Opening and Affirming (ONA)
Open and Affirming
In March, 2017 a small (and growing) number of church members introduced the potential of becoming an Open and Affirming (ONA) designated UCC church like 90+ others in Connecticut. Open and Affirming means that a UCC church welcomes anyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, creed, class, age, marital status, political views, physical or mental abilities, substance addiction, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Since the March ONA introduction, a few church members asked us why we should become ONA designated when we already welcome everyone who walks through our front doors searching for a place to belong and feel safe. There are three primary reasons our church is pursuing the ONA designation:
- A well-publicized ONA designation lets people looking for a place of worship know that we are an exceptionally welcoming congregation. Without the designation, we hinder interested worshippers from exploring our loving church family.
- In our recent senior pastoral search effort, we learned that there may have been candidates who did not consider our church because we lacked the ONA designation. Rev. Jeff was actually reluctant to consider us, but a colleague urged him to interview and we were able to convince him that we would like to pursue becoming Open and Affirming. Unless we can demonstrate that we are exploring ONA, we are concerned that we may miss out on outstanding candidates for our pending associate pastor search.
- Following the Open and Affirming process will help us journey together, exploring who we are as a church as we get to know each other better. We will also grow spiritually as we discuss what the bible has to say about being tolerant of others who we may see as different from ourselves.
What ONA Means to Me?
In January, I had the opportunity to go into Hartford to see a show at the Bushnell. As we drove through Hartford I noticed one of Hartford's stately UCC churches proudly displaying an ONA banner in their front yard. My question at the time was, "why does this church need to advertise to the world that they are an ONA church when supposedly all UCC churches are welcoming?" Since then I have learned that "All are Welcome" isn't enough. Members of the LGBT community, those with special needs, multiracial families and families with a less traditional structure have learned that "All are Welcome" doesn't always apply to them. A public welcome by an Open and Affirming church sends a clear message to all that have a home in the UCC. Written by Beth Stewart
"..and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8 RSV and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Mark 12:31 RSV. In keeping with these biblical inperatives and as former pastors we embrace and encourage the work of the ONA group and affirm the right of every individual to be welcomed and included in the worship and fellowship of God's church. Written by Rev. Donald G. Miller, Rev. Hannah Howe, Rev. Sandra T. Benjamin
We have friends that have a son with cerebral palsy who spends most of his time in a wheel chair. We recently attended a Power Soccer Tournament, which is a competitive team sport designed for power wheel chair users of all ages. The athletes' health issues include quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and many others. These physical challenges did nothing to dampen the team spirit and serious competition of the players and fans. I was humbled and awed by the joy and enthusiasm around me. The players taught me a lesson in acceptance of people for their inner being rather than their outward appearance. As an open and affirming church, UCC Tolland will communicate to the local community and the world that is doors are open to people of all abilities. Written by Christine Thompson
What does "Open and Affirming" (ONA) mean to me? Quite simply, ONA is a way of life. My step brother is gay…..I never thought much or cared about that. A brief experience in 1985 at my high school graduation party reminds me that not everyone is open to this. In my opinion, to be open and affirming is a choice based on our own experiences. I believe we all have the capacity to judge one another for any difference we may have such as race, color, height, financial status and so forth. I think that is just being human. I pray we all realize that this is only the beginning of a lifelong commitment to become open and affirming. Written by Lisa Harley
ONA Coalition: https://openandaffirming.org
Click to Open ONA Survey
Frequently Asked Questions
What is gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation?
In a Gender Binary system there are only two distinct options: male and female. Some people do not fit into the Gender Binary choices. The following paragraphs attempt to explain some of the terminology surrounding gender.
Sex is determined by physical characteristics of the person. In a gender binary system, if a baby appears to have
female external genitalia, then the sex is female, if a baby has male external genitalia then the sex is male. But sex is
determined not only by genitalia, but by reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormones. People with ambiguous
genitalia or other biological complexities may identify as Intersex.
Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of self. For most people, our sense of our gender aligns with the category
originally identified at birth. This is referred to as cisgender. For transgender people, their internal sense is self is in some
way different than their birth certificate. Gender identity can also be experienced as neither woman nor man, or a
combination of woman and man. Some people in the middle of the gender identity spectrum identify as gender-queer.
Gender expression is how we live as a gendered person, including clothing, career, and hobbies. In our society, gender
expression is guided by a complex set of cultural rules and expectations as to what is appropriate behavior for men and
women. People that do not fit the rigid definition of masculine or feminine may identify as gender non-conforming.
People with equal combination of masculine and feminine may identify as androgynous.
Sexual orientation is whom the person is attracted to. In a Gender Binary system the person is attracted only to the
opposite sex. Sexual orientation is complex and people may be attracted to the same sex or both sexes. People that are
attracted to both sexes may identify as bisexual, pansexual, or queer.
Why do we have to go through the ONA process as our church already welcomes all?
While the United Church of Christ (UCC) has been involved in ONA in some form since in 1969, not all UCC churches have gone through the process and become an official ONA church. The process of ONA discernment is an important step, so that all voices of the congregation have an opportunity to be heard. The discussions during the discernment process allow us to build relationships, as we discover shared values and grow in faith. A public statement that UCC Tolland is officially ONA sends a clear message to all seekers, including the LGBT community, as well as straight folks that identify with the values that ONA represents. In addition, our congregation’s support of an ONA covenant can be a life-saving moment for those who may have felt excluded from society in some manner, especially for LGBT youth. If we become ONA, our church will be listed on the UCC and ONA Coalition’s websites so that Christians looking for a church family can be assured of a welcome from our congregation. This public welcome statement can actually help our church grow.
By adopting an ONA covenant, our congregation can live out St. Paul’s teaching to “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you.” (Romans 15:7 NIV)