By Charis Mitchell
Since January, we’ve been meeting and discussing what it would mean for our congregation to become Open and Affirming – to declare openly to the public that we do not discriminate based on sexual orientation, and that we strive to fully live out the call that “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
A number of times, I’ve heard, “The UCC is already open and affirming, and we’re already welcoming; why do we have to actually go through the process and take this vote too?”
Have you ever had someone say, “We should get together sometime”? As a single person with no kids and a relatively static schedule, my common response is, “I’m usually free any day after 5, give me a call when you’re free!” Do you know how often that get together happens? Never. The offer is genuine, but there isn’t any real substance to the invite. I have one friend who ends every email with, “We need to go get a beer sometime!” She’s been saying this for the past 3 years. Every time, I tell her some times I’m free and tell her to pick a day. It has yet to happen.
Currently, our congregation is welcoming. We have LGBTQ+ members who are out and an important part of our congregation and we love them dearly. That being said, our welcome to the greater community is currently like that nebulous “We should do something sometime.” If they walk in our doors, we know that they will be welcomed with open arms. That being said, how does the community at large and LGBTQ+ individuals in particular know that they will be welcomed? How do they know that when we say everyone, we mean everyone and our offer of welcome is more than just “sometimes”?
Taking the step to declare our congregation officially ONA to the broader community is like, rather than saying, “We should do dinner sometime,” saying, “You who don’t feel welcomed elsewhere, or wonder if there’s really a place for you in this thing called Christianity, we have a plate at the table set just for you. You, yes, YOU are welcome here. We’ll be right here with a place for you, willing to share our dinner with you no matter where you are on life’s path and we hope to be able to walk with you on your journey to becoming everything God has hoped and dreamed that you could possibly be.”
As someone who gets a lot of invites to “do dinner sometime” and yet eats a lot of dinners alone, that knowledge that someone literally has a place set for me at the dinner table is a very heartwarming message. Being willing to declare our congregation ONA is the difference between hollow words and taking a solid, declarative stand for those who don’t know that they will be accepted or have been turned away elsewhere.