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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Woodfill Elementary Hosting Weekly Church Services

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


  1. Um? Separation between church and state? I don't care what priority this is. Don't get me wrong, I am a CHRISTIAN, but this is a dangerous slippery slope. Sometimes money should NOT be the only consideration. Shame on you School Board!

  2. Mr. Walz,

    I too am a supporter of a separation of church and state. As a pastor the last thing I want is a political and/or governmental entity to dictate what we do as a church.

    Our usage of the space at Woodfill in my mind is purely about the space. We have no ulterior motive to infiltrate or interfere with the educational environment.

    We go to great lengths to ensure that come Monday morning there is no sign of our presence.

    I'd be happy to answer any further questions or concerns.

  3. With all due respect, Josh, what if an extremist group wants to start meeting at our schools? KKK or Terrorist groups? How could our schools tell you yes and them no?

    Again, I admire your work personally as I am a devout Christian, I just do not think we should be commingling Christianity and our taxpayer funded schools.

    If it's just space, then why not the YMCA just down the street?

  4. I imagine the slippery slope would go both directions. If this church group could not use the facilities then it would also mean other groups such the YMCA would be cut of as well since they are a Christian organization. They use Woodfill facilities for summer camps, etc.

    4-H has the occasional guest speaker who is also a pastor, would we need to tell them no as well?

    I hear you Ray, but I believe that it could still be separate in that hosting a group doesn't necessarily equal an endorsement of everything that group believes.

    When it comes to space...the Woodfill cafeteria is much better than any space the Y could offer to meet the needs of a church service (A/V equipment, overall setup, etc.).

  5. No offense taken. In the first sentence under the "Who May Use" section the rental agreement states:

    "The board authorizes use of school facilities and grounds by responsible and organized groups for purposes that provide demonstrable benefit to the schools or to the community as a whole."

    I read that the school Board uses their discretion to avoid such extremist groups from using the building.

    As for the Y, we looked at their space and it would be a good option, but Woodfill was a better one for our purposes. Plus the with the Y Sunday hours we would be limited in the availability to do do Sunday morning services as they currently stand.

  6. Just opens the school board up to litigation, IMO.

  7. Doesn't the high school do Baccalaureate Services for Seniors? Nobody has griped about that, how is this any different?

  8. Using Woodfill’s facilities for church isn’t anything new as noted in the article. I'm sure the school district would like to be able to rent/use church facilities if it were deemed necessary? As long as they aren’t teaching/promoting the church as school or using it during a time when the public school needs it, I don’t see why it is a big deal. Although, where is the rental money being used?

    What is much worse is the “church school” that still happens in 2nd and 3rd grade where kids can go to the local churches DURING the school day for “moral” instruction. That program should have been eliminated long ago. Children, who do not participate, sit back in the classroom and the teacher cannot use the time as instructional time. This is one hour a week where instructional time is not used so kids can go to religion class. I do not have anything against religion classes, but that is what Sunday school is for, not public education time during the school day.

  9. The Supreme Court found in two separate cases that it is constitutional for a school district to allow religious groups to use school property for meetings during non-instructional hours if the school district’s policy allows other community groups to use its facilities. Both decisions involved rental of public schools by religious groups. Allowing this group access does not run afoul of the 1st Amendment, as FTIS is neither endorsing nor discriminating against particular religious speech.

  10. What is this "separation of church and state" you speak of? I don't see it in the U.S. Constitution anywhere. I do recall that phrase being used in a private letter to a church group. Written by a fellow named Jefferson, I believe. Excellent thinker, that guy, but, had little to do with the drafting of our Constitution, so his thoughts on the matter are really moot. So sad that we've drifted so far from this founding document.

  11. It is wrong on every level to have any religious organization in a public school or city hall. Taxes are collected by all and religion has no place in taxpayer funded facilities. It opens the door very wide for discriminathion litigation. Just a matter of time before a less "desirable" applicant for use of the space will want to use the space. Why flirt with this possibility to advance the movement business model?

  12. The "less desirable" applicant issue has already been addressed. If you read Josh's post above:
    In the first sentence under the "Who May Use" section the rental agreement states:

    "The board authorizes use of school facilities and grounds by responsible and organized groups for purposes that provide demonstrable benefit to the schools or to the community as a whole."

    I think that enables the school district to use discretion when considering applicants.

  13. I think what the argument they are making is that by having language such as "less desirable" you are creating an opportunity for litigation. Less desirable for who? It's not a black and white issue.

  14. I trust the school board to make the right decision when evaluating potential renters of the space. There is language in the "Who May Use" section of the rental agreement that is more than ample to cya if litigation ever become a possibility.

  15. That's just it. It's not up to the school board to decide. It's public money funding this space. Look, I admire
    Movement and their ideals, but "who may use," priority 3, and school boards won't mean bupkis if push comes to shove and an "unsavory" group want to use the space.

  16. But it is up to the District and they are protected under KRS Chapter 162. Please name an example of a group that may want to rent the space that the District might say no to...the only example given is the KKK or terrorist groups and I can guarantee you that the likelihood of litigation is nil if the District said no to either of them.

    I know it is the big bad scary "Religion" aspect of all this thats getting people riled up but come on! This Church would also be allowed to rent say, the mess hall from the city (also tax payer funded)and nobody would say anything about it. Its all because its in a school and I think the issue of the Religious "remnants" has been addressed. When the students show up on Monday they would never even know these folks were there.

  17. What is ironic about all the complaining is the fact that if something ever happened at one of the schools (i.e. a fire) and the children were displaced, whether it be for 1 day or several weeks/months...where would they land for their education? A CHURCH most likely (its happened before), and those organizations would be happy to take in the kids and teachers and provide for them a place to learn. The same people on this thread would then be happy about the kids being able to continue their education.