The congregation of the Veradale United Church of Christ has opened their arms wide in welcome to everyone in the community after recently voting to declare themselves an “open and affirming” church.
“It means you welcome all into the whole life of the church,” said the Rev. Linda Crowe. In the United Church of Christ, a congregation has to have a written, official statement welcoming lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in order to call itself open and affirming. The congregation of the Veradale church took that a step further and made sure its statement of welcome included everyone.
“It’s a lot broader than GLBT,” Crowe said.
The discussion about becoming an open and affirming church began after the church approved a new mission statement in October 2010.
“Worshipping God in Christ, welcoming all, working for justice and peace,” the statement reads. “If we say we welcome all, we’ve got to mean it,” Crowe said. “What do the words mean? What does it mean to live the welcome?”
Members of the congregation spent nearly a year attending classes and discussions on the issue. Some members were reluctant at first, Crowe said, but came to understand why the open and affirming statement was necessary. “It was important for all to understand why we needed to do it,” she said. “We looked at this as a justice issue.”
The United Church of Christ denomination voted to become open and affirming years ago, and the local conference of Washington, North Idaho and Alaska churches voted in favor of it a year ago. But the core of the UCC denomination is autonomy and it is up to each church to decide its path. There aren’t even any regional bishops. “We don’t have a structure where we are told what to do,” she said. There are 82 churches in the conference and about half have voted to become open and affirming congregations, including two in Spokane, Crowe said.
Members of the church participated in last year’s Gay Pride parade as well as the Valleyfest parade. During both events they carried a banner that read “Jesus didn’t reject people. Neither do we.” The banner seemed to be well received, Crowe said. “We ended up with a lot of visitors who saw that banner,” she said. “Some of them have stuck around.”
New life has been breathed into the church as members worked on the open and affirming statement. During the church’s 100th anniversary last year, some people commented that it felt like a new church, Crowe said. “There’s more variety than there used to be,” she said.
The church has members who hail from Nigeria, Liberia and Australia. The 80 or so people who attend worship every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. range in age from 2 to 96. About a third of the congregation is GLBT. “It’s a family church,” Crowe said. “It’s recognizing there is great variety in the church family. There’s so much more energy in the church now. There’s a lot of joy.”
Veradale UCC is a progressive Christian Church and Crowe said she knows its “flavor” of progressive Christianity won’t be for everyone.
“The folks for whom it is important will find their way (here),” she said. “It’s a wonderful church to be a part of right now.”