Three completely different congregations coexist in Streamwood's Grace Lutheran Church

Three completely different congregations coexist in Streamwood's Grace Lutheran Church

  • Grace Lutheran Church in Streamwood hosts two other congregations. From left are the Rev. Alberto Galvan of Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico Jerusalen; the Rev. Paul Cutler, pastor of Grace Lutheran; and the Rev. Auldon Lightbourne of Mercy Community Church. "There's one true Church, and we're all in this together," Cutler says.

    Grace Lutheran Church in Streamwood hosts two other congregations. From left are the Rev. Alberto Galvan of Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico Jerusalen; the Rev. Paul Cutler, pastor of Grace Lutheran; and the Rev. Auldon Lightbourne of Mercy Community Church. "There's one true Church, and we're all in this together," Cutler says. Courtesy of Chris Leseberg

 
By Dave Gathman
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted1/16/2020 6:00 AM

It's easy to think of the history of the Christian Church -- the worldwide Church of all believers, with a big C -- as a story of division and dissension. Denominations and even local congregations have split over differences in belief, political issues, languages spoken and race.

A church in Streamwood hosts three congregations -- Grace Lutheran, a traditional Lutheran congregation; Mercy Community Church, a predominantly African-American congregation; and Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico Jerusalen, a Spanish-speaking congregation -- each with its own pastor and services.
  A church in Streamwood hosts three congregations -- Grace Lutheran, a traditional Lutheran congregation; Mercy Community Church, a predominantly African-American congregation; and Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico Jerusalen, a Spanish-speaking congregation -- each with its own pastor and services. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

But one place that seems to disprove that can be found along Bartlett Road in Streamwood. Here, a congregation that conducts traditional and contemporary Protestant services shares its space with a predominantly African-American congregation, where people speak in tongues and practice faith healing, plus a congregation -- some of whom are immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador -- that speaks to God in Spanish.

The church buildings here were erected more than 50 years ago -- and still are owned -- by Grace Lutheran Church, which is affiliated with the Lutheran Missouri Synod. But, in recent years, Grace members have welcomed two newborn and less financially strong congregations, Mercy Community Church and Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico Jerusalen, to use their facilities.

And not primarily to strengthen Grace's budget with some rent income, either. Grace Lutheran invited in the other two on a "pay what you can afford" basis.

The sanctuary of Grace Lutheran Church in Streamwood during a Lutheran service. Two other congregations also hold services at the church.
The sanctuary of Grace Lutheran Church in Streamwood during a Lutheran service. Two other congregations also hold services at the church. - Courtesy of Chris Leseberg

"When Jesus looks down on Chicago, he doesn't see a bunch of different churches," says the Rev. Paul Cutler, pastor of Grace Lutheran. "He sees his Church, with a capital C. There's one true Church, and we're all in this together."

Cutler recalls that the Grace congregation itself had to use rented facilities when a group of Lutherans started it in 1958 to serve the new, but fast-growing, village of Streamwood. For the first few years they worshipped on Sundays in space rented in a local school.

Finally, they were able to buy their current five-acre site and built a small building of their own. After five years there, they built a larger sanctuary building alongside it and started using the first structure for Sunday school and a preschool.

The Rev. Auldon Lightbourne of Mercy Community Church leads a service. His congregation meets at Grace Lutheran Church in Streamwood.
The Rev. Auldon Lightbourne of Mercy Community Church leads a service. His congregation meets at Grace Lutheran Church in Streamwood. - Courtesy of Mercy Community Church

Cutler himself was born in Iowa the same year Grace was founded, one of three brothers who all became Missouri Synod pastors. After serving churches in Florida and Chicago, he worked for 12 years as a social worker in a suburban Chicago hospice. He moved to Elgin in 2001, and became Grace's pastor in 2003.

From the Caribbean to Streamwood

Mercy Community Church pastor the Rev. Auldon Lightbourne was born the same year as Cutler, but far from Iowa -- on a Caribbean island in the Turks and Caicos chain. He came to the U.S. at age 18 and moved to Streamwood in 1984.

A church in Streamwood hosts three congregations -- Grace Lutheran, a traditional Lutheran congregation; Mercy Community Church, a predominantly African-American congregation; and Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico Jerusalen, a Spanish-speaking congregation -- each with its own pastor and services.
  A church in Streamwood hosts three congregations -- Grace Lutheran, a traditional Lutheran congregation; Mercy Community Church, a predominantly African-American congregation; and Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico Jerusalen, a Spanish-speaking congregation -- each with its own pastor and services. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

Lightbourne originally studied for a career in medical technology, and for a long time made his living as a bus driver. But as he became involved in the Pentecostal movement -- which emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit by "speaking in tongues," prophesying and faith-healing -- he began doing church work on the side, first as assistant pastor at a church in Evanston and then as a deacon at a Pentecostal church called Jubilee Christian Center on Elgin's East Side.

