An Open and Affirming Congregation

News from the Open and Affirming Committee…   
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 FC

C, 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.

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

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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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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