Sue Knight shared these comments at the Sunday service celebrating the first annivarsay of Johns Creek Christian Church’s decision to become Open & Affirming. Johns Creek is just outside of Atlanta, GA.
Happy Open & Affirming Sunday! What a beautiful day to celebrate this historical unanimous decision a year ago to become an Open & Affirming congregation. This has been a busy year and God has blessed this congregation in so many ways. On a personal note, it has been such a blessing to hear over and over again, “I was looking for an Open & Affirming congregation in the area and I found Johns Creek Christian Church on line.” Amen!
Since becoming an Open & Affirming congregation, I feel a renewed sense of unity with God’s creation and with all of his children. How has our Open & Affirming decision changed the way you worship or feel God’s presence in your life?
I have been an elder, church secretary, a member of the Pastoral Relations Committee and a member of the search team who called Dr. Rich as senior minister to this congregation. But I can honestly say that being a part of the decision to become an Open & Affirming congregation is the one accomplishment that I am most proud of, either in my professional or spiritual life.
I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about the history behind this decision. In July 2013 the General Assembly of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ met in Orlando and passed GA 1327. Dr. Rich was there for this historical vote and brought this good news back to our congregation. Here is a small excerpt from that document:
“Be it resolved that the General Assembly meeting in Orlando, Florida July 13-17, 2013 calls upon the Christian Church Disciples of Christ to recognize itself as striving to become a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children though differing in race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or mental ability, political stance or theological perspective and
Be it further resolved that the General Assembly calls upon the Christian Church Disciples of Christ to affirm the faith, baptism and spiritual gifts of all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and that neither is grounds for exclusion from fellowship or service within the church, but we celebrate that all are part of God’s good creation.”
Again, I have to say Amen!
Shortly after this resolution was passed, the elders met to discuss what this meant for JCCC. If you noticed the language I read from the resolution, it said the Christian Church Disciples of Christ is “striving” to become a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children. There were no marching orders or direct commands associated with this resolution. After all, we are a Disciples congregation which means we each have a personal responsibility to study and pray as we discern the next steps. After much discussion and discernment, Dr. Rich and the elder team determined that in July 2013 the timing was not yet right for us to pursue the official Open & Affirming designation.
We have always been a welcoming congregation, right? Steven and I have been members since 2000 and we noticed immediately what a welcoming and friendly congregation this is. Ministers have changed and people have come and gone, but the one thing that visitors and new members always comment on is what a friendly, welcoming congregation we are. That’s our JCCC legacy.
But, it is so important to let people know in advance that this is a safe place for them and for their families. I shared with many of you during our discernment process that my son is gay. I also shared with you his troubled teenage years, his suicide attempts and how his frustration and acting out affected our entire family. This is the reality many families face today and they feel scared, excluded and alone.
Looking at our website before our Open & Affirming decision, guests would have to read between the lines to determine if this is a safe place for them. Would they fit in? Would they be accepted? We wanted to make sure there is no question about who is welcome here. #AllMeansAll.
So, in the mean time, God was moving in this congregation in a powerful way. In the adult Sunday School class we talked about homosexuality and the Bible. We discussed how we could express our welcome to all in a more formal way. This discussion of grace and welcome regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity was also a topic in one of our Journey Group studies which is our small group ministry. God was laying the groundwork.
In the fall of 2014, the timing seemed right. Bill Davis, Kimberly Jerkins who has since moved to Texas and I met with Dr. Rich to begin the preliminary work of putting together the team and the rest is history.
I hope I’m not stepping on Charlie’s toes as she leads the communion meditation today but I feel compelled to talk about the significance of our welcome with regards to the communion table…
During his ministry on earth, Jesus consorted with all types of people in order to bring salvation to the world…
Sinners of all varieties (like me and you)
Men, Women (unheard of, right?) and Children
The Self-Righteous and the Meek
The Rich and the Poor
Slaves and Land-Owners
The lame, the deaf, the blind
The bullied, the frightened, the sick, the grieving and the lonely
In other words, Jesus liked to hang out with those on the margins of society.
In many instances, he also shared a meal with this motley crew of misfits and wounded people. It was scandalous!
After his death and resurrection, it was in the breaking of the bread that the travelers to Emmaus recognized him.
When the first Christians gathered on the Lord’s Day to share in a meal of Christ’s remembrance, they spoke of this as “the breaking of the bread”. Today this beautiful communion table represents God’s sacrifice for our sins but it also represents our unity with other Christians around the world.
This table represents healing from pain, bullying, discrimination and exclusion. It represents a safe haven where you and your family can gather with other Christians without fear of being singled out because of differences. God doesn’t discriminate or even recognize our differences. God only sees us as beautifully created children who are loved for who we are.
It doesn’t matter whether you are gay or straight, young or old, rich or poor, and in this election year, it doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican, you are a beloved child of God and you are welcome here.
When we say all are welcome, we really do mean all. As we share in communion each week, I thank our loving God for grace and for welcome for me, for you and for those we have yet to meet. All really does mean all. Happy Open & Affirming Sunday!