As many of you know, First Church was actively considering renting our building on late Sunday afternoons to Redeemer Burlington. In December, the Executive Committee was pleased to entertain this overture from Redeemer and we decided to pursue it with the church. We saw, of course, the possibility of getting much needed additional rental revenue for our operating budget. We knew, however, that while Redeemer Burlington is a very appealing church in so many ways, they are a part of a denomination which regards homosexuality as a sin and does not ordain women. They have a theology and culture which feels unfamiliar to many of us and very familiar to others.
At First Church, we are very clear about our unwavering commitment to justice for women, and people of different sexual orientations. This commitment should only get stronger. Opinions widely differed, however, about whether we could rent to this church given their differences with us. After a spirited meeting on February 8, the Trustees felt the congregation needed more time to decide whether we could reconcile our Open and Affirming stance with renting to Redeemer, who in many other ways are similar in tone and substance to our theological stance as a church. After listening to the strong conflicting views in the congregation, the Trustees concluded that the earliest we could give Redeemer a definitive answer was after the congregation had an opportunity to vote on May 3. Additional time was needed for our congregation to meet with Redeemer’s leadership. Redeemer Burlington decided they could not wait until May for a decision, which was far from certain. They thought it best for them, and us, to pull out of the conversation. Their pastor sent the Trustees a very gracious letter which in part said they did not want to be a source of division for our church.
Regardless of the position you held in this conversation, Redeemer’s rental request has raised some very healthy questions about our identity, what it means to be a Christian church, and how we converse with people who see things differently, including those in our own congregation. Considering Redeemer’s request and reviewing our Open and Affirming position, should challenge us as a church to be more bold and outgoing in our social justice work. Their inquiry also made us wonder whether it’s possible to stay true to our commitment to justice for LGBTQ people and women, while being in a relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are a part of a church which does not have an Open and Affirming stance. There is much we have to learn about people who come from other Christian traditions. There is also much we can learn about our own theology and Christian identity as a church community when we encounter political and theological differences. During Lent, it is my plan to lead us through such an exploration, offering a six part series on the United Church of Christ and how we relate historically and theologically to other denominations (see schedule below under “Connecting Conversations”).
One dimension of this proposed rental was the possibility of receiving income to close our budget gap. The goal of the campaign was to make it possible to retain and encourage our existing staff, as well as to seek and hire a full time settled associate minister. Unfortunately, in order to reach that goal, we would still need approximately $70,000 more in pledges. I am heartened that 97 pledge units increased their pledges for a total of $47,000 in gains. Unfortunately, the gain is not enough to offset the loss in pledges from a much smaller group of people. We are at a critical moment where we need to come together and figure out the best way forward. Every dollar and new pledge makes a difference. In March, or perhaps early May, the Trustees, based on income, will make recommendations to the church about how we can proceed while living within in our means. We need everyone’s prayers, help, giving and problem solving abilities to see us through.
We are in covenant with each other with Christ at center. This is a wonderful congregation with much important ministry to do in the world. May we do our best to support one another as we go forward.
May the peace of Christ be with you!