Celebration and Pride

by Kathie Carpenter


7/11/2019

Wendy Miller-Olapade
by Kathie Carpenter
Chair, ONA Ministry Team of the MA Conference


Celebrate, Agitate, Activate - ONA35
On June 15, supporters of Open and Affirming gathered from around the Massachusetts Conference to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the first-ever Open and Affirming resolution. The celebration, called ONA35: Celebrate - Agitate - Activate, was held at The Plymouth Church in Framingham, on the exact weekend the resolution was adopted by the conference’s Annual Meeting 35 years ago.
 
Amid courage and personal risk for many, a national version of the ONA resolution was adopted at the 15th UCC General Synod in Ames, Iowa, in 1985. The Synod’s stance would lead to the Open and Affirming Program and the registration of over 1,500 churches in the UCC to date.
 
ONA35 was a hope-filled event with widely varied music offerings by skilled musicians and an ad hoc choir.  There were prayers, litanies, communion, small topic conversations. The day featured two popular and powerful speakers: the Rev. Louis Mitchell, Executive Director of Transfaith, and the Rev. DaVita McCallister, senior pastor of First Church Somerville, UCC. Prevailing messages of the day are seen in this adaptation of a classic litany by Rev. Ann B. Day:
 
There is a place in God’s heart, there is a place at Christ’s table, there is presence of the Holy Spirit for all people - Questioning, Queer, Transgender, Gender Fluid, Non-binary, Intersex, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Asexual, Pansexual, Same-Gender-Loving and Straight.
 
Christ who gathers us, bids us follow in the ways of love and justice. The Spirit calls us to celebrate, agitate and activate - in our worship and our living this day and every day.

Celebrate

The first part of the event focused on “celebrate.”  The Just Peace Players performed some ONA history and real ONA heroes told their “ONA Tales.”  Those people included Rev. Rosi Olmsted and Marnie Warner, crafters of the 1984 resolution, as well as Olivia Masih White, who chaired the committee that shepherded the ONA resolution at the 1985 Synod. All three women spoke of the tenor of the times, the uncertainty of making their faith case, the immense hope and the miracle that was the Synod. 
The Rev. Ann B. Day and her spouse, Donna Enberg, ONA Coalition program staff for twenty years, were also present at the ONA35 event.
 
Agitate
The second part of the event addressed the word “agitate” -  the things that trouble us, the ways we have wronged each other, the ways we do not understand each other, our lamentations.  Always showing how to think across such lines as gender identity, sexual orientation, race, and economics, Rev. Louis blended humor with hard truth to illuminate this phase. The ONA Tales in this section came from Rev. Anne Ierardi, painter, writer, and director of Healthsigns Spiritual Life Center in Yarmouth Port; Renée Manning, a recent seminary graduate and activist; and Al Green, a grateful seeker of asylum through the LGBT Asylum Task Force and their current ministry director. These tales spoke of life experiences that brought daily agitation, unrest, fear of injury or death, and some that created agitation to move forward and change the things that are wrong.  
 
Activate
“Activation” was delivered by Rev. McCallister in a fast moving picture of how to be keep our eyes open to see where we are needed. She challenged us to make the world safer, more radically inclusive and more just by being present in the struggle. She said it’s not enough speak of prayers and concerns, and signs and marching, and knitting of “pussy hats.” She prodded us to take risks in our service and our faith, to become uncomfortable in our justice work and to “put a little something (of us) on it.”
Al Green, Ministry Director, LGBT Asylum Task Force


Activate through This Offering
A free will offering at the event will benefit two fantastic organizations. The LGBT Asylum Task Force, a ministry of Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Worcester, has been saving lives for over a decade.  Many asylum seekers and recipients attended the event. Transfaith is a multi-tradition, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-generational organization working to support transgender spiritual/cultural workers and their leadership in community.  Pledges and actual gifts at the event totaled over $4,300.00. PLEASE SEND IN YOUR PLEDGE PAYMENT RIGHT AWAY. 
Rev. Louis Mitchell, Executive Director of Transfaith
Even if you could not attend and still want to support the work of these organizations, you may send your check to Karen Methot, MACUCC, 1 Badger Rd. Framingham, MA 01702. Please make the check out to MACUCC, memo line “ONA35 offering.” **
 
The ONA Ministry Team expresses its thanks to the clergy and lay participants, ONA Tale Tellers, discussion leaders, musicians, the Just Peace Players, button and ad designers, and the staff and volunteers from the Plymouth Church.  A special appreciation to planning consultants Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade and Rev. Alex Shea Will for their extraordinary work and to Rev. Katrina Clinton and Jo-Ellen Fisher for the beautiful and stirring antependia and stoles, specially designed for ONA35.
 
Celebrate - Agitate - Activate was a transforming experience for those in attendance. Not only the name of the event, these words are a challenge to live better and more fully as ONA congregations.
 
Pride Is More than Words and Numbers
It’s been 35 years and there are 185 Open and Affirming churches in the Massachusetts Conference (53% of the 347 churches).
Besides the public commitment of over 1,500 churches, a lot has happened since the first ONA resolution. The lives of lesbian and gay people, bisexuals, and more recently, transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary people, have gone from being hidden facts to being common realities. 

It’s true that our denomination has been at the forefront of societal gains for LGBTQ and other marginalized people. We are proud of that.  But is that the right way to feel?  Is this really a situation in which to use the term “pride”? 
 
“Pride” is defined by dictionary.com as “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.”  BUT, we are doomed if we let that feeling take over in our churches.
 
The site also defines “pride” as “confidence and self-respect as expressed by members of a group, typically one that has been socially marginalized, on the basis of their shared identity, culture, and experience.” That is a reason for pride.  It is a healthy and life-giving sense of self-worth. It is even a model.
 
Yes, celebrate! Be glad if your church is ONA or is on the way  But don’t be self-congratulatory or your work will be empty.  Remember our purpose.  We need to agitate and to activate if we really are Open and Affirming. We need to silence our privilege to hear the voice of someone whose story is not yet told. There are transpeople whose lives are sometimes made a mockery. There are many trans folk, particularly transwomen of color, who are misunderstood and at risk of injury or death. There are people of color whose experience is so foreign to some people who are unwilling to even hear the truth. There are people whose life circumstances work against them in more than one way and stunt their possibilities and their very health. There are youth and adults who are at risk for suicide because society celebrates one victory and ignores their and so many others’ needs. Let us not get lost in celebration while we should be standing shoulder to shoulder with someone else whose rights are yet to come.
 
The Spirit calls us to celebrate, agitate and activate - in our worship and our living, this day and every day. View a photo gallery from ONA35 here
** You may also give on line to the LGBT Asylum Task Force: 
lgbtasylum.org/donate.html

Kathie Carpenter



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