One-time nun trainee Kathy Bowser preaches message of inclusion as she aims to attract more young people, weekenders and continue to grow predominantly LGBT church at Cedar Creek Lake
DAVID WEBB | Contributing Writer
CEDAR CREEK LAKE — Celebration on the Lake Church Pastor Kathy Bowser might seem demure and unimposing, but it quickly becomes clear from her conversation that she thinks big.
“If I could stand on top of the church and shout it out I would say, ‘We are here for you,’” said Bowser during an interview in the pastor’s office on a recent Saturday afternoon. “This is a flagship building for the community, and it’s so much more than just a building. We’re here, and when you need us, we’re going to be here for you whether you come across the threshold or not.”
Maybe that’s part of the reason why four decades ago, Bowser realized she wasn’t cut out for the life of a nun and left the Philadelphia convent of the Sisters and Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order, where she’d spent about eight years preparing for her final vows. After all, except for in the 1960s television sitcom The Flying Nun starring Sally Field, who ever heard of a nun standing on a church?
Bowser left the service of the Catholic Church following the Vatican II Council when Pope John XXIII called a meeting to implement change. Her order’s decision to follow only required changes and not others being recommended by the church council gravely disappointed Bowser.
“I was terribly disappointed in that because I thought the changes were necessary and wonderful,”
Bowser said of the changes, which included the abandonment of habits in exchange for modern wear.
“There was a lot of upheaval in religious orders. I and many others left as a result of that.”
Much more change was in store for Bowser, but at the time she only knew that she was abandoning her planned life as a nun. Having been trained as an educator, Bowser returned to her native Miami and went to work as a teacher in an inner-city school.
After about six years of teaching, Bowser decided she was “dazzled by the real world” and wanted to explore other avenues of employment. She tried to sell life insurance for a while, but after exhausting contacts with family and friends realized she “wasn’t that great of a sales person.”
From there she went to the March of Dimes and later on to the American Heart Association, where she excelled in management.
“I had some terrific, wonderful jobs,” said Bowser, who also made some big changes in her personal life along the way.
When Bowser first left the convent, she dated men. In fact, she was engaged to marry a man when, at 30, she met a gay woman who interested her.
“I went out with her to a couple of gay bars,” Bowser said. “I asked questions of the women I met, and then I fell in love with her and came out.”
She remained with her first partner for seven years. Later, she met her current partner, Fluffy, with whom she’s enjoyed a 26-year relationship.
About 20 years ago Bowser and her partner bought a lake house and began spending every weekend at Cedar Creek Lake. Later, they wanted to begin attending church on Sundays, but didn’t find one on the lake at that time where they felt comfortable.
In 2003 they and a couple of other founding members of the church convinced Carole West, pastor of Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth, to start a satellite church on Cedar Creek Lake. They began meeting in a strip shopping center, and West, who also owned property on the lake, served as pastor until 2005.
At that point both the Fort Worth and the Cedar Creek Lake churches were growing, and the obligation became too much for West, who had on occasion called on Bowser to substitute preach. The lake church called Bowser to be its pastor in 2005.
By 2009, the lake church had grown enough and raised enough money to construct its own impressive building that includes a large, colorful stained glass window depicting a boat on a lake. The church that started out with just 10 members now has about 90.
Glen Robinson, chairman of the church’s Board of Directors, attributes much of the success in growing the church membership and financing the construction of the building to Bowser.
“Kathy has been a wonderful leader of the congregation in every sense of the word,” Robinson said. “She has guided us through every step of the way.”
A church member, Gail DeCuire, volunteered as the contractor for the job, helping make the project possible. The church’s community room, where potluck dinners are held every month, is named after DeCuire. Many other church members also helped make the construction possible in a variety of ways, including helping finish out the interior.
“The community came together to make this possible, and we’re still not finished,” Bowser said.
Bowser noted the church’s work continues and its board has established strategic goals that include attracting more young gay and lesbian people to the church and attracting more weekenders to services. Most of the members now are full-time residents of the many little cities around the lake.
Another goal is finishing the outside of the church with landscaping and the construction of a parking lot.
Finally, the church board wants to get congregational members involved more in ministry, Bowser said. The church already contributes financially to the Henderson County Food Bank, the AIDS Pantry, the Humane Society, Friends of the Animals, the Women’s Shelter, the Cedar Creek Library, students in the Kemp Independent School District, Community Food Pantry, Family Resource Center, East Texas Meals on Wheels, Gun Barrel City Meals on Wheels, Toys for Tots and Habitat for
Humanity, but service work is also needed by those organizations, Bowser said.
Bowser is now retired from her career as an administrator for the March of Dimes and American Heart Association. She’s studying at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth.
Bowser said the most important message she wants to send out is that all people, regardless of whom they are and what their religious backgrounds are, will be welcomed at Celebration on the Lake Church. It is an interfaith church, and the congregation has in the past included people from all faiths including, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Mormon, Christian Scientist and Unitarian faiths.
“You don’t have to have a particular set of beliefs to belong here,” Bowser said. “We embrace all folks.”
Services are Sundays at 10 a.m. Call 903-451-2302 or visit www.cotlchurch.org
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 16, 2012.