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The Process of Becoming an Open and Affirming Church

In October 1993 the idea of formally welcoming LGBT members was first presented to our deacons by a lay person.  An “Inclusiveness Sub-Committee” was formed to study how we could be more intentional about being inclusive in a variety of ways, addressing issues of racism, sexism, handicapped access, socio-economic status, etc. as well as LGBT issues.

Eventually this led to the formation of an ONA Task Force to lead the congregation through an educational process so that the entire congregation could grow in their understanding and support of issues surrounding the LGBT community.  A wide variety of educational opportunities, conducted by both locally and nationally known leaders, addressed the over 90 questions, covering 9 general areas, that members of the congregation had presented to the Task Force.  These questions are listed below.  In June of 1996, North Church was ready to formalize our commitment to being publicly Open and Affirming of all, and an ONA statement was adopted by congregational vote, 110 – 4.

Thirteen years later, in February of 2009, we became aware that our statement did not explicitly include our transgendered brothers and sisters as we had intended it to.  So, after several months of educational events on transgender issues, the “Open and Affirming Declaration of Inclusiveness” was expanded to include the words “gender identity and/or expression” by a vote of 81 to 2 at a congregational meeting.

Our ONA statement is published in our bulletin each week and reads:

“North Congregational United Church of Christ is committed in word and deed to the equality of all God’s people.  We welcome and affirm persons of every race, gender, gender identity and/or expression, age, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, family status, economic status, physical, mental and emotional ability into full participation, membership and leadership in our faith community.”

Our commitment to the inclusion of all people into our faith community and to be an advocate for the rights of all is evident every Sunday morning.  The experience of living together authentically, honestly, openly and respectfully has brought a vitality and enthusiasm to our congregation that is rare.  It feels good to journey together with all of God’s people in a safe place where each of us is affirmed for being who we are, wherever we are on life’s journey.  All are truly welcome here.

 The Nine Congregational Questions Concerning ONA Presented to the Task Force, October, 1995

(Compiled from over 90 Questions and listed in order of most asked to least asked)

1.  What does it mean to be ONA and what kind of impact it would have on North Church if we became ONA?

2. Why do we need to do this?

3. How will we address the grief of losing friends and members who choose to leave North Church over this issue?

4. How can we better support and affirm our LGBT friends and members?  (These questions were related to the belief that we were already welcoming of everyone.)

5. How would being ONA affect the children of our congregation?

6. What does the Bible have to say about this issue?

7. These questions concerned general information about sexual orientation.

8. How can we better support the families of LGBT?

9. What process will we follow to address these issues?

**At the end of the educational process, we published these 9 questions again along with a listing of every educational opportunity that had addressed each question.  There were a total of 19 educational opportunities, ranging from newsletter articles to professionally led 3 day weekend workshops.

Compiled July 2013 by Sheila Gossett, Former ONA Task Force Chair, North Congregational UCC.    shegossett@yahoo.com     614-263-7340