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August 25, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 34
 
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Advocate for 'Open and Affirming' churches in UCC is stepping down
Advocate for 'Open and Affirming' churches in UCC is stepping down
More than 600 UCC churches aided over 20 years

The Rev. Ann B. Day, a United Church of Christ minister who has aided more than 600 UCC churches in the process of becoming "Open and Affirming" of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, has announced that she will step down as coordinator of the UCC's "ONA" program.

Day and her partner, Donna Enberg, who has served as the program's Administrative Assistant, will complete their work at the close of the denomination's next national General Synod in June 2007. They have served the grassroots movement since 1987.

"Quite frankly, there would not be an Open and Affirming movement were it not for the commitment, vision and tireless work of the Rev. Ann B. Day," said the Rev. William R. Johnson, who in 1972 became the first openly Gay man ordained in the United States.

Since 1985, the self-created ONA program - operated by the independent UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns - has maintained the listings of ONA settings and encouraged UCC churches, campus ministries, seminaries, etc., to engage members in an intentional study process on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and then to declare publicly their full welcome and inclusion of LGBT people.

Many point to the ONA process as one of the most significant, attitudes-altering movements in the struggle for LGBT inclusion in the church - a campaign that has infused acceptance and heightened visibility for LGBT people throughout the 1.2-million- member UCC and one that has inspired those in other denominations.

"(Day) was the one who envisioned and created the perimeters of the ONA program, who designed and brought ONA resources into being, who spent countless hours speaking with local church pastors and members about the ONA study process," Johnson said.

"When we depart from these positions after General Synod, it will be 20 years," Day told United Church News. In an email to friends and ministry colleagues announcing their decision, Day wrote, "It is with incredible gratitude and great affection that I write to tell you that Donna and I have decided to conclude our ministry as ONA staff. ... I hope you know how very much this ministry has meant and means to both of us."

Day and Enberg live in Holden, Mass., and are members of United Congregational UCC, one of 67 ONA churches in the Massachusetts Conference. In April, the Conference's ONA Task Force honored them for their efforts in "giving life to the ONA vision."

Johnson said Day's and Enberg's contributions not only have brought change to the UCC, but to the ecumenical community as well. "I think it is impossible to overstate the contributions they have made to the struggle for justice and peace through their leadership of the ONA program," he said.

Today, the UCC has more than 600 ONA churches located in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The total represents more than 10 percent of the UCC's 5,633 churches, and the ONA program remains the largest such movement among the historic mainline Protestant denominations. Since its founding, the ONA program has grown significantly. During each two-year biennium - the time between sessions of the General Synod - the program has reported more ONA church declarations than the prior period, in addition to other UCC settings.

Despite the program's substantial growth, Day and Enberg have remained committed to the long view, rather than reveling only in short-term numerical successes. For example, instead of accepting more-generalized "all-are-welcome" resolutions from local churches, Day and Enberg insisted that congregations take more time - rather than less - to reach a decision, and to be specific about their LGBT acceptance. The worst thing a local church can do - Day insisted - is to declare itself ONA but not really mean it, or understand it.

The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the UCC's minister for LGBT concerns, said Day's and Enberg's contributions have enriched the whole church.

"Through their ministry, hundreds of UCC congregations and thousands of UCC members have been empowered to live into the values of God's extravagant welcome and the whole church is richer for it," said Schuenemeyer, who works at the UCC's national offices in Cleveland. "One would be hard pressed to find any two people who have given more of themselves, with such dedicated commitment and focus."

In 1985, the UCC's General Synod passed a resolution encouraging churches "to adopt a non-discrimination policy and a Covenant of Openness and Affirmation of persons of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual orientation within the community of faith." The Synod later acted to expand the call for inclusion to Transgender persons.

New York City's Riverside Church, under the pastoral leadership of the late Rev. William Sloan Coffin, was the first in the UCC to be listed as ONA.

In addition to leading the ONA program, Day serves as president of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, which has helped support theological scholarship and conversation in faith communities about human sexuality and LGBT inclusion.

In 1995, the Carpenter Foundation, named for Day's stepfather and mother, granted $2.5 million to UCC-related Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn., Day's alma mater, in support of the nation's first seminary-based program aimed at fostering deeper conversations about the intersection of religion, gender and sexuality.

In 1999, the foundation helped establish the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at UCC-related Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., by underwriting the Center's first five years of operating expenses.



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