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Member Stories | Kirkwood United Church of Christ, Atlanta GA

Patti and Gary Garrett

Back in 2007, Patti and Gary were encouraged by a friend to visit a new church start that was worshiping at the Gathering Grounds coffee shop in Kirkwood. While they already had a church home, they visited, ‘just that once’.  But the energy and passion of this small community was contagious and they’ve been coming back ever since!  The couple loves KUCC for its openness to EVERYONE and its outreach in the Kirkwood community, as well as its strong focus on social justice. For Patti and Gary, KUCC is a community in which they can actively contribute to make the world a better place, responding to the call of God to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Chad Slieper

Born and raised in Atlanta, Chad grew up in a southern Baptist church, but he stopped attending church during his teenage years, in part due to his emerging sense of his sexuality. Starting in college, Chad began to do some spiritual soul searching to find a faith community that would welcome him fully. Although Chad found aspects of other denominations attractive, the fact that many mainline churches still struggled with LGBTQ inclusion troubled him. When Chad discovered KUCC, he felt instantly at home and at ease, “like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.” A few months later, he became a covenant member of KUCC and has been an active lay leader ever since. Chad loves KUCC’s sense of authenticity and community, which allows for a diverse group of people to come together to worship God because of – and not in spite of – their differences.

Erica Wright

Erica came to KUCC after serving at a number of megachurches in the Atlanta area. She wanted to find a space that allowed her to grow spiritually and to serve by ministering to the needs of the community. As the founder and chief organizer for U-First, Erica serves thousands of individuals experiencing homelessness, often with the help of her siblings in Christ at KUCC. Erica calls KUCC “home” because it’s a space where she can be honest about her struggles without fear of judgment. For Erica, KUCC is a place to find love, “even if you’ve never received love before.”

Valerie Coe-Lowder

Valerie grew up in Baptist churches but left after she could not find a church that accepted her call to ordained ministry. She knew the UCC was the right denomination for her because of its emphasis on women’s leadership in ministry, racial reconciliation, and social justice. When she moved down to Atlanta, Valerie wanted to find a church that was Open and Affirming and that fit the worship needs of her whole family. KUCC’s inclusive theology, lived out in a genuine community, with good music and thoughtful preaching provided Valerie and her family with what they were looking for. Moreover, Valerie is able to practice ministry at KUCC by serving on the church’s Member in Discernment Committee, guiding others who are considering ordained ministry in the UCC, and as a minister in a four-way covenant with KUCC, the Southeast Conference and Smoke Rise Baptist Church, where she serves as the director of its preschool and kindergarten.

James Bowman Harris

As a child growing up in the Pentecostal tradition, James loved everything related to church, God, and Jesus. He loved church so much that when he was only nine years old, his grandmother declared that he would be a pastor one day. However, later in life when James became more honest with himself and others about his sexuality, he ran away from church his calling to ordained ministry. After trying out other Atlanta-area churches, James and his husband eventually discovered KUCC, an inclusive faith community that fully welcomed them for who they were. James currently lives out his vocational calling as a chaplain at St. Joseph’s hospital in Atlanta.

Katie O’Dunne Kilpatrick

Katie came to the United Church of Christ after the denomination in which she grew up didn’t affirm her calling to ministry outside the walls of the church. She wanted to practice a faith that was active in the world, which fit the social-justice oriented theology of the UCC. Katie loves Kirkwood UCC in particular because of how active the congregation is in meeting the needs of its community. Currently, Katie serves as the chaplain at Woodward Academy, where she teaches courses on world religions and meets the spiritual needs of students and teachers.

Mary Kathryn Tippett

Although Mary Kathryn grew up in the church, she found herself pushed away from Christianity in college. During this time, Mary Kathryn was becoming more aware of her sexual identity, which was openly condemned by the leader of her campus fellowship. So she left that fellowship group and took a break from church for several years. After this break, she became active in other churches, but she eventually committed to KUCC because she felt the church embraced all aspects of her identity, including her sexuality and her status as a young woman. Now, Mary Kathryn is an active member of KUCC and the leader of its young adult group.

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