First Congregational Church, 508 Union St., Manchester, NH 03104 603-625-5093

An Open and Affirming Congregation

News from the Open and Affirming Committee…
July/August 2022

“May we, as the body of Christ in this place, be the best evidence of your love by declaring and witnessing in all that we say and do that we recognize all as part of God ’s Beloved Community.”        Excerpt from Opening Prayer on Pride Sunday, June 19

The third Queen City Pride Festival was held in Arms Park on June 18.  We are proud that First Congregational Church sponsored a booth again this year, offering us a time to connect with the community, invite folks to worship with us at FCC – in person or via livestreaming – and convey our faith community’s commitment to welcome and affirmation to all. Thanks to the hands-on efforts of many volunteers, we gave booth visitors FCC-labeled water bottles, candy bags, and pamphlets of FCC info. While it was a cool and blustery day, the vibe was positive and festive.

Thanks to all our volunteers – Jeanine Finefrock and Karen Hawver for preparation and organization, and those that worked in the booth on 6/18: Rev. Carolyn, Pat and Karen Long, John and Kathy Rowe, Jim Fogle, Janie Shaklee, Selma Naccach-Hoff, Michelle Harrington, Jeffrey Frye, and Carol Soucy. We appreciate all the assistance with preparation of print materials from Lauren Henderson and Linda Bonetti.  We also appreciate the bottled water provided by the Membership Committee.

The weekend continued with a special, inspiring worship service on June 19, where we observed Father’s Day and Pride Sunday. Thanks to readers that led the Call to Worship – Tom Irving, Bridget Thornton, and Ruth Knowles.  Selma Naccach-Hoff, Janie Shaklee, Justin May, Lisa Allen, and Daniel Jung joined together in reading FCC’s Open and Affirming Covenant.

Jeffrey Frye touched our hearts and honored his father with his composition, “Here Is A Man.” The lyrics resounded with the messages of the day – connections, love, support, respect for all, and shared faith.  Jeffrey also published personal reflections about his dad, family, and his own journey. The opening sentence will draw you into a powerful story, “Father’s Day and Gay Pride – you’re probably wondering, what’s the connection?”  We encourage you to read Jeffrey’s essay. Copies are available on the table outside the sanctuary or by calling the church office. Rev. Carolyn’s sermon added to the theme of “unity in diversity” and Adam Peithmann’s stirring postlude, “Improvisation on We Shall Overcome” ended the service with connections to Juneteenth, also celebrated on June 19.

The Open and Affirming Committee will resume meetings in the fall.  In the meantime, we wish you relaxation, respite, and renewal during the summer months.

2022 Open and Affirming Committee:  Elizabeth Blood, Jeanine Finefrock, Jeffrey Frye, John and Kathy Rowe, and Carol Soucy, Chair

June 2022

Join us at the Queen City Pride Festival on Saturday, June 18th from 12pm – 6pm!  

We have a great time sharing our FCC Spirit with the community and we are looking for a few volunteers to be at our table during the event. The shifts are short so you will have the chance to enjoy the festival before and/or after your shift. The event includes performances, karaoke, dancing, live music, food and drink, and a parade at 10:00 am.

*Sign up for a time slot on the church office window!*   If you have any questions please reach out to the event coordinators:                                                                       Karen Hawver: khawver@gmail.com or Jeanine Finefrock: cjfinefrock@comcast.net

Sunday, June 19th is Father’s Day and will also be an occasion to observe Pride Month. 

We are pleased that FCC’s own singer-songwriter Jeffrey Frye will perform his song, “Here is a Man,” during worship. Jeffrey’s beautiful composition expresses his pride, gratitude, and love for his late father, Berton Frye, a man who lived his faith and was a great example of love and support for his   family and the LGBT+ community. We hope you’ll join us for this special service.

As the date for submitting our June Window article approached, the nation and our black brothers and sisters in Buffalo are  grappling with the tragic results of another hateful, racist mass shooting.  The news coverage included stories of resulting sadness, fear, grief, and anger. Such events prompt us to reflect and ask ourselves, “As Christians living in these troubled times, who are we called to be? What is our mission? How can we honor God and, in the words of the late John Lewis, demonstrate “love in action” at First Congregational Church?”   In the spirit of hope for racial justice and racial healing, the Open and Affirming Committee will offer avenues to continue the conversation about these difficult topics. We pledge to work and act, to listen and learn, think more deeply, and pray for peace.  Look for news of upcoming events in Friday Links, the Sunday News, and The Church Window.

May 2022

 “For we humans are knit by our humanity, by the imago Dei present in every single one of us…”         Cara Meredith, The Color of Life

Cara Meredith reminded us of Martin Luther King’s words that “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” As she said during the Zoom Conversation with Cara in March, “For me, as a Christian, as an Episcopalian, as someone who does believe that the imago Dei is present in every single one of us, I begin to see that which happens to you affects me…and I can’t not see this mutuality that binds us together.”

