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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Signs from God

The sign outside St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wheaton, Ill., reads: "We are an open, affirming and inclusive church."

More signs — stating the congregation's affirmation and welcome for all people — appear inside all church entrances and on their Web site. The words are striking:

"Christ calls us to be a family of healing and welcome within our society. We profess our commitment to invite and openly welcome all. ... Persons of all races, national and ethnic origins, ages, mental and emotional condition capacity, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, economic situation and those who suffer from addictions share with others the worth which comes from being unique individuals created by God ... all stand before God in need of forgiveness ... [and] are welcome within the membership of our congregation ...."

The signs led Cathy Berner and her children, Abby and Zach, to join St. Paul. "I liked what the affirmation said. When I first read it, I thought: 'This is where I want to raise my children,' " she says.

Melody Eastman, a pastor of St. Paul, says, "One person said people would be upset [by the message] and hold back their offerings. I said, 'I don't care. We don't do ministry because of offerings.' ... But we've actually gained more members ... than we've lost."

Inclusivity doesn't come without struggle, Eastman says. "People on either sides of issues do try to hear each other," she adds. "We also try to lift up that we are one because of what Christ did, not what we think about it. It's OK for one parent to let their 2-year-old take communion, and another parent to say they're not ready. Many in the congregation see this as a place where it's safe to struggle with faith questions."


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