Dover Congregational celebrates 10 years of being 'open and affirming'
Dover Congregational United Church of Christ in Westlake will celebrate its 10-year anniversary as an “Open and Affirming” congregation on Sunday, June 24, at 7 p.m. in Thomas Hall. A round-table format will explore the history of the church’s decision to celebrate the human family together without fear or exclusion.
In 2005, the church responded to the charge from the 25th General Synod to support equal marriage rights for all. The church council agreed to the two-year ONA discernment process advocated by the United Church of Christ National Office.
A task force was formed in July 2006, led by Bill Wilkins, who died this past year, and Martha Vivona, the church’s current lay leader. “Over the next 18 months, we offered 15 different programs attended by most of our congregation,” said Vivona. The discussion topics included working on a definition of what “welcoming” really means.
When I see the word “welcoming” in church literature, I wonder. Sometimes it feels as if we welcome people who look and think like we do. That’s not welcoming. I am honored to be the minister of a church willing to stand for God’s welcome to all. We welcome all, just as Christ has welcomed us, equally and jubilantly.
The task before the church proved daunting. What did it mean to welcome the LGBTQ community when the Bible included passages of exclusion? The church learned to be theologians and not literalists. They began to understand that the church doesn’t worship a book; it follows a different path presented to us in Jesus.
On Aug. 19, 2008, the congregation voted to become Open and Affirming. The committee wrote the statement, now since amended, to read:
"Dover Congregational United Church of Christ is an Open and Affirming congregation. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We welcome people of all ages, genders, races, views, abilities, sexual orientations, expressions, and identities, ethnic, educational and economic backgrounds into the full life and ministry of our church. We declare this in the name of God, whose Son, Jesus, welcomed all people into God’s circle of grace."
“Ten years ago we knew that the 'open' part of ONA wouldn’t be hard,” said Vivona, “but the 'affirming part' would be the most challenging. We are making strides. Our rainbow flag flies to let people know that all are indeed welcomed; they are also affirmed.”
The community is invited to come and share their ideas of what it means to be the community of faith in our divided world.