Being bound together by common humanity and believing that each of us is worthy of God’s love and grace, we are compelled to open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. These beliefs are the foundation for FCC’s Open and Affirming Covenant and undergird the actions we take as a church community. We are planning several such faith-based actions for the coming months.

Once again, FCC is proud to be a sponsor for the Queen City Pride Festival on Saturday, June 18th from 12 – 6 pm.

We have a great time sharing our FCC Spirit with the community. Look for a volunteer sign-up sheet on the office window or get in touch with Karen Hawver (khawver@gmail.com; 603-759-1376) or Jeanine Finefrock (cjfinefrock@comcast.net; 603-533-3180). In addition, worship on Sunday, June 19th will include Pride elements supporting the themes of welcome, affirmation, and inclusion.

The committee is also in initial planning and discussions about hosting an exhibit of the Sacred Ally Quilt Ministry, created by nine NH UCC congregations as graphic reminders of the need for compassion, mutual understanding, and social and racial justice. 

Embedded within the quilts are the last words of George Floyd, spoken on May 25, 2020. It is our hope that such an exhibit would engage FCC and the wider Manchester community, offering us a sacred space to learn more and listen more deeply. Conversations about the quilts may make us feel uncertain or uncomfortable, while at the same time they can remind us that we are bound together as children of God.  Committee members have shared information about the exhibit with the Church Council, the Trustees, and plan to submit an application for consideration.

The next meeting of the Open and Affirming Committee will be held on Zoom on Sunday, May 22nd at 1 pm.  Please feel free to join us for the meeting and/or for volunteer opportunities. Contact Carol Soucy for a Zoom meeting link.

April 2022

“You are the one who imagines and creates a beloved community. There exists a beloved community consciousness…where the I and we, rather than the us and they, learn to harmonize with one another.”       – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.                                

Cara Meredith shared this quote in her memoir, The Color of Life: A Journey Toward Love and Racial Justice. Rev. King’s quote calls us as Christians to engage personally in creating “a beloved community.”

Our faith community was blessed along our journey to becoming ONA by the wise, faithful, and loving guidance of Rev. Carlos Jauhola-Straight. He has been a friend of FCC, helping us work toward becoming a beloved community through his preaching, hosting forums and study sessions for our congregation, and serving as a shepherd for the Open and Affirming Committee. Congratulations to Carlos! He was installed as pastor and teacher at First Congregational Church of Pelham on Feb. 27th.

The Zoom book discussion of Cara Meredith’s The Color of Life was held on Sunday, March 13th. The group was actively engaged and shared thoughts about Cara’s memoir along with personal  reflections about its connection with their lives. The conversations ranged from memories of life in the 50s and 60s, shared reflections about faith, compassion, and racial justice, and focus on themes like courage, fear, and noticing and acknowledging racism, including unintended bias. All of us agreed that the I and we that MLK referred to means we must be willing to venture into uncomfortable topics and be willing to make mistakes, ask for feedback, and speak up when another says or does something that “doesn’t land right.” The through lines for the discussion included Cara’s themes of reconciliation, love, and redemption, along with her call to “make space for the image of God in everyone”.

The March 27th Zoom Conversation with Cara Meredith was well attended by FCC members, friends, and community members. Cara invited us into her personal journey toward deeper understanding of race, racial justice, and her Christian belief that we are all children of God. She shared her experiences as a white woman married to a black man and parent of two mixed race boys. She encouraged us on our own journeys and talked about how she enters into difficult conversations and situations by listening, learning, and doing. The program covered a wide range of topics and addressed participants’ questions. We were also blessed to have James McKim in attendance. James serves as president of the local branch of the NAACP and is also Chair of the Episcopal Church’s National Executive Council on Anti-Racism and Reconciliation.  Adam Peithmann commented, “He offered great wisdom, experience, and insight.” And Elizabeth Blood shared, “Cara spoke beautifully and shared her experiences with such honesty. All of us appreciated her thoughtfulness and graciousness in helping us to engage in conversations about race, racial justice, healing, faith, and love. We look forward to continuing those conversations at FCC.”

                                  

The Open and Affirming Committee has tentative plans to work with the Stewardship Committee and others on a Mind, Body, Spirit forum on homelessness in our city, anticipated for the fall. The committee is also in the initial stages of planning another fall event – an exhibit of the Sacred Ally Quilts, created by nine NH UCC congregations as graphic reminders of the need for racial justice.June is Pride Month. The committee is collaborating with our ministerial staff and the Deacons to honor our Open  and Affirming Covenant  during worship in June. We encourage you to save the date of June 18th for the annual Queen City Pride Festival at Arms Park. We hope that FCC will be well-represented again this year.

The next committee meeting is scheduled for Sunday, April 24th at 1 pm on Zoom (tentative). You’re invited to join us for the meeting and for events and activities planned for upcoming months.

