LGBTQ Inclusivity Within Athens’ Churches

Keeping the faith during college can be a difficult task for students, especially for those who identify as LGBT.

Luckily for Ohio University students, Athens is peppered with a number of churches that advocate for LGBT inclusivity within their communities and doctrines.

Reverend Deborah Woolsey of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd said she’s seen an influx of LGBT students participating in liturgies and church activities since she started two years ago.

“The Episcopal Church has taken a national stance in favor of LGBTQ rights, and we’re a very supportive community,” Woolsey said.

Although the Episcopal Church has been accepting and welcoming of LGBTQ rights for decades, it officially announced its support for gay marriage in 2015 at the triennial General Convention, an event in which bishops from each diocese are invited to discuss church issues.

“It took some time because it’s not just approving the marriage, but liturgy is also very important, so we also had to approve the materials,” Woolsey said. “We wanted to create materials that were respectful and understandable for everyone.”

After the church’s announcement, materials were altered to exclude the words “male” and “female” wherever possible, in order to be more inclusive for all worshipping.

The Episcopal Church is also very accepting when it comes to LGBTQ individuals serving higher roles. The church has a large number LGBTQ priests, bishops, and other administrators within the Church.

Woolsey said the Good Shepherd’s congregation is constantly changing and gaining new members because of their location within the heart of Ohio University.

“We’re willing to welcome and receive the gifts that everyone brings, regardless of sexuality or gender,” Woolsey said. “We’re grateful for however long people decide to stay with us.”

While many churches in Athens advocate in favor of gay rights, some LGBTQ students have not quite found a community in which they feel entirely comfortable in.

Kelly, a sophomore studying journalism and political science, said she has not yet found her religious niche in Athens. Because she is not out to her family, her name has been changed in this story to keep her identity anonymous.

Kelly was raised within the Methodist Church, and spent countless hours attending worship, participating in church activities, and volunteering before coming to college.

While the Methodist Church’s doctrine has no official stance against LGBTQ individuals as lay people, they do not condone homosexuality within church positions, such as ministers or ordained persons.

“I feel a lot more connected to my Church back home where I know a lot of people in the community and grew up with them,” Kelly said. “I know how judgmental it can be, and I don’t really know how comfortable I am joining another church.”

Because Kelly is not out to her family or church congregation back home, she has not personally gone through any unpleasant experiences with unwelcoming members, like some Methodist LGBTQ individuals.

Regardless, Kelly believes her personal faith is more important than any role she could possibly have in a church congregation.

“I just remind myself that I have the right to be there,” Kelly said. “No matter what other people in the church might think of me and my sexuality, I still feel like it’s part of who I am.”