A voice told him, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!” Peter exclaimed, “Absolutely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” (Acts 10:13-15, The Common English Bible)
The vision of Peter on his way to see Cornelius is one of the most compelling arguments for the inclusion of believers who do not fit the mold of what good upstanding church people ought to be. So on the 25th anniversary of our decision to be Open and Affirming, I thought it would be appropriate to include it in my monthly article. While our congregation was ahead of the curve on fully including LGBTQ folk, we still have work to do and still have attitudes that get in the way of fully including those whom God loves.
The rest of my space in this month’s edition of The Call is devoted to an excerpt from Bits of History at Urbandale United Church of Christ. (pp 62-63) “Urbandale UCC’s Open and Affirming (ONA) process unofficially began sometime in 1989, when a man with AIDS asked Rev. de Jong if she would help him die. Many in the congregation got to know this man through praying and caring for him. He put a human face on the AIDS issue.
“The Long-Range Planning Committee described as one of its recommended goals in its Report issued in Early 1990: ‘We recommend that this church engage in a process of education and dialogue to become an Open and Affirming Congregation.’ In the several months following the congregational vote accepting the Committee’s Report, adult education sessions were held on issues including the spectrum of human sexuality, gay/lesbian experience in the church, and AIDS. The Community Concerns Board supported and helped co-sponsor various programs and conferences in the community relating to gay and lesbian issues.
“In the Spring of 1991, ONA activities slowed as several people in the church already thought the church was an open and affirming church. By this time, a few gay and lesbian people had joined or were worshipping at our church regularly.
“In January 1993, several adult educational sessions were planned by the task force and sponsored by the Church Council, including speakers such as Rev. Chuck Briem, Associate Conference Minister; Rev. Don Gall, Conference Minister; Sylvia Thorsen-Smith, a member of the Presbyterian’s committee on human sexuality; and Rev. Rosemary Iha and two lay persons from Faith UCC in Iowa City, the first UCC church in Iowa to formally become ONA.
“Following the adult education sessions, the Community Concerns Board recommended to the Council, and the Council voted, to present an ONA resolution to the congregation. The resolution modified the language in the church’s existing Mission Statement. The pertinent paragraph as modified read:
‘We covenant to be a community that remains open to the challenges of the Christian faith. We welcome into this community of faith and affirm the participation in all aspects of church life, persons of every age, race, gender, nationality, ability, and sexual orientation. We will continue our efforts toward inclusiveness and stand against all forms of discrimination. We will empower ourselves, our children, and one another to be fully present in the world, living in Christ’s image, and striving for justice and peace.
“On May 16, 1993, the congregation voted to become an ONA church by a vote of 101 yes, 2 no, and 2 abstentions. After the vote, the congregation gathered in a circle around the altar and sang ‘Amazing Grace.’ Urbandale UCC was the 103rd church to become ONA in our denomination.”
I hope you will plan to join us in celebrating this important milestone in our history. The following special events are in the works:
May 6, Pulpit Exchange with Ames UCC. The Rev. Eileen Gebbie preaching
May 13, Anniversary Service. Andy Lang, Executive Director of the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ preaching.
May 20, Wrap-up with greetings from area LGBTQ agencies.
May we all continue the work of overcoming the things that divide us! Amen!