Past Issues Old hand (woman) holding a very old bible, rainbow flag

Published on March 6th, 2015 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles

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Open And Affirming – Progress for LGBT Worshipers

by George M. Ackerley

There’s a church near my home that in the spring of 2014 unfurled a rainbow flag on the building. There’s also a sign posted nearby that says “God is still speaking.”

As I drove by one day, I spotted on the front lawn two quite noticeable rainbow flags. Not long after, I spied an article in the local newspaper, announcing that the First Congregational Church of Bloomfield had become “Open and Affirming.”

I took this as a clear sign that the church was now welcoming the LGBT community in for worship. As a gay man, I was thrilled to learn of their stance.

Yet, I still had little knowledge of just what ONA meant, in the overall scheme of things. My next instinct was to contact the Pastor of the church, to learn more about this new welcoming spirit, and to see if it made sense to author an article about the new ONA outlook to share much good news to the LGBT community as a whole. In my curiosity, I called and asked to speak with Pastor Deborah Blood. Regrettably, my first effort was not successful, as I learned that she would not be available for at least the next week. Nonetheless, I made it a point to re-call the church, to speak with Pastor Blood, hoping to obtain her permission to draw up an article about the new arrangement.

When we first spoke, I let her know my interest, advised her that I’m a gay man who is intrigued and thrilled with the news of their decision to reach out to the LGBT community. She suggested that we get together with her Board of Trustees so that I’d be able to get a better understanding of this new stance the church had taken.We had a slight hiccup in our scheduling, however; and the idea of meeting with the Board was scrapped. In the next several days, while waiting to arrange a new meeting, I took to the internet, so as to learn more about the Open and Affirming practice in churches.

I was delighted to learn that there are hundreds of church congregations around the United States that are Open and Affirming. The United Church of Christ is predominant in this practice, and I was most pleased to learn that many churches in the State of Connecticut were, indeed, ONA. In fact, the church that I had attended (on and off) as a child was on that list (First Congregational Church in Middletown, CT). Clearly, we have come a long way in seeking acceptance in this society.

The Open and Affirming Statement of the First Congregational Church in Bloomfield, United Church of Christ:”The First Congregational Church in Bloomfield, UCC, engages and supports all people through worship, fellowship, learning and service so that all may find in this community the Spirit of the Living Christ. In this spirit we declare that this church is Open and Affirming. We welcome persons of every age, gender, gender identity and gender expression, sexual orientation, race, national origin, faith background, marital status and family structure, mental and physical ability, economic and social status and educational background. We invite all into the sanctuary of our fellowship and the full life and ministry of our church.

The First Congregational Church in Bloomfield, 10 Wintonbury Avenue, invites all to join them for worship and fellowship on Sundays at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Truly, ALL ARE WELCOME!!! In speaking with Pastor Blood, I learned that 95 percent of the congregation had voted in favor of the ONA designation. In fact, she noted that the congregants had begun the process several years earlier. The impetus for the affirmation of the LGBT members within the congregation resulted from congregants’ personal experiences and knowledge.

Several church members have relatives – sons, daughters, brothers, sisters – who are members of the LGBT community. Undoubtedly, these members recognized the need for inclusion and a welcoming to the LGBT community. When the ONA question was put to a vote within the congregation, fewer than ten per cent of congregants voted against the move. Clearly, there was a feeling of inclusivity and acceptance for this congregation. As Pastor Blood also noted, “we already are” open and affirming, prior to the decision being made to present the proposal to the church. They’ve taken to heart the precepts of Open and Affirming. In our discussion, she told me “we’re not going to call you a sinner just because you’re gay.”

Open and Affirming churches, continuing to grow throughout the country, are at the forefront when it comes to seeking equality for the LBGT community, and in recognizing the validity of marriage equality. At the First Congregational Church in Bloomfield, Connecticut, all are afforded an Extravagant Welcome. In their public announcement, it is rampantly clear that all people are welcome, that the Church indeed provides a safe sanctuary for all people.

Often, within the confines of a church service, the question is asked, “Is there more to be said?” Clearly, in this instance, there is a great deal more to be said.

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George M. Akerley is a well-traveled and enlightened gay man, with a fervent desire to help his fellow travelers through the processes of recognition, acceptance, enjoyment and fulfillment as gay. He has struggled in his own life with acceptance of being gay, and knows that others suffer in dreadful ways. By sharing concepts and precepts, he hopes to have a powerful and important impact on others in similar situations.

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