 

March 2022

“…I can choose a different way of noticing and listening. I can tune my ears to hearing a new song.”     – Cara Meredith’s The Color of Life

 Cara Meredith shares multiple personal awakenings in her memoir, “The Color of Life: A Journey Toward Love and Racial Justice”. Written with honesty, grounded in faith, and infused with hope, Cara’s book challenges and invites us to learn, grow, and experience our own personal awakenings. We hope you’ll join us for one or both upcoming events in March.

Sunday, March 13 at 1 pm: In-house Zoom book discussion hosted by Elizabeth Blood and Carol Soucy. This event will allow readers to share personal thoughts and reflections about the book as well as raise questions that we’ll present when we meet with Cara later in the month.   Click Here to register.

Sunday, March 27 at 7 pm: Conversation with Cara on Zoom. Meet the author, hear more of her story, and listen to her responses to our questions.  The evening is open for everyone – whether you have read her book or not. Cara is interested,  enthusiastic, and has already visited our FCC website. She commented on our faith community’s contributions to “God’s narratives” and supports the welcome and affirmation expressed in FCC’s Open and Affirming Covenant.  Click Here to register.

Registrations are open for both events. See registration links on the FCC website. You still have time to read and enjoy this book. A copy is available in the church office if you’d like to borrow it.

A “The Color of Life” testimonial from From Elizabeth Blood

I first read “The Color of Life” shortly after it was published in 2019. I was impressed by the honesty and sensitivity with which the author, Cara Meredith, told her story about reckoning with the difficult topic of racial justice . The author and I are roughly the same age, and I was struck at how similar my experience was to hers. While we grew up in different denominations in different parts of the country — she was in a Baptist church in the Pacific Northwest, while I was raised herein the Queen City and belonged to a Covenant Church — much of her experience felt very familiar.

When I was a kid, growing up in the 80s and 90s, it was common thinking that being “colorblind” was a best-practice in considering the difficult topic of racism. Cara tells a story of her earnest and well-intentioned elementary school principal imploring students to be “colorblind”. She writes: “like many of our peers across America, the administration didn’t want to get racial equality wrong, so they erred on the side of not seeing color at all.” I think a similar approach has often applied to church settings — and I will admit my own hesitation and anxiety in raising the topic of racial justice. That said, as racism continues to be an issue that haunts our society, I appreciate Cara’s voice inviting us to engage in the conversation and ask ourselves what our faith calls us to do. I reflect on a favorite Bible verse (Micah 6:8) that offers encouragement: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

In the last year, I have attended a couple of Cara’s virtual writing workshops and they have been outstanding. She is a thoughtful and engaging facilitator and I am thrilled that she will be joining us in a conversation here at FCC. I hope you will join us.

The Open and Affirming Committee will work with the Stewardship Committee on a Mind, Body, Spirit forum on homelessness in our city (date to be announced).  Look for details in upcoming Friday Link newsletters and the April Church Window. The committee is also learning more about the Sacred Ally Quilts featured on the Feb. 4th episode of NH Chronicle (WMUR Channel 9). The quilts were created by nine NH UCC congregations as graphic reminders of the need for racial justice. We would like to host an exhibit of these quilts at a time when the public can be invited.

Finally, save the date of June 18th for the annual Queen City Pride Festival at Arms Park. We will participate again this year.

The next committee meeting is scheduled for Sunday, March 20th at 1 pm on Zoom (tentative).  You’re invited to join us for the meeting and for events and activities planned for upcoming months.

February 2022

“Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15: 7 NIV

A Zoom book discussion will take place on Sunday, March 13th at 1pm to prepare for the Conversation with Cara.   [Click Here] to register.   After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

The Open and Affirming Committee invites you to a Zoom Conversation with Cara Meredith, author of her memoir, The Color of Life: A Journey Toward Love and Racial Justice on Sunday, March 27th at 7:00pm via Zoom.

You still have time to read and enjoy this book, and a copy is available in the church office if you’d like to borrow it. You may wonder why our committee chose The Color of Life. Words in the title contains seeds for our choice and the questions below may factor into our discussion.

How did Cara’s journey make you reflect on your own life?   How do we engage in conversations about race and racial justice with love?    And what does racial justice mean to us, to our congregation?

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Reflections on The Color of Life from Carol Soucy

While reading one of the opening chapters, I realized that aspects of Cara’s journey relate to my own personal experiences as a white child of the 50s and 60s. Her story brought back memories of life in a rural, small town and of our family’s active involvement in the town’s tiny Presbyterian church. Cara writes of her elementary principal’s admonition that “If we are one thing, we are colorblind,” and shares dinner table discussions about race as well as the teachings of the church of her childhood.

“…we steadied ourselves to sing the tune written on our hearts, the song of God who loves the little children, ‘red and yellow, black and white’…Without even knowing it,   opposing beliefs of seeing and not seeing took up room next to one another in my mind, vying for attention, making me wonder what I was supposed to say and not say, do and not do, see and not see when it came to race.”

I sang the words of that beloved song in worship and Sunday School and like Cara’s, our family engaged in dinner table discussions about race and the Civil Rights movement. I was one of those earnest, questioning kids, wondering about the same matters Cara raised. A question on the back of the book brings those earlier questions to mind. “How do we navigate ongoing and desperately needed conversations about race?” And how do we do so faithfully, with love, compassion, mutual understanding, and respect?

