‘All are welcome here’


First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury becomes an Open and Affirming congregation

By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor

‘All are welcome here’
A banner hanging at the First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury proudly welcomes all.

Shrewsbury – This past fall, the membership of the First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury (FCCS) voted to become an Open and Affirming (ONA) congregation.

According to church leadership, “ONA is the United Church of Christ’s designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the UCC which make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”

As such, the leadership said in a press release, “We welcome and affirm everyone including people of all gender identities and expressions, sexual orientations, ages, races, cultures, family configurations, economic circumstances, physical, cognitive and emotional abilities, educational levels, spiritual and religious traditions.”

FCCS has approximately 600 members and is part of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ. And like other religious organizations, they have had to adapt to the restrictions of the pandemic, holding outdoor services on the Town Common or virtually.

The church’s interim minister, Rev. Dr. James M. Matarazzo, Jr., explained how the ONA decision was made at this time.

“Each church is a sovereign and independent congregation although we cooperate with the main United Church of Christ’s leadership,” he said. “Many churches have already become ONA. The Shrewsbury congregation had considered it in 2005 but chose not to make a public statement at that time.”

“This year it was decided to reconsider but then COVID-19 derailed it a bit,” he added.

Nonetheless, the church’s membership embarked on a “process of prayer, dialogue, study and discernment culminating in the development of a unique ONA statement”.  They then voted in late September by an almost unanimous decision to become ONA designated.

It was not that the FCCS had ever not believed in equality for all, Matarazzo stressed. It was more of making a “clear and welcome statement and being forthright about that,” he said.

“This was the right time,” he added. “We had several people say they would not stay if this decision was not made. And as it turned out, no one left because of it; we have actually had 13 new people join.”

For more information visit fccsm.org.

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