Dist. 158 rejects Willow Creek as graduation venue over its stance on homosexuality

  • Gianna Tatone heads up to the podium to speak for the senior class presentation during one of the three Huntley High School graduation ceremonies held on the football field this past spring.

    Gianna Tatone heads up to the podium to speak for the senior class presentation during one of the three Huntley High School graduation ceremonies held on the football field this past spring. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media, May 2021

 
By Ben SZalinski
Shaw Media
Updated 12/21/2021 12:58 AM

The Huntley Unit District 158 board rejected a proposal to host Huntley High School's graduation at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington following concerns from the public about the church's stance on homosexuality.

The district had cited Willow Creek as a more convenient venue for families, a better logistical setting and a more affordable site.

 

"Our sole intention is to provide our families with the best possible venue in which to celebrate the tremendous accomplishment of graduation from high school," District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe said in response to the public concern.

Board members, who rejected the idea Thursday, said they received several messages from community members asking them not to consider Willow Creek as a graduation location.

At issue was this passage in Willow Creek's 2020 Elder Statement: "It is important to distinguish between sinful tendencies and sinful practice. One may be inclined to theft or violence or addiction -- but the more important question is whether one acts on those inclinations. The same is true of sexual morality. What we do with the tendencies inside our hearts defines us morally. To have same-sex attraction is quite different from seeking same-sex partners or viewing same-sex pornography and acting out."

Opponents argued the church does not welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community.

"We in no way want to make any student feel marginalized by our district choices," Rowe said.

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Willow Creek could not be reached for comment Monday.

District 158 parent Andy Liggett said he has been to Willow Creek and never saw evidence of what opponents of the proposal alleged, arguing they were mischaracterizing the church.

"The church is supposed to love everybody, so don't have these preconceived notions," he said.

Willow Creek would have been Huntley High School's fourth graduation location in the last 10 years. It was held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates until 2014, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb until 2019 and the high school football field in 2021.

Rowe told the board earlier this month that Willow Creek was an affordable option for the district at $15,000 -- significantly less than the $28,000 the Sears Centre charged. The graduation at NIU cost $12,000.

High school Principal Marcus Belin told the board Thursday that hosting the ceremony on the football field was costly and also required multiple ceremonies.

The future of the high school's graduation is again up in the air. Rowe said earlier this month the school likely could negotiate a new deal with NIU if necessary and said on Thursday that officials would take a look at their options, including the Sears Centre, which has been renamed Now Arena.

"Regardless of where we will celebrate our graduates come May 2022, I can promise you we will continue to work together to commemorate our students' time at Huntley 158 the best way possible," he said.

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