by Bil Aulenbach

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“O & A”

These letters stand for two of the most important words in the church today—they should be the cornerstone for the church of the future.

We remind congregants at every service that we are an “O & A” church. In my new book, Cramming for the Finals: New Ways of Looking at Old Church Ideas, I suggest that a church can’t be truly Christian unless it is “O & A.” That’s a strong statement, and there are those who would argue vehemently with that idea.

“O & A” means “Open and Affirming.” In the UCC (United Church of Christ and/or United Congregational Church) denomination, a church can choose to apply for this special designation, prove that it practices what it preaches, and be designated open and affirming.

The Irvine UCC applied for this designation about twenty-five years ago and has been a pioneer in this field. Back in the 1980s, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual) community was badly shunned by much of the world including most religions. Since then, this group has fought for civil rights and experienced great progress. We now see clergy, politicians, sports figures, executives, artists, entertainers, and people from every walk of life unafraid to share their sexual orientation.

Our world is a much better place because of these changes.

Although there is always more to be done, it is exciting to see them marrying and having the same civil rights as straight folks. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime, and it thrills me to be part of this great leap forward for humankind.

The O & A welcome has broadened over the years as the sexual minority community has added to their description (LGBTQUIA), including Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual or Allies. I also add a U for Undecided.

Being heavily involved in an O & A congregation, I see this concept permeating every facet of our community life. Let me share some examples. For fifteen years our church hosted University Synagogue until they outgrew us and moved to their own facilities. Presently, a mosque meets every Friday in one of our buildings.

I see O & A as contagious. When other groups use our facilities, they know that we are O & A and see its power as we all work together for the common good of humanity.

I am a very Progressive Christian (some would say atheist, maybe even agnostic or Unitarian) who thinks way outside of the box and asks hard questions, as well as gives some answers that others might say are questionable, if not heretical. My wife and I have attended this church for almost ten years because O & A is also the most accepting of those who think differently. It welcomes Biblical interpretation and takes a hard look at the dogma and doctrine of our religion.

My findings: When people are O & A in one arena of life, more than likely they are O & A in almost every facet of their life.

Can you imagine what the world today would be like if it was O & A?

The church of the future, no matter what religion or denomination, can only succeed if it is O & A.

I’d love it if my tombstone read: “Here lies Bil A., who was O & A.”

Are you O & A? In every aspect of your life? You are welcome to share with my readers why—or why not.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Evanson. CC by 2.0

 

2 Responses to “O & A”

  • Yes, I am. I have Gay friends and black friends and my church advertises that they invite anyone to attend regardless of race, religion or orientation. All are accepted.

    I feel the same way. I do have prejudices but they are not race or orientation prejudices. I have problems personally accepting ignorance….especially chosen ignorance. Anyone can be educated even self educated. It doesn’t take a piece of paper to educate folks. It takes the desire to learn….anything. And it takes an open mind.

    I am working on this prejudice but I don’t have it whipped yet.

  • Yes…that is my personal goal. I try to be open and affirming to everyone, not only to LGBTQUIA members of my community…but to everyone including the homeless, as well as people from other cultures, religions and races. I have to work a bit with regards to being open and affirming to people who are political or religious conservatives, people who are judgmental in nature, and people who, for me, appear threatening. I have found that if I treat people with respect, they generally approach me with respect. I find smiles, kind greetings, hugs, and the process of reaching some sort of mutual understanding (though not necessarily mutual agreement) to be personally quite fulfilling.

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