Then we gathered for a great celebration. Ten years ago our congregation voted to become an Open and Affirming (ONA) church, saying to the world that everyone is welcome here—no exceptions. The Rev. DaVita McCallister inspired us with stories of the difference it makes to say to a person that they are explicitly affirmed just as they are.
But we were forced to celebrate with heavy heart. We learned after worship that 49 people (first thought to be 50) were killed in a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub that catered mostly to LGBTQ people. It was a nightclub that had been opened by the sister of a gay man who had died of AIDS, and in his memory it had been a safe place for people to gather for more than a decade. Images of violence destroying that sanctuary made me feel sick.
After ten years as an ONA church some might ask what difference it makes. Has it really changed us? Has it really changed the world?
The terror at the Orlando nightclub is evidence that being ONA must change us if we are to change the world. We must say to the world that our LGBTQ family is welcome here. We must stand up to any expression of hate, any hint of violence. We must shout from the mountaintop that all people are God’s children, all are loved, all are welcome in this house, all deserve to live in peace and safety. Only then will we find the power to counter hatred with love—only then will we have a chance to heal these ever deepening wounds.
In my office there is a table, the first thing you see when you walk through the door. On it is a gift from a former colleague, one that is precious to me, and one that I hope every person who enters my office sees. It’s a sign—I think it is a sign from God. It says, “God bless the whole world.