"My wife, Olieth, and I had sat down with the leadership of Jubilee and talked to them about the possibility of starting a separate ministry for the Streamwood area," Lightbourne says.

In 1989, the Lightbournes established Mercy Community Church. At first that consisted of just them and a few other couples meeting in the Lightbourne home for Bible study and prayer. In 1990 they rented the auditorium at Tefft Middle School in Streamwood for Sunday services.

"We never really went searching for a different space," Lightbourne says. "But one night I was at a chamber of commerce banquet at The Seville. I offered the invocation and Pastor Cutler from Grace was there. He came up and introduced himself."

"We had lunch the next day, and Pastor Lightbourne shared how on Easter 100 people had showed up at the school but the janitor never came to unlock it," Cutler recalls. "So I said, 'Why don't you just meet at Grace?'"

Lightbourne says Mercy has about 100 members, but typically draws 30 to 40 to each Sunday service. "We are multicultural," he says. "We have people from Jamaica, people of Hawaiian descent, people from South America, people of Hispanic descent."

The neighbor across the street

Iglesia Jerusalen pastor the Rev. Alberto Galvan was born in Mexico 41 years ago and came to the U.S. at age 15.

In his 20s, Galvan married, worked first for United Parcel Service and then as a truck driver. He began attending Iglesia Renacer in Hanover Park, a Spanish-speaking congregation of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

"I had no interest in becoming a pastor," he says. But Renacer's pastor saw him as a potential leader and convinced him to attend a seminary in Chicago.

As Galvan neared the end of his training, he recalls, "The superintendent of our conference told me, 'I feel you have a calling for church planting.'"

By that time the Renacer Church had moved from Hanover Park to Carpentersville. "So when they asked me where God is looking for me to plant a new church, I said, 'Hanover Park.'"

The Rev. Paul Cutler, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Streamwood, leads a traditional Lutheran service.
The Rev. Paul Cutler, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Streamwood, leads a traditional Lutheran service. - Courtesy of Chris Leseberg

Started in 2013, Iglesia Del Pacto Evangelico Jerusalen first met in Galvan's garage.

"I began driving around the area and knocking on pastors' doors. 'You have a beautiful building here. Would you mind if we moved in with you?' Twenty or 30 pastors said no."

The fledgling Hispanic church arranged to rent space on Sundays in the Streamwood Park District Community Center. But Galvan said several newcomers who sampled Jerusalen's service complained that they didn't feel like they were in church. "They said it felt like an empty meeting room."

Despairing one day in 2013, Galvan looked out the community center's front window and saw -- directly across the street -- the Grace Lutheran campus. And he saw Cutler walking back and forth between the big Sanctuary Building there and the little Education Building beside it.

"I felt that God was telling me to walk across the street and talk to (Cutler) about the small building," Galvan says. So he did.

Cutler recalls that "after a couple hours Pastor Galvan asked, 'So, pastor, would you consider renting some space to us?' I said, 'No. We're not going to rent to you. I don't want to be a landlord. ... But we will share our space with you. We want to make it possible for you guys to keep bringing people into the kingdom of God.'"

"Every month Mercy and Jerusalen share their resources with Grace," Cutler says. "Originally, Mercy was saving as much as possible to buy their own land. But when our church's finances got really tight during the 2008 recession, I asked Pastor Lightbourne if they could send us a little more and they began sending regular checks.

Grace Lutheran Church owns the five-acre Streamwood campus where three congregations hold services every week.
  Grace Lutheran Church owns the five-acre Streamwood campus where three congregations hold services every week. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

"Because of that, Grace has been able to give thousands of dollars to Feed My Starving Children and Lutheran Church Charities and Jews for Jesus and Haiti Revival. When the hurricanes struck Texas and Florida, Grace members sent me and my wife, Sue, down there to pass out envelopes containing $100 in cash and encouraging notes with Bible verses."

The three pastors must coordinate with each other about special events to avoid needing the same facilities at the same time. On Sundays, Grace holds services at 8:15 and 10:45 a.m. Then the Mercy members move in for a service starting at 12:30 p.m. The Iglesia Jerusalen members, meanwhile, worship on Sunday morning in the Education Building.

"There are questions of equipment," Cutler says. "But if something gets broken, it isn't an issue of 'Who gets billed?' It's "who will be the first to replace it?'"

"At the end of the day, every church would like to have its own facility," Galvan says. "But I wish that at the end of my years I can have a heart like Pastor Cutler's. That if someone knocks on my door, I will say, 'Come in, brother, and I'm going to open our resources to you.'"

"It's not like 'this is my space and that is your space,'" says Lightbourne. "When you're Kingdom (of God)-minded, you make things work. And when you're working to see the Kingdom of God advance, it doesn't matter what your skin color or socioeconomic status is."

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