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|What do you want to find?||Shaping Your ONA process|
About the ONA Program
Shaping Your ONA Process
If you are reading this page, chances are you (and maybe others in your faith setting) are thinking about an Open and Affirming (ONA) process. May you know peace and hope in the Spirit as you set out and move more deeply into this time of discerning God’s leading.
A key word in the above title is “your.” There is really no such thing as the ONA process. At its best, an ONA process responds to the nature and needs of the UCC setting in which it occurs. Therefore, careful planning for and flexibility during your process are important. This is an opportunity to focus on learning new things (and unlearn a few old ones, perhaps) about aspects of life that involve us all: sexuality, spirituality, the meaning of being “church,” relationships, and more. Churches/settings sometimes get bogged down in the “concerns” about ONA...keep in mind the possibilities and joys, too!
UCC settings can and do engage in all kinds of activities to further their discernment of the Spirit’s leading in regard to joining the ONA witness. They often incorporate some or all of these:
Keep in mind there’s lots of help available!
The Coalition’s website has a great deal of ONA information, including the Open and Affirming resolution of General Synod 1985, Guidelines for ONA Statements (important reading!), sample ONA statements, and a Frequently Asked Questions section. Chances are if you found this page, you’ve seen some of the other items. If not, take a look!
If your congregation is taking its first steps towards an ONA covenant, please contact the Coalition’s national office at email@example.com or call us at 216-861-0779, and we’ll be glad to help you with resources and the services of an ONA consultant who can support your church on its journey.
Below are some initial suggestions for developing a process that come from the experience of others, but they are only suggestions. Along with others in your setting, you are invited to read this and other preparation material and, then, through conversation and prayer shape opportunities which open you to the Spirit’s guidance as you consider joining the Open and Affirming witness. You may choose to mix and match various ideas and add your own creative approaches (which we’d like to know about!) Whatever you do together, may you experience again the joyful challenge of living Christ’s love in the world!
Assess your readiness for an ONA conversation.
Gather a group of persons interested in ONA for conversation and prayer.
Do not expect one person to initiate a process alone; the support and input of others is vital. Clergy support is also important and pastors are often involved along with lay people, but many churches find it important that the process be strongly lay led.(This initial group may decide to oversee the process or be responsible for finding persons who will do so. Or the church’s Council (Cabinet, etc. may appoint a group for this purpose.)
Explore your church’s history in regard to social justice, sexuality conversation, etc.
Are you able to talk together about challenging subjects? If not, what are some of the reasons for that? Do you anticipate this being a difficult conversation for your church or one about which they are excited? How might these underlying dynamics be addressed, preparing the way for you to begin an ONA study? (Sermons? Small groups? One to one conversation? Or...)
Sometimes a conversation with a person skilled in group dynamics and/or conflict management can be helpful as you begin your planning. This may help you anticipate and avoid some difficulties. Or you may wish to do some reading together. See the suggested titles below and contact your Conference office for suggestions of persons and resources.
Consider beginning with a conversation about gender and human sexuality (not ONA, per se).
This develops a broader context for conversation about ONA’s central focus— the welcome and inclusion of persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual/same-gender-loving (sexual orientation) and transgender (gender identity/expression). Furthermore, consideration of gender and human sexuality allows people to see that this conversation is about “all of us” (not “those people”). Our experiences as embodied, sexual persons, the struggles and delights of relationships, and how our faith speaks to all of us about such matters touches all our lives. If your setting has not ever (or recently) offered the opportunity to explore these topics, consider doing this before moving into an ONA discussion.
Excellent resources and advice are available from national UCC staff in the Office of Children, Families, and Human Sexuality Advocacy.
Beginning a Process
These ideas may help you focus your work:
Keep a faith-centered approach.
ONA is about what it means to be the church—the Body of Christ. Other themes include: how we understand human sexuality/relationship in light of creation’s diversity, Biblical interpretation and authority, baptism as the criteria for inclusion in the church, Christ’s command that we love one another, and our call to do justice. Yes, there often are what some consider “political” ramifications to living as an Open and Affirming community. But what to some is “political” is to others the work of “doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.” (Micah 6:6-7). It means working in company with the Spirit to see that God’s people of every color, age, ability, gender identity or expression, and economic circumstance—whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or heterosexual—are equal in dignity and opportunity in church and society.
Recognize ONA is one aspect of Extravagant Welcome!
ONA is focused on preparing a UCC church or other setting to better understand and fully include LGBT persons in the life and ministries of the church. This does not mean, however, that a setting’s statement must be restricted to welcome in regard to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. ONA is one aspect of the wide, extravagant welcome in the UCC. In their initial ONA study process, churches/settings concentrate on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, homophobia and heterosexism, the spectrum of gender identity, etc. in order to ensure that they have a strong foundation for living out an ONA welcome. But this process frequently raises broader questions about the church’s welcome in relation to other identities: color, age, abilities, etc. We encourage churches to explore these so that people may be welcomed “in the wholeness” of who they are! (In this regard, national UCC materials about being a “Multiracial/Multicultural” and “Accessible to All” may be very useful (see the “Getting Ready” section above). And expressing a wide welcome in an ONA statement is fine. (See sample ONA statements on this website)
An ONA process might look like this...
We Encourage You to...
“Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7
Some Process Resources
Fostering Dialogue Across Divides: A Nuts and Bolts Guide from the Public Conversations Project. A basic, thorough guidebook for dialogue. 2006 www.publicconversations.org (Print and electronic versions) 617-923-1216.
listening to the spirit: A Handbook for Discernment (What is the Gospel Message to Our Church as We Relate to Gay and Lesbian Christian?) Chalice Press, 2001. A suggested process grounded in prayer and theology from the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ.)
Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making In The Church by Luke Timothy Johnson. Abingdon Press, 1996. In the power of the Spirit, exploring how God is at work in our lives and our direction for the future.
talking about homosexuality: a congregational resource (holy conversations series) Olivet, Turney, and West. The Pilgrim Press, 2005. A workbook for theological conversation and growth in light of “a faith that does justice.”
Is there a resource that you have found helpful in shaping your process? Let us know!
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