On June 12, our Mike & Sherry Kelly set off on their new adventure—to Florida.
Before that, they’d made Willow Creek Huntley their church home for three and a half years.
And before that, they lived in Palatine and went to Christ Lutheran church—a stone’s throw from where Willow Creek Community Church began in the theater days. In the mid-nineties, they left Palatine for Algonquin, and there they fell away from church for twenty years.
Until, one day, they saw signs for Willow Creek Huntley. They decided to go back to church and, on the Sunday after that, attended. It was not what they expected, though. Where was the cross on the stage? Why didn’t they have Communion? (They weren’t here on a Communion Sunday.)
That first week, they were greeted by two people—Doug and Cindy Morrison. The following week, they remembered Mike & Sherry, and Willow seemed very inviting—very much like home, like a big family. Every person they met, they all seemed like family. So they kept coming.
One of the first messages they heard was Bill Hybels saying, “If you’ve been separated from family or friends for a time for some reason, it’s time to reconnect and close that separation.” Then Todd got on stage, and he shared the same theme... except that he said it was “time to reconnect with God.” That hit Mike like a lightning bolt, and he still gets choked up thinking back. They’d been separated for twenty years. It wasn’t that they did not believe in God, they just hadn’t found the time to go to church all that time. But now, both felt this was the place to be. Back in their church in Palatine, they’d been rather involved, but not really. They did not know a lot of people. So they appreciated that, at Willow, they got to know new people every week, making it “an amazing church to belong to.” They never used to look forward to church on Sunday. Sherry even grew up in the church, her dad a minister. But she didn’t connect there the way she does at Willow.
Right after they started going to Willow, there was a buffet dinner for seniors. It sounded like a good place to meet more people, so they went. While there, a woman invited them to her small group, and it worked out perfectly—they met with people their same age. They forged deep relationships. They did life together. And they will most surely be missed (though some of them will also go to Florida in winter. In fact, another couple recently moved to their new area, too).
And that wasn’t all. They did Alpha, meeting more people (and after it, hoped to do it again to keep learning and form more connections.) She joined café on Sundays. She made breakfast for all the production crew once every month (one day, she overheard Sandy talking to someone in the hall, saying she could really use more help with breakfast. Sherry went up to her after and said, “I’ll do it”). He served on the tear-down team each Sunday. He checked in the kids at Promiseland. He also joined the Thursday morning group for men, meeting at 6:15 a.m. But it is, he says, a group that goes to a different level—meeting with guys who are willing to share their story and be vulnerable. And they can because what happens in the group stays in the group, and they all can learn from each other.
Their lives in between Sundays changed, too. During the week, they do chair time—separately, in different rooms. It’s a way to connect with God, through the Word, as they never did before. But “it doesn’t have to be chair time. When you’re out and about driving in the car, you can be connecting with God.”
“Or when you’re walking. When you’re walking the dog.”
As Sherry says, she used to pray only at night, but now, it’s like she’s talking to God all of the time.
As they were heading off, the question in his mind was: “We’ve been away from church for twenty years. We’re brought back. And now, three years later, we’re leaving. Why? I guess the answer is God’s got some other plans for us. Going with that and seeing what happens.” But, she says, she “will always consider Willow her home church.”
A home to come visit again. On baptism, perhaps.
Two years since their own—on August of 2015.
It was a year after they started coming. Both had been baptized as babies, but it didn’t mean anything then, so they decided it was time to do it, and to do it together.
As they tell it, afterwards, Lisa Uidl asked them if they’d be among the nine people on stage to give their testimony. The initial reaction was to think I cannot do that. Talking about faith was a problem. But, after some weeks of thought, he finally said yes—he couldn’t do it on his own, though, as much as he felt that if he didn’t, he’d regret it: “I had been getting the message that you need to lean into your faith. So I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘No way.’” In the final days leading up to it, he said he couldn’t be on stage without her, but he promised he’d do all the talking—all she had to do was say her name. And, together, they closed with saying, “We have decided to follow Jesus.”