Our Open and Affirming Covenant

 

We the Members of the First United Church of Christ of Shelby, Ohio welcome you.

Regardless of age.

Regardless of race.

Regardless of marital status.

Regardless of gender identity or expression.

Regardless of sexual orientation.

Regardless of ability or disability.

Regardless of religious affiliation.

Regardless of how you interpret scripture.

Regardless of political affiliations.

Regardless of socio-economic status.

Regardless of military status.

Regardless of your past or present.

Regardless of how you may have been treated by any other church in the past.

Regardless of any of these things, or anything else you can think of… however the rest of the world describes you and however you describe yourself; you are welcome at the First United Church of Christ because, “Jesus didn’t reject anyone, and neither do we.”

We promise to always seek to affirm the person who you are with loving hearts and open minds. We promise to follow the teachings of Christ Jesus with you in loving and being loved by God and neighbor. We promise to love you for the person that you are, and whom God created you to be by living out the United Church of Christ’s promise that, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at the First United Church of Christ of Shelby, Ohio.”

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A Letter From Our Reverend

 

Dear Church Family,

     As summer comes to a close and the kids make their back to school the pace of things will once again begin to pick up here at the church. I must say it is an exciting time it is to be a part of the family of faith here at The First United Church of Christ. On August 28, 2016 by congregational vote, 1st UCC became an Open and Affirming Church. We made history, becoming Shelby’s first ONA congregation and the sixth ONA congregation in the North West Ohio Association of the UCC. Now that the ONA covenant has been voted on and accepted by the congregation our work is far from over. The struggle to continue to be a church that is all-inclusive and welcoming to all of God’s children will continue. God has called us to be a light in this time and place as one of the only ONA churches our community. God has called us to be a church of love, grace, and peace. That my friends is what being an Open and Affirming church is about. Extending God’s radical grace, extravagant welcome, and no strings attached hospitality to ALL people, no matter who they are, where they have been, or whom they love.

     When most people hear that a church is ONA, they immediately thinks of the church’s acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ individuals. It is true that as an ONA congregation, we will welcome LGBTQ brothers and sisters into the fold. However, we must remember that our ministry as an ONA church reaches far beyond the LGBTQ community. For many years, (far before I became your minister), the First United Church of Christ of Shelby has always reached out to folks who were on societies margins. We have always reached out to individuals whom culture said were not good enough to live or be happy amongst the rest.  The minorities.  The outsiders.  The undesirables if you will.  This covenant is our moment to shine! Our moment to declare to Shelby and the world that we DO NOT set boundaries on God’s extravagant love and grace for humanity! It is our moment to declare that we will not draw a line in the sand and leave others out of the Kingdom of God because they are different from us. It is our moment to reach out to those who have never gone to church before because they did not feel welcome. It is our moment to introduce people to our loving God by doing one simple thing: welcoming them into our church through loving and accepting them for the person that God created them to be.

     For 165 years, 1st UCC has been spreading God’s light and love to the Shelby community. May that light continue to shine as we look to the future and strive to remove the barriers that keep “the lesser of these” out of Christ’s Kingdom, and God’s church. We look to God for strength and guidance as we stand with the thousands of ONA churches nationwide. We also look forward to continuing ministry and working together with other local ministries that are not ONA nor supportive of our ONA stance (Because even though they may not accept or recognize us as Christian, we will accept them and recognize them as Christian because of our bold stance). I will leave you with the words of the song that we closed our congregational meeting with last Sunday. These lyrics have been my prayer through the yearlong ONA process. Will you join me and make it your prayer also?  “Guide us to openness! Guide us to openness! Let no one ever be shunned or denied. Make of the Church a bold place of compassion, that all who seek You may come and abide.”

 

With Joy and Gratitude,

Reverend James R. Robinson

     A Letter Concerning Our New Open and Affirming Status

 

     On August 28th, 2016 the First United Church of Christ in Shelby, Ohio had a congregational meeting and voted by majority to adopt an Open and Affirming (ONA) Covenant.  This effectively puts in writing our unrelenting desire and mission as a congregation to extravagantly welcome, affirm and love all people, regardless of who they are or what they believe.  Although our particular covenant is wide ranging in its statement, the general perception (admittedly, even my own historical perception) is that ONA is simply a term for a church that is LGBT friendly.  And yes, as well as officially now welcoming and affirming all walks of life, the adoption of our ONA covenant does mean that we are now officially a LGBT friendly church as well.  I will not mince words concerning this: same sex couples may freely join, be active in, and get married in our church, just as all people may.   This is in accordance with our congregation’s beliefs, desires, and convictions concerning the path of our ministry.  It has been met with some opposition from various congregations and Christians in Shelby and abroad, and has at times stirred much animosity and negativity – particularly on social media.  I am writing this to address these two issues: our detractors and our social media presence going forward.

