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Inez Nocho: On her Church’s Front Line

Just looking at Inez Nocho, a second year student at Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) in the Doctor of Ministry program, wouldn’t give anyone the impression they were face-to-face with a revolutionary looking to make waves or challenge the status quo.

Looks, however, can be deceiving. Nocho’s easy smile and warm demeanor belie the strength she exhibits as she struggles to bridge the gap between the church and some members who are part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) community. While it may appear an obviously difficult position for a pastor to be in, when one considers the role of the church and clergy in the history of the African-American community in America, it is hardly surprising to find a pastor on a front line in society.

Encouraged by UTS Trustee, Dr. David J. Billings, and Dr. John-Paul James from Total U and the UTS Instructional Site in Clinton, Maryland, she enrolled at UTS in 2015. After completing qualifying courses, she entered the UTS D.Min. program in August, 2016.

The Doctor of Ministry program at UTS celebrated its ten-year anniversary in 2016. The students in the program represent a wide variety of ministries from pastoral ministry to non-profit ministries and U.N.-based ministries. The program is designed with the busy student in mind. Utilizing the two-week Intensive system whereby students attend the UTS campus in Barrytown for just two weeks twice a year for a period of two years. The rest of the D.Min. work is completed at home and submitted electronically. A central feature of the degree work is that the students are challenged to continually apply what they are learning to their current ministries, with assignments focused on their real ministry work. After they complete their coursework, they are then tasked with completing a dissertation project that addresses a real issue within their ministries.

The D.Min. program, directed by Dr. Kathy Winings (UTS’87), prepares students to take on the challenges of today’s ever-changing world, and readies them to respond to future possibilities. Each graduate not only leaves with great skills and a new marketability, but with a deeper sense of competency in their chosen ministries and a greater understanding and appreciation of their own spirituality and relationship with God. Dr. Winings, teaches the course “The Changing Face of Society” in the first week of the two-week intensive, which recognizes the changes taking place and the importance of staying current.

“The class focuses on how congregations are changing, how we can anticipate change; how to deal with issues of age, gender, culture, ethnicity and globalization. No change is too small to talk about.” Dr. Kathy Winings, UTS Director of D.Min.

Nocho has chosen LGBTQ and the Church as the subject of her D.Min, studies and her dissertation. This is a real issue within her ministry, having friends and congregants in the LGBTQ community who are struggling with their sexual identity, as well as their relationship with their church and with God; she knows where she has to focus her energy and her attention. Like other pastors who have struggled with the issue of where the church stands on the issue of homosexual and transgender sex, she is looking at the ways which can bring the church and its LGBTQ members closer, without alienating either side or making them change their beliefs.

She is looking not just to change people’s perceptions, but people’s hearts.

“My goal is to somehow change the hearts and minds of the church about sexual orientation,” says Nocho, a Baptist minister from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, “as well as to bring those with different sexual orientations to a better understanding of where the church’s stance is. I believe that Jesus stood for love and that everybody has to be loved. 

“This is a way for me to show that everybody is loved and welcomed into Christianity. My goal is to help people understand their human sexuality, people who are struggling with their sexual identity; people on the fringe of society.”

Having thought about how this has affected members in her church, and how her congregants have agonized over the repercussions of “coming out” as gay or lesbian, her decision to enroll in the Doctor of Ministry program has been a catalyst to move forward with what she feels is the right time for her to act.

“I had been thinking about this previously,” discloses Nocho, a minister for more than 20 years, “and I had always wanted to do a study on it. I spoke with a couple of people who were actually practicing (gays) to see what their thoughts were, and I just decided when I got here [UTS] that this is where I’m going.”

There is the stigma of being gay in the African-American culture, which often prides itself on its masculinity and virility, and this is yet another stumbling block for Nocho.

“Yes, you have that stigma and then you have churches that are strict, and who have stances that are very much against it,” says Nocho. “But you have to be open; I’m not saying you have to change your stance, but change the way you deal with the stigma.”

She was quick to point out, however, that this is not just an issue for her church, or any church, but it’s an issue for the entire country.

“We all have [ LGBTQ ] people we know in our churches,” says Nocho, “we all have people we know in our schools, in our families, in our work. So, we have to deal with it. In your family you’re not going to tell someone you love that you don’t love them because they’re gay or because they’re a lesbian. You look at them like they’re your cousin.

“I believe, that’s how our church should be also. But, you’re going to have drawbacks, you’re going to have ones who don’t agree. So, it will be a test of time.”