WC1We are a Welcoming Congregation, recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association. This means we affirm and include people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer at every level of congregational life—in worship, in program, and in social occasions—welcoming them as whole people.

As a Welcoming Congregation we have pledged to:

  • honor the lives of all people and equally affirm displays of caring and affection without regard for sexual orientation.
  • celebrate diversity by using inclusive language and content in worship.
  • incorporate an understanding of the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons throughout all of our programs, including religious education.
  • affirm and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues and history.
  • affirm marriage equality and conduct same-sex weddings.
  • advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, promoting justice, freedom, and equality in the larger society. We speak out when the rights and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are at stake.

We recognize that there’s always something more to learn, and remain open to deepening our understanding about the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.


How We became a Welcoming Congregation

The UUA’s Welcoming Congregation Program is a completely volunteer program for congregations that see a need to become more inclusive towards bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people. It consists of a series of workshops with the goal to reduce prejudice by increasing understanding and acceptance among people of different sexual orientations.

Mountain Light UUC completed the requirements and received its letter of recognition from the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns in 2010 March. For more information on the Welcoming Congregation Program you can visit the UUA website: UUA Welcoming Congregation Program.

Beginning the Welcoming Congregation Program

In 2006 January, the congregation of Mountain Light Unitarian Universalist Church decided to embark on a two-year journey examining issues related to homosexuality and gender identity. Bruce Blaisdell, Janet Dunsmore, and Gary Kaupman agreed to serve on the planning committee. The Goals that they set for the Welcoming Congregation process were as follows:

  1. Explore thoughts, feelings, and current knowledge about sexual orientation and gender identity.
  2. Probe the origins of our beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity.
  3. Test attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identity in our church and local community and their connections to current social issues such as HIV/AIDS, racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and so on.
  4. Understand the experiences of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people.
  5. See the effects of heterosexism and homophobia on people of all sexual orientations and gender identification in UU congregations.
  6. Explore the relationship between religion and homosexuality.
  7. Devise individual and institutional strategies for MLUUC to become more welcoming to bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people and their families.

The process of becoming a Welcoming Congregation begins with the participating individuals examining their own beliefs, values, and experiences related to homosexuality and gender identity. To facilitate this process we used a self-assessment survey provided in the UUA curriculum. We linked this survey to our e-newsletter. Participants printed, completed, and submitted the survey at church so that anonymity could be maintained.

Using the curriculum published by the Unitarian Universalist Association, we scheduled Sunday Services every other month during 2006 and 2007 to explore these topics. Fred Crimi and Donna Waddell lead the Sunday Services. These special services focused on the Welcoming Congregation Program.

2006 Welcoming Congregation Program Services:

JAN 08, “Introduction to the Welcoming Congregation Process”
A program using the UUA curriculum format.

MAR 12, “What We Know and How We Learned It”
A program using the UUA curriculum format.

APR 02, “Political Activism in the State of Georgia on Behalf of People Who Are BGLT”
Our guest speaker was Chuck Bowen, Executive Director of Georgia Equality.

MAY 14, “Common Elements of Oppression”
A program using the UUA curriculum format.

JUL 09, “The Radical Right”
Our guest speaker was Rev. Heather Collins, UUA minister. Rev. Collins identified passages in the Judeo-Christian Bible that are commonly used to denounce the “homosexual lifestyle”.

OCT 01, “Gender Socialization and Homophobia”
Our guest speaker was Joseph Zolobczuk, Education & Training Specialist, Yes Institute, Miami FL. Joseph used magazine advertisements to illustrate a point about the pervasiveness of gender roles and expectations.

NOV 12, “Religion and Homosexuality”
A program using the UUA curriculum format.

2007 Welcoming Congregation Program Services:

JAN 28, “The Experience of Being Transgender”
Our guest speaker was Katz, Athens Boys Choir. Katz told his story about being F-t-M transgender and the process he is undergoing to transition to male. He entertained questions from the audience.

MAY 06, “How Homophobia Hurts Us All”
A program using the UUA curriculum format.

