Many of you, who have gone through the Open and Affirming discernment process, a process that takes a year (or can take longer), spent much of your energy just passing your church’s resolution to become ONA. After that, some of you took a break and you deserve a break. But now the break is over and it’s time to get moving.
So now that you’re ONA, what can you do with it? Before I offer some suggestions, perhaps other readers might comment on what your church is doing. Such a testimony would be very helpful for others.
For those looking for recommendations, let me invite you to review your ONA resolution–and to carefully review the wording as to your justification for becoming an open and affirming congregation. Did you, like many others, specifically name other groups of persons traditionally maligned by the church universal? Did you name people of color, women, persons with disabilities, people in different situations in life as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons? If so, you have a list to start from–and I would recommend starting with the last to the first, in this case.
One thing you can do is to have a LGBT appreciation day. Invite people you know who self-identify as LGBT or who have LGBT children, nephews, or nieces to a potluck dinner, worship service, or panel discussion. Create a brochure for LGBT visitors. Hang a gay-friendly poster in your social hall or church parlor. Consider ways to advertise the Pride colors, with a rainbow sticker on a church sign or displaying the gay pride flag.
Another way to use your ONA position is to support LGBT causes such as marching in one of several gay pride parades in New York and New Jersey and displaying a church banner there. Did you know that there are three gay pride parades in New Jersey during the summer? There are three in New York City too, including the big one on the last Sunday of June. You can also take up an issue of support for gay persons such as gay marriage–which New Jersey needs more supportive churches to make their voices heard to our elected leaders and scared friends.
You might also consider using your ONA position to offer a ministry and social support group to LGBT persons–such as gay senior citizens, gay youth, or gay 20-somethings. You might also find an issue within other issues, such as immigration and then focus your energies on gay persons within the immigration debate. You could host a seminar, join the New Sanctuary Movement, or invite LGBT foreigners to give a testimony in church.
Another suggestion is to consider how the ONA resolution affects your other ministries and ministers. You might, for example, consider hiring a qualified openly gay person to be a minister or work in your Christian education department. Or, you might look into the UCC’s Our Whole Lives curriculum and explore ways you might teach a healthy sexual ethic to your children, teenagers, and young adults in a way that honors all God’s children, gay, transgender, bisexual, or straight.
These are but a few ways that you can promote your ONA resolution within your congregational setting. But these are just a few ways–other folks are doing other things. For example, the Cresskill Congregational Church partnered with Bergen PFLAG to form a LGBT teen youth support group called The Rainbow Cafe. They’ve been meeting since 2011 and have many kids participating in support groups and quarterly dances. Each dance averages around 100-120 LGBTQ teenagers ages 13-19 years old. Since the creation of the first Rainbow Cafe in Cresskill, there have been 4 other chapters that began in their area. Churches in Philadelphia, Stamford, CT, and Essex and Mountain Lakes, NJ have started their own chapters. If you are interested in starting a chapter in your area, contact the Cresskill Congregational Church’s pastor who can direct you accordingly. That church number is 201-568-0608.
Speaking of teens, you could have a panel discussion about bullying in your schools and have representatives from LGBT groups, high school students who get bullied, and parents a part of the discussion. It could be a great educational moment and really help spread the word about the dangers our LGBTQ youth face in schools.
I hope these examples have given you some ideas to consider. If you would like to talk more about these ideas, please let the ACM know. The ACM will be able to direct your inquiries to persons and churches who have been through this process and will be delighted to help you in discern your ministry and vision.