Open and affirming
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Open and Affirming (ONA) is an official designation of congregations and other settings in the United Church of Christ (UCC) affirming the full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons (LGBT) in the church's life and ministry.
The Open and Affirming program is administered by the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition, which supports congregations and other church settings as they consider the adoption of an ONA "covenant" and maintains the official registry of ONA congregations and ministries. The Coalition encourages UCC congregations, campus ministries, seminaries, regional bodies and other settings of the church to engage their members in serious study of sexual orientation and gender identity and to declare publicly their full welcome and inclusion of LGBT people. With more than 1,200 congregations, the UCC's ONA program is the largest of several LGBT-welcoming church movements in U.S. and Canadian churches.
In 1985 the United Church of Christ's General Synod adopted a resolution encouraging UCC congregations to welcome (or consider welcoming) gay, lesbian, and bisexual members. Following later General Synod resolutions affirming transgender members of the church, the welcome was extended so that, today, an ONA covenant typically welcomes members of any sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
The 1985 resolution had no legislative authority over individual congregations, which are autonomous, but set in motion a movement that spread rapidly throughout the church.
The resolution allocated no funds to support an ONA program in the UCC's national office. As a result, the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns launched an ONA program in 1987, led by the Rev. Ann B. Day and Donna Enberg, which raised funds from individual contributors, sympathetic congregations and private foundations. To this day, the official registry of ONA congregations is managed by the Coalition (since renamed the Open and Affirming Coalition), a voluntary non-profit organization independent from the church's national office. The Coalition publishes a wide range of resources to support congregations considering an ONA commitment and to help existing ONA churches build relationships with the LGBT community.
According to the Coalition, more than 1,200 UCC congregations (about 25 percent of all UCC congregations representing about 250,000 members) are listed as officially Open and Affirming as of January 2014. Nineteen of the UCC's 38 regional conferences, most new church starts, all seven seminaries affiliated with the UCC and several UCC-related campus ministries have adopted ONA statements, or "covenants."
The website of the United Church of Christ has stated, "The United Church of Christ seeks to be Multiracial, Multicultural, Open and Affirming, and Accessible to All—A Church where everyone is welcome."
In response to the perceived promotion of the ONA movement by denominational officials, 75 congregations have identified themselves as "Faithful and Welcoming" by affirming the Lexington Confession (named for the North Carolina town where it was drafted), which affirms marriage as an institution between a man and woman.