A new Enid church found a denominational home for its mission of creating an open and affirming space for LGBTQ Christians last weekend, when Enid Faith Ways Church was admitted as a church in formation with the United Church of Christ.
Enid Faith Ways got its start when several families split off from another congregation last August, and began meeting in space at University Place Christian Church, 2107 E. Broadway.
Enid Faith Ways member Cynthia Stevison said the congregation of about 35 people has since been working on a mission plan to gain full membership in the United Church of Christ (UCC).
Stevison said Enid Faith Ways includes worshipers from several different denominations, but they’ve been drawn to the UCC by its open and affirming stance toward members of the LGBTQ community.
“We feel like the UCC has a bold vision, and we follow that,” Stevison said. “We strive to be Christ-like, and we’re open to everybody. It’s a progressive Christian outlook. It’s just a diverse group of people coming together to hear about what it means to be forward-thinking and progressive in a community that is conservative.”
The congregation’s efforts to join the UCC gained traction over the weekend at the annual meeting in Wichita, Kan., of the Kansas and Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ.
Enid Faith Ways was admitted to the UCC as a church in formation, beginning a year-long process of review leading to full membership in the denomination.
The Rev. Kathy McCallie, a UCC minister who has been traveling from Tulsa twice per month to minister to Enid Faith Ways, said it was gratifying to see the new congregation move toward full membership in the UCC.
“It’s a great inspiration to me, because I really believe God’s spirit is working through this group of people,” McCallie said. “They are so committed, so inspiring, and are really dedicated to making sure there’s a church where everyone is fully accepted as an equal member.”
After leaving their last church, Stevison said finding inclusion in the UCC denomination was a “big deal” for Enid Faith Ways congregants.
“Somebody’s hearing our voice, and that’s important,” Stevison said. “When we first left that other church, it kind of felt like we were just left out, because there wasn’t another [open and affirming] church close to us.”
Stevison said the next nearest congregations that self-identify as open and affirming to the LGBTQ community are in Oklahoma City, Weatherford and Tulsa.
The Rev. Chris Moore, who pastors the open and affirming congregation at Fellowship Congregational UCC in Tulsa, said he welcomes another congregation that seeks full inclusion of LGBTQ members.
“To have another open and affirming congregation, and one that’s going so well, is very affirming,” Moore said. “It’s always nice to not feel like you’re so much on an island. Enid and Tulsa aren’t exactly next-door, but just to know there’s another one in the state makes you feel not so much alone.”
Some members of Moore’s congregation, including McCallie, have been helping Enid Faith Ways get off the ground. Moore said having a place for LGBTQ people to seek God “with their whole selves” is a positive development.
“That’s not a real common message for the multitude of LGBTQ people in the world, especially young people,” Moore said. “The predominant message they get is ‘You can’t be gay and Christian.’ That’s the dominant message, and for them to have an open and affirming place for them to worship just as they are — just as God made them — is incredibly important.”
Edith Guffey, Conference Minister for the Kansas and Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ, said inclusion of Enid Faith Ways is an exciting development for Enid and the UCC denomination.
“We’re very excited,” Guffey said. “Any time a new church forms and decides to unite with the United Church of Christ, it’s a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful cause for celebration. They’ve chosen to be united with this denomination because of our welcome to all people and our commitment to social justice, and we’re delighted.”
While the UCC Conference has officially stated it supports open and affirming congregations, Guffey said only about a third of the 60 UCC congregations in Kansas and Oklahoma currently identify as open and affirming.
“That makes it even more exciting that Enid is gaining an open and affirming congregation in the United Church of Christ,” Guffey said. “There aren’t many open and affirming churches in that area, and for people who are looking for an open and affirming church, they can find that now in Enid.”