Since 1879, Wicker Park Lutheran Church has been an anchor of faith in its Chicago neighborhood. After two recent crimes, members of this diverse, dynamic and growing congregation responded with the love that has shaped this long-standing identity.

Since 2006, that identity has included affirming their welcome of people who are LGBTQIA+ as a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) community. Today, Wicker Park tangibly supports the community by displaying a rainbow flag and a transgender flag on its exterior windows. But Between June 16 and June 18, the flags were stolen. New flags were vandalized June 23.

Jason Glombicki, pastor of Wicker Park, and member Nora Davia said the church has experienced similar thefts. But they said the vandalism—in which the phrase “We love kids” was spray-painted onto the rainbow flag and the transgender flag was painted with an “X”—felt different, like an escalation.

Wicker Park filed police reports, gave evidence to the Chicago Police Department and spoke with detectives who specialize in hate crimes.

“I wasn’t sure if it was a hate crime, random vandalism, general frustration with the ‘rainbow everything’ of Pride Month, or someone trying to express a hurt or negative belief about the church,” said member Kristen Vuchichevich.

Glombicki said he was especially conscious of how the crimes might affect children and youth.

The congregation addressed physical safety concerns and requested extra police patrols. Security cameras had been installed before the crimes. “I and the [congregation] council made a point to reach out to the staff to provide reassurance and to check in to ensure everyone was coping,” Davia said.

“I would rather continue to preach and teach that message of love rather than be fearful and risk others not knowing God’s love and grace.”

Messages of encouragement came from the ELCA churchwide organization and the American Civil Liberties Union. “I appreciated that [ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth] Eaton took the time to write a letter of support to the congregation,” Vuchichevich said. “Seeing support from the head of the denomination was affirming.”

There were multiple media reports of the crimes. “My biggest concern was that the media attention would result in further acts,” Vuchichevich said.

But for Davia, the media exposure was a blessing. “[It] allowed us to broadcast our—and, in my belief, Christian—obligation to love everyone.”

Both Vuchichevich and Davia say that welcome and being part of an RIC congregation is important.

“I spent a long time trying not to be queer and found that I couldn’t live that way,” Vuchichevich said. “I am now finding that my years away from church also took a toll on me. I am grateful to have [Wicker Park] as a safe place that is healing me from that experience and guiding me into a life of greater service.”

For Davia, “the concept of being entirely inclusive—LGBTQIA+, racially, differently abled, etc.—is something that is, to me, very easy in theory but often complicated in practice. The consistent pursuit of being entirely welcoming to all has challenged me more than I would have expected, and I believe I’ve grown substantially.”

Acts of outreach

On June 30—Reconciling in Christ Sunday—the congregation blessed more than 300 rainbow flags they had planted in the garden in front of the church. “Planting the flags—that process, that ritual, that naming—was really key,” Glombicki said.

Since the crimes, Wicker Park has remained active in its community. The congregation co-sponsored a neighborhood summer movie night with a table—covered with rainbow and transgender flags—where kids and adults drew messages of God’s love, got their faces painted or supported ELCA ministries.

Alex Aivars, a former pastoral intern at Wicker Park, hosts the congregation’s GodColors ministry, a monthly Bible study in which a coffee shop becomes a place of grace for LGBTQIA+ Christians. “A space like GodColors provides a space where both a person’s LGBTQIA+ identity and their Christian identity can be accepted and celebrated,” he said.

Glombicki said the congregation’s message of love and welcome will continue. “Ministry in and of itself is risky,” he said. “I would rather continue to preach and teach that message of love rather than be fearful and risk others not knowing God’s love and grace.”

Rachel K. Hindery
Rachel K. Hindery is a freelance reporter and a member of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, Ill.

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