Editor's note: This story is part of a faith series I'm working on that highlights our local places of worship. If you'd like to see your church featured in this series, contact me, editor Korrina Grom, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Renee Denault thinks about what she likes most about Grace Lutheran Church in Libertyville, the answer is easy.
"What I like most is just the friendly atmosphere," said Denault, who is part of the church's outreach team. "I kind of feel like it's my extended family."
"It really is like how you'd want a family to be," added LuAnn Schon, a church spokeswoman. "They actually care about other people."
The church community is one that not only cares for those within its midst but also those outside of the church through the various ministries members participate in. It's all right there in Grace Lutheran's mission statement: "Building Relationships, Growing Spiritually, Reaching Out."
"We try to be active in our faith," said Denault. "A lot of people that come to our church comment that it's just such a friendly place."
Celebrating 50 Years
Grace Lutheran Church, which is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013. The church started as an American Lutheran Church congregation in August 1962 and held its first service in November 1962. The church was official incorporated in 1963. The building underwent an expansion in 1976 with the construction of a new sanctuary. The former sanctuary is now used as a chapel where community groups, like the Boy and Girl Scouts, along with a Korean congregation, can meet.
There are 210 families—and 690 baptized members—at Grace Lutheran, along with "a lot of people who haven't officially become members," said Schon.
The church is also home to a thriving preschool program, Growing With Grace, that is open to the whole community. The preschool program, located in the church at 501 Valley Park Drive, started six or seven years ago.
"Since we started the preschool, our goal was to bring in younger people and families," said Denault. The preschool itself has expanded, regularly adding new classes. So far, there are the Terrific Twos, Tremendous Threes, Fabulous Fours and Amazing Adventures classes.
"That's become a real blessing," Denault said of the impact of the preschool program. "It's really grown a lot."
The church also draws in new members with its recently-redesigned website.
"We really modernized it," said Denault.
Joining the Community
When people first visit Grace Lutheran, they're greeted by church volunteers—and given a small gift—at the Welcome Center, said Schon.
"You're welcome here. We want you to come," said Schon. "Kids are welcome, older kids are welcome."
Visitors will find a church with two services - traditional at 8:30 a.m. and contemporary at 10 a.m. - and a relaxed atmosphere where there is no specific dress code.
"We have a friendly, casual atmosphere at Grace. Dress the way you feel comfortable, from jeans to business casual," according to the church website. "We're glad you want to share with us in worship and ministry at Grace."
"A church like this is a smaller church and it is a family," said Schon. "We worry about our members, we care about them, we rejoice with them. I think it's not so formal. It's more lively."
That lively church family is definitely focused on community service.
Members donate items to the C.O.O.L. Food Pantry, volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and spend time playing bingo with residents at Winchester House. The Creation Care program collects and recycles items like cell phones, ink cartridges and small electronics. The Service Workshop group makes and sends quilts to Lutheran World Relief and collects school supplies and toiletries for those in need.
The church also participates in Operation Shoebox through Samaritan's Purse. Members are asked to fill a shoebox with items for a boy or a girl, and those shoeboxes are sent to children in need.
"That will be the only Christmas gift a child will get," said Schon. "It's a really nice project for a family to do."
Denault said she visited the Operation Shoebox website and printed out a label so she could track where her shoebox went. It was delivered to a child in India.
There are also plenty of social groups for people to get involved in. The Women of Grace group holds events like spa day, a perennial luncheon and a mother/daughter tea. OWLS (Older Wiser Lutherans) is a group for those ages 50 and up and includes activities and speakers. There are also Bible study groups and the annual Vacation Bible School program.
"We just encourage people to express themselves and live their faith," said Denault.