'A sign of hope': Arlington Heights church responds to vandalism with parade
A crowd of about 200 people, many wrapped in holiday lights and carrying signs with the slogan "Love boldly," marched around First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights on Sunday to celebrate the church's Pride Parade in Lights.
But beyond the festive atmosphere of rainbow masks, pride flags and glow sticks was a serious message of strength and resilience from church members.
Over the last six months, the pride flag prominently displayed outside the church has been torn down or stolen six times, most recently just before the new year.
In response, church members organized Sunday's parade to send a message of love.
"What defines our mission and ministry is to love boldly, because a better world is possible," Lead Pastor Melissa Earley told the crowd gathered in front of the church. "I hope that after tonight you will continue to show radical inclusivity and hospitality wherever you are and to take the rainbow parade to your homes."
The church of about 800 members openly welcomes the LGBTQ+ community. Thom Frerk, who chairs the church's Reconciling Ministry, said it has several programs for the community and has received the support of groups such as the Pinta Project and the League of Women Voters.
While the repeated acts of vandalism are discouraging, Pastor of Faith Formation Lynn Mikels said she was encouraged to people of all ages taking part in the parade Sunday.
"I think that this is a sign of hope for the community," she said. "I think that every person is precious and loved by God and should be welcomed wholeheartedly into the life of the church."