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The Open and Affirming Committee will continue to share efforts with other FCC groups to learn more about issues around homelessness in our city, and what FCC can do to in this area.

Apostle Paul’s words included our article’s heading also appeared on the cover of the ONA Task Force FAQs pamphlet in 2016. It’s good to be reminded of Christ’s example and the use of the verb, accept. The verse speaks to our committee’s purposes and congregational promises of the Open and Affirming Covenant. We praise God when we sincerely, actively welcome one another, and we are blessed that God’s gifts of love and grace are available to all.

January 2022

Faithfully lending heads, hands, and hearts to bring to life the words of FCC’s Open and Affirming Covenant…

Are you looking for a good read for the coming months of winter?  The Color of Life is a memoir by writer, speaker, and former outreach ministry director Cara Meredith. Our Open and Affirming Committee is planning a one-time Book Discussion about The Color of Life for February or March (date to be announced). Committee member Elizabeth Blood got to know Cara personally when she took some virtual writing workshops with her, and she recommends the book. The following brief description summarizes the many  positive reviews this book received.

The Color of Life memoir is an easy, meaningful read. The author tells the story of how a young white woman fell in love with the son of Civil Rights icon, James Meredith.  Cara weaves theology and history into her compelling personal story.  She asks herself and the reader to consider questions, such as “How do we teach our children a theology of reconciliation and love? And what does it mean to make space for the image of God in everyone?” With humility and compassion, she strives to understand how racism affected her husband and his family, how it will impact her sons, and how she can help others listen to “…a side of the story that isn’t about us.”   Look for details about the Book Discussion in the February Church Window. In the meantime, we encourage you to start reading!!

The Harmony Sunday Benediction of 12/12 asked us to hear God’s call to “lift all those knocked down by life.” The Open and Affirming and Outreach Committees, FCC staff, and members of the congregation are asking questions, sharing concerns, and seeking faith-based, appropriate ways to make a difference with so many in need in our community.

Several committee members participated in a December Zoom event sponsored by the NH Conference UCC, Ending Homelessness is Possible with Ellen Groh, Executive Director of Concord Coalition to End Homelessness.  Ellen gave a brief  overview of the complex issues around homelessness, shared examples of her organization’s approaches, and discussed solutions that are working.

FCC’s Stewardship, Outreach, and Open and Affirming Committees are jointly planning a Mind Body Spirit forum on homelessness. We expect to offer it in Spring 2022.  Let us continue to pray for all those that are unhoused, especially during the upcoming months of cold and inclement weather, and let’s also pray for those that work to support those in need.

The Open and Affirming Committee will hold a Zoom meeting on Sunday, January 23, 2022 at 4 pm.  We hope you’ll consider  joining us – either for the meeting and/or through volunteering for upcoming activities and projects.  Your questions, suggestions, and hands-on involvement are always welcome.

December 2021

What do a jump rope, open doors, and the two Great Commandments have in common? If you joined us for the service of Sunday, Nov. 14, you experienced how they and other worship elements conveyed essential truths in keeping with God’s call and our observance of the fourth anniversary of the Open and Affirming vote.

When Rev. Carolyn pulled out a jump rope during her Message for the Young at Heart, we all took notice. No, she didn’t jump for us, but she shared a powerful analogy. Just like we need to use both handles of a jump rope, we are called to live out the two Great Commandments – to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Rev. Barbara expounded on these points and emphasized that love is the “greatest and most important of all Christian virtues.”

Music extended the theme. Thanks to Adam, the Chancel Choir, and soloists Bridget Thornton and Elizabeth   Blood for the lovely Mark Miller anthem, “Child of God.” Our readers Bruce Kinney, Ruth Knowles, Elle Funcke, and Michaela Horan led us in a “Litany of Trust in God,” and Jeffrey Frye closed the service with his beautiful song, “We Are Unbroken – Even After All.”  All the elements supported the promises of FCC’s Open and Affirming Covenant and expressed the shared belief from Jeffrey’s refrain – to “…open up those doors because God’s love is for everyone.”  You can listen to Jeffrey’s song on Vimeo, https://vimeo.com/fccmanchesternh

The Open and Affirming Committee is part of FCC’s Ministry of Spirituality. The FCC website states that we, along with other groups, work to ensure that First Church is a place of spiritual sustenance and growth for all who are on a faith journey, seeking meaning and purpose in life.  As part of this ministry, our committee contributes to several worship services each year, and we offer opportunities for learning and ongoing education – through book studies, forums, sharing “what we’re reading” in Friday links and more. We also continue to answer God’s call through hands-on efforts – such as participation in Queen City Pride festivals and joining with other FCC committees for outreach and events.

