Through one-on-one conversations, the Open and Affirming Team learned many fascinating aspects about the lives of our members. The team’s overall impression is that each member of this church is blessed to be surrounded and supported by such an interesting and caring congregation. We attempted to contact all members of the congregation; from youth to seniors, from new members to lifelong members. At least 70% of the members are represented in the conversation notes below. As expected and supported by the survey results, we have a variety of views and worldviews, issues close to our heart, and relationships with God.
The purpose of this letter is to reflect back the Celebrations and Concerns we heard from the congregation regarding ONA. The team recognizes the earnestness of the concerns expressed, but felt they could not be adequately answered in this letter. We are preparing to address many of the concerns listed through articles on our webpages and church mailings, seminars with knowledgeable presenters, and small discussion groups.
The comments and stories we heard can be categorized into five areas: Open and Affirming, Personal Faith and the Bible, our Church as an Institution, our Church as a Congregation, and the ONA Process the team adopted. Within each category, we characterized the comments as a Celebration or Concern.
Quotes and Notes from Conversations
Open and Affirming
What does it mean to be open and affirming? We all agree that we are an open and welcoming church, but what about affirming? Some members of the congregation struggle with this word feeling that it challenges their beliefs. Of the people we spoke with, about 90% supported becoming Open and Affirming.
What does this word “affirming” mean in this context? The team’s interpretation is: We are affirming that ALL people are made in the image of God and ALL are equal in the eyes of God. We affirm that every member of this congregation has an equal opportunity for full participation in the life of the church, as well as the love, respect and support of the congregation.
● We should stay out of other people’s business, live and let live.
● ONA is similar to accepting women and men as equals, rather than traditional biblical roles.
● It is judgmental to oppose ONA.
● There is neurological evidence to suggest a biological basis for gender and sexuality -- God made us this way!
● God doesn’t make mistakes.
● We do not need ONA; we are already welcoming.
● Do not want immersion in the gay community.
● Prefer to leave it as a family discussion.
● We should not try to change the opinion of those who are opposed.
● Too much “social justice” orientation at church.
● Many LGBTQIA+ youth run away when rejected by family and community, and this leads to all sorts of exploitation.
Personal Faith and the Bible
The most profound comment came from a person who said to us, “I have plenty of faults of my own. Who am I to think anyone is less than I am for any reason? What they wear? What they drive? Who they love? Is that not what Jesus taught, that above all else is love? Love is where we began and love will see us through. Who am I to say that is wrong?”
● It is what Jesus would do.
● Religion needs to speak to current life.
● We are affirming that we are all children of God with the same worth as everyone else in God’s eyes.
● Some have biblical concerns about ONA.
● Are we trying to change peoples' minds about what the Bible says? What does it say? Are we interpreting it correctly?
● Some dislike the term “affirming”, believing it means you “agree with a lifestyle choice”.
Church as an Institution
What we heard, more than anything, was a passionate love for the church. A love for the church that was, a love for the church that is, and a love for the church that can be. That is what we heard most in the concerns and longings of the people we spoke to.
● We're proud to stand with UCC.
● Some assumed we were ONA already.
● An ONA statement tells the local community who we are and what we stand for.
● This does not change the church or its mission.
● Our church will only be stronger by inclusions.
● The church needs this, we have been working toward it for a very long time.
● Without ONA, the “No matter who you are … you are welcome here” is patronizing.
● We are hypocritical or “talking out of both sides of our mouths” if we say we are welcoming but have no explicit statement.
● All young people need a safe place, the church should be a safe place.
Church as a Congregation
What a diverse and beautiful congregation we have! In all of our one-on-one conversations, it was abundantly clear that we are all individuals with our own passions, our own perspectives, our own beliefs and our own ideas. How remarkable it is that we can come together in worship! How amazing that we can lay down all of these differences and join in praise to our God and to Christ! We heard many different views on the ONA decision and we know that it is challenging for some. We heard and respect each individual’s feelings regarding this decision. We pray that our common love of our God and our church will hold us together in all of our glorious diversity!
● “Draw the circle wide!”
● We want to keep our current LGBTQIA+ members.
● ONA will help attract younger members to our aging congregation.
● We have an opportunity to support young people as they “find themselves” and mature.
● “Even if some people are right and being gay is a sin, we cannot start throwing people out of church for being sinners, or we won’t have anyone left! I mean, being gay doesn’t even make the top 10!”
● Important to have diversity in the church because it reflects real life.
● People that leave will find a church that meets their needs and in the long run, everyone will be happier.
● May lose members, income, and talent if we affirm.
● May lose members, income, and talent if we do not affirm.
● “ONA must Pass, otherwise we’re digging a grave.”
The ONA Team believes that the Practice of Discernment was the appropriate approach to discuss and resolve this question. Congregational discernment seems appropriate for many questions. This process has been new, educational, enriching, emotional and fulfilling. We know that there is still work to do; there are still questions that need to be answered. In our one-on-one conversations, it was clear that we still need to provide informational opportunities and to continue our conversations. We hear you! We remain available for questions or concerns. Please feel comfortable to reach out to any one of the members of the team.
● Helpful if the ONA committee would provide educational opportunities.
● Some are excited about the resources and information on the church website and in the newsletter.
● “Thank you for being on this committee and making all these calls!”
● Personal “talking with God” (discernment) has led some members to support ONA.
● Older members may be “out of the loop” concerning ONA if they lack computers.
● Some members confused the vote on same-sex marriage with the ONA designation.
● We need to adopt a statement soon.
● The process is going too slowly.
● It is important that we are going through this as a congregation quickly enough for LGBTQIA+ community but not too quick.
● Why are we only specifying LGBTQIA+ are welcome? We do not have statements for other groups that may not feel welcome.
Discernment is a prayerful decision based on the desire to find and follow Jesus in our daily life and to live in a way that recognizes all people are children of God. We were honored by those who shared themselves with us in conversation. We encourage your continuing participation in this practice of discernment for our church.