2011 marks the 20th anniversary of Plymouth's decision to be an Open and Affirming Congregation (ONA). ONA congregations in the United Church of Christ publicly welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people into the full life and leadership of the congregation.
Reflections on ONA 20th by Conference Minister David Moyer
Dear friends and partners in ministry:
Grace, mercy, and peace be with you all in the name and the spirit of Jesus Christ. I was delighted to hear from Pastor Warner that you would be honoring the 20th anniversary of your historic vote to be an Open and Affirming Congregation. Thank you for the invitation to share in the celebration. I regret that I was already committed to preach for the anniversary of our congregation in Menomonie and have to be on the road Saturday evening. I will be with you in spirit and trust that you will have a wonderful time together in fellowship and worship.
You were one of the pioneering congregations in becoming Open and Affirming in the Wisconsin Conference. In engaging in your study and taking the vote, you led the way in being a church that would welcome all to the life and mission of Christ’s Church. You have taken seriously that the fellowship of Christ’s table is to be a place of radical inclusivity where all can find the bread of life and the cup of blessing and the grace of community. The leadership of Rev. Mary Ann Neevel at the time of the vote and of Rev. Andrew Warner and Rev. Bridget Flad as well as your lay leadership is an example of courage and hope.
At a recent meeting at the national offices of the United Church of Christ, I heard our General Minister and President, Geoffrey Black, speak about three core values of the United Church of Christ. I believe that you embodied these values in your decision of 20 years ago and you continue to embody them in your ministry today.
He spoke of Continuing Testament, which is another way of expressing our UCC identity as a “Still Speaking” church. We believe that God is always speaking through the scriptures and through the risen Christ, and that the Holy Spirit gives us ears to hear the Good News in fresh ways. We are not limited to narrow texts that limit the good gifts of God, but we listen to the whole sweep of God’s hope to redeem and transform human life, and so we trust that the promise that “you are all one in Christ Jesus” is the essential truth that shapes our faith and ministry.
In the United Church of Christ we are also a church of Extravagant Welcome. As Christ spread wide his arms on the Cross to show the great sweep of God’s love, so we are to open our arms wide as a church to embrace all of God’s children. You have offered that kind of welcome, and it has been a blessing not only to those who were looking for a place of grace but it has blessed your ministry with new people who, having been welcomed, themselves now want to grow in discipleship and service.
Rev. Black also spoke of the UCC as living out God’s mission of Changing Lives. In this season of Easter, having experienced Christ’s resurrection, we are encouraged to ourselves be about a ministry of personal transformation and social justice. I know that you now have partnered in programs that provide safe and affirming space to young persons who are struggling with issues of identity and who need the opportunity to know their worth is God-given and confirmed by those around them. You are helping to change lives.
It is a joy to see so many of your ministries come directly from your courage in becoming Open and Affirming 20 years ago. That step has shaped your direction, given you vitality, and allowed you to grow as a congregation.
Thank you for being a leader among the churches of the Wisconsin Conference and for giving us all encouragement in stepping out in faith in response to a God who continually gives us the gifts of grace and calls us into ministry.
I wish you many blessings.
David S. Moyer, Conference Minister
Reflection on ONA 20th
by Pathfinders President Daniel O. Magnuson
Dear Friends at Plymouth UCC,
Near the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?”. Peter replies “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you”. Jesus responds “Feed my lambs”. Two more times, almost tauntingly, Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?”. Peter says that of course he loves him, “You know that I love you”. Each time, Jesus responds to Peter with a command. He tells him: “Tend my flock” and “Feed my sheep”. The Gospel of John closes with that call to those who love Jesus.
Plymouth UCC, in many ways and over many years, has responded to the call to tend his flock. Indeed, in the Plymouth basement some 40 years ago, several parishioners gathered and, in conversation and committed to that call, established a phone hotline called the Underground Switchboard. The Switchboard was a resource for youth in crisis to call and get help. In the early 1970s, it joined forces with a runaway and homeless youth project called Pathfinders to become The Counseling Center of Milwaukee, Inc. Eventually in 2009, The Counseling Center of Milwaukee, still focused on helping youth in crisis, changed its name to simply Pathfinders.