The Open and Affirming committee meets monthly, usually on the fourth Sunday. Meetings are currently held on Zoom. We are in the process of planning several projects for 2021-2022 and hope you’ll consider joining us – either for meetings and/or through volunteering for activities and projects. Your questions, suggestions for books, podcasts, or events, and hands-on involvement are always welcome. We’ll also keep everyone posted on news and activities through the Friday Link and the Church Window.  The next meeting is scheduled for Sunday, December 12th at 4 pm. You’ll notice that for December, the meeting is moved to the second Sunday.

The congregation’s affirmative vote on the Open and Affirming Covenant four years ago didn’t end the discernment process. God is still calling our committee and our congregation to live out the promises of that covenant. We are mindful that there is much more to do to build the “beloved community” – to let everyone know that they will be accepted and find a spiritual home at First Congregational Church Manchester.  Despite the pandemic, despite sometimes differing opinions, discomforts that may arise, or other challenges, we walk together in faith and share our beliefs in the power of love and the truth that each of us is a child of God. There’s hope in that, and strength and resolve for continuing our journey as a faith community.

November 2021

“Come, let us answer the call…”  From “O God of Vision,” Chalice Hymnal

In November 2017, the FCC congregation answered Christ’s call to love one another, as we voted on a covenant that expressed promises to be an open, inclusive, and affirming faith community.  On Sunday, November 14, we will reaffirm that commitment and celebrate the fourth anniversary of the congregation’s decision with selected worship elements and special music. This anniversary also reminds us that there is more work to do to build the “beloved community” and let everyone know that they can find a spiritual home at First Congregational Church Manchester.

Have you heard of the UCC symbol of the Rainbow Comma? It was conceived by Rev. Ron Buford, when he came upon a quote by TV performer and comedian Gracie Allen. If you didn’t watch television in the 1950’s, you may need to Google her. She said, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” FCC’s Open and Affirming Committee strives to live out the message of that quote. Our work didn’t end after the congregation voted affirmatively on the covenant. Instead, the comma symbolizes and suggests that our efforts will continue – after summer vacations, despite pandemic pauses, or other challenges on our shared faith journey.

Homelessness presents itself daily in our city and on the property of our own downtown church. The issues and challenges may bring discomfort and mixed feelings, but also raise questions. Among our Open and Affirming Covenant promises, we proclaim God’s love to people of “all mental and physical abilities” and “all socioeconomic backgrounds.”    As Christians, we ask ourselves how we can build understanding and continue to make a difference with this marginalized group. John and Kathy Rowe suggest the 2015 movie, “The Lady in the Van,” available on most streaming services. It tells the true story of Miss Shepherd, played by Maggie Smith. While the movie doesn’t have all the answers, it may open our eyes more fully to aspects of homelessness and it reminds us that every person is a child of God.

The committee meets monthly, usually on the fourth Sunday at 1 pm.  Meetings are currently held on Zoom. We are in the process of planning several projects for 2021-2022 and hope you’ll consider joining us – either for meetings and/or through volunteering for activities and projects.  Your questions, suggestions, and hands-on involvement would be welcome. The next meeting for November/December is scheduled for Sunday, December 12th at 4pm via Zoom.

October 2021 

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3: 22-23

The ongoing challenges of living with Covid-19 have impacted all of us in so many ways. Members of the Open and Affirming Committee encourage members of our congregation to register for the upcoming NHCUCC Annual Meeting on Saturday, October 16, on Zoom.  The conference theme, “Building Beloved Community” aligns with the promises expressed in our FCC Open and Affirming Covenant. Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund serves on the national UCC staff and is the Minister of Disabilities and Mental Health Justice.

The conference summary states,  “She will share tools that facilitate bringing about justice and transformation through faithful, loving relationships that build beloved community.” We look forward to hearing her messages of hope and the role of faith in rebuilding connections and promoting healing and understanding. There is a registration link included in the NHCUCC Weekly News, www.NHCUCC.org.

The committee met in September to review ongoing efforts and establish goals and plans for the new church year.  Look for updates in the FCC Friday Link. Our group anticipates continuing with Zoom meetings during the fall months. Please contact Carol Soucy for the Zoom link if you’d like to attend the meeting. (carolsoucy@comcast.net or 603-591-6387) Also, feel free to contact Carol or other committee members if you have questions or suggestions about Open and Affirming’s plans for the new church year.  The October meeting is scheduled for  Sunday, October 24th at 1:00 pm on Zoom.

September 2021

If we are the image of God, then in that capacity the image is a charge  to act justly in this world…We are not Christ’s image as much when we triumph as when we serve.    -Rev. Stephen Cushing  August 8th, 2021

Thanks to guest preacher Rev. Stephen Cushing for his message on August 8. He reminded us of our charge as Christians to act justly and serve, including “being Christ to the other.”  His message provides inspiration as the Open and Affirming Committee embarks on its work during the coming church year.

The committee will meet on Sunday, Sept. 26 at 1 pm. For meeting location, please refer to Friday Links in September. We will rely on the wise advice of the Reopening Task Force about whether to meet in person or on Zoom.  If you are interested in attending and/or joining in the efforts of the committee during the 2021-2022 church year, please contact Carol Soucy at carolsoucy@comcast.net or 603-591-6387.  Or feel free to reach out to other members.  We’d love to join with you in service to others.

