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Gay Priest Shepherds Nontraditional ‘Catholic’ Church More Than One Way to Follow God

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Above image credit: Fr. Taylor W. Tracy, pastor of Christ the King Independent Catholic Church of Kansas City, says his goal is to provide a safe and welcoming space for all who want to follow Jesus’ teachings about love. (Bill Tammeus | Flatland)
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4 minute read

The red brick church at 700 West Pennway on Kansas City’s West Side has undergone several religious conversions in its long history. 

This late 19th-century building was home to West Side Christian Church from 1893 until 1986, when property managers Jeff Krum and Adam Jones bought it. 

Then, until 2000, it became secular as the home for the City in Motion dance company. Next, the Buddhist Rime Center made its home there from 2001 until 2020. 

And now, for almost two years, it’s housed the relatively new Christ the King Independent Catholic Church

Red brick church at 700 West Pennway in Kansas City.
For most of 150 years, this building at 700 West Pennway has been a house of worship for different religions and also has housed a dance company. Now it’s home to Christ the King Independent Catholic Church. (Bill Tammeus | Flatland)

The “Catholic” part of the name takes a bit of explaining. 

The congregation began with a handful of people early in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We started with me and my cats,” says the priest, Fr. Taylor W. Tracy. “We met in parks because of the pandemic shutdown.”  

Next, the congregation met in a small room in a West Bottoms warehouse before moving to West Pennway. Now there are at least 120 members. 

“We have lots of young families,” says the pastoral associate, Deacon Jude Huntz. “Since December we’ve had five babies born.” 

Those families have connected with a branch of Catholicism with rules a bit different from Roman Catholicism.

For starters, Tracy is married. To a man. And he’s willing to officiate at same-sex marriages. 

Beyond that, traditional Catholic rules about who can receive the bread and wine in Holy Communion really don’t apply here because this Catholic church isn’t part of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Thus, the “Independent” word in its name. 

Instead, the church is attached to the California-based Society of Christ the King, which is not under the pope’s jurisdiction though it adheres to the Roman liturgy. 

Tracy describes the church’s Eucharist practice this way: “If I see someone who truly believes in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, but they were baptized Lutheran, I’m not going to prevent them from receiving the elements. For us, the aspect that is most important for the reception of the Eucharist is the sacrament of baptism.” If you’ve been baptized Christian, you may participate. 

Before being ordained as a priest, Tracy, who grew up in Buhler, Kansas, served as a musician for more than a dozen years in Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal parishes. 

“Although I enjoyed the liturgy and traditions of the Catholic faith,” he says, “I found there was a disconnect between implementing a pastoral inclusive approach with (traditional Catholic) theology. And I found that not only was there a disconnect, but there was an immense amount of trauma that was actively being inflicted on people on various levels — not just because of sexuality but also because of marital status or health care decisions.” 

At Christ the King, Tracy says, “we just extend that sacramental pastoral care to those who are on the margins.” 

Tracy seems thrilled but a bit surprised by what’s been happening at Christ the King. 

“I have found that the internal growth here and the spiritual life that teems from this place is something that its spiritual validity cannot be denied,” Tracy says. “People’s lives are being changed by being in a place where they can be authentic and still grow as a disciple.” 

Part of what that means is understanding the different stories of people who walk through the doors. 

“We’re willing to see people not as Gay Tom but as Tom and someone who is sacred,” Tracy says. “And for those who have been divorced and felt themselves marginalized, they don’t need to identify with the hot-button disqualifiers (such as being barred from the Eucharist). What I care more about is the quality of the heart. And even if they’re actively searching, that’s OK. This is a good place to do that.” 

Beyond that, the goal is to become a community mission center in partnership with several nonprofit organizations, some of which will rent space in the basement of the building. Construction work is underway to finish those offices and install an elevator that will make two of the rented building’s three floors accessible. 

Deacon Jude Huntz checks on the lower-level reconstruction project at the Christ the King church building.
Deacon Jude Huntz checks on the lower-level reconstruction project at the Christ the King church building, where nonprofits will have offices. (Bill Tammeus | Flatland)

That work started last year when the congregation provided temporary housing for refugees from the U.S.-Mexico border before they moved to permanent locations with host families. It helped that the building has two bathrooms with showers. 

The congregation also has been partnering with such other ministries and nonprofits as the Micah Ministry at Independence Boulevard Christian Church, Habitat for Humanity and Jerusalem Farm

“Gospel work is going to the margins, going to people who have been overlooked,” Tracy says. “One of the things on my radar is the successful launch of the welcome center (with other nonprofits) downstairs. That to me is going to be an expression of what we’re already doing but in a new way.” 

Christ the King’s relationship with local Roman Catholicism and the diocese here, as you might expect, has been a bit tricky to navigate. 

The word “catholic” simply means universal. Although the church headquartered at the Vatican is the largest Christian branch, it’s not the only one to describe itself as Catholic. 

But Tracy isn’t looking for fights. 

“One of the things that I’ve made clear from the very beginning,” he says, “is that we’re not here to go after anyone or poke anyone else in the eye. Denigration just doesn’t look good and feel good in the heart. There’s so much more that we can do together. We will collaborate and serve alongside everyone whenever and wherever possible. I’m in no place to pass judgment on anyone, and I hope that that grace would be reciprocated. 

“Our vision of church is a space that’s not just engaged on Sundays and the occasional wedding and funeral. Just because of the way we express our faith I have seen time and time again a sense of excitement and fascination from people who, I think, in an institutional frame would just shut down.” 

That means that the 700 West Pennway building, because of its ecumenical history, is a daily reminder to Tracy’s congregation that there’s more than one way to follow God. 

Bill Tammeus, an award-winning columnist formerly with The Kansas City Star, writes the “Faith Matters” blog for The Star’s website, book reviews for The National Catholic Reporter and for The Presbyterian Outlook. His latest book is Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. Email him at 

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One thought on “Gay Priest Shepherds Nontraditional ‘Catholic’ Church

  1. I have a friend who is gay, he kept telling me to come to Christ the King Catholic church. I was really surprised. I thought he meant Christ the King at 85th and Wornall Rd. We met him as a church musician at Our Lady of Sorrows. At the time the parish was vactican II and 1962 Latin Mass. Then the Latin Mass community moved to the former diocese parish of Old St Patrick’s downtown. Both of us and my husband loved the Latin Mass and the Vatican II Masses. BUT, the attitude of the two groups were hard to deal with. My husband was an organist, me choir and cantor. The Latin group did not trust us because we also attended the Vatican II Masses. The Vatican II people also did not trust us. The atmosphere at both churches got to be very hateful. Plus, oh no! I was raised Methodist and converted, one of my sons married a Jewish girl and their son is being raised Jewish. My other two sons are also not attending any church. We both have gay friends, I sang with those at Guardian Angels, which they called “the gay church”. We moved about 50 miles away and went between two towns’ churches. Neither of us wanted to get involved in music or let it be known. I wish I wouldn’t have to drive 50 miles to attend Christ the King on Pennway. It sounds like what Jesus did. Minister to all, men, women, rich, poor, prostitutes, the unclean/diseased and people from other faiths/countries. No wonder he was telling us to come attend! This is great news for so many. I am very glad this article was written.

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