     I get a feeling while reading and hearing much of the negative feedback from people outside our church that we are viewed as having been “hijacked” by a 26 year old “false prophet” pastor.  I’ve heard that we are merely joining a liberal “fad” on a whim without consideration of the scripture.  I’ve also heard that our congregation is blinded by a desire to grow membership and are being compelled to cast our Christian moral convictions aside to accomplish this.  The term “apostate church” has come up now and then.  None of this is true.  The desire to become an Open and Affirming Church was born long before our current pastor ever stepped foot in the First UCC several years ago.  I have been told by lifelong congregants that “we’ve always been unofficially ONA” and “this is something we’ve worked towards for a long, long time.”  Going by some of the personal stories I’ve been told by church members and leaders concerning the subject, I can infer that the concept of being an Open and Affirming church was born in the hearts of our congregants decades before Pastor James Robinson and his family ever walked into the sanctuary of the First UCC.  Our ONA covenant was embraced and shaped by a very strong and outspoken group of church elders and leadership that have dedicated untold years of service to our church, its message, and its direction.  No one person has had a disproportionate influence on this decision.  The title of Open and Affirming very much reflects and represents who we have been, who we are, and who we want to be as a congregation.

     Christianity has not been a monolithic faith since shortly after the apostolic age.  Various eclectic belief systems have long co-existed within the Christian umbrella.  The variations in faith and belief can vary from large differences to very pedantic ones.  And the histories of mergers and schisms throughout the denominations are long and confusing.  In my opinion, the diversity of Christian denominations is an often overlooked strength of the religion.  Our acceptance of the LGBT community through our ONA covenant is but another variation in belief amongst Christians everywhere.  The ONA movement has existed as a streamlined process within the UCC since 1987, and has less defined roots leading back much further.  This movement has a basis in the scriptures, is built on sound doctrine, and has grown to over 1,300 churches in the last 28 years.  The First UCC of Shelby may be breaking new ground within our community, but we are in good company throughout our denomination. 

     Undoubtedly, there are Christians who do not share our beliefs concerning becoming an ONA church.  I think it is safe to assume that there are many who respectfully disagree with our congregation, who we have never and will never hear from.  Some have voiced their thoughts on the matter and then moved on.  But there exists a very vocal minority who have not been able to let the subject go, and their discontent has grown to damaging and distracting levels.  Posts concerning our church’s acceptance of the LGBT community, and celebrating our adoption of an ONA covenant have continually been drowned out by repetitive debates, repetitive biblical quotes, and repetitive declarations, concerns, attacks and detractions.  And in many – but not all - cases these come from familiar names and faces and contain the same content each and every time.  It is upsetting to see posts of cheerful content, ministerial outreach, and celebration of our beliefs followed by countless comments of negativity – which then becomes the focus of the post, and our church’s message is lost.

     After much discussion and thought on the matter, our social media presence has turned into a very censored one.  Condescending, attacking, and argumentative posts and comments are being deleted from the First UCC’s (and by extension our Pastor’s) social media content.  To cite a very millennial idea: we’re weeding out all of our trolls.  Freedom of speech, embracing debate and openness of ideas, and the basic communitive input from those around us remains very much alive and intact through a variety of in person and electronic channels, just not currently on our social media channels.  The First UCC of Shelby, Ohio has accepted the mission of an Open and Affirming Church, and our social media outlets should reflect our outreach, vision, and message.  Frankly, the time for debate and discussion concerning the right and wrong or validity concerning being ONA is behind us.  The decision has been made by our congregation, and it is not negotiable.  This is now who we are, and we must now follow our calling to God as we see it.

     I hope this has brought clarity to those outside of our congregation concerning our new Open and Affirming covenant.  I hope it has brought clarity concerning the basis of our church’s decision.  And I hope it has brought clarity to our mission and stances on our social media outlets.  Our congregation looks forward to coexisting and working in unity with our diverse surrounding congregations in doing God’s work.   We look forward to standing as yet another pillar of our Christian community.  And we look forward to continuing to spread the message of the still-speaking God. 

 

-Robert Ruck
Media Coordinator