July & August 2021

“It’s so important for the church (not just FCC) to be present at such an event. The message that God’s love is meant for all is so important.”   Volunteer Jim Fogle, referring to the Queen City Pride Festival June 2021

June 19th… Queen City Pride Festival.

What a day full of reminders of Jim’s message. The twelve FCC volunteers talked with hundreds of attendees that day, and we heard numerous expressions of thanks from members of the LGBTQ+ community, their parents, and friends. We also saw several people in tears, as they shared difficult, emotional stories of their life experiences related to not being welcomed or accepted, feeling different, and sadly, being shunned and ostracized from their own church communities.

You’ll be glad to know that many attendees looked at our posters and print materials and recognized our beautiful church building on the corner of Hanover and Union. We invited everyone to visit us online and to join us when we return to in-person services.  One of FCC’s own, Rev. Emelia Attridge visited our booth that day and shared encouraging thoughts. She said that…  even if no one from the festival attends FCC, our presence was a powerful ministry to those who have experienced so much rejection.

The powerful stories shared at Queen City Pride reminded me of church musician Mark Miller’s stories from his Draw the Circle Wide Zoom event. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, please see the Vimeo video on the FCC website. Click this exact link, https://vimeo.com/554087615. During his presentation, Mark asked us the question that he and others ask themselves at his home church in Summit, NJ, “Is there room for others in our welcome?” Mark added that he believes deeply that “all kinds are parts of a whole.”  Mark also told a personal story that has messages for all of us.  He was invited to speak and perform at a conference featuring contemporary, conservative church music, and confessed that he was somewhat apprehensive attending as a gay, black man. He shared how moved he was when a youth choir performed his anthem, “I Believe.” The generous welcome of the choir and the conference leaders reminded him not to judge others and to respect everyone’s common humanity.  Miller believes that God is calling us, too – to open our minds and be in dialogue as we face challenges to change and grow in our faith communities.  He makes an important point that… “a dialogue is about both sides coming away changed.”

We will continue to hold the stories we heard at the Queen City Pride Festival in our hearts, and strive to mirror Mark Miller’s passion, faithfulness, and hope at FCC – to help change the world…and build God’s beloved community –  extending welcome and love to all. 

The next meeting of the Open and Affirming Committee will be announced.  The meeting on August 15 at 1:00 pm has been cancelled.

You’re welcome to join us.  Please contact Carol Soucy carolsoucy@comcast.net or call 603.591.6387.

June 2021

Our faith community will be represented with a booth at the Queen City Pride Festival, to be held at Arms Park on Saturday, June 19, from 12 – 6 pm.

FCC folks are invited to volunteer for the event. If you are interested in helping out for an hour or 1.5 hour shift, please call Carol Soucy 603-591-6387; email carolsoucy@comcast.net, or contact Lauren Henderson in the church office. A sign-up sheet will also be posted on the church office window.

We appreciate the support and assistance we’ve received from the Membership Committee. They are preparing print give-aways and FCC labeled water bottles for that day. The QCP organizing committee has established Covid-19 protocols. If you sign up as a volunteer, committee members will review the plans QCP has established for the safety of all.

May 2021
Mark Miller’s Draw the Circle Wide event – Inspiring and Well-Received!
Sponsored by First Congregational Church Manchester’s Music Ministry, Open & Affirming Committee, Outreach Committee, and Church Council.

The May 23 Zoom webinar with nationally renowned composer and church musician Mark Miller took us on a wonderful journey of music and messages of faith. Over 50 attendees enjoyed Mark’s hymns, anthems, and songs interspersed with his personal story of growth and commitment to welcome and treating each other as “children of God.”

We encourage you to set aside time to watch the recording that Director of Music Ministry Adam Peithmann posted on Vimeo. You’ll be inspired, challenged, and uplifted. God’s spirit of love flows throughout the program. Click this exact link, https://vimeo.com/554087615

Thanks to the Outreach Committee, Music Committee, Church Council, and the Open and Affirming Committee for sponsoring the event, and to Adam and Jeffrey Frye for their support during the program. It was heartening that over one-third of the attendees were “guests” invited from other churches and area organizations. Adam promises that the FCC Chancel Choir will be learning more of Mark’s music, so Mark’s influence will continue to touch our hearts and minds during worship.

April 2021

‘We mean well. We have the right slogans. We have made known our intention to be Open and Affirming, but we are still trying to figure out how to draw into our communities the many diverse people who inhabit our world…We might ask ourselves, ‘What is it that prevents us from being that cutting edge, radically inclusive, boundary breaking community that Christ imagined?’           – From the sermon of Assoc NH Conference Minister  Richard Slater for FCC on March 14th, 2021

Thanks to Richard Slater for his March 14th sermon, and for connecting scriptures in Acts: 8 to today’s church. He posed essential questions and drew parallels between the early church and today’s, “…where some faith communities are more exclusive than inclusive, more comfortable than uncomfortable.” We find hope in our FCC faith community. As committees and individuals, we are working together to bring these scripture teachings to life…to enact the promises of our covenant to welcome all into God’s beloved community.  We also continue to join with other faith groups, such as the Interfaith Women, the NH Clergy Association, and the New Hampshire Conference to figure out how be more fully inclusive and welcoming.

