First Congregational Church

165 Main St, Amherst, MA


Open and Affirming

We are an Open and Affirming congregation, welcoming people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions, and those of any race, socio-economic status, ethnic background, age, nationality, marital status or physical or mental ability into the full life and ministry of the church. We are a Just Peace church, committed to peaceful and just relations in all areas of our society and our world.  We are an Earth Covenant Congregation, committing ourselves with integrity to care for God’s Creation.  We are a congregation committed to pro-active anti-racism—seeking with God’s help to be a force for the elimination of racism and white privilege. 

Open and Affirming Ministry Team

This week, September 20-27, 2015, is Bisexual Awareness Week; September 23 was Bisexual Awareness Day. I was blessed to attend the Beyond Binaries webinar on the 23rd. I very clearly and with great dismay, remember my own prejudices regarding bisexuality, and am grateful for a denomination and a congregation that is arms-wide-open to all. Still, I know that when I see that only 28% of bisexuals will reveal this about themselves to friends and family, there is much work to be done. This is from the Religious Institute’s website:

We celebrate Bisexuality Awareness Day because even though bisexual people make up the largest percentage of the LGBTQ community, they are largely invisible in faith communities, society and even LGBTQ communities. In a recent study, nearly 1 in 3 people in the U.S. who are under 30 responded that they are not completely heterosexual or homosexual. In every faith community, there are likely to be people with bisexual feelings, attractions, and/or relationships. It’s time for faith communities to pay attention to the “B” in LGBTQ.

So, let’s pay attention always, and especially this week. Here is a responsive reading shared with us that I was given permission by RI to share with you. If you are with friends or family this week, think about asking them to join you in this reading to celebrate all of us, and to pay attention to the “B”.

Responsive Reading

One: We give thanks for the beauty and wonder of creation.
Many: We honor the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities in our world.
One: We affirm the dignity and worth of all people including those who are bisexual, transgender, gay, or lesbian.
Many: All persons deserve human rights, equality, and affirmation in their communities.
One: Moving beyond binaries invites us into the mystery and complexity of human sexuality, and of the Divine.
Many: Bisexuality reminds us of the diversity, beauty, and wonder of creation.
One: We respect the dignity and sacred worth of all persons.
Many: We dedicate ourselves to advocating for bisexual visibility in our congregations and our communities.
One: We lament the harm done to bisexual people by religious communities and by LGBT communities.
Many: We commit to loving our neighbors as ourselves and to working for equality and justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
One: We affirm the many ways in which human beings form intimate relationships.
Many: May we work to create a world where all just and loving relationships are celebrated.
All: Justice and love flourish when all people can live with integrity and authenticity.
© Religious Institute, used by permission.

Most of us know the rainbow flag that speaks to our celebration and support of the entire LGBT community—one hangs over our front steps and and abstract of it is on our welcoming church sign.  From, we get the explanation of the Bi Pride flag: enjoy the read!

The pink color represents . . . attraction to the same sex only (gay and lesbian), The blue represents sexual attraction to the opposite sex only (straight) and the resultant overlap color purple represents sexual attraction to both sexes (bi).

The key to understanding the symbolism in the Bi Pride Flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the 'real world' where most bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities.

The Bi Pride Flag is the only bisexual symbol not patented, trademarked or service marked.


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Happy September, Church!

With thanks to the Transformative Learning Scholarship Team for some funds to defray costs for attending the ONA National Gathering in Cleveland June 24 and 25, 2015.  Here is a report of that time.

Day 1

It takes a while for food—good or bad, rich or lean, plentiful or meager—to digest.  I dare to say that we were filled with plenty good rich food in our 25 hours together, including wind-down and sleep.  In many ways, I’m still very full—even in August—so I know you’ll forgive me if I give you some reflections that are not “all there.”

