Open & Affirming Discernment Team Archives

This page collects previous reports, letters, and other informational paragraphs that have been published in the monthly newsletters or weekly bulletins.

The articles are arranged chronologically, from most recent to oldest.

Open and Affirming Discernment – Where are we?

The Open and Affirming Discernment team has been guiding our congregation’s practice of discernment one step at a time. In general, that has meant that the next step was based upon what we learned/discerned from the previous steps. So, while we knew where we were going, we did not necessarily know the route. The team’s first step was to prepare to be guides in the practice of discernment and conversations about open and affirming.


We then set out to assess the temperament of the congregation through the Faith Community Assessment survey, which was mailed to everyone on the church mailing list. The results of this survey are available on the church website. On a scale from 25-125, our congregation scored about 85, with a recommended “St Moderatus pace”. The survey results highlighted that as a congregation, we profess that the message of scripture is “God is love”. The results emphasized the importance of personal relationships among the church family. That our church should provide a safe place to be ourselves before God, a place of refuge from the trials of life, and a place of celebration for the triumphs of life. And in all, a place to give glory to God and His creations.


Our next step was to personally invite each member of the congregation into the practice of discernment and to listen to their hopes, concerns, and feelings about open and affirming. Due to the Covid restrictions, nearly all these conversations were conducted over the phone. These calls spanned a few months with over a dozen contacts every couple of weeks. Overall, the conversations were informative and enjoyable. We want to thank everyone that shared with us. We also tried to provide information to the congregation through the weekly bulletins and monthly newsletters. We developed a church webpage with links to additional resources, many suggested to us during the conversations.


During the 1-on-1 conversations, we met many people with compelling personal stories, not hypothetical or theoretical scenarios. We asked these people to share their experiences with the whole congregation as our next step. Some of these people feel comfortable to share their stories with us and some do not feel safe enough. We will be hearing just a few of these testimonials in June.


Although the team has been working one step at a time, based on questions and suggestions from the congregation, it is apparent that we need to communicate our plans and the current tentative next steps.

The general schedule is:
June                        - Testimonials during Sunday service & work on 1:1 Conversation                                                 Summary letter (publish in July)
July                         - craft Open and Affirming Statement, including review/approval from                                         Church Board
August                    - publish proposed statement and perhaps have “town hall” discussions
September            - vote on Open and Affirming Statement at congregational meeting


Discernment is a prayerful decision based on the desire to follow Jesus in our daily life and live in a way that recognizes all people are children of God. We want to encourage and thank everyone in the congregation for their participation in this practice of discernment for our church.


Additional Information

Resources for Personal Discernment

Faith Community Assessment

Survey results

Personal Conversations Summary

Previously published articles

Member Recommendations

United Church of Canada

Gender, Sexuality, and Orientation

How do you describe yourself?

Blessed because you Love

"I was sad to hear the Catholic Church has once again refused to bless same gender marriages. If you are a person who is LGBTQIA, please know you are blessed because you love, not because you have ANY church's permission. It is not the church that makes love valid, but love that makes the church valid."

- Jim Rigby (Daniel Gardner's former paster)

Extravagant Welcome

The First Congregational Church, UCC, of Loveland has been known as a very welcoming church. The congregation is proud of its reputation of friendliness and hospitality.

So what is meant by “EXTRAVAGANT WELCOME“?  It sounds like a step up, right?

Extravagant welcome means that “God is still speaking!“ God is not done with us. “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” That comma symbol is important.  What does it mean to place a period? It means the ending of a statement. Stop sign. A comma means there’s more to come.

There is actually a welcoming process that includes relational organizing, education, a public statement of welcome for persons of all races, sexual orientation, gender identities, and marital status.

​​​​​​​Should the church stop with fine hospitality and friendliness when there could be more of a welcome, an extravagant welcome? There is finality in periods.



Over 10 years ago, the term LGBT was being used to refer to people that had sexual lives different than heterosexuals (also called cisgender). Those four letters have been expanded to "LGBTQIA+" to refer to all individual sexual and gender identities.  These letters are an evolution toward inclusion, an expansion of the language used to represent a group that had often just been called ‘the gay community’.


L: lesbian (woman attracted to woman)

G: gay (previously a blanket term but now refers to man attracted to man)

B: bisexual (attracted to own gender or other genders)

T: transgender (gender identity differs from biological)

Q: queer or questioning

I: intersex (born with biological sex characteristics that are not traditionally associated with male or female bodies),

A: asexual or ace (little or no attraction),

+: includes demisexual (feels no sexual attraction), gray sexual (the gray space between asexual and sexual identity), non-binary or gender-queer (identifies as neither male or female),  gender-fluid (fluctuates or shifts identity), and gender-neutral (prefers not to be described by a specific gender).


C: cisgender (identity matches assigned sex at birth)

P: pansexual (attracted to all genders).


This information is from The ABC’s of LGBTQIA+ by Michael Gold. These lists are by no means inclusive of all vocabulary.

Open and Affirming in the UCC


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 (LGBTQIA+) in the church's life and ministry.


