May 29, 2024

Open and Affirming Coalition UCC Welcomes Two Congregations Following Covenant Approvals

St. John’s Chapel UCC, Springfield, Mo. and Ivy Chapel UCC, Chesterfield, Mo. are the two most recent MMSC congregations to announce approvals of their open and affirming covenants.

In May, St. John’s Chapel became ONA church #1,873 and, in February, Ivy Chapel became ONA church #1,856 to join the movement.

The Open and Affirming Coalition UCC advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, and equips UCC congregations to become effective witnesses to Christ’s extravagant welcome.

“It’s exciting to see this movement growing in Missouri Mid-South,” says Transitional Conference Minister Rev. Mary W. Nelson. “We want to celebrate the effort that went into this decision — the discernment, the prayer, the learning, the conversations — and congratulate both churches on their faithful work of public witness.”

Ivy Chapel’s pastor, Rev. Daniel Wilson commented in a photo post announcing the good news, “Sunlight from God shining in a stained glass window of the sanctuary at Ivy Chapel United Church of Christ! Alleluia!”

St. John’s Chapel’s post announcing the congregation’s covenant approval and subsequent welcome in February exclaimed, “It’s OFFICIAL! Y’all means Y’all!”

MMSC Celebrates Growth and Diversity of Churches

With the addition of these two recent churches, MMSC now has 31 churches that have completed the process of becoming an ONA church. Rev. Nelson says she is aware of at least two to three more that have started the process and are in conversations.

Rev. Dr. Katrina Roseboro-Marsh, Executive Director of the ONA Coalition UCC, explains the process of receiving certification requires the adoption of a covenant, which churches should understand is not only a policy, statement, declaration or an amendment to the church’s bylaws, but in our tradition, is a binding promise to “walk together in all God’s ways.”

A group of churches in the Kansas City area have been active ONA churches for a long time, including Bethel UCC, Kansas City, Mo.; Kansas City UCC, Kansas City, Mo.; Peace Christian Church UCC, Kansas City, Mo.; St. Luke’s UCC, Independence, Mo.; Southwood UCC, Kansas City, Mo.; and Zion UCC, Mayview, Mo. Collectively, these churches cooperate together as the Heartland ONA churches.

Rev. Michael Stephens, Southwood UCC, Kansas City, Mo. says the church members of Heartland ONA churches annually participate in the Kansas City Pridefest, hosting a booth. Two years ago, they asked people to write notes of encouragement to the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine.

 “The people stopped by our booth and were excited to write notes, almost 200 in all,” recalls Rev. Stephens, who managed figuring out how to communicate the notes to those in Ukraine with a translated message of “God bless you and know that you are not alone, Your LGBTQ+ friends and allies in K.C.”

Cooperation and partnership among ONA churches is not unique: Gateway ONA, in the St. Louis metro area and Memphis, Tenn., shares a similar focus and activities, and incorporates congregations from both the Missouri Mid-South and Southern Illinois Conferences. There are also ONA churches across the Missouri Mid-South Conference who are not geographically near enough to other ONA churches that they can collaborate regularly, but may join together on individual projects.

Recognizing the many churches in the Conference that are not ONA but have chosen to focus on other forms of welcome and social justice advocacy is also important, says Rev. Nelson, adding, “We also celebrate that diversity — we are fortunate to have that among our churches throughout the Conference.”

The ONA Coalition UCC website offers a short guide to a successful ONA process as well as resources and assistance with learning more about advocating for social justice.
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