We’ve always said we want to be an accepting, welcoming and open place. Following discussion, reflection and study, we’ve made that commitment official.
At its annual meeting on May 15, 2011, First Parish Church United voted unanimously to become an Open and Affirming / Welcoming congregation. The statement approved by the congregation is as follows:
We, the congregation of First Parish Church United of Westford, MA, declare ourselves to be Open, Affirming and Welcoming. An Open, Affirming and Welcoming Congregation celebrates the lives of all people and their ways of expressing their love for each other. Therefore, we strive to be a congregation that includes all persons, embracing differences of sexual orientation, gender and its expression, religious background, marital status, family structure, age, mental and physical health and ability, racial and cultural identity or background, and educational and socioeconomic status. We welcome all to share in the life, leadership, ministry, fellowship, worship, responsibilities, blessings and joys of our congregation's life.
This vote came after a year and a half of workshops, meetings and worship services around the topics of sexual orientation, gender and its expression. We used the curricula of the two denominations with which we are affiliated. “Welcoming Congregation” is the designation of the Unitarian Universalist Association; “Open and Affirming” is the designation of the United Church of Christ.
We recognize that this vote is the beginning of our work; as a community we must intentionally seek to accept and understand each other in every way, including our sexual identity.
Members of the Open and Affirming / Welcoming task force wrote these words in response to receiving official ONAW status:
Becoming Open and Affirming / Welcoming means that what before was merely felt and assumed by members of the congregation (that we are an open-minded and welcoming spiritual community) is now stated and affirmed, not only for the congregation, but also for anyone who, for any reason, wants to know about FPCU. On a personal level, it brings with it a sense of freedom and relief — freedom in knowing for certain that my church has promised to love others the way I want them to be loved, relief that I will no longer experience a wave of absolute sadness because someone asked my minister if they will be "safe" in my church. Not only will they be safe, but welcomed with loving, accepting arms!
This designation provides us with an opportunity to live out and act upon our values and beliefs. By becoming open and affirming, our church begins to outwardly support the most important civil rights movement of our time. This affirmative action repudiates the fundamentalist currents that are running counter to the tide of GLBT rights. In effect, by this action we are standing firmly on the right side of history. Being designated ONAW means FPCU will remain a vibrant and relevant spiritual community for years to come.
The following are online resources the Open and Affirming/Welcoming Committee has found helpful.