FAQ about ONA
- What does "Open and Affirming (ONA) mean?"
To say that a setting of the UCC (a local church, campus ministry etc.) is "Open and Affirming" means that it has publicly declared that "lesbian, gay, bisexual" (LGB) people (or those of all "sexual orientations") are welcome in its full life and ministry (e.g., membership, leadership, employment etc.) It bespeaks a spirit of hospitality and a willingness to live out that welcome in meaningful ways. Transgender people or gender identity and gender expression is increasingly included in ONA declarations, statements or policies.
- Why is "ONA" the shorthand for "Open and Affirming"?
"ONA" is the "caps" version of "O & A" (as in "salt 'n pepper"). The Open and Affirming Ministries in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) use "O&A" to identify their welcoming congregations.
- What is the background of the ONA process in the UCC?
The process began on a national level in 1985 when the Fifteenth General Synod (national delegate body of the UCC) adopted the resolution, "Calling on United Church of Christ Congregations to Declare Themselves Open and Affirming." This General Synod action "...encourages a policy of non-discrimination in employment, volunteer service and membership policies with regard to sexual orientation; encourages associations, Conferences and all related organizations to adopt a similar policy; and encourages the congregations of the United Church of Christ 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."
- Was this 1985 General Synod resolution the first to affirm LGB people?
No. Bodies in the United Church of Christ have been making such statements for at least forty years. They have addressed, among other issues: support for LGB civil rights, elimination of institutionalized homophobia within the UCC, HIV/AIDS education and care as it affects LGB persons, and affirmation of the gifts and ministries of LGB clergy and laity.
- Are all UCC settings required to be ONA?
No. The UCC's General Synod "speaks to but not for" local churches and other settings of the denomination. Because we are in covenant with one another, we are called to prayerfully consider all actions taken by General Synods; other settings of the church are then free to respond faithfully, according to the leading of God's Spirit.
- What is the process for becoming ONA?
Most local churches and many other settings engage in a time of study, prayer, and conversation before adopting an ONA statement. An average process is about 2 years. Each process is different in order to address the interests and concerns of the setting. For catalogue listing of ONA related resources available from UCC Resources, click here.
- How do churches and other settings become recognized as ONA?
Since the 1985 General Synod action, The UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns has maintained the listing of "ONA Churches." (In addition, it now lists: ONA Campus Ministries, ONA new church starts, Congregations in Conversation with the UCC (churches in early stages of development), ONA-Spirited Youth, and Conferences which have adopted an ONA resolution. More than 770 UCC churches are listed as ONA. Details about listings are available from.
- We already say: "We welcome everyone." To whom does it matter that UCC settings make public statements of welcome specifically to LGBT* persons?
Too many LGBT people and their families live with the pain of having believed that "everyone" meant them, only to discover otherwise. No one should have to guess about the "boundaries of inclusion" of a congregation or other ministry. A clear welcome matters to LGBT adults who, seeking to share their faith and gifts with the church, often wonder if they will meet with silence or condemnation if they are "out" in church. It matters to LGBT youth who need the guidance of faith communities as they question and establish their understandings of sexuality, spirituality, and relationships, but fear the same disapproval. It matters to families which too often hide the fact that they have LGBT children or other relatives. Fearing the indifference or rejection of their church, they are cut off from support and sharing which would enrich them and their congregation. It matters to LGBT clergy who often feel that to serve the church they must hide their true selves and lives. It matters to all Christians who believe that God's affirmation of the gifts of loving relationships and sexuality are not restricted to those who are heterosexual, and who look to their church to witness to God's inclusive love and help them to better understand and live it.
- If a local church or other setting already functions in an "open and affirming" way, why become officially "ONA"?
Every congregation, campus ministry etc. that adds its name and commitment to the ONA movement helps to counter the widespread perception that "Christians think being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is wrong/sinful." The ONA message is that sexuality is a good gift of our Creator, as is its responsible, loving expression. God's love, Christ's church, and the Spirit's power are for people of every color, age, ethnicity, gender identity, economic status, and ability—whether they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. As the list of churches and other bodies which affirm this grows so does the proclamation of God's wondrous, inclusive love!
*"T" is for transgender. The General Synod relatively recently addressed transgender in resolution adopted in 2003 and thus transgender (or gender identity and expression) is not always included in the Open and Affirming declarations, statements, or policies. See # 10 below for more information.
- Is an ONA welcome restricted to "sexual orientation?" What about transgender persons?
Based on the 1985 General Synod resolution, "Open and Affirming" statements specifically address sexual orientation. In 2003, the General Synod adopted a resolution Affirming the Participation and Ministry of Transgender People within the United Church of Christ and Supporting their Civil and Human Rights. The UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns also shares the commitment of many in our national church setting to inclusion of transgender persons in the UCC. Local churches and other settings are strongly encouraged to include transgender gender identity and expression in their statements, and increasingly that is happening. The UCC produced film, Call Me Malcolm and its study guides are excellent resources and a transgender section is now included in the ONA Study Packet.
- Is ONA the only movement of its kind?
No. The ONA movement in the UCC is one of the growing, ecumenical "Welcoming Church Programs" which include similar programs in 9 other denominations in North America as well as the involvement of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. There are also "Affiliates" of the Welcoming Church Programs, which share their commitment to a LGBT affirming Church (e.g. The Shower of Stoles Project).