The Open and Affirming program is administered by the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition, which supports congregations and other church settings as they consider the adoption of an ONA "covenant" and maintains the official registry of ONA congregations and ministries.


The Coalition encourages UCC congregations, campus ministries, seminaries, regional bodies and other settings of the church to engage their members in serious study of sexual orientation and gender identity and to declare publicly their full welcome and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people. With more than 1,600 congregations, the UCC's ONA program is the largest of several LGBT-welcoming church movements in U.S. and Canadian churches. There is a similar "Open & Affirming" program in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).


Background: In 1985 the United Church of Christ's General Synod adopted a resolution encouraging UCC congregations to welcome (or consider welcoming) gay, lesbian, and bisexual people after a time of dialogue, study, and prayer. Following later General Synod resolutions affirming transgender members of the church, the welcome was extended so that, today, an ONA covenant welcomes members of all sexual orientation and gender identities and expressions. An ONA church commits to the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ members in the sacraments and ministries of the church, including marriage. Although the 1985 resolution had no legislative authority over individual congregations, which are autonomous and self-governing, it did set in motion a movement that spread rapidly throughout the denomination.


The resolution allocated no funds to support an ONA program in the UCC's national office. As a result, the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns launched an ONA program in 1987, led by the Rev. Ann B. Day and Donna Enberg, which raised funds from individual contributors, sympathetic congregations, and private foundations. To this day, the official registry of ONA congregations is managed by the Coalition (since renamed the Open and Affirming Coalition), a voluntary non-profit organization independent from the UCC’s national office. The Coalition works in close partnership with the UCC's national ministries. The Coalition publishes a wide range of resources to support congregations considering an ONA commitment and to help existing ONA churches build relationships with the LGBTQIA+ community.


New York City's Riverside Church, under the pastoral leadership of the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin, was the first in the UCC to be listed as Open and Affirming in 1987. According to the Open and Affirming Coalition, more than 1,600 UCC congregations with 370,000 members (about 33 percent of all UCC churches) are listed as officially Open and Affirming as of December 2019. Twenty-one of the UCC's 38 regional conferences, most new church starts, all seven seminaries affiliated with the UCC and several UCC-related campus ministries have adopted ONA statements or covenants.

Open & Affirming Discernment Team Report

Congregational Meeting presentation January 17, 2021


There were two paragraphs in the midweek emails about Open and Affirming, one in late August advertising for volunteers and one in late October announcing the team. Those two paragraphs in the midweek emails may be all that anyone has heard about the Open and Affirming Discernment effort. But that is about to change.


The team has been continually active during the meantime. Our primary assignment from the Church Board is to “help guide our congregation through the discernment process”. For the last three months, we have been in prayer and educating ourselves on the discernment process, on Open and Affirming, and on gender and sexuality.


What is the discernment process? The book "The Way of Discernment" by Elizabeth Liebert describes discernment as the traditional Christian practice of seeking God’s call in the midst of the decisions that mark one’s life. Discernment may be the single most important Christian spiritual practice for dealing with all the forces, options, and decisions that characterize modern life. Entering into discernment means becoming increasing able to notice where God is at work in the world and in one’s own life, and increasingly generous with one’s own life in response. A discerning person seeks, in all that she or he does, that which better responds to God’s call in the moment.


Prayer, especially listening for God’s call, is central to the discernment practice. One of our team’s prayers is to be guides worthy enough of this congregation.


The spirit of Graceful Engagement is used throughout every aspect of the discernment practice. The spirit of Graceful Engagement requires deep listening and treating each person as a beloved child of God. It is about listening, sharing one’s own story, hearing one another’s perspective, finding shared experiences, and building relationships.


In the next couple weeks, we will begin this Graceful Engagement with a mailing to everyone containing a letter of introduction and an anonymous survey. Please take the time to complete and return the survey to the church office or a team member. The survey will provide an interesting view of our congregation. There were a couple unexpected insights from just the team’s survey results. The compiled results of the surveys will be shared with the congregation.


Following the mailing, team members will begin scheduling one-on-one or small group conversations to pray and to discuss discernment, Open and Affirming, and the survey results. Our goal is to engage everyone in the congregation in the discernment practice and conversations. This task is obviously problematic and complicated by the Covid-19 warnings. We anticipate that most of these conversations can be held over the phone or on Zoom. We will also work with people that prefer to have in-person discussions. The conversations should and will be Covid-19 safe and comfortable for all participants.


Although there are roadmaps of other congregations’ Open and Affirming journeys, our conversations when completed, will determine the path and next steps in our congregation’s discernment journey. Please join with all of us to pray, to listen, to build relationships and community, to discern God’s call for our community, and most of all, to follow and live His call in our lives, everyday and everywhere and with everyone.


