Open and Affirming and Just Peace Church
On May 16, 1993, we voted to become an Open & Affirming church.
Background: Our Open and Affirming (ONA) process unofficially began sometime in 1989, when a man with AIDS asked the pastor, Rev. Patricia de Jong, if she would help him as he went through the dying process. Many in the congregation got to know him through praying and caring for him. He put a human face on the AIDS issue.
In 1990, we set as one of our long-range goals to “engage in a process of education and dialogue to become an ‘Open and Affirming’ congregation.” Over several months, adult education sessions were held on issues including the spectrum of human sexuality, gay/lesbian experiences in the church, and AIDS. Our Community Concerns Board supported and helped co-sponsor programs and conferences in the community relating to gay and lesbian issues. The number of openly gay or lesbian worshippers and members in our church steadily grew.
In early 1992, the Community Concerns Board voted to sponsor a resolution at the Iowa Conference-UCC Annual Meeting calling on the Conference to study becoming ONA for two years, and encouraging local churches to do the same. Following a positive vote at the Conference Annual Meeting, we pressed ahead with our own ONA study.
In late 1992, questionnaires were sent to all members to gauge congregational support for becoming ONA, and to review the need for additional education. The response was very positive, but the return rate was fairly low.
In January 1993, several adult education sessions were held. Then the Church Council forwarded an ONA resolution to the congregation for a vote. The resolution modified the language in the church’s Mission Statement.
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.
Since then, we have learned that the process of becoming open and affirming is ongoing. Members continue to dialogue about what it means to be ONA. Members of the congregation have:
- participated in gay pride parades with the church’s ONA banner
- spoken at other church, association, and Iowa Conference meetings
- served in leadership roles in the Conference’s ONA Committee
- been in dialogue with the Boy Scouts concerning their policy banning gay members and leaders
- sponsored a statewide ecumenical gathering in the hope of engaging other members of the faith community in a dialogue about becoming welcoming and inclusive communities
- participated in “Solidarity Week” with the gay and lesbian community by providing rainbow ribbons to members to wear all week and tell others what the ribbon represents
- held an adult education series on “The Bible and Homosexuality,” addressing Old and New Testament passages that are affirming as well as those used to condemn gays and lesbians
- celebrated anniversaries of the ONA vote in special worship services and commissioned teams of people who were willing to share our story with other interested churches and groups in Iowa
- voted in 1998 to “continue to provide safe space and continue our commitment to Just Peace, inclusiveness, and Open and Affirming, while showing more sensitivity to those who are not comfortable with our openness”
- elected and encouraged gay and lesbian members as leaders and active participants in the life of the church
- sponsored and celebrated the ordination of one of our gay members in an ordination worship service—the first ordination of an openly gay man in the Iowa Conference
- sponsored a training for facilitators of the UCC sexuality curriculum, “Our Whole Lives—Sexuality in our Faith”
- begun a dialogue about transgender inclusivity.
The Urbandale United Church of Christ has long been active and committed to justice and peace issues. In January 1989, the congregation voted to become a Just Peace Church.
Background: In the early 1980s, we selected peace as a theme for the church’s work, and we formally and unanimously affirmed peace as a congregational priority. Several women, including Roz Ostendorf, Roselyn Harbart, Jeanne White, and Amy Christensen (then Couch), came together to write a peace prayer, and the Board recognized “People Praying for Peace” as an official ministry of our church. The Peace Prayer was distributed to all members of the congregation, and received interdenominational attention across Iowa.
In 1983, our Community Concerns Board sponsored a float in Urbandale’s Fourth of July parade entitled: “Urbandale: The Nuclear Freeze City.”
At the annual church meeting in January 1988, we voted to work toward becoming a Just Peace Church as defined by the General Synod UCC. To this end, a “Covenant for a Just Peace Congregation” was prepared and those in agreement with its tenets were requested to sign the covenant.
In January 1989, the congregation voted to become a Just Peace Church.