You are welcome to follow along on our journey as 1st Congregational UCC became an “Open & Affirming” Church.
June 2022 – At the start of our new year 2022 the Church Council identified Open and Affirming certification as a goal for our church. In June of 2022, a straw vote was taken at a church leadership retreat regarding O and A certification. This vote showed overwhelming support for the endeavor.
July 2022 – On July 31st Rev. Sid Hall delivered a powerful message on O & A. It was well received by the congregation. Here are some excerpts of the message along with pics of Sid Hall. Rev. Sid started with a review of the conflict between Peter and Paul over adhering to the Jewish law. Paul’s view was that Gentiles can be Christians without being Jewish. “What God has made clean you must not call profane.” The full message can be viewed here on the church website under the Livestream page under the July 31, 2022 Service.
August 2022: From Toby Jones, Pastor – Back in mid-June, at a leadership retreat consisting of the four major ministry teams in our church family (Council, Trustees, Reaching In, and Reaching Out), the group voted overwhelmingly to begin the process of becoming “Open and Affirming” as the United Church of Christ defines it. That designation is defined as follows:
Open and Affirming (ONA) is an official designation of congregations and other settings in the United Church of Christ (UCC) affirming the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary persons (LGBTQ) in the church’s life and ministry.
To achieve this important designation from our denomination, a congregation endeavors to take a series of important steps, most of which are educational in nature. In the months since that leadership retreat back in June, all four of our main ministry teams have been planning events and educational opportunities for our entire church designed to expose us to voices and perspectives that we may not have considered before. The Council has also asked me to preach at least one sermon per month over the next 8 months that will further deepen and broaden our congregation’s understanding of gender, identity, and inclusion.
For me personally, this will be a very challenging and rewarding journey, and I am pleased to be taking it with all of you in this amazing and growing church. I grew up in a very “straight” and homophobic family, church, and community in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. There was absolutely zero acknowledgment back then that LGBTQ+ people even existed in the world. The conservative evangelical brand of Christianity out of which I came made no room for such differences and simply emphasized that all LGBTQ+ people were to be condemned, along with their lifestyles and expressions. And that means that there were – and still are – a great many voices and perspectives that I simply never heard and was never exposed to. The journey we’ll undertake together in the next 8 months is designed to address that both directly and effectively.
In the weeks and months to come, our church leadership team will be offering reading lists, films to watch, and guest speakers, all of whom will be sharing their stories, the likes of which many of us have never heard before. How exciting! We will be hearing first-hand from others in the human family who have struggled to come to terms with who they are as non-binary people of faith in a stubbornly binary world. We’ll hear from LGBTQ+ young people, as they try to come to terms with their gender and sexuality. We’ll hear from heterosexual parents and grandparents, as they try to navigate the journeys of their non-binary children and grandchildren. We’ll hear from people of faith who have left churches like ours because of their difficult journeys with gender and identity and from people of faith who have insisted on staying in churches despite their non-binary self-definition.
I think it is important to be very clear and up front about the fact that, generally speaking, Christians and Christian churches have played a largely negative and harmful role in the lives of LGBTQ+ people over the years. We have, even if unintentionally, given cause for non-binary people to feel excluded, judged, and condemned, and not just by us, but by God and Jesus as well. The Open and Affirming journey creates the opportunity for us to help undo at least some of the damage we have done and to find a new path forward.
I know that those of us who engage fully and faithfully in this journey – myself included – will grow and change in ways we can’t even imagine right now. I also know that just as we don’t all start this journey from the same place or perspective, neither will we all end up that the same place, and that is as it should be in a UCC congregation. The most important thing is for each of us to broaden and deepen not only our knowledge base on all matters LGBTQ+, but to broaden and deepen our compassion and empathy, as we seek to be faithful and loving followers of Jesus in 2022 and beyond.
September 2022 – Church Council and Toby created a steering committee to develop Open & Affirming awareness. Their main function will be to identify resources that will inform and educate our congregation as we move forward to O&A certification. Plans include a book study group, guest speakers, videos, Q&A Forum., etc.
Oct 2022 – We welcomed George Davis to our pulpit, a gay seminary student on the road to becoming a pastor in the United Church of Christ. Our pastor, Toby Jones, is serving as George’s mentor as he navigates the demanding road toward full-time ministry. George’s sermon is available in the worship section of our chxucc.org website on October 16. Check it out!
Nov 2022 – We had an amazing book study focusing on Justin Lee’s memoir Torn. This two-session study explored Justin’s journey as a gay Christian man, as he tried to stay faithful to Jesus and plugged into the church, despite enormous obstacles and resistance.
Dec 2022 – During Advent we explored the concept of incarnation and its implications. If God “became flesh,” doesn’t that redeem all flesh? We looked at all the ways Christians and the Church have let fear-based, Puritanical notions of our physical selves and our sexuality demonize what should be celebrated as one of the true jewels of God’s creation – our bodies. Check out Toby’s sermon on December 11 available on our chxucc.org website under the worship tab.
Jan 2023 – Toby preached a month-long sermon series entitled “Exploring Gender. Each week he tackled a different misunderstanding or misinterpretation of scripture that has cost the LGBTQ+ community dearly. Here are the week-by-week topics and scriptures, including some links to the sermon itself on YouTube:
February 2023 – On February 5, we hosted a special screening of the award-winning documentary “Mama Bears,” which looks at Christian mothers coming to terms with their children coming out as Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender. This screening was both in-person and live-streamed, and wonderful discussions followed.