Lowell First Congregational UCC Marks Five Years of Being Open and Affirming

The UCC Rainbow Comma represents the belief that God is still speaking and faith is evolving. Image courtesy of Lowell First Congregational UCC.

Sexual orientation and gender identity can be hot button issues in churches today, but the Lowell First Congregational United Church of Christ wants everyone to know its doors are open to them.

“There has been an increasing movement of churches declaring themselves as ‘welcome to all,’ but what many LGBTQ+ folks find is that that welcome is extended to everyone but themselves,” says Alyssa Anten, pastor of the Lowell First Congregational UCC.

The Lowell church didn’t want anyone to think it was simply paying lip service to the idea of being welcoming so it decided to pursue an Open and Affirming certification. Awarded by the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ, the designation is a way to prove a congregation’s commitment to embracing people of all backgrounds. The denomination explains it in this way:

Open and Affirming (ONA) is the United Church of Christ’s (UCC) designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the UCC which make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.

This month, the Lowell First Congregational UCC marks five years since it became Open and Affirming. Since then, the community has hosted special speakers, held rallies and created a church environment that is centered around inclusion and social justice.

Decision to Become Open and Affirming

The Open and Affirming designation, also known as ONA, is not something churches can give to themselves. Instead, they have to go through a lengthy certification process that typically involves creating a task force, undertaking educational opportunities and approving an ONA covenant.

“It’s a very rigorous and diligent attempt to let the community know that our church is a safe and affirming space for LGBTQ+ individuals and families,” Anten says.

While the Lowell First Congregational UCC has long had people in leadership positions who were supportive allies of the LGBTQ+ community, the first step toward becoming ONA was to hold discussions with members to determine their true feelings on the matter. Out of those conversations came the decision to become an ONA church.

“For us, holding an official status of being Open and Affirming provides our church with accountability to practice what we say we believe,” Anten explains.

Open and Affirming in Practice

While going through the ONA certification process, the Lowell First Congregational UCC spent a significant amount of time in study, prayer and reflection to determine the correct path for the congregation. Since the church has received its Open and Affirming designation, it has continued to offer educational opportunities such as webinars and speakers who address topics such as how to maintain a safe and welcoming space.

The church has also held a number of special events over the years. For instance, it invited members of GIFT – formerly known as Gays In Faith Together – to speak about their personal faith journeys. The church also hosted a screening of the film Real Boy which followed the story of a transgender man.

“As a progressive church in this community, we hope that anyone who is looking for a safe, affirming, welcoming, and generally inclusive space knows that we exist and would welcome them with open arms,” Anten says. “We believe God created each of us in God’s image and loves each and every one of us equally regardless of how the world chooses to value us.”

For more information about the Lowell First Congregational UCC, visit their website or Facebook page.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.