Linda Greaves             Sandra Drage              Dawn Briggs               Pat Kukus
Brian Schuetz             Daniel Gardner           Frank Kauffman         Craig Jump



A word the ONA Team will be using often is ‘discernment.’ Merriam-Webster defines discernment as the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure, an act of perceiving. Some synonyms: insight, perception, judgement.
Our ONA Team is reading and referencing a recommended book, ‘The Way of Discernment: spiritual practices for decision making.’ It introduces discernment as the Christian practice of seeking God‘s call in the midst of decisions that mark one’s life, saying “it may very well be the single most important Christian spiritual practice for dealing with contemporary dilemmas.”
As the Team continues to lead the congregation through the ONA process, we will use discernment by careful reflection and inviting God into our discussions.

Open and Affirming Discernment Committee Formation

On November 12, ONA met with Reverend Dr. Mark Lee. The committee discussed ‘The Building an Inclusive Church’ tool kit readings after several of the committee completed the Faith Community Assessment survey. Rev. Lee is a very experienced resource and is willing to help when or if we have questions during our journey.
ONA’s next meeting will be November 19 with Karen Fentiman, who has been on the ONA committee at First Congregational Church in Greeley.


On Thursday, October 29, the Open and Affirming Discernment team (O&A) met for the first time. Pastor Thandiwe and Paul Heintzleman met with us and helped us get started. The O&A team consists of eight members including a brand-new church member and members of 50+ years. The team members are Craig Jump (chair), Dawn Briggs, Sandra Drage, Daniel Gardner, Linda Greaves, Frank Kaufman, Pat Kukus and Brian Schuetz. 

The team had a discussion of what the expectations and purpose for this group are. The team will research, pray and study to hopefully educate our church members with the goal of a vote in the future.  After an assignment of suggested readings, we also discussed discernment. 

November 2020 Newsletter Update -- A Team is Formed! 


The church board voted on October 12th approving the slate of volunteers to be members of the new Open and Affirming Discernment committee. The members of this group will help guide our congregation through the discernment process, and report to the board regularly.


The members are Sandra Drage, Frank Kauffman, Dawn Briggs, Craig Jump, Daniel Gardner, Linda Greaves, Brian Schuetz, Pat Kukus.


We are thankful they are willing to give of themselves and help guide us into and through this process. Please hold them and our congregation in your prayers! 

Step 1: Forming a Team

A Statement from Our Moderator

August 20, 2020

Church Family,

Our Church Board has authorized the formation of a ministry team to outline and then guide the church through the Open and Affirming
discernment process. If you wish to serve on this team, please get in touch with our Moderator, Paul Heintzleman, or any member of the
Executive Committee.

This new ministry will select materials to use for this process, develop a projected timeline, outline the process for the congregation, and help us lovingly navigate this journey together. Part of the team's work will be to ensure that every voice in our congregation is heard and valued. Thank you.

Looking forward,
Paul Heintzleman

Church Moderator

We have been on a journey towards a discernment process around whether God is calling our congregation to express God's love in this time and place through a statement of Open and Affirming for at least a decade. In 2010, Rev. James Watson led a visioning process one piece of which was going to be entering into discernment (prayerful consideration) around becoming Open and Affirming. Rev. Watson left before this process could begin. Some of us fear the conflict and changes that will almost certainly come with engaging the question of whether to fully affirm our LGBTQIA+ members. Some of us have experienced for ourselves or have watched loved ones experience the hurt of not being fully affirmed for who they are. 


This summer (2020), after receiving 4 letters from congregants asking that we embark on a process of prayer, education, conversation, listening, sharing and exploring around whether and how to welcome and affirm all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, our church's Executive Committee sent out the letter below.


July 15, 2020


Dearly Beloved,


If you are reading this letter, you have no doubt experienced the warm welcome from our church family. Whether you have been here all your life or have recently arrived, this congregation has made welcoming people in Christ’s love part of our identity for over 100 years. We agree this is a core value, one that we see as central to following Christ. 


While we agree on the importance of the act of welcoming family, strangers and friends alike, we do not always agree on what we mean by welcoming. Who do we welcome? Is there anyone we do not welcome? Do we welcome, affirm and celebrate the whole person? How do we do this?


In the last few months, the Executive Committee has received three letters from members of the congregation who serve in various leadership capacities. These letters request that our church move ahead with a discernment process, one where we learn about what it means to welcome all (and who in our community may not have been welcomed), as Christ showed us. This process specifically focuses on the welcome and affirmation of LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people.

Over the last few months the need for education and prayer around racial justice has become clear, and we hope that similar energy, effort and passion can go towards education, discussion and prayer about Open and Affirming.


At our upcoming August Church Board meeting, the Executive Committee will recommend that we form an exploratory team to gather resources, outline a time frame and determine what this discernment process can look like for our congregation and how best to proceed to become an Open and Affirming Church. 


We are thankful for the initiative of congregational members in urging us to move forward in this process, and we ask that you hold our congregation in prayer during this time of exploration that will lead into discernment. 


Please do not hesitate to reach out to anyone on the Executive Committee or our Pastor if you have any questions or thoughts about this.


In gratitude,
Paul Heintzleman, Moderator
Pat Kukus, Treasurer
Kathy Bialy, Church Clerk
John McCoy, Chair of Deacons
Bernie Depperschmidt, Chair of Trustees
Alexandra Stanke, Co-Chair of Trustees