Tuesday, January 17, 2012

UCC's Coalition for LGBT Concerns Celebrates 40!

Too often, we all get caught up in the culture war divide between religious entities and the GLBT communities. It's easy to forget that there are Christian communities out there, like my own United Church of Christ, where the issue of GLBT inclusion and affirmation is (for the most part) settled.  Not only are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender pastors ordained alongside our heterosexual peers, but many UCC churches officiate at our weddings, baptize our kids, nurture our families, and advocate for our rights alongside our rites. Not every UCC church is there, but much of the denomination is there and that's a good place to be.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the Coalition of LGBT Concerns will be celebrating its 40th birthday in 2012, which is pretty cool. Here is some information about how they plan to celebrate this milestone:
As the UCC's Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns enters its 40th year and prepares to receive its 1,000th Open and Affirming (ONA) congregation, the mood is optimistic.

Andy Lang, the Coalition's executive director, says 2012 will be a year for "looking back" to the pioneers and events that have led to the growth and changes in the organization, while "looking forward" to new ways of expanding the Coalition's impact.

It’s all part of the Coalition’s reassessment process, says Lang. "The Coalition is focused on two strategic priorities," he says. "First is to listen to voices around the church regarding the future of LGBT ministry. … Second is to breathe new life into the Open and Affirming movement..."

The Coalition’s board has ambitious goals for the future. These include: education and resources to help ONA settings better understand and express transgender inclusion; a continued focus on advocacy and LGBT rights; working with the larger welcoming ecumenical and interfaith community; and helping ONA settings establish a more effective presence in their local LGBT communities.
A few years back when I had a blog on Beliefnet, I'd dissected the UCC's anti-gay renewal group, Biblical Witness Fellowship's Chronology of Actions Taken by Various United Church of Christ People and Bodies Regarding Sexual License. I think I got to the early 80's before I grew tired of that project. I decided to look back at my Exploration of the Chronology to see what kicked all of this off in 1972 and 1973. Here were the entries:
1972 - The Rev. William Johnson becomes the first openly homosexual person ordained in modern times to the ministry by an historic or “mainline” Christian church. He is ordained by the Golden Gate Association in Northern California without fulfilling the requirement of having a call to local parish ministry. An extensive bio can be found at: www.lgbtran.org.
1973 - The UCC Executive Council, the main deliberative body of the church between biennial Synods, recommends that sexual orientation should not bar qualified candidates from ordination. The UCC Gay Caucus receives official standing at General Synod. The caucus will later change its name to the United Church Coalition for Lesbian/Gay Concerns. Rev. Bill Johnson is one of the Coalition’s founders.
The UCC Gay Caucus originally started out as a source of support and advocacy for the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the UCC. It wasn't really until 1985 that they began providing resources to the broader United Church of Christ about assisting churches with becoming affirming towards all people (GLBT and straight).

Rev. Bill Johnson's ordination in 1972 is an extraordinary story and really deserves its own blog article. I think I'll re-visit this particular aspect of the Coalition's 40th anniversary in a separate blog article -- most likely this weekend.

Fastforwarding 40 years into the present, it looks like the Coalition plans to spend this milestone reflecting and reassessing. The Coalition plans to celebrate the big 4-0 this summer (June 25-28) at Elmhurst College near Chicago. I've been venturing into the big city quite a bit over the past couple years. It might be worth it to check out the party. I'll keep you updated.

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