Watch the news story on our alumni Candace Woods.

Local faith leader creates a unique religious experience

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – First Congregational Church in Downtown Colorado Springs is a different kind of church, with a very different flock.That’s evident when the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer starting with “Our Mother, our Father, who art in heaven” or when the kids come to the front of the church mid-program to do a few guided yoga poses.

Candace Woods, the director of youth and adult ministry, fits right in Woods comes from a long line of Christian ministers. 

“Pastoring is in my blood,” Woods said.

Her father and grandfather are both Christian ministers and she’s the eleventh great-granddaughter John Cotton, the clergyman who up with the term congregationalism in Massachusetts in the 1600s.

Mr. Cotton banished at least one mouthy woman, Anne Hutchinson, from his congregation, so Candace might have him rolling in his grave.

“I’m involved in immigrant justice work, racial justice, LGBTQ rights and inclusion, and economic justice.”

Armed with a beer, a bible, and a ballot, she navigates this divided world, trying to focus on what makes us similar, rather than what makes us different.

“I do try to use my brain,” said Woods.

“My parents taught me how to be empathetic and listen and be compassionate with another person, so I try to use that and if that means that I just rub some people wrong ‘sorry’… not really,” she laughed.

Candace is known in this town for listening more than she talks and surrounding herself with people who see the world through another lens, including Buddhists, Muslims and atheists.

“The people who have brought the most into my life are people that are different than me and for some people, that’s uncomfortable and I get that.”

Lauren: “You seem to draw lot of people who have often felt marginalized by or even excluded from the church. Why is that important to you?”

Candace: “Because I think the good news is for everybody. If it’s not good news for everybody, then it’s not good news. My queer friends have taught so much about God, about society, about the world and I am grateful for those relationships. I’m grateful for the ways in which those have changed me.”

Lauren: “So, you don’t think their life is a sin?”

Candace: “No, absolutely not! I think that we can learn more from embracing diversity and embracing differences than we can by excluding and shunning them.”

Lauren: “What do you say to people who do think that it is (a sin)?”

Candace: “I say ‘I think you’re missing out on a really beautiful relationship with somebody who’s different than you.'”

Lauren: “You seem to embrace sexuality more than most ministers would…”

Candace: “I think sexuality is a part of what means to be human. We teach abstinence as an option for those who want to remain abstinent, but we also teach how to use a condom and other kinds of birth control methods.”

Lauren: “But does it come with a side of guilt? ‘Hey, this is how to use a condom… but don’t.'”

Candace: “I try to stay as far away from guilt as possible. I think that it’s a dangerous weapon that religion has used for a long time to control people and I’m not about controlling people.”

Lauren: “If Jesus Christ himself was walking among us, what would you ask him?”

Candace: “I might ask Jesus out for a beer! I just want to see how he interacts with his waiters and the barista. I am more interested in what Jesus would do rather than what Jesus would say.”

Lauren: “Do you think he would approve of the work that you’re doing?”

Candace: “I hope so! But he could come back and say ‘I think you’re asking some really good questions and you’re really interested in and deeply concerned about people, so thumbs up for that.”

Candace knows not everyone is giving her a thumbs up, and that’s just fine with her.

“If I am to err, which I am because I’m a human being, I would rather deliberately make the choice to err on the side of love, err on the side of inclusion, as opposed to err on the side of marginalization and exclusion,” pontificated Woods.


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