Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Church at Faywood puts 'open and affirming' policy for gay, lesbian and transgendered people into its by-laws

By Kacie Kelly
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

At the northeastern tip of Woodford County in the Faywood community is New Union Christian Church. This church went viral when its “open and affirming” policy welcoming all forms of sexual orientation and gender expression hit social media platforms.

New Union Christian Church, by congregational law, now welcomes all gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals. One might think that with an issue this controversial – at least in some places -- a step such as this would take much deliberation and consideration, but that is not the case for this church at the eastern tip of the Midway census tract.

New Union Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
“Everyone is welcome here. . . . We’ve been operating on that policy for a while,” says New Union minister Nancy Jo Kemper.

The church is a part of the Disciples of Christ denomination, which was established in the Lexington area in the 1830s because people did not like how exclusive other churches were. The Disciples of Christ faith is “a movement of unity in a fragmented and broken world,” said Kemper, who was executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches from 1991 to 2009.

New Union “extends hospitality to all,” as the church states in its by-laws, which now say the church will not discriminate in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Because Kemper has “been saying it from the pulpit for years now,” she was able to catch the attention of Caleb Ritchie, an openly gay graduate of Transylvania University. Today, he is a member of New Union Christian Church. Kemper and Ritchie met at Transylvania while serving in Kentucky ministry.

The social media swirl around the open and affirming policy meant a lot to Ritchie. He grew up in Georgetown, where he didn't have positive experiences growing up. “Other churches will not say that they are against it,” he said, “but it turns out later that you find out how they really feel about it.” He said some even “try a heterosexual conversion process,” so he is happy to have found sanctuary at New Union.

Caleb isn’t the only person excited about this. When the congregation voted to pass the policy, “It was unanimous,” said Kemper.

Congregation member Laura Wolfrom said, “It’s always been that way I think. It’s just official now.”

New Union is “an unusual little church,” said Kemper. “Most of our members are 50 and up.” She said it was “surprising” to see such a progressive and liberal church with an older demographic in such a rural area.

However, this unusual little church has big ambition. Ritchie and Kemper both believe this act will set an example. For Ritchie, it is a sign of hope. “The world needs hope,” Kemper said from the pulpit at a recent Sunday service.

In an interview, she said, “We hope it will help Woodford County pass a fairness law.” Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift has proposed a fairness ordinance for the city.

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