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'Grace' alone not enough

The new sign lights up at night, but many parishioners felt it left passers-by in the dark. "Grace Church of LaGrange," proclaims the sign at the Chicago suburban ELCA congregation that was founded in 1887 as Swedish Lutheran Church.

It was put up in 1994 after what Robert Shaner, pastor, calls "a badly flawed process." He recalls saying, "Tell me about your sign" to the call committee at his interview the next year. "There were red faces," he says, as the committee told how upset many parishioners were that Lutheran was left off the sign.

"The intent might have been good, the reasoning that denominational identification is passé," Shaner explains. But the sign's installation "cost $100,000 in lost pledges that year," he says, from a budget of $700,000.

A family who joined the congregation several years later told him they had often driven past and would have visited earlier--had they known the church was Lutheran.

This name change that wasn't (there never was any consideration of dropping Lutheran) marked the third identity switch. English services were added once-a-month in 1910, and in 1922 the congregation gave itself the new name of Emmaus Lutheran Church--because LaGrange is the same distance from Chicago as Emmaus is from Jerusalem. "But that didn't connect," says Shaner, reading from the congregation history. And five years later--three years after Swedish services were stopped--the name was changed to Grace.

How about that sign today? "We're living with it," the pastor says. "The congregation understands that you are known in the community by what you do, your programs and ministry."


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