In a day of celebration of marriage equality in California, there was a full house at the Open and Affirming Banquet, hosted by the United Church of Christ's Coalition for LGBT Concerns. The banquet capped a day of affirmation of the LGBT community during General Synod 2013 in Long Beach.
The celebration also recognized the leadership of the Rev. Otis Moss, senior pastor of Trinity UCC in Chicago, for taking a public stand in support of same-sex marriage. Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder and pastor of the City of Refuge in San Francisco, presented the Courage Award to Moss. His remarks to the hundreds gathered at the banquet came via a recorded video message, since Moss had to remain in Chicago for a funeral of a longtime member of his congregation.
"I was completely blown away when I heard and was invited to be with you for this event," Moss said. His award was for his open letter in support of President Barack Obama's statement in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages.
"I don’t know if it was courage, but it was the grace of God. Trinity UCC loves you all deeply, and we appreciate the work you're doing," Moss said. "Let us continue to fight for justice, undergirded by love."
Flunder said the Courage Award that Moss received was a "celebration of his witness for justice and inclusion."
An hour before the banquet, Flunder was one of several speakers during a rally for marriage equality on the promenade of the Long Beach Convention Center. That rally, both a celebration of the leadership of the UCC and the return of marriage equality to California, began minutes after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a stay on same-sex marriages.
"I've been waiting in California for a long time for this day," Flunder said.
To ensure the continued work for LGBT equality, the Coalition estimated that banquet attendees pledged close to $40,000, hopefully to hire a staff member dedicated to training and visiting with congregations on becoming ONA churches.
Coalition director Andy Lang also welcomed the newest Open and Affirming congregations in the UCC, and thanked them for changing the lives of countless people in their communities. In the two years since General Synod 2011 in Tampa Bay, Fla., the Coalition has welcomed 162 congregations, a UCC-related ministry (United Church Homes) and a ministry partner (the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries) to the Open and Affirming movement.
In all, there are now more than 1,000 ONA congregations in the denomination.
"We have much to celebrate tonight," Lang said, "but have much to work for tomorrow."