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Boystown Churches Welcome All, Celebrate Easter

The scent of brownies and crumb cake fills the little chapel, welcoming people from the street before the Easter Sunday service. A small woman bustles around, making sure to greet everyone who walks through the door as well as fixing a broken lamp light and pouring Welches grape juice in place of the typical communion wine.

Lakeview Lutheran Church may seem like any number of Chicago churches celebrating Easter Sunday this April. But the church itself is much more than a typical church: It is at the center of church acceptance of the LGBT community and gay marriage. And the church is not alone, since several of the churches in Boystown, a North side neighborhood favored by many gays and lesbians, call themselves gay-friendly. Lakeview Lutheran operates alongside Lakeview Presbyterian at 716 W. Addison and Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 708 W. Belmont, along with many other gay-friendly churches.

A rainbow pylon on North Halsted Street at Wes...
A rainbow pylon on North Halsted Street at West Cornelia Avenue, like others along Halsted, welcomes visitors to the landmark gay village. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lakeview Lutheran Church itself is small, but its powerful message attracted a large congregation on Easter Sunday. Located at 835 W. Addison St., it is also involved in social ministry with an overnight youth shelter, The Crib, in its basement. The Crib specializes in counseling LGBT youth who have been thrown out of their homes.

“We’re moving past that time when church was only about a certain set of beliefs,” said Lila Beukema, 55, pastor of Lakeview Lutheran and the small, busy woman pouring the grape juice.

“Some people like to put certain people into some kinds of boxes, some people like to look at certain kinds of behaviors and make value judgments about those kinds of things and our philosophy, our theology, just goes a little deeper.”

Beukema has been the pastor of Lakeview Lutheran for seven years and a pastor for almost 30 years. She originally studied with the Reform Church in America, which she says is similar to the Presbyterian Church. There, she worked with people in public housing, which got her interested in working with the homeless. She has been working with The Crib since she got to Lakeview Lutheran and spoke about homeless gay youth in her Easter sermon, an important issue to her.

She said she understands why many in the LGBT community are wary of religion.

“I get the discouragement. I get the experience of church that isn’t fulfilling, but that’s a part of finding the deeper purpose of faith,” she said. “That’s also part of the message of Easter.”

Daniel Piechocinski, 28, is a gay man in Beukema’s congregation who also volunteers at The Crib. He was raised as a Lutheran but described his church experience growing up as “minimal.”

“The message here just seems a little bit more inviting,” he said. “She’s very laid back and down to earth. She’s open and inviting to everybody. Her message is a lot more about acceptance and love and tolerance and helping.”

But not all pastors in the area condone gay marriage and other gay issues.

Pastor Matt Sweetman, 32, of Destination Church, said he considers his congregation “progressive,” and, as its website says, “contemporary.” Destination Church meets every Sunday at the Inter-American Magnet School, a school for culturally and economically diverse students at 851 W. Waveland Ave.

“We address gender issues as well as issues of sexuality,” he said.

Despite this, he said he objects to giving LGBT churchgoers a special or exclusive welcome. Sweetman said he bases his belief on the Bible, which he said makes clear that “you’re not supposed to welcome people who are wealthy any more differently from the poor.” He compared this teaching to welcoming gay people.

Sweetman said he does hold traditional views on sexuality, that he believes what the Bible teaches about sexuality, and that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

“But that doesn’t make us any less loving and welcoming to gay people and gay couples,” he added.

Sweetman grew up in Brighton, England, which he said used to be the “gay capital” of England. His liberal upbringing has influenced his sermons.

“I grew up with lots of gay friends,” he said. “I’m very careful. Even though the Bible says that homosexuality is sin, I want to preach a gospel that includes everybody. One sin is no different than any other sin. We’re not trying to bully or diminish or hurt a certain segment of society.”

But Beukema doesn’t see it that way. She said she looks forward to a generation of new churches that will be more welcoming and diverse.

“We’re more about trying to take fellowship to a new level and not to be limited by tradition and doctrine but to use those as tools for continued exploration.”

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