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Chicago Heights Church Embraces Gay Clergy, Tackles Social Issues

Pastor Patrick Shebeck encourages Prince of Peace members to walk through the Labyrinth.

At 34 years old, the wisdom of Pastor Patrick Shebeck outshines many elders.

The Chicago Heights resident has been at the helm of in Chicago Heights for four years. 

He was there in August 2009 for one of the most controversial votes in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: to accept gay clergy in sexually active monogamous relationships in the pulpit. 

Shebeck couldn’t be happier.

“We as Christians sing hymns about everyone being welcome," Shebeck said. "Now, after the 2009 vote on sexuality, everyone is. I’m glad about this. We get calls (from people) who tell me 'I’m not welcome in other churches or I can’t take communion in other churches, can I find a place in your church?' The answer is always yes! The older that I get, that is what is at the heart of the gospel.”

Pastor Shebeck has brought the passion for liturgy into the church as well offering to teach music to children in the community.

“Prince of Peace will offer free music lessons for four months (12 lessons) contingent to the fact the family attends church here," Shebeck said. "After the four months, the family pays half price and never pays more than that. It’s important families have an investment in music.“

Patch stopped by Prince of Peace Lutheran church to see how the church is making a difference in Chicago Heights.

Patch: How long has your church been in Chicago Heights?  

Shebeck: Prince of Peace is the merger of two former congregations. In 1969, Trinity Lutheran Chicago Heights and Emmanuel Lutheran merged and chose the name of Prince of Peace. Emmanuel began in 1891, so we claim we’re 110 years old because we still have members from both churches.

This corner on Western Avenue is called the 'Field of Churches.' Several years ago all of this land was a farm. When the woman who owned all the land died, she left a provision in her will that the land could be sold at half price to churches. So the Methodist church, the Nazarene church, the former Greek church and Prince of Peace bought property.

Prince of Peace made a bad decision on its location, nobody knows we’re here.

What is your church known for?

Many things. First is liturgy. We have good worship, good preaching, good music and partnership with PADS. We house . We have PADS Monday through Friday the whole summer. We’re the only site out of 31 that has the program in the summer. I don’t know why there aren’t more churches willing to be a site during the summer. We also run PADS food teams. PADS is important to our congregation. We’re always looking for volunteers to help. The liturgy, that we do, we bring to the world.

I spoke about our music academy. We have retired teachers and we have a lot of musicians. When you put these people together, you end up with music lessons. When you have budget cuts to schools, the first thing to go is music and arts. Lutherans have a long history of music and congregational singing. Music is the glass in the window and not the curtains.  We can offer good music to children who would otherwise not have the resources.  The Suzuki String Studio do their recitals here.  Any community music group who wants to use this place, we will open our doors.

We also have a labyrinth in front of the church. It was built in 2006. We have people walking the labyrinth who are cancer survivors, who are going through grief or who just want to talk to God. It is open to anyone. The labyrinth is a tool for prayer. It’s not a maze, it’s a symbol of our lives as a journey towards God. It takes about 45 minutes to get into the center.

The church is also offering free classes for First Communion.

Who are some notable members?

Every one of them are notable! I give thanks to God every day for every member of this congregation. I also pray for other people who will come into this house and find a place. The church is incomplete without you and without your gifts. You help make us more complete by bringing your gifts in this house.

Tell us a story about your congregation.

We have a member who used to be a client of PADS. She is a PADS success story. She found a community here and joined Prince of Peace and joined the choir. The clients of PADS are real people with real stories with hopes and dreams just like anyone else. She took the best of PADS and Prince of Peace in a meaningful way and is making it work. 

When I’m here at night, I’ll get a knock on my door, Pastor can I talk to you? My door is always open. People do not arrive in PADS without interesting stories on how they got there. I never want to be so busy I don’t have time to listen to God's people. 

How are you different than other churches?

Social issues are important to me. A very special member here passed away a few years ago from ovarian cancer. She was unable to afford health insurance therefore was unable to get treatment. When we as a society talk about healthcare for everyone and other members fight against it. That’s a problem. That person is a member of my congregation, she has a name.  She ended up dying.

I, as a clergy member, believe that’s a huge moral issue. Nobody should die because they can’t go to the doctor. That’s disturbing to me. Jesus didn’t get crucified because he was telling them what they wanted to hear. Jesus ruffled peoples feathers. Sometimes the church needs to do that. Jesus speaks of justice and mercy and has no time for hypocrites in any of the gospels.  The world needs to respect  the dignity of all people. Our mission is to put the Gospel into action.

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is the largest Lutheran church body in the United States. I would rather be known as a church that welcomes everybody no matter who they are. Young, old, questioning. People who are curious are welcome here, people from any ethnicity are welcome here. People (who are) gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender are welcome here.

All Lutherans believe is God's grace. You can’t earn your way into heaven. St. Francis of Assisi said; Preach the Gospel at all times and use words when necessary. I hope we as a congregation always live that. It’s important we listen to the needs of the community.

Sunday Eucharist at Prince of Peace is at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning Bible study is going on, as well as music lessons. The first 12 lessons are free if you attend Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Chicago Heights.

Jamie Paicely October 11, 2011 at 11:02 PM
I didn't know that PADS had any shelters open in the summer. This will come in handy to know next year, when the other shelters shut down! Yay for them for providing this much needed service in this area!
Sarah Tritt October 11, 2011 at 11:19 PM
Now, I'm not a religious person and I don't go to church, but this article made me very happy. I wish more churches were like that.
Cindy Hensley Fonseca October 12, 2011 at 11:07 PM
I would like to comment on the women who died from cancer. Did she seek medical attention? Public aid..County hospitals would of treated her. I also wonder if the church attempted to help her with her bills? In this day and age in the USA I have never heard of anyone refused of medical care. This is not a third world country, medical care is available. Many hospitals give charity when it is needed.

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