You’re encouraged to save the date for the upcoming Zoom event with church musician, composer, and choral director Mark Miller, scheduled for May 23rd at 7:00 pm.  We are pleased to collaborate with FCC’s Music Ministries, Outreach Committee, and Church Council to sponsor this exciting event.

For a taste of Miller’s talents, beliefs, and faith, look for the anthem, “I Believe,” now posted on the FCC website Vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/297765602. The FCC Chancel Choir sang this beloved anthem in 2019. We invite you to listen again to the beautiful, haunting choral music composed by Miller. It is based on words scratched on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, Germany by a Jew hiding from Nazi persecution:

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.

I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.

I believe in God even when God is silent.

To learn more about Mark Miller, explore his website http://www.markamillermusic.com/.

Event registration information will be published in Friday Links later in April, as well as in the May Church Window.

Our committee continues to work on other projects, including “Connecting with the Congregation” efforts and planning for Pride Month in June 2021. We meet monthly on Zoom, usually the fourth Sunday of the month. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 25th at 1:00 pm. If  you would like to join us, please contact Carol Soucy carolsoucy@comcast.net  or (603) 591-6387.

March 2021

The church…welcomed my story and invited me in to experience the fullness of life together.”  Rev. Carlos Jauhola-Straight

Participants at the 2021 NH UCC Open and Affirming Conference on Zoom were inspired by presentations and discussions about faith, reconciliation, healing, and community. We were reminded that our covenants knit the church together and bind us to God. Rev. Carlos Jauhola-Straight led the worship service and was joined by pianist Abigail Charbeneau. Carlos shared his powerful personal story and faith journey and talked about Open and Affirming congregations that are willing to mutually reach out and trust each other with their stories,  “knowing that the touch of God will change our lives.” Carlos and Abby challenged us to continue efforts to be welcoming, but also to go deeper – to be accepting.

Rev. Carlos has preached and spoken at FCC several times. He graciously shared the worship service video with us. His sermon echoes the Lenten theme this year,  of how lives  are changed through the ministry of Jesus. You’ll notice that Carlos and Abigail recorded the service at FCC. Look for the service on the FCC website.  To view the service, see this Vimeo link – https://vimeo.com/515454463. The link will also be posted on the church’s Facebook page. We appreciate Carlos’ friendship and support of the FCC faith community.

Thanks to Selma Naccach-Hoff, Ruth Knowles, and Bruce Felmly for sharing their thoughts about the Be A Bridge podcast we recommended.  We hope their reflections on FCC Friday Links spur you to listen. If you’d like to share in a discussion about the podcast, please reach out to one of the Open and Affirming committee members, and we’ll plan a Zoom gathering for that purpose.  Be A Bridge Episode 34

Congratulations to Elizabeth Blood for the wonderful concert she and St. Anselm College musicologist Sean Parr presented on Feb. 18. The program, “Celebrating Piano Music of Black Composers,” was offered by the Manchester Community Music School.  The program included works by Florence Price, H. Leslie Adams and Margaret Bonds.

Save the Date! . . .

Thanks to Adam Peithmann for connecting with his former professor and renowned colleague, Mark Miller.  Adam and the Open and Affirming Committee are planning a Zoom lecture with Mark on Sunday, May 23 at 7pm. 

Mark Miller believes passionately that music can change the world. He also believes in Cornell West’s quote that ‘Justice is what love looks like in public.’ His dream is that the music he composes, performs, teaches and leads will inspire and empower people to create the beloved community.  Learn more about Mark Miller and his music on his website, http://www.markamillermusic.com/about/

Our committee typically meets on the fourth Sunday of the month, at 1 pm via Zoom.  The March meeting is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, March 28th. If  you would like to join us, please contact Carol Soucy for a Zoom invitation:  carolsoucy@comcast.net or (603) 591-6387

Open and Affirming Committee:  Elizabeth Blood, Jeanine Finefrock, Jeffrey Frye, Karen Hawver, John Rowe, Kathy Rowe, Bridget Thornton, and Carol Soucy, Chair.

January 2021

“How we treat our neighbors is inextricably bound up with how we relate to and with God.”     – Rabbi Beth Davidson, Temple Adath Yeshurun, Manchester Shared during NH Council of Churches session, Dec. 3, 2020

 *Save the Date!*  Look for info in upcoming FCC Friday Links about NHCUCC’s Open and Affirming Zoom Conference, scheduled for Jan. 30, 2021 from 9 am – 12:30 pm. Carol Soucy will serve on a panel with Andy Lang, Executive Director of the national ONA Coalition and representatives from other NH UCC Open and Affirming churches. The panel’s topic is We’re Open and Affirming, Now What? The group will present and share examples how NH’s UCC faith communities actively live into the promises expressed in their Open and Affirming Covenants. We hope you’ll consider joining in this conference. [Click Here] to register.       

