This year is the 5th anniversary of First Congregational Church of Bethel, United Church of Christ becoming an Open and Affirming Congregation. Congratulations! And Thank You!
One of the reasons I said yes to being your pastor is that this is an Open and Affirming Congregation. I know you all did some really good work getting to the place to make that decision. And as you have heard me say before, the work continues. Being an Open and Affirming Church is not a one vote and done commitment. It is a way of living and growing together that leads us closer to who God would have us be, loving and welcoming, and doing our work to be a safer place for all of God's Beloved Children.
I imagine you all had the conversation and maybe had it many times, "Why do we have to say we are Open and Affirming? Why do we need to put up a flag, or post it on our website, or say something in the bulletin?"
For me and my faith the answer is straightforward and clear. The Church, universal, has systematically said that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer people are not welcome as they are outside of the love of God.
In response to systematic exclusion and oppression, the answer must be an emphatic and clearly stated, "YOU ARE LOVED, just the way you are, all of you, and you are welcome and safe here."
There are very few churches in the world that don't say, "All Are Welcome." However, most churches when you get inside, then say, you are welcome and you must change who God created you to be.
So if your very existence has been declared by the wider church to be bad, or outside of God's love, or unwelcome, or that you need to change who you are at the deepest core of your being, then God's loving response requires more than a vote in a church basement one time and a piece of paper filed away in the church archives.
It needs to be shouted, posted, repeated, declared, and lived. That is in the witness of where you show up (Bethel Pride), that is in the language use (our Sunday morning welcome), that is in the images you display (flag on the signs, rainbow FCCB church on the website). And it means a commitment to continue to grow and learn to become an ever more welcome and safe space for all of us to be our authentic true self, which God has created in their image.