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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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November 20, 2009

A hole in the roof

The Chicago Fire Department cut a hole in the roof of Bethel Lutheran Church on Chicago's West Side today. It was necessary to put out a fire in the ELCA congregation's sanctuary.

"The fire started near the altar on the right side, in a closet that held wiring for the sound system," said Neil Bullock, president of the congregation's council. Fire damage to the sanctuary included a 100-year-old stained glass window over the altar.

The congregation was in the midst of a major renovation, and had "just put a new roof on one month ago," Bullock said. "Thank God no one was hurt. There was a lot of water damage. We were hoping to get back into the sanctuary for Christmas, and that's not going to happen. But if it hadn't happened in the daytime, the entire building could have been destroyed."

Without that hole in the roof, Bethel could easily have lost the space where, for 100 years, people have worshiped; where members share Bible studies; where grandparents raising grandchildren find support; and where people living in poverty have found a Christ-like embrace. It's a space where Bethel welcomes all, including this month's new member, a man who began coming two years ago. A former convict, he tells folks God saved him through Bethel. Family members now come with him to church.

Long ago, some other folks cut a hole in the roof of a building—a quick, daring route to Jesus who they believed would make their paralyzed friend walk. Jesus not only made him walk; he forgave his sins-the bigger miracle. (Mark 2)

Bethel's been in the news quite a bit in recent days. Last week, unknown vandals pulled some metal off Bethel's building, perhaps seeking thrills or scraps to sell. Who knows? Maybe these vandals, too, can experience a miracle, a hole that opens the roof of their search for significance or survival. Maybe they will someday stand and walk with Bethel Lutheran, where folks tell about Jesus' forgiveness, and even ex-convicts testify that all are welcome. Stranger things have happened.

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