Lang to retire as ONA Coalition leader at end of 2022
The United Church of Christ’s Open and Affirming Coalition will soon be searching for a new executive.
Andrew Lang announced April 5 that he will retire as the Coalition’s executive director at the end of 2022. He has held the post since 2010.
“Serving the Coalition for more than a decade has been the greatest experience in my life,” Lang said in his announcement. “When the United Church of Christ called me to public ministry nearly 30 years ago, I had no idea my path would take me to leadership in the Coalition.
“Along the way, I have been inspired, supported, educated and transformed by many in the church, especially by members of the Coalition’s Leadership Team, past and present.”
That Leadership Team has created an ad hoc group of its own members “to develop a process for selecting the Coalition’s next executive director,” said the Rev. Lesley Jones, herself a member of the team. She is senior pastor of Truth & Destiny Fellowship UCC in Cincinnati. She said the process will include “assessing the Coalition’s current needs and imagining the future with the guidance of outside consultants. A full transition plan is expected by mid-summer.”
‘Strong, stable, pastoral’
Formed in 1972, the Coalition is one of the “self-created” and “historically underrepresented” groups named in the UCC Bylaws. The Coalition describes itself as “the world’s fastest-growing LGBTQ+-affirming church movement.” It manages the Open and Affirming certification of UCC-related churches and organizations and offers them resources and support. There are currently more than 1,500 of them.
Lang was a daily newspaper reporter and congressional press officer in Washington, D.C., before moving to Cleveland in 1993 to join the staff of the UCC’s Office of Communication — a forerunner of today’s Office of Philanthropy, Technology, Identity and Communication. He built the UCC’s first website in 1994 and led the church’s national web ministry until 2004.
During those years he also displayed his acumen in theology, liturgy and church history in settings such as the UCC’s annual Craigville Theological Colloquy on Cape Cod. He has continued to do so with the Coalition — most recently as leader of “Taizé Morning Prayer for the ONA Family.” It’s offered each weekday and is open to all.
The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, team leader of UCC Health and Wholeness Advocacy Ministries and a member of the Coalition’s Leadership Team, helped recruit Lang as executive director.
“Andy came to his role at a very challenging time for the Coalition and provided strong, stable, pastoral leadership,” Schuenemeyer said. “He built and strengthened relationships. He fostered innovations to not only encourage and support local churches just entering the Open and Affirming process, but also offering resources and strategies for existing congregations to live faithfully into their ONA covenants.”
‘Grace and wisdom’
In social media posts and elsewhere, dozens of UCC members expressed gratitude for Lang’s tenure.
“Andy’s leadership has been filled with grace and wisdom,” the Rev. Mak Kneebone told UCC News. Kneebone is pastor of Plymouth United Church, Spring, Tex., and a member of the Coalition’s Leadership Team. Kneebone called Lang “a student of the Holy Spirit, always learning and being open to how God is embodied through all those around him.”
“He is also an apt and eloquent teacher of the Spirit,” Kneebone said. “His interactive style of graceful engagement allows for a soulful connection even in the midst of the most challenging conversations. The Coalition has been blessed by his leadership. I have been blessed by his friendship.”
Working on a book
Lang said he’ll have plenty of work to keep him busy after he leaves the Coalition. For one thing, he’ll be on the lookout for new ministry opportunities. After a delay related to the COVID-19 pandemic, he is scheduled to be ordained by the Living Water Association of the UCC’s Heartland Conference on April 30.
“The Committee on Ministry approved me for ordination in 2020, after the pandemic had shut everything down,” he said. “I was offered an online ordination, but I wanted an in-person experience so my family and friends could gather here. Little did I know that would be a two-year wait!”
He is also writing a book. “The Hours of Prayer,” aiming for publication in 2024, will offer daily prayers modeled on the ancient monastic practice of the “Hours” — times set apart during the day for psalms, readings and intercessory prayer. Inclusive, expansive language is its hallmark, he said.
Meantime, he said, there is much to do as he completes his term with the Coalition.
ONA work continues
“We are working with a churchwide coalition of activists who are organizing to oppose laws in many states that are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and nonbinary Americans, especially youth and their families,” Lang said.
“We will continue to offer our expanded series of webinars that have become critical part of our momentum as a growing movement. And we are continuing to support existing ONA churches with resources and training programs to open up new paths towards spiritual and membership growth.”
He’ll help the Coalition celebrate its 50th anniversary at its annual National Gathering, to be held online Aug. 5-7. And at this year’s Craigville Colloquy, July 11-15, he’ll present a paper titled, “When the Mind is Called the Heart: Embodied Spirituality in Puritan New England.”
“Andy’s deep theological grounding and incredible communication skills have strengthened the accessibility of ONA resources across the diversity of the church,” Schuenemeyer said. “He is a wonderful colleague and friend. It has been a great privilege and blessing to serve with him, and I pray all God’s blessings for him as he moves into retirement at the end of the year.”
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