The first event on the agenda on Day 1, Wednesday, June 24, was opening worship, led by Phil Porter, Elaine Kirkland and Rebecca Voelkel, and was a time of pulling us into a place where we could be in touch with who we are both physically and emotionally.  Lots of deep, deep breaths, lots of questions, singing and then a frank, but hopeful message from Bishop Dwayne Royster: disruption of systems of oppression on all fronts is required, but working together—no “this is not my issue.”  The unwellness we are experiencing is everyone’s issue, and we need to get to work on this basis.  We are looking at a revolution; an evolutionary process has not succeeded—we’ve learned, now let’s move into the revolution, and CHANGE THE DAMN CHURCH, church!  Communion was special, coupled as it was with individual prayers for what we would need to move into the work to come, whatever that would be.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have a problem with gratitude—there seem to always be strings attached.  But I was grateful for this whole service, and for all the strings that got attached through the Word and through the Sacrament on this day.

After dinner, the first plenary.  There were lots of reports that I, sadly, could not hear, having not yet unpacked my hearing assist.  But it was wonderful to see all our Coalition friends as they gave their reports (if you want to see them, I’m sure they’ll be published on the UCC Coalition website at some point, and i will let you know where you can find them when they are).  It was particularly fun to see Kathie Carpenter receive her award for her service to the Coalition, and to hear the work of Ann B. Day and Donna Enberg recognized—all three of these luminaries hail from the Massachusetts conference.  Later, Rodney McKenzie introduced the first of 2 revolutionary texts: Galatians 3:27, 28—look it up, read it out loud, then get somebody to read it to you, then get a different somebody to read it to you—great way to hit scripture!  Speaking of Jesus’ end of life experience as the “lynching of Jesus” put Jesus’ humanity, as well as the lynchings that have happened for so long in the US, in a different context than I had thought of before.  Glad to have heard this: not only a sort of kick that we could—and had reason to—work for disruption of systems of oppression, but also a surprise preparation for the following day’s keynote.  Great way to end the day.

Day 2

OK, 8:30 a.m. is usually not too early for me, but somehow today it was difficult to get moving!  A hot breakfast helped, and Rodney’s second revolutionary text was presented for study: Galatians 4:4-7 (look it up, read it out loud, have two others read it to you): are you an heir?  As an adoptive parent myself, I feel that God’s adoption of us says that we are already loved and cared for, each of us a beloved child of God.  What in this passage stands out for you?  Then we welcomed Rev. Maritza Yvette Angulo Marcos de Gonzales as the keynote speaker.  Pastor Maritza immediately made us sit up and take notice, asking us a question that she imagined we had been asking ourselves—why had we invited HER as the keynote speaker?  We heard her testimony of standing in the margins because of who she was (and wasn’t), and suggested that it was time to create a new paradigm of extravagant welcome that welcomes all fully and completely to the table, whoever and wherever we are (took me back to Wednesday worship!).  She spoke of the importance of intersectionality in the struggle (because we are ALLLL in the struggle), and of the importance of making sure that EVERYONE is at the table.  We need to continually ask “who is missing” and seek earnestly and fully to get everyone seated and fed.  What we—individually and as a body or in our several bodies—need to do to accomplish this, requires that we sit at the table with the other, give them the opportunity of table, voice and vote.  Afterwards, Pastor Maritza’s church was honored as the church that is the 1300th UCC setting to covenant to become Open and Affirming.  Soon the last plenary was over, and we were on our way to workshops.  Worship was great: the ONA Coalition Choir hit it!  Rebecca, Phil and Elaine wrapped it up and we were on our way.  Another—and my first—ONA National Gathering ends.

I’m sure I missed something really important, and I did not report here on the workshop I attended.  I’m always happy to talk with you about my adventures.

I hope I’ll be able to return next year.  Saving my pennies, and hitting the sack before the start of Synod tomorrow.

ivy tillman
Open and Affirming Ministry Team

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For further information on the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC open and affirming policy, we refer you to the MACUCC LGBT site.