If you’ve driven past Woodfill Elementary on a recent Sunday morning, you might have taken notice of the parking lot. That’s because it’s probably been near full.
Since late 2013, Fort Thomas Independent Schools (FTIS) has been renting Woodfill Elementary’s cafetorium space, as well as classroom space as needed, to Movement Church, a new regional, independent Christian organization. Movement has held monthly services at Woodfill since December, and began weekly services in March.
Movement chose Woodfill as its location for a number of reasons, according to Pastor Josh Tandy. Primarily, its location, the state-of-the-art facilities, and the rental rate brought Movement to Woodfill.
“We are aiming to position Movement as a Campbell County, and not just a Fort Thomas, organization,” Tandy said, pointing to Woodfill as a good first home due to its location on US 27 near the Highland Heights-Fort Thomas border, as well as near multiple interstate highways. In the long-term, Movement might look outside Fort Thomas, deeper into Campbell County, for a more permanent space.
Movement’s non-traditional approach to service and worship has raised some questions in the community, particularly regarding how a church can operate without a more permanent meeting space.
Both Tandy and Movement Church come from a newly forming trend in Christian organizations that operate within a more decentralized framework, sometimes hosting services in practitioners' own homes or in other non-traditional spaces. Because Movement is not actively looking for property to own, Tandy said, they can concentrate more on initial social and service outreach, including engagement with other faith-based and non-faith-based service organizations in the area.
“We think the best thing we can do at this stage is give people the opportunity to get involved,” Tandy said.
Church services being held in a publicly owned space like a school, however, has been a specific point raised by some community members.
But according to FTIS’s Facility Rental Agreement, which is approved by the Fort Thomas Board of Education, church groups looking to use FTIS facilities are considered “Priority Three” which also includes civic groups, industrial groups, farm bureaus, historical societies, and Little League organizations comprised of non-city residents.
For comparison, "Priority One" groups refer to any organization officially sanctioned by FTIS and the Board of Education (i.e. Fort Thomas Educational Foundation, extra-curricular clubs, etc.), while "Priority Two" groups are those with looser ties to the school district, like 4-H clubs, Scout groups, YMCA groups, or any other group comprised, at least partially, of FTIS students. All tiers require the presence of school personnel during events using FTIS facilities.
According to FTIS Director of Operations Jerry Wissman, Movement is not the first religious organization to rent FTIS facilities for worship services. Highland United Methodist Church rented FTIS facilities for a brief period for "non-traditional" services, and the district was also in negotiations with Crossroads Church, which was scouting potential Northern Kentucky locations, over renting the new HHS Performing Arts Center.
“We allow other groups to use our space” confirmed Keith Faust, Principal of Woodfill Elementary. “YMCA’s Summer Program, Children’s Garden has done their graduation here, Kids and Cribs, just to name a few.”
In fact, renting out FTIS facilities creates a source of revenue for the district, Wissman added. “In general, (Movement is) paying $650-700 per event, but that could vary should the amount of time they utilize change. We always try and utilize the (rental) funds generated at a particular location for that location.”
Wissman said he has been working with Faust on how to use the monies generated from FTIS's rental agreement with Movement Church for enhancing Woodfill's facilities. Those funds, however, may go toward other FTIS projects.
“We’ve had a very good working relationship with the school district, and the community has been very welcoming overall,” Tandy said, remarking that, despite the severity of the winter weather and other factors, Movement is generally pleased with the turnout at their Sunday services so far.
Ultimately, Tandy and his team wish to remain sensitive to the region’s traditions and expectations. “Most people around here have a context for what ‘church’ is. And we have to fit into that framework,” he said.
With that, Tandy also pointed to ways he hopes Movement will expand its current levels of programming and outreach, beyond Woodfill’s facilities. "Through the week we look to launch in-home small groups that will discuss the previous Sunday's sermon during the month of May,” he said. "In addition (my wife and I) host a monthly gathering called Leadership Community at our home. Leadership Community is open to anyone who wants to be more involved and we ask all that serve to attend.”
Currently, FTIS has agreed to rent Woodfill’s cafetorium and classroom facilities to Movement through the month of June. Tandy said they have not yet struck any further deal with FTIS. “But Woodfill is our first choice past June, if they will have us.”
For more information on Movement Church, check out their website or visit their Facebook page.
Photo: Woodfill Elementary/FTM file