Hinsdale native stays faithful to his roots

Christmas Eve was always a lively time in the Peckenpaugh household in Hinsdale.

In addition to Doug Peckenpaugh and his five older siblings, the holiday banquet grew substantially, Peckenpaugh said, due to his mother's boundless spirit of hospitality.

"My mom was one of these people who would open up her home to any family who could come," he said. "She would run a big buffet and we'd have 20, 30 people coming through."

By 10 p.m. the gathering would disperse, leaving the family time to arrive at Hinsdale Covenant Church in time for the 11 p.m. candlelight service. Peckenpaugh was struck by its solemn yet celebratory tone.

"They had candles lit up and down the aisle and all over. It just seemed like the whole place was alive with candles," he recalled. "They would time (the final hymn) so they would ring the church bell as part of the song right at midnight as we were finishing up the service."

The church has played a central role throughout Peckenpaugh's story. He met his wife, Jen, in the high school youth group and got married in the sanctuary. Friends from his earliest Sunday school classes remain friends to this day.

"We used to go with families from church on the train out to Colorado every year for ski trips," he said. "It is very much ingrained into the community of my life."

For the last couple years, Peckenpaugh has served as chair of the church's leadership committee. It's a post his dad previously held, leading to another special link.

"When my wife received her Bible at confirmation, the certificate that went with it was signed by my father," he noted.

Being a church leader means staying true to meaningful traditions while identifying ways to constructively embrace modern sensibilities.

"You have to honor the past while still being open to what the future brings," Peckenpaugh said.

The live nativity services are a more recent addition to the 131-year-old church's Christmas Eve itinerary, quickly becoming a seasonal fixture among local families. On-site livestock help recreate the Bethlehem scene in way that all the senses experience.

"One year they thought it would be a good idea to get a camel. So they brought this camel into the church - I don't know how they got it in there to begin with - and it was touch-and-go as we were trying to lead him out of the church again," he recounted. "We only did that once."

He admitted his younger self was not exactly keen on following in his parents' footsteps. And when he and Jen were first married, they moved to Oregon to soak in fresh surroundings. But parenthood triggered a newfound fondness for familiar places and loving, and beloved, faces.

"We were just drawn back here," he said. "Why fight it? We know what we love."

Their kids subsequently went through the same church youth group and sleepaway camps as mom and dad. And just like his mom, Peckenpaugh will be cooking for a crowd Christmas Eve at his Downers Grove home.

"That's a tradition that I continue now, today," he said. "I invite all my family over on Christmas Eve and we do the same thing."

- story by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean