News from the Open and Affirming Committee…
Living into our Covenant – to be Open, Affirming, and Accessible to All.
April 2020: The Open and Affirming Dinner Gathering planned for April 21 has been postponed.
In keeping with the committee’s expanded focus to address the accessibility of FCC, the committee worked with Accessibility Consultant Janet Zeller. Ms. Zeller is highly qualified and has the unique ability to view our church’s accessibility from her wheelchair. Ms. Zeller, committee members, and Building Manager Larry Dearborn toured our facility (inside and outside) with an eye toward accessibility and accommodations. Seeing our church building through her eyes was an enlightening and positive experience. Here are some of the highlights!!
First of all, Ms Zeller praised FCC for its accessibility. She noted that churches are not required by the American Disability Act (ADA) to meet the standards for public buildings, adding that most churches (including ours) want to “…ensure equal opportunity for all people regardless of abilities to participate actively in the full life of the church.” She also praised FCC for ensuring accessibility while respecting the significant historic features of the building. After the tour, the group met and Ms. Zeller provided insights about other aspects that affect accessibility such as language, attitudes, and beliefs.
During worship on November 24, 2019, First Congregational Church celebrated the second anniversary of voting to become an Open and Affirming Church, with a special litany and prayer.
The FCC ONA Covenant reminds us that each individual is a child of God and that all are worthy of God’s love and grace. Yet, we know that people inside and outside of our church walls may not feel that God has called them by name.
During 2020, the Open and Affirming Committee will focus on the words of the covenant’s second paragraph – asking ourselves and all of us to continue supporting current FCC efforts and consider additional ways to keep our promises to extend God’s love to all people, including “…people of all ages, all races and ethnic backgrounds, all mental and physical abilities, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all sexual orientations, all gender identities and gender expressions, and all other diverse attributes that are woven into the fabric of humankind.” Approved by congregational vote, Nov. 2017 and entered into Bylaws Feb. 2018
As part of the Mind, Body, and Spirit Series, the Open and Affirming Committee will partner with the Stewardship and Outreach Committees to sponsor guest speaker Dr. Jason Sokol after worship on February 2nd. Dr. Sokol is a professor at UNH Durham and is an expert on the civil rights movement. His topic will be: All Eyes are Upon Us: Racial Struggles in the Northeast, from Jackie Robinson to Deval Patrick. This program is funded in part by a grant from the Humanities to Go program of the New Hampshire Humanities. Learn more about Dr. Sokol at www.jasonsokol.com.
The FCC faith community shares God’s love and affirmation with others – at Families in Transition, New Horizons, through Special Olympics, and at Hallsville School, to name just a few. The committee will explore several additional possibilities, such as focusing on disability awareness and accessibility, hosting additional educational offerings, and continuing our participation in Queen City Pride 2020. The Open and Affirming Committee usually meets the fourth Sunday of every month. All are welcome to join us.
2020 Open and Affirming Committee:
Kathy Alger, Bruce Attridge, Stephen Bearse, Jeanine Finefrock, Jeffrey Frye, Karen Hawver, John Rowe, Kathy Rowe, Bridget Thornton, and Carol Soucy, Chair.
Summer/Fall 2019 News
First Congregational Church Celebrates Pride Month!
The city of Manchester celebrated Pride month with the 2019 Queen City Block Party, held right outside the doors of First Congregational Church on June 15th. Hanover Street was blocked off for the event – from Pine to Union Street, so FCC had a prominent presence.
What a fun day, filled with a friendly, positive vibe! The weather was perfect, and hundreds of attendees visited over 30 booths representing local non-profits, businesses, and community organizations. The day also featured speakers and entertainment. FCC’s booth had a steady flow of visitors all throughout the day. A good number expressed interest in learning more about our faith community and our Open and Affirming designation. Volunteers distributed membership pamphlets and FCC-labeled water bottles. Specially designed bookmarks, featuring a quote from FCC’s Open and Affirming Covenant, were a favorite giveaway.
