read it to the end.  After reading “Charity Detox,” I was at first a little saddened to think about how I currently interact with charities and how I try to help others (i.e., if I help at a food pantry, am I an enabler?).  However, after reflecting on the book and talking about the book with others and Rev. Mike, I was able to step back and see that that there are different ways to help others.  As the saying goes, “Give a person a fish, and you feed him/her for a day; show him/her how to catch fish, and you feed him/her for a lifetime.”

The second round of the priority setting survey will be coming soon, so keep looking for more information.

But first, read the book!  Thanks!

Before We Get To Mars Meetings (June 25, July 23)

Dear Fellow Members and Friends of Union Church,

Bottom line for those who read no further: Please fill out this survey about the Before We Get to Mars project – one for each individual.  Thanks!

A couple of months ago, Union Church set in motion a process that could lead us to make a real difference in the world.  Through the exciting and innovative “Before We Get to Mars” project, we could find a new, challenging, and effective way to join God in “making the world more like Jesus wants it to be.”  Eventually, we hope everyone in the congregation will have a role in this, so at this super early stage in the process, here is what we want everyone to know:

What is the “Before We Get to Mars” project?

We envision a 10-15 year, all-church project focused on those in need, in which the whole congregation can be involved.  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.

What’s Mars got to do with this?

NASA currently estimates that the U.S. will put a human on Mars by the middle of the 2030s. Well, you have probably heard a statement like, “We can put a man on the moon, but we still have hungry children here on earth.” We are all for big goals and exciting exploration, but that statement makes a good point. It would be good to focus on a big, exciting goal that would directly benefit people in need. That seems to be a Jesus-like thing to do.  So, by all means, let’s go to Mars, but let’s also fix something here – before we get to Mars!

What will this big project be?

That’s up to the congregation.  The Executive Council has appointed a Process Planning Team (that’s us), and our job is to help the congregation come to a good decision that garners very broad support.  With the enclosed survey, we are beginning that process.  Once the general areas of greatest interest are known, then we will work with the congregation to develop project ideas.  Those project ideas will be presented to the whole congregation for discussion, evaluation and prioritization, and finally one great project will be selected by congregational vote.  (The congregation will also have the option of deciding not to undertake any project at this time.)

What will be the criteria for this project?

This is proving to be a critical question for us!  We are still learning and discussing, but generally we think good strong ideas will share these characteristics:

  • Proper scale – Is the project big enough to be worthwhile, challenging and exciting, but also small enough to be doable over several years?
  • Multifaceted – Are there many different ways for people of all ages in the congregation (and beyond) to contribute to the project?
  • Good fit – Does the project take advantage of the strengths of our congregation and our resources and is it something that really matters to us personally?
  • Attractiveness to our community – We think it is okay to acknowledge that we have some self-interest here (not selfishness, but self-interest). Does the project benefit our church?  Does the project make people say, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.  I’d like to be part of a congregation that is doing [this or that great thing]”?
  • Measurable outcomes – While we know this work will ultimately be about changed lives, not numbers, is the impact of our work somehow measurable?
  • Transformative (rather than enabling) – Will this project create lasting change in ways traditional charity does not?

Again, we are still thinking through what will make for a great project, and will be in further conversation with the congregation about that.

What will happen to all the great things we already do?

Executive Council and our regular Ministries will have to work this out over time, but as a planning team, we don’t envision any great change to current mission commitments.  The goal is to add to what we are doing, with focus and persistence.  We may find ways that current efforts aid the Before We Get to Mars project, but as far as we are concerned they don’t have to. 

What has the planning team learned so far?

We’re glad you asked!  We have learned, as Pastor Mike says about many things, “It’s complicated.”  We have been thinking through the types of efforts that really make a difference.  What truly changes things for those in need?  Allows them not just to survive, but to thrive as God desires?  We are continuing to think through this issues, and will be saying more about this in the coming weeks.

When will we have a chance to talk about all this as a congregation?

We are going to have an event on Sunday, June 25, following the 10:00 service, to talk about the criteria of a good Before We Get to Mars project, and answer any questions people may have.  Also, on Sunday, July 23, we are going to host a panel discussion about related questions.  Look for more details to come, but please plan on being present for what we think will be some really interesting and important discussions!

Okay, that was a lot of information – what are the take-aways?

  1. The congregation (not us) will make the decision about the Before We Get to Mars project in a few months.
  2. Everyone, please fill out this survey about the Before We Get to Mars project – one for each individual. Thanks!
  3. Come to the events on Sunday, June 25, and Sunday, July 23.
  4. Pray for the congregation to make a good decision!

Thanks and God bless 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

Survey link: https://goo.gl/X6bkWL