JUN 10, “Bisexuality and Biphobia”
We did not have a guest speaker. We could not identify anyone who openly identifies as bisexual. We used the UUA curriculum on this topic and identified our beliefs and misperceptions we have about bisexuality, concluding that probably everyone is bisexual, depending on your definition of “bisexual”.

AUG 12, “The Experience of Being HIV Positive in Rural Georgia”
Panel Discussion including Morris Griffin and Kasey Castleberry, both members of MLUUC. The responses of the congregation were, “Powerful”, “Courageous”, and an increased compassion and understanding of their experiences.

NOV 18, “Where Do We Go From Here”
A program using the UUA curriculum format.

During services, we have participation guidelines when we discuss these topics. They are:

  1. Respect anonymity. Ask for confidentiality.
  2. Set own boundaries for personal sharing.
  3. Speak from personal experience. Avoid generalizing.
  4. Respect differences between others, between yourself and others, and even inside yourself.
  5. Use effective communication skills. Use “I” statements. Let people finish their thoughts. Allow opportunities for all to speak, particularly introverts.

One phase of the process involved examining our church and how it functions to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person, including those who are homosexual and transgender. Another phase examined MLUUC’s relationship with the surrounding community. We held one public meeting on 2006 September 30 titled “Difficult Dialogues: Talking about Being Gay in Rural Georgia” (see below).

Difficult Dialogues:

Talking About Being Gay in Rural Georgia

As a part of The Welcoming Congregation process we scheduled a public meeting on 2006 September 30 to discuss being gay in rural Georgia. Posters were distributed in public places, invitations were sent to several churches in Gilmer and Pickens County, and announcements were distributed to members of the local gay community. Everyone in the local community was welcome to attend and present their point of view on sexual orientation. The intention was to provide a forum where all points of view could be valued and heard. This was an opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion about and with the gay members of our local community.

This is a topic that rarely gets mentioned in public discourse. Even members of the local gay community seldom talk about what life is like for them in rural Georgia.

The speaker and program facilitator was Joseph Zolobczuk, Education and Training Specialist, Yes Institute, Miami FL. Joseph created an atmosphere where we could experience generous dialogue and honor divergent points of view.

The principles of the Unitarian Universalist denomination promote and affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings. Many people believe that other religious denominations are not as accepting and tolerant. We hoped that this forum would provide the opportunity to dialog with community members from other faith communities.

The meeting was successful, but not in the way we had expected. As the discussion progressed we came to realize that we have difficulty talking about being Unitarian Universalists in the community. We concluded that we need to work on talking about who we are as UUs before we begin talking about what it means to be gay or lesbian (or an ally) in the community.

Fred Crimi planned to discuss with the board a retreat for the entire congregation where we can discuss our UU identity, face the fears we have about talking about being UU among the more traditional Christians in the community, and develop skills in having this conversation in our everyday lives.

Welcoming Congregation Application

The following is the application for requesting Welcoming Congregation status sent to the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns. It was submitted by Kasey Castleberry, Lead for the Welcoming Congregation Team, on 2010 February 26 to the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns (now: Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Ministries).

SUMMARY:

Congregation: Mountain Light Unitarian Universalist Church

Location: Ellijay, Georgia, USA

Vote: 2010 February 14 to request WC status: 19 yes, 0 no (out of 26 possible)

Action: We completed various workshops, reached out to the community, and affirmed welcoming language in all our presentations.

Future: We plan on continuing our journey by following up on all the steps.

Greetings,

Mountain Light UUC is a lay-led congregation and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association. We are a liberal religious congregation that embraces people of all faith backgrounds or none. We welcome people from any culture, race, political affiliation, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, and walk of life. We are united by shared values and not by creed or dogma. Our congregation is a place where people gather to nurture their spirits and to put their faith into action by helping make our community – and the world – a better place.

We are a small congregation, averaging about thirty members, in Ellijay, Georgia, a very conservative area of the country. Though these limitations prevent us from attaining some of our goals to the extent that we would like, we are committed to welcoming all people. We explicitly would like to be known as a Welcoming Congregation and voted to undertake a journey to gain that recognