East Lakeview might be the last place you’d look for a Baptist missionary church, but on Aldine Street, just a few blocks west of Halsted, there’s a 40-person congregation called C3. The Chicagoland Community Church, as it’s known, is part of the Southern Baptist, or Great Commission, network of churches.
Pastor Jon Pennington is a loquacious man who moved to Chicago 12 years ago to start the church.
C3 is “not a church that is open and affirming,” he says. But “we are a church that is open.”
He means that while his church views homosexuality as a sin, every Sunday after its 4 pm service, the congregation offers a hot meal to anyone who wants to join. The dinner is part of the church’s “Safe Haven” program, which caters primarily to young LGBT people.
“Hate the sin. Love the sinner,” Pennington says. “We mean it and try to live it.”
And so, on Sunday afternoons when the bars and restaurants on North Halsted are packed, a group of young people often waits outside the modest-looking church for worship services to wrap.
“We honestly and completely and totally love people who are in the LGBT community,” Pennington says. “And we say that without flinching. I loathe the fact that some Christians try to use this book [the Bible] as a justification to scream hate and to come by with horrible signs that the scriptures don’t even say. That absolutely nauseates me. Though there’s a problem with the other extreme. When people just put a rainbow on the church, they’re ignoring a good portion of the scriptures. And once you start bringing your scissors to the text, that’s never gonna stop.”
Neighbors have chided Pennington for attracting “that element,” meaning young people, to their part of the neighborhood. But he insists on not only hosting the weekly meal, but also making sure young people feel at home there. Guests at C3 are welcome to sleep if they’re tired—something that’s often banned at other service centers. And the church opens its closets too, giving away jeans, hooded sweatshirts, socks and underwear.
Dee Heldenbrand cooks Sunday meals. She prepares for 50 people but says the church usually only gets 25-30. Some weeks she’ll make chicken and rice. Others it’s macaroni and cheese or spaghetti and meatballs.
“They eat until they’re full,” she says.
Church member Colby Mowery, 21, runs the “Safe Haven” program. He says it’s a time when young people can get off the street, grab a bite to eat, share in some conversation or sit alone if that’s what they need. The church has instruments that it lets young people use. (The opening video in this series includes an original piano composition played by a young person during one of the weekly dinners.)
“We are not anti-gay. We are pro-Jesus,” Mowery says. “Our purpose is not that we are against anyone.”
Many churches in Chicago do not show their support to the LGBT community… especially churches that believe that homosexual behavior is sinful. But one church… a 40-person congregation called C3 is making a difference in the lives of the LGBT community, without compromising their theology: