Oct. 16 sermon to focus on church’s welcoming stance

A decade ago the First Congregational Church, Bristol adopted an open and affirming statement committing to welcoming people of all races, sexual orientations, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities—all people, no exceptions.

The church will dedicate its Sunday, Oct. 16 worship service and a special question and answer session to celebrating this 2006 congregational action and to begin a discussion on how to expand its open and affirming commitment.

A United Church of Christ member, First Congregational was the first church in Bristol to adopt an open and affirming statement, explained a press release from the church.

The statement appears in the church bulletin every week and is typically read from the pulpit by the minister before worship begins. “Open and Affirming” (ONA) is a movement of more than 1,300 churches that welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer members. Nearly 300,000 members of the United Church of Christ belong to ONA churches.

“In our church open and affirming is a sexual orientation commitment and more,” explained the church pastor, Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman in a press release. “We welcome Christian believers and non-believers, people with mental or physical challenges, people of wealth or poverty, people period. That’s who Jesus served and that’s who we serve.”

The Sunday, Oct. 16, 10 a.m. service will be co-led by Rev. Kleiman and a visiting pastor, Rev. Paula Degree.

A graduate of Middlebury College, Rev. Degree received her Master’s in Mathematics Education from the University of Connecticut before she was called to attend seminary at Andover Newton Theological School, in Newton Centre, Mass.

An ordained United Church of Christ minister for 11-plus years, Rev. Paula has served The Northford Congregational Church, in Northford, Conn., and the Union Congregational Church of Oakville, in Oakville, Conn. While serving Union Congregational, Rev. Degree came out as a transgender woman, a difficult process that concluded with her and the congregation parting ways. Since leaving the Oakville church, Rev. Paula has been talking freely about the intersection of transgender issues and Christianity.

Rev. Degree will deliver the sermon on Oct. 16. She will preach on “transgender issues and how Christianity can best deal with those issues and with transgender people.” After the worship service, the release said, Rev. Degree will hold a question and answer session about transgender issues and Christianity. She hopes that this session “can focus on increased understanding of transgender people.” All are invited.

Steven Lewis, one of many church members helping to organize the celebratory service, sees a connection between the church’s stand on being open and affirming and a verse from the 4th chapter of Galatians in the Bible’s New Testament, said the press release, “…you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.”

For more information, call (860) 589-4700, or visit FirstChurchBristol.org.