A constant throughout the years for Pathfinders and its predecessors has been the steadfast partnership of Plymouth UCC. Leaders from the congregation served (and serve) on our board of directors. You have opened your doors and arms to embrace our youth in many ways; from an Open Mike Night to hosting Pathfinders youth to join you on mission trips. You have raised resources to fund computer and media labs, dedicated time to prepare dinners for our youth, and stepped up to help Pathfinders briefly house our sexual assault treatment services in your fantastic building. “Feed my lambs”. “Tend my sheep”.
Indeed, the Plymouth community has taken that call to heart and Pathfinders is the stronger for it. Our community is stronger. Lives have been changed. Thank you so very much.
Earlier this month, Plymouth recognized Pathfinders as an Ally in your journey to be an Open and Affirming church. About 25% of the homeless youth we work with are LGBT. Their lives are often deeply challenging. To be in partnership with an Open and Affirming congregation like Plymouth UCC makes our work possible. We are honored to be walking the same path as Plymouth and look forward to a future filled with opportunity for all God’s children.
With Deep Appreciation,
Daniel O. Magnuson, MA, MSW
Reflection on ONA 20th by Bruce Davies
Our definition of marriage has changed relative to the times in which we live. Proof of that is in a song, Paper of Pins, taught to children in the mid-1800’s, about what to expect from prospective mates. In the verses, boys offered girls some inexpensive gifts, all rejected until they were presented a key to a chest of money, the only gift the girls would accept. Then the key was immediately withdrawn, perhaps on account of their not accepting the lesser gifts. The unequal status of women figured into the values of the day, and warned those who sought a mate of certain consequences.
I think there are many pressures today that shape marriage, but we must try to refine that which determines what marriage ought to be. The constitution of Wisconsin was changed in a referendum from “wife and husband”, terms that Jesus used in referring to couples, to “woman and man”. It also forbade anything similar to marriage for same-sex couples. I think this change has polarized us into those who are trying to justify what they hope to believe are the values of certain Christians and the rest of us who are celebrating twenty years of being Open and Affirming at Plymouth. I think our task is in refining what we believe about what is meant by marriage, i. e., that Christians should not accept that only traditional marriages be deemed acceptable by God since God has obviously blessed many types of couples. There are and may always be those who aren’t willing to bless same-sex marriages, but the more our cause is shown to be a just one, the less bigotry our community should face.
In our schools, we should encourage embracing all gender identities and expressions so that students will consider their peers as equals; their lives not only will be better as adults but better as students now. Hopefully, no teachers in the next twenty years will be questioned for being truthful about their affectional orientation or be fired for saying that they would like to married to someone of their own gender. Students are aware of many differences and would be more accepting of them if given the opportunity. I’ve had experiences as a substitute teacher where curious students wanted to know more about me. Since then, some undoubtedly have voted on legislation that has affected us all. I believe that their knowing that I’m gay may have factored into how they perceived the world.
We ought to be willing to put our visions for what we’d like to see before the refiner’s fire just as we’re already doing with other’s visions. We ought not to restrict our visions to what we’re told is possible, either, since there isn’t anything that’s not possible with God.
I believe that our world has already made much progress in LGBT equality; God willing, the next generation at Plymouth will see that our dreams and theirs will become reality. The REACH Campaign will certainly open our church to a new and inspirational age for any person who wishes to take part in our truly open and affirming church as we take on the challenges of becoming everything that we should.
My hopes are being fulfilled just in knowing what is possible, striving toward the goals that God would want us to reach. I hope that we learn more about what we are to do as we listen for God’s messages; God is still speaking.
By Bruce Davies
ONA Anniversary Sermon by Andrew Warner
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