A Catholic Church in Lexington is embracing Pride Month in a way few area churches have before, and it has received an "overwhelmingly positive" reaction.
St. Paul Catholic Church on Short Street in Lexington has had a sign in front of its building for the last few weeks that welcomes LGBTQ+ individuals, saying "LGBTQ+ Catholics - Family, Friends & Allies - All Are Welcome."
The sign has sparked praise from some church members, said Stan "JR" Zerkowski, facilitator of the Catholic LGBTQ+ ministry.
"We had a grade school mother whose daughter saw the sign and said she felt so thrilled and finally accepted," Zerkowski said. "We had a high school student who told me for the first time he felt like the church really loved him and cared for him. It has really changed his opinion of the church."
Accepting LGBTQ+ members is common in larger cities, including New York City, Chicago and parts of California, but it's likely the first time a catholic church in Lexington has specifically welcomed the LGBTQ+ community, Zerkowski said.
The Catholic Church acknowledges that the “number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible”, according to its catechism. It adds that "tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,'" but advocates that homosexuals should “be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity."
Last month, Pope Francis reportedly told a gay man who had been sexually abused that it does not matter that he's gay. "God made you like this," the Pope told the man.
Zerkowski hopes the banner outside St. Paul Catholic Church starts a trend for Lexington churches.
"I sure hope it becomes a normal thing that we reach out like Jesus reached out to everyone, especially our marginalized brothers and sisters, our LGTBTQ community," he said.
The sign will stay up during Saturday's Lexington Pride Festival. Zerkowski said the church and Fortunate Families, an LGBTQ+ support group for Catholic friends and families, will have booths at Saturday's festival.
It's the second year St. Paul Catholic Church has been a part of the Pride Festival. Last year, Zerkowski said people were coming to the booth and asking 'Are you for real?' and crying about their inclusivity.
The weekly St. Paul Catholic Church newsletter made mention of the banner, welcoming the LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers "back home" to the church.
"I hope every sister and brother — LGBTQ+, immigrant, refugee, single, divorced, married, celibate, young, senior, homeless, rich, poor, of every race and every lifestyle feels at home, here in God's house, when they walk through the doors of St. Paul Church and they encounter all of us," wrote Pastoral Associate Sister Clara Fehringer.
"We attract the homeless, we attract the rich, the not-so rich, the LGBTQ community...a lot of people on the peripheries come to our church," Zerkowski said. He added that its inclusivity is "what we're all about."
One member of the LGBTQ+ community who attends the church, Nick Ralston, told WKYT that the banner serves as an invitation to those who may have felt unaccepted before.
"Now they can know that there is a place that they can come, that they are loved by God, and they are welcome no matter what," Ralston told WKYT, the Herald-Leader's reporting partner.