By Jamie Rhodes
WICHITA - More than 70% of the American adult population identify as Christian, according to a Pew Research Center 2014 study. Out of those 70%, 54% agree homosexuality should be accepted and not discouraged by society. Those 54% of church members generally come from a younger population rather than from the older congregational members.
Most elders and traditional Christians follow the teaching of the Bible where they are taught homosexuality is a sin and those who “live that lifestyle” don’t have a place in heaven.
As Rollin Dillinger, a Deacon at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Wichita, put it, “We’re not literalist. We have to understand when that particular [Bible] passage of scripture was written, to whom and by who. If you understand the context, it sometimes sheds light on the actual meaning.”
Dillinger has been with Pilgrim United Church of Christ for about three years, and he is happy to say that they are now one of the newest churches in Wichita, making one of the 27% of congregations in the U.S., that is a part of the largest church movement welcoming the LGBT community. This movement is known as “open and affirming” (ONA).
Attending Pilgrim United Church of Christ, one could expect the same thing as from any other church, from the usual singing in the workshop service, prayers, scripture readings, preaching, fellowship and communion. The only difference? Those who consider themselves a part of the LGBT community don’t have to worry about being judged for their sexual orientation, identity or gender expression.
On May 23, Pilgrim UCC, 6000 E. Harry, along with Fairmount UCC, 1650 Fairmount St., have adopted the following covenant:
We, the United Church of Christ congregations of Wichita, recognize that all persons are created equal in God’s image and are loved, valued, and blessed by God. We are inclusive and diverse churches; places of unconditional love that inspires all individuals in our communities, regardless of race, culture, age, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ability and socioeconomic status. We invite all to share in the life, leadership, ministry, fellowship, worship, sacraments, responsibilities, blessings and joy of our congregations as we seek to ‘grow together in faith and love.’
For a church to become ONA, there is a process involved that deals with questions, filling out all the right forms and finally the congregational vote for the official designation.
Deacon Dillinger invites everyone to, “Come on down!” Pilgrim UCC has a close-knit congregation of around 50 people.
According to Dillinger, ONA churches don’t have one way to describe God or Christianity. “They are known for letting people form their own opinion. I don’t think the denomination would say ‘this is it.’ The denomination doesn’t tell people this is what you need to think or believe to be a part of it.” The most important aspect of the ONA covenant is, “Everybody is welcome.”
Dillinger’s favorite Bible passage is one that represents his life and reflects the ONA church. It is 1 John 4:19 “We love because God loved us first.” l