All Saints Lutheran Church turned its 8:30 a.m. service Sunday into a surprise party for Kevin and Linda Kinsella to celebrate the couple’s 25th year as youth ministers.
The celebration was such a surprise that Kevin Kinsella arrived late, forcing co-pastor Seth Moland-Kovash to “call an audible” and delay the presentation until after the opening prayer, when Kinsella was in the church and seated with the youth group.
Karen Goodlow, who has assisted the Kinsellas with the youth group for 20 years, asked the couple to stand, and then introduced Ellie Gray, a youth group member and senior at Fremd High School. Gray read from an essay she wrote about Kevin Kinsella for a statewide Lincolnland Legends competition (her essay came in second place, earning Gray a $4,000 scholarship). Gray described how the Kinsellas volunteered to start a youth ministry at All Saints in the 1980s, and remain volunteers to this day.
The ministry, which is open to high school students, meets each Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m. during the school year in a room in the church basement filled with donated couches and easy chairs, with a drum kit and foosball table sitting to the side. Gray noted that group activities include volunteering for PADS – All Saints is a PADS location – and Habitat for Humanity.
Gray then told the congregation that in 2007, when Kevin learned that Palatine Township Food Pantry routinely ran short of food during the summer, he and his daughter, Kellie, founded Youth Opposition to Hunger in Palatine. In its first year, the organization raised more than $100,000 for the pantry. Since it was founded YHOP has raised $80,000.
“Kevin is the heart and soul of our youth group, the reason most kids come back week after week,” Gray read. “He listens to us when no one else will, constantly reminding us that God will be there for us all the time.”
After Gray spoke, Goodlow and Troy DeFranco, who also assists with the youth ministry, presented the Kinsellas with a gift, a picture with the message “Show Me. Teach Me. Guide Me.” To demonstrate the Kinsellas’ legacy at All Saints, Jenn Moland-Kovash, who is co-pastor with her husband, asked all youth group members to stand, then all former members, then the parents of current or former members. By this point, nearly the entire congregation was standing.
After the service, the Kinsellas said their longevity as youth ministers is one reason teenagers at All Saints find them easy to relate to, because they are a friendly and familiar presence in the church. “It’s a difficult group to gain trust in, the high school kids,” Kevin said. “Early on, you’re just old people."
The Kinsellas are both 50 years old and stress they have no plans to retire. They are proud that two former youth group members, Goodlow and DeFranco, returned to assist them with the ministry. “We continue to bring in younger ones that are cooler than us,” Kevin said.
DeFranco said he owes much to the Kinsellas. “They basically have saved my life,” he said.
DeFranco had a learning disability in high school and had a difficult time getting into college. Twenty-one schools rejected him before he finally was accepted at Illinois State University. He said the Kinsellas helped him deal with discouragement as those 21 rejections rolled in. “When you’re in high school and things aren’t going your way and you want to believe in something, they were my connection with God.”
Jenn Moland-Kovash said the Kinsellas also inspire youth group members by the example they set. “They’ve lived out their faith,” she said. “They walk the walk and talk the talk.”
Linda Kinsella noted that the teenagers in the youth group now tend to be more service-oriented than teenagers in the 1980s. “One thing that hasn’t changed,” she said, “is that kids just want to be a part of something, and they want to be heard.”
Goodlow and DeFranco organized the tribute to the Kinsellas. They sought out former youth group members on Facebook and invited them to attend the service, which was also the last youth group meeting until the fall.
Kevin Kinsella turned a photo shoot with all current and former members into an impromptu meeting, asking past members to stand up and introduce themselves to the current members. Past members ranged from several who graduated from high school last year to one, Mike Williams, who graduated in 1986, the year the Kinsellas initiated the youth ministry. “We’ve got some oldies but goodies here, Karen said.
The last person to speak, Andy Nedzel, graduated from Fremd in 1992. “When I came in as a freshman, I was the kid who sat in the corner and said nothing. And by the end, I had a voice,” Nedzel said, “and I’d like to thank Kevin and Linda for that.”
The tribute to the Kinsellas concluded with a picnic at the Deer Grove Forest Preserve.
Correction: In the original version of this story Troy DeFranco was referred to as DeMarco several times. Also the story stated that YHOP had raised $80,000 this year. YHOP has raised $80,000 since it was founded. Palatine Patch regrets the errors.