Youth & ONA Sunday

Reflections from Joyce DeGreeff on May 3, 2020
Psalm 139
1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Good Morning Dear Friends…what a privilege it is for me to share some thoughts with you on this day when we are celebrating two of the things that are most precious to me in our our church: Our Awesome Youth and our Intentional Commitment to being an Open and Affirming community – one that welcomes and honors diversity and inclusion in all of its forms.

When I first moved to Concord with my family in 2002, we did a fair amount of church shopping. Our hearts quickly found a home when we eventually tried out WCUC. In addition to the music, the sermons, and the youth programs, we noticed right away the warmth of this community and the many ways that it was living the ONA statement that it had voted on three years before our arrival. It was in May of 1999, that this church decided to publicly affirm God’s call to love one another without exception and to recognize that welcoming such diversity enriches us all. This affirmation proclaims out loud that we are, everyone one of us, a beloved child of God – no matter what we look like, who we love, how much money we make, how we move, think, or communicate…we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God’s hands – the One who knit us into being and intimately knows and loves us exactly the way we are.

May of 1999…that was 21 years ago – It was before anyone in our current youth group was even born. Many of you were here at that time and I’ve heard that it was both a joyful and challenging process, but you persisted and followed God’s voice to make it happen. And here we are today seeing the fruits of your labor a generation later. I asked some members of the youth group to reflect on what it means to them that we are an ONA church. Listen to their voices:

“I think churches that are open and affirming are great because they bring people from different communities together as one and make people feel safe and comfortable – like they can express who they are and what they believe without any judgement – which I think is really important. I love WCUC because it’s such a welcoming, wonderful, and accepting community.”

“I think many people have associated Christianity with intolerance. If churches want to be accepting of all people as God intended, they should not put some people above others. My best friend wanted to find a religion where she could be herself and explore her spirituality. She immediately ruled out Christianity because she thought we were not welcoming of the LGBTQ community. It means a lot to me that I can bring any of my friends, no exceptions, to youth group and know they will be welcomed and treated as equals.”

“This church is special to me because I know that I can bring every part of me and I will be welcomed, accepted, and celebrated for who I am. I don’t have to hide or pretend to be someone I’m not.”

Our ONA statement clearly sends the message that all are welcome here and that no matter who you are, there’s a place for you – You Belong Here. We want you to “come, live in the light” because we know there is Joy and Freedom to be found when we can be fully who God created us to be.

Our ONA statement also reminds us that we are better together – diversity enriches all of us and we need each other. I like to think of it as “Mirrors and Windows”. We all need to see ourselves reflected in those around us and we all grow when we can look out and see something that’s new – something that is not part of our own experience but something that we can learn about and appreciate.

I remember the first time a child in our church wore noise cancelling headphones to help her body handle the higher volume sounds in worship. A week later, another child wore them and then another. Mirrors say “you are like me in some way” and we can be ourselves together.

I also love and miss the “windows” that I look through when we’re sitting in our sanctuary on a Sunday morning: I see families who are formed in various ways, I see young and old bodies of all shapes and sizes, I witness the gifts of our SF friends and their caregivers, and I appreciate the multiple ways we express joy – ranging anywhere from silent prayer to loud and heartfelt outbursts when the organ starts playing.

In the early Christian church, when the Corinthians were trying to figure out how to live in community, Paul told them this:

“Just as a body has many parts, but all of its parts form one body, so it is with the body of Christ” (this is our church community!) “God put (us) together so that (our) parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, (we all) suffer with it. If one part is honored, we all rejoice with it.”

Let’s keep these words in mind as we read our ONA statement together and remember how blessed we are to be a part of such a warm, welcoming and loving community of faith:

Our Open and Affirming Covenant (May 2, 1999; updated January 2020)
We, the members of the West Concord Union Church, are called to love one another as God loves us, freely and unconditionally. We further believe that diversity enriches our faith community.

Therefore, we welcome persons of any sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, race, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and physical and mental ability into full membership and participation in the body of Christ. We celebrate family in all its diverse forms and honor, support, and bless all loving and committed relationships. As we are one in Christ, we are called to accept and respect one another in the face of our differences. We agree that continued dialogue is necessary as we each grow in learning and understanding.

We commit ourselves to work diligently to end all oppression and discrimination which afflicts God’s people in our society. We seek to explore new ways of affirming our faith in community according to the wisdom of the Gospel. We strive, as individuals, to become more Christlike in our love for one another.