Newly formed Galileo Church is first gay-affirming church in conservative city as organizers hope to change the religious landscape
MANSFIELD — As a few dozen people gather in the Rev. Dr. Katie Hays’ living room to discuss teachings in the Bible, their passion for Christ and their acceptance of everyone draws them together in worship.
Hays, the founding pastor of the Galileo Church, started the church June 1 with financial backing from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination and donors.
The roughly 40 members connected with the church meet in living rooms in Mansfield and Burleson, as well as in local restaurants for weekly Bible studies.
Mansfield is south of Arlington in Tarrant County.
With 20 years in traditional church ministry, Hays, who left a church in Arlington to start the Mansfield church where she lives, said her goal was to create an accepting religious venue for everyone in the area, especially young and LGBT people.
“Our goal here in Mansfield was to form a church community where we’re very explicit about saying everyone is welcome and we will name as many different demographics as possible,” Hays said.
She said the denomination had made attempts to branch out in Mansfield for years because it’s an area that lacks affirming churches.
“There’s no affirming church in Mansfield. It’s a really conservative place,” Hays said, adding that she knows the startup church is a big change for the area. “We are going against the grain of the demographics in a huge way. … I think in Mansfield there are people who just are not going to walk into the conservative community Bible church where things pretty much look the same for 100 years.”
With mainstream churches often shunning certain demographics through their teachings, Hays said she wants Galileo Church’s accepting approach to help mend its members’ relationships with religious institutions.
“The goal behind it was to seek out spiritual refugees — people for whom church is painful or exclusive or irrelevant or boring, with a specific focus on millennials. … Some have friends who wouldn’t be welcome in their church, they might be LGBT themselves or have LGBT friends.”
Millennials are a missing demographics from mainstream churches, Hays said, and they navigate toward nontraditional services where viewpoints are accepting.
“They just don’t want anything to do with an institution that doesn’t welcome everybody,” Hays said.
She said the church planting concept is part of a larger movement across the United States and Europe to branch out religiously in order to connect with missing demographics mainstream churches don’t welcome.
“It’s the idea that mainline Protestant churches have pretty much fallen over a cliff,” Hays said. “I mean sociologically speaking, our demographics are terrible. We’ve lost Gen X, we’ve lost the millennials, and they’re not coming back.”
Galileo Church has a leadership team of five individuals in their 20s, something Hays started to keep younger people involved in shaping the church’s growth and mission. Several of the weekly gatherings have nights for parents or young adults to meet the need of various members. And while Hays doesn’t plan for the church to own a building for worship, she said she would like to find a space to rent as its central location.
“A lot of folks have been so burned by church that they’re not going to step back inside a traditional church building,” Hays said.
While the church has no physical address, its listed on GayChuch.org, where some of its members have discovered it.
Nathan Russell, a student at Brite Divinity School, heard about the church through word of mouth. While he works at a church on Sundays, he said the nontraditional model of the Mansfield church helps him worship in a different way.
“Galileo feels like the place I get to experience church,” he said. “Galileo is trying to do more things and meet people’s needs. That’s the thing I like most about Galileo.”
Russell’s experience with church has not always been good.
Several years ago he attended a reparative therapy session at an Arlington church at the request of his parents. The pastor there told him his heart condition was
God’s way of getting his attention for being gay. Since then, Russell said he’s become resolute in his belief that he can be gay and a man of God.
“That propelled me even further to be adamant about yes, I am gay, and yes, I am a Christian,” he said.
Hays compared the church’s concept of acceptance and meeting format to The Church at Mable Peabody’s Beauty Parlor and Chainsaw Repair in Denton. She said while the churches aren’t affiliated, its members have attended services at the gay bar.
But while LGBT members have discovered the church, others have sought it out as a place for their loved ones to be welcome.
Hays said she had a woman come to her recently to ensure that the church’s welcoming views included the LGBT community because her sister is gay. After her sister came out to her, the woman vowed never to attend a church that didn’t accept her family.
“Her sister doesn’t even live here,” Hays said. “It’s just the idea that you would spend time among people who would not welcome someone that you love. I have a number of stories like that where the person that I know was not gay but they love someone who is and they want a church that would welcome their loved ones.”
Stories like that are what inspire Hays when she looks at where the church is headed in the future, knowing that the need for spiritual acceptance exists in Mansfield.
“I think what our church might be able to do over the long haul is sort of bring out of the shadows a hidden demographic in Mansfield and not only LGBTQ people but the people who love them,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are affected in waves by bigotry.
“They’re just seeking a community who will take them as they are and think they’re great,” Hays added. “I mean not just barely accept them, but accept them and celebrate who they are.”
For more information, visit GalileoChurch.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 11,, 2013.