A bunch of years ago, when First Christian Church of Fremont and Niles Congregational Church were talking about the possibility of merging, we held a workshop to investigate our compatibility (for lack of a better word). We did this by looking at each congregation’s “cultural norms,” the standards and rules our churches lived by. Cultural norms are the shared expectations and rules that guide the behavior of people within a social group and typically are not written down.
I don’t remember exactly how this exercise worked. What I remember about a decade later was that each congregation was crystal clear about one aspect of their identity and values. Each congregation had one non-negotiable norm: They each identified as “Open and Affirming.”
Open and Affirming is the label used in both the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ by congregations and other denominational bodies to identify themselves as welcoming of sexual minorities (be that because of sexual identity and/or gender identity). What started out in both denominations as a movement to welcome gay men and lesbian women into the full life of the church has expanded over the years into a movement of welcome and affirmation for an alphabet soup of people. “G and L” grew to LGBT (adding “bisexual” and “transgender” to the list). Now this list has grown to LGBTQ+, with the “Q” meaning “queer” and/or “questioning,” and the “+” representing 2S (two spirit people), SGL (same-gender-loving people), and many others.
Earlier this past fall, Pastor Brenda and I decided that it was time to revisit our Open and Affirming covenant and to think about how we’re living it. So, that’s what we’re going to do, starting January 12. The four-part sermon series is called “Open … Affirming … Alive!” It will begin with a look at covenant and the history of the Open and Affirming movement in both denominations. Then we will seek a better understanding of the transgender experience. And, finally, we will talk about how we can keep our Open and Affirming covenant alive.
This last topic – keeping our ONA* covenant alive – will need your input. That’s why we’ve scheduled a Town Hall Meeting on Sunday, February 2, following worship. Pastor Brenda and I will lead the Town Hall Meeting to gather your input on the topic.
There is a certain serendipity to the timing of this. Bobby Jo Valentine is a singer/song writer who lives in the greater Bay Area and the Ministry of Evangelism Team is sponsoring him in concert on Sunday, February 2, at 4:00 p.m., at the church.
Bobby Jo was born into a family of Baptists, people with a faith he describes as having “strict lines and sharp edges.” After coming out as a gay man, his faith shifted to something more expansive. He describes himself as being “a believer in a larger sense, in the wild, strange, mystical nature of the world and the beauty that can be found underneath almost any tragedy.” Faith has come to mean something much deeper and more generous than where he started.
Bobby is a proud supporter of equal rights and opportunities for all people. He believes that we’re all in this together; that “the arc of the universe is long, but bends toward justice;” and that real justice means justice for everyone. Bobby’s music expresses his spirituality and work for justice in a style that has the simplicity of folk music and the rhythm and melody of pop.
I hope this concert will be a great way for us to complete the sermon series and to launch our efforts to keep our Open and Affirming covenant alive. I hope to see you there.
*While both denominations use the label “Open and Affirming,” they don’t agree on the abbreviation. “ONA” is used in the United Church of Christ; “O&A” is used in the Disciples of Christ.