You may be interested in accessing resources posted on the NH Council of Churches website, “Dec. 3: A Faith-Based Conversation on Race in New Hampshire,” and “NH Faith-Based Conversation on Covid 19 and Race” on January 7. The video of  the December 3 session and the January 7 Zoom invitation are available via this link, https://nhchurches.org/faithandrace/  Our committee is planning for a 2021 Zoom event with a guest speaker – to bring religious perspective to issues of race and justice. We are exploring additional ways to engage with each other in conversations and/or study to build awareness, further understanding, and plan actions that God asks of us regarding issues of race, equity, and justice.

Committee members continue to support efforts of the Connecting the Congregation Team, including sending notes, delivering CDs, and participating in fellowship and social activities. Our committee typically meets on the fourth Sunday of the month, at 1 pm via Zoom.  January’s meeting is scheduled for Sunday, January 24. If  you would like to join us, please contact Carol Soucy carolsoucy@comcast.net  or (603) 591-6387.

2021 Open and Affirming Committee:  Jeanine Finefrock, Jeffrey Frye, Karen Hawver, John Rowe, Kathy Rowe, Bridget Thornton, and Carol Soucy, Chair.

The Open and Affirming Coalition’s Spring 2020 Webinar Series is designed both for Open and Affirming (ONA) congregations and for churches taking their first steps towards an ONA covenant.

Led by ONA Coalition Executive Director Andy Lang, and ONA Program Minister Kimi Floyd Reisch, these learning experiences can transform your church!
All webinars are at 7 p.m. Eastern and run for about 90 minutes.

  • ONA 101 – April 23
  • ONA 201 – June 4
  • ONA and the Bible – April 30
  • Trans/Nonbinary 101 – May 12
  • Trans/Nonbinary 201 – May 14
  • 1-1 Conversations About ONA – May 7
  • Bisexuality/Pansexuality 101 – May 28

Learn more at: https://openandaffirming.org/ona-webinars/

Tribute to Bruce Attridge…                                              

Our Open and Affirming Committee and our FCC faith community are saddened by the recent death of Bruce Attridge. Bruce was such a gentleman; a kind and caring soul.  Committee members very much respected his suggestions, contributions, and service. His thoughtful additions to discussions and planning offered fresh perspective and made us better.

Thank you, Bruce, for enriching our lives through your commitment and hands-on service. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to Renee, Emelia, and James.

Thank you. 🙏

Summer/Fall 2020 News

The Open and Affirming Committee continues its focus on living into the words of the FCC Open and Affirming Covenant- to extend God’s love and welcome to all people. We are committed to supporting and growing as an active community of faith during these challenging times. Committee members are joining in the Connecting the Congregation Team efforts, including writing notes to members, delivering CDs of services, and participating in social and fellowship activities.

Thanks to Larry Dearborn and Sokhom Sar for making several building accessibility updates to interior and exterior signage. They also repainted the van accessible parking space in the driveway. We apprecia te these ongoing efforts to ensure that our building is welcoming and accessible to all.

Karen Hawver and Carol Soucy participated in the Faith March for Black Lives which took place in downtown Manchester on Saturday, July 25. The peaceful march was sponsored by the Greater Manchester Clergy Association, in conjunction with Manchester NAACP, the MLK Coalition, and the Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP). A diverse group of 75 individuals joined in the march. Elliot Hospital Interfaith Chaplain and FCC’s own Barbara Brawley was one of the clergy leaders. She offered an inspiring prayer at one of the stops on the march.

The spirit of the evening march was solemn and respectful, although the peace of the evening was interrupted several times by yelling, swearing, and hateful comments – especially hurtful for Black marchers, a number of them children. We encourage everyone to consider and find ways to respond to the spiritual call from the Greater Manchester Clergy Association’s event statement. Excerpts from the statement are included below.

“We believe that it is imperative to bring a religious perspective to the national debate on race and justice…” and “We believe that each and every human being is created in the Divine Image, and all are deserving of respect.”

If you are interested in reading the complete statement, please contact Karen or Carol.  Thanks to members of the Manchester Police Department for providing for safety and assistance along the route and at intersections.

The Queen City Pride Festival was held on September 12 at Arms Park. Our committee made a donation to support the ongoing work of the organization but decided not to participate at this year’s event due to health risks.

We continue to hold monthly meetings on Zoom and are enriched by opportunities to connect and visit with each other in addition to addressing agenda topics. If you’d like to join us for a meeting, please contact Carol Soucy to be included in the Zoom invitation.

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.

February 2020:

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.

January 2020:

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, 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

2019 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

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Enjoy Jeffrey Frye’s signature song “We are Unbroken (Even After All)” on Vimeo…click here and scroll down

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