History and Hope – A Kenilworth Union Church’s Beloved Tradition to Return This Spring

Vivian Maier, the photographer who famously left behind thousands of prints and negatives that were only discovered after her death, has earned almost as much notoriety for her mysterious life as for her stunning photography. Slowly, details of her time working and shooting in the Chicago suburbs are coalescing in much of the same coincidental way her art came to light: the right eye in the right place at the right time.

The Rev. Christine V. Hides, associate minister for discipleship at Kenilworth Union Church, was touring the Vivian Maier exhibit at the Chicago History Museum when she happened upon a photograph from the early 1970s featuring people in front of stained glass windows. While the photo carried a label “location unknown,” Hides knew exactly where it had been taken.

“Right away I thought I was looking at the Willet Studios stained glass windows at Kenilworth Union,” Hides explained. She combed the museum’s online archives and found over a dozen more photographs taken at the church on the same occasion: a rummage sale. After Hides contacted the museum, the online archives were updated.

Per the Chicago History Museum, Maier’s photographs “encourage viewers to look beyond the ordinary,” an apt description of the church’s seemingly ordinary rummage sale that has, since 1948, sold donated items. But the rummage sale’s true heart is its beneficiary: the outreach fund.

Kenilworth Union’s outreach program today partners with 40 not-for-profit human service organizations in the Chicagoland area, and in addition to ongoing financial and in-person support, the church sponsors three major fundraisers every year: day-by-day calendar sales, the rummage sale and the outreach benefit. These fundraisers plus member contributions have led to $4.3 million in grants to the agencies in the past 10 years alone.

“We do a great deal of vetting of the agencies that receive grants,” explained Chris Cole, co-chair of outreach. “Last year we had been concerned that some of the agencies we support might not be able to survive the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, we were inspired by the ingenuity, resourcefulness, adaptability and dedication these organizations exhibited in order to safely meet the existing and changing needs of the people they serve.”

After a COVID pause from in-person events, the outreach benefit is set to return this spring. “A Murmuration of Hope,” a benefit for all 40 agencies, highlighting Sarah’s Circle, Josselyn Center and Bottom Line Chicago, will be held at Michigan Shores Club in Wilmette on April 29.

Vivian Maier’s photos remind us of the lasting power of these community events, and of Kenilworth Union Church’s long legacy of mobilizing its own community to support others. Now is a time that you can be part of this giving tradition. 

Join us in supporting the outreach fund by making a donation or buying tickets to the benefit, or more directly, by volunteering at one of the outreach agencies in this time of great need. Look beyond the ordinary and contribute to a lasting legacy.

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