New resources available for congregations interested in ONA process
Written by Emily Schappacher
August 13, 2013

As opinions in the United States shift toward acceptance of same-sex marriage and LGBT equality, more and more information is available to help congregations become open and inclusive to all. The Institute for Welcoming Resources of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has introduced two new ecumenical resources to transform any congregation into a safe and welcoming place for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

"One of the reasons congregations hesitate to take the steps to be an Open and Affirming (ONA) covenant is conflict, and that's an understandable fear," said Andy Lang, executive director of the United Church of Christ's Coalition for LGBT Concerns, one of the groups that contributed to the production of the resources. "This process doesn't expose churches to conflict, but rather it creates unity."

"Building an Inclusive Church: A Welcoming Toolkit 2.0," is an updated and expanded version of the program introduced about five years ago. Drawing upon 30 years of experience within a variety of Christian denominations, the toolkit is a step-by-step guide to help congregations facilitate a welcoming process. Biblically and theologically based, it uses tools of relational organizing, congregational assessment, conflict management, and change theory. A free copy of the toolkit can be downloaded from the Welcoming Resources website.

In addition to the toolkit, "Building an Inclusive Church" is also a workshop and training program. The day-and-a-half ecumenical event is designed to provide clergy or lay leaders the skills and best practices to build a sense of community and inclusivity in the church. Workshops take place around the country and are led by experienced trainers from a variety of denominations. Lang says conferences, associations, or congregations that are interested in hosting a workshop should contact the Coalition for LBGT Concerns several months in advance.

"This is the training program we recommend and support for churches that want to take the steps to be ONA," Lang said. "It's an important program to us, and an important experience for churches to have."

A brand new resource, "Hearts Unbound: Engaging Biblical Texts of God's Radical Love through Reader's Theater," explores 10 stories of God's radical love and welcome. Each session looks in-depth at the story, its historical context, and some of the insights to be gained in regards to a congregation's ONA journey. A free copy of "Hearts Unbound" can also be downloaded from the Welcoming Resources website.

"Very often when we talk about the Bible it's something that people just dread because they feel they have to spend a lot of time sledging through the seven verses that people say support the idea that homosexuality is a sin," Lang said. "This resource allows congregations to explore values from the Bible – and those values are more important than the seven texts that are used as arguments against inclusion. The resource would be an excellent accompaniment to the ONA process as a way of exploring Bible texts."

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Ms. Emily Schappacher
Communications Specialist
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-2177
schappachere@ucc.org

Ms. Connie N. Larkman
Managing Editor & News Director
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-2196
larkmanc@ucc.org