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Area church reaffirms commitment to LGBT leadership
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times by Patrick Erwin

When Rev. Scott Talbot Lewis began his ministry recently at Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation ( UTUUC ) in Oak Park, his arrival reaffirmed the congregation's commitment to LGBT leaders.

Lewis is stepping in for the Rev. Emily Gage during a sabbatical. Both Gage and Lewis are members of the LGBT community who have found a spiritual home in Unitarian Universalism ( UU ).

UUs, as they're often called, are part of a liberal religion that warmly welcomes LGBT congregants and leaders as beloved members of the community. There are over a dozen UU congregations, including UTUUC, in the Chicago region.

Read more story below....

At UTUUC, he'll be leading a church with a long, living history, not only as a spiritual community but one that lives in the famed Unity Temple, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous buildings.

It's a congregation that not only embraces its LGBT members, but also worked for the passage of marriage equality, and has hosted a number of same-sex weddings, including a June ceremony where several couples were married together to celebrate marriage equality in Illinois.

Lewis, who grew up in southeastern Ohio, followed a career path filled with twists and turns prior to his arrival at UTUUC, including stints as a librarian, an actor and even a truck driver.

While Lewis grew up in a relatively liberal Methodist community, he still remembers hearing that there was, in his words, "no place for an openly gay man in the church."

When a UU congregation in Columbus opened its doors to host community events for LGBT organizations, Lewis attended events and eventually joined the church. After so many LGBT people had religion turn their backs on them, he said, it made a huge impact to feel welcome and embraced.

"The idea that I could bring my full self to church made me want [to be there] more," he said.

He began to think about ministry in a different way as a member of a search committee that found that church its minister.

"I kept reading the job description, and the thing that kept going through my mind is, 'Somebody really lucky gets to do this work,'" he said. "Over the search process, it occurred to me that I wanted to be that person, and do this work."

Once he decided to take the leap and become a minister, Lewis attended Chicago's Meadville Lombard Theological School, where he graduated in 2009, and was ordained by a Unitarian congregation in Rockton, where he served for several years.

Unity Temple's senior minister, Rev. Alan Taylor, said that the congregation didn't specifically seek out a second LGBT minister to fill the vacant role.

"It just happened that the best people we've found have that in common," he said. "Scott is just a lovely person, and a wonderful minister."

According to the Unitarian Universalist Association ( UUA ), about 5 percent of the ministers currently serving congregations publicly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer.

While in significantly smaller numbers, several transgender ministers also serve UU congregations. The first openly transgender minister to be called as a minister, Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, is a minister at the Tree of Life Unitarian church in nearby McHenry.

At Unity Temple, Lewis will be leading the religious education program. It's a robust part of Unity Temple, with nearly 300 children from preschool to high school age attending classes.

"I have a long history of working with children and families, and I love doing that," Lewis said.

He'll be using all of his gifts, skills and experiences, including his work as an actor, at UTUUC. Those expecting a sleepy Sunday morning service may find it hard to snooze through Lewis' sermons.

"We can use things [like theater] that are meaningful to us, and translate them into rich experiences for the congregation," he said. "I think the sky's the limit in terms of creative expression."

Visit http://unitytemple.org/ .

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