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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Creative outreach: Grace extended

In this little space on the shores of Lake Michigan, all are welcome

When the gathering music is Billy Joel's She's Always a Woman to Me, you just know the worship will be anything but ordinary.

But out of the ordinary is how it has to be, says Barbara Zielinski, mission developer of Extended Grace, a faith community along Lake Michigan's east shore.

"We're the place for people who are on the edge," she says. "The church needs to create places for people who feel nobody wants them. Christ always sat with the outsider. That's where we're called to be." These 30 worshipers are here to find and experience Extended Grace, and by all accounts they do.

Every Sunday at about 5 p.m. they saunter into this Grand Haven, Mich., building behind a day care and Pizza Hut. After helping themselves to coffee, tea or Hawaiian Punch, the men, women and children settle into donated couches or sit behind tables. Clad in jeans and sweatshirts, they spend the next three hours participating in worship orchestrated by Zielinski and eat a meal prepared by her husband, Sigmond. Most will stay to discuss the evening's theme led by Zielinski or a guest.

But before they do, there's a check-in time, giving a taste of the joys and struggles of these worshipers. Unemployed job seekers give updates, two birthdays are celebrated and a woman announces her enrollment in a Dale Carnegie course (applause). A visitor attending with friends says, among other things, her heat has been turned off. She's partly here to warm up. "Mary" is here every week, driving 30 miles from Grand Rapids. "I had never attended church very much. I always felt if they knew the real me I wouldn't be welcome," she says.


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