There are so many people that helped us connect with the community at the Pride Block Party. Thanks to volunteers Craig Finefrock, Maggie Jespersen, Ruth and Sam Knowles, Marsha Neubert, Peter Perich, Janie Shaklee, Chip Soucy, Jennifer Thornton and Open and Affirming Committee members Bruce Attridge, Stephen Bearse, Jeanine Finefrock, Karen Hawver, John Rowe, and Carol Soucy. As always, we appreciate the help and support we received from Linda Bonetti and Lauren Henderson. Their creativity and attention to detail made such a difference! Dick Jarvis and Larry Dearborn lent their hands-on on support with set-up and close-up. What would we do without them?!
Our church was thanked over and over for “walking the talk” and sharing God’s message of acceptance, welcome, affirmation, and love. One young woman shared about recent loss and rejection she experienced from her family and her church when she came out. She expressed heartfelt appreciation for our presence and offered her thanks – adding “I didn’t know there was a church that would accept me.”
The Open and Affirming Committee will continue efforts to live into our covenant within our congregation and by connecting with the wider community.
We hope you’ll visit with us this summer when we host Fellowship Time following worship on June 23 and July 14. We’ll have some bookmarks for you, too!
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Friend of FCC and poet James Crews is the editor of a newly published collection of poems, Healing the Divide. The anthology features poets from all over America, with poems that invite us to “move past negativity
to a place where we can embrace the ordinary moments of kindness and connection that fill our days.” James Crews ends Healing the Divide’s introduction with words that can inspire all of us: When we focus on moments of kindness and connection…we become kinder both to ourselves and to each other. We feel less alone and find the world a more welcoming place.
If you’re interested in reading this special book, you may borrow one of three copies available in the FCC office.
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On April 6th representatives of Congregational churches from all over the state came to FCC for the Open and Affirming Conference. What a positive and exciting day!! Attendees represented churches designated as ONA in a range from 1 to 25 years. Other participants were from NH churches
that are just beginning the discernment process. Several participants shared that while their churches hold ONA designations, they were there to explore how to more actively and fully live into their ONA covenants.
The conference began with Kevin giving a welcoming worship service. The Keynote Speaker, Rev. Dr. Paula Stone Williams, followed. Everyone enjoyed hearing her amazing story and were mesmerized by her dynamic, humorous and incredibly inspirational presentation. She is a worldwide renowned speaker and we were very blessed to have her attend the conference.
Workshops continued the theme, “Healing the Divide” and celebrated a caring and understanding community. Presenters included Poet James Crews and Brad Peacock, Vermont US Senate candidate. Brad spoke on the human connection and kindness while James held a
poetry workshop. Also presenting was Andy Lang and Rev. Dr. Paula Stone Williams. At the close of the conference, James gave a very moving and meaningful reading of his poetry. Following James, the NH Gay Men’s Chorus provided a harmonious concert to end the day.
Planning and hosting a conference of this size was a huge undertaking for FCC. The Open and Affirming Committee appreciates the amazing support we received from FCC volunteers and staff. We could not have managed all of the details and tasks of hosting the conference without their help.
Larry Dearborn recorded a CD of the worship service (led by Pastor Kevin and Open and Affirming Committee members) and the keynote address by Dr. Paula Stone Williams. A second CD features the Closing Session, which included a moving poetry reading by James Crews and the performance by NH Gay Men’s Chorus. You’re invited to borrow the CD or ask for copies. We encourage you to listen to Paula Stone Williams on the CD or on YouTube. She is a dynamic speaker.
“…Can’t thank you enough for the opportunity to be a part of the day at First Congregational. We can’t stop talking about how wonderful it was, and how open and engaged everyone was. You have quite a group of people there in Manchester.” – Brad and James
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Open and Affirming Committee….
Kathy Alger, Bruce Attridge, Jeanine Finefrock, Jeffrey Frye, Karen Hawver, John Rowe, Kathy Rowe, Bridget Thornton, Stephen Bearse, and Carol Soucy, Chair