Congregation embraces lesbian minister

Christopher Hook

CAITLIN PRARAT Melissa Carvill-Zeimer stands in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent.

Credit: DKS Editors

Melissa Carvill-Ziemer never meant to be a minister.

In fact, growing up in Massachusetts, her family never even went to church or prescribed to a religion. It wasn’t until one Sunday in college that Carvill-Ziemer, now 34, walked into a Unitarian Universalist church per a friend’s recommendation. From that day, she said, she had found her path.

“Not only that Sunday did I find a religious tradition that I felt like I could belong to,” she said, “I also saw a glimpse of myself as a minister that day.”

Unitarian Universalists are accepting of all who come to worship, Carvill-Ziemer said. This includes people coming from many different religious backgrounds, including Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity.

“There’s room here for theological diversity,” she said. “There’s room here for people who don’t really know what they believe and what is hold for them and want to explore that.”

Although the Kent UU does not have higher authority in the form of a bishop or pope representing the church as a whole, it is indoctrinated with seven guiding principles, according to the Unitarian Universalist Association Web site. These principles draw from various Christian, Jewish and Humanist teachings, and include social justice, environmental awareness, democracy and especially acceptance for all.

Carvill-Ziemer said acceptance has been especially important because she is a lesbian. She said she has a partner and the church community has been very supportive.

“I have been embraced,” Carvill-Ziemer said. “The congregation has celebrated the opportunity to have a lesbian minister.”

Carvill-Ziemer said the LGBT community has a place in the religious world.

“You shouldn’t have to lose your faith just because you find that your sexual orientation is not in the majority position,” she said.

When she came to the Kent UU in 2005, she said, the congregation was ready for change.

“The churches are in some way like people, in that there’s always room to grow,” Carvill-Ziemer said. “The church was in a critical place where it was poised to embrace that growth.”

These changes were soon to come, both in the physical infrastructure of the church as well as a different approach to Sunday services.

Carvill-Ziemer made it a goal of hers for the church to emphasize spirituality during the congregation’s worship time. The service, 10:30 a.m. each Sunday, regularly includes meditation time, many times including a musical meditation provided by the church’s music director, Hal Walker.

“She (Carvill-Ziemer) has brought real spiritual groundedness,” Walker said. “There’s a whole different feeling in the services. Melissa always just blows us away with her sermons.”

Walker, a 12-year veteran, said that the church has also undergone several physical changes, including the expansion of the congregation, and a more aesthetically pleasing sanctuary. Covering the walls are nature photographs from a local photographer and church member.

“It’s light and it’s bright,” Walker said. “It’s pleasant to walk into that church now.”

One hurdle, however, still needs to be cleared. Getting the word out to people and helping them to understand the church is an important goal for Carvill-Ziemer and the congregation.

“I think there are lots of people out there who would be Unitarian Universalists if they knew what it was,” she said. “I think we need to increase our presence and communicate what we have going here because I think there are other people who would like to be a part of it.”

Contact news correspondent Christopher Hook at [email protected].

Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent

Where: 228 Gougler Ave., Kent

When: 10:30 a.m. each Sunday

What: Services with Minister Melissa Carvill-Ziemer