Church welcomes all, regardless of sexual orientation
There was something about the unspoken that had begun to feel a little passive, a little “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
First Congregational Church in Grand Junction had long embraced an “all are welcome” policy, “but if you choose not to declare who you are as a church body, then people can sort of go along passively and just be along for the ride,” explained the Rev. Ginger Taylor, former interim senior minister of the church.
So, on April 27, after a year of discussion and reflection, the church’s congregation voted to adopt a statement declaring themselves an Open and Affirming (ONA) church body, a United Church of Christ (UCC) designation in which a congregation “makes a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions,” according to ucc.org.
Andrea Leak and Donna Hochmuth, who co-chaired the committee to consider becoming an ONA congregation, said the first question people asked was, “Why?”
“People wondered, ‘Will it make a difference to declare who we are in a specific way and announce it, as opposed to only being what we are?’” Taylor said.
But through group discussion and study, Leak explained, the church’s members were able to really consider what they believe and the ultimate importance of making it known.
“Jesus never really said, ‘Love everybody except…’,” Hochmuth said. “He said love your neighbors. He taught a message of inclusiveness.”
Leak and Hochmuth both said the voyage toward becoming an ONA congregation was personal — Hochmuth’s son came out 27 years ago and Leak’s sister, who is a lesbian, told Leak that she knew even at age 4 that she was “different.”
However, the purpose of becoming ONA is not about differences, Taylor said, but being united as a congregation. It’s one thing to have an “All are welcome” banner behind the altar — which the church does — “but sometimes that could mean you’re welcome to come in, but you can’t do this, you can’t participate in that part of the church,” Leak said.
“What we wanted to emphasize is that you’re welcome into the full life of the church; you can vote, hold office, become a minister, participate fully in all that we are,” Hochmuth added.
So, after much deliberation, the congregation accepted with acclamation their ONA statement, which says, in part, “We, the members of First Congregational United Church of Christ, are an open, affirming and accessible community who strives to follow the teachings of Jesus. Our faith leads us to actively obey Jesus’ inclusive embrace by welcoming, honoring and respecting all people. We offer our hospitality to persons of every race, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, family structure, ethnic origin, mental and physical ability, socio-economic status and any or no religious background.”
“There’s a boldness in declaring this,” Taylor said. “We’re not drifting passively along, but we’re declaring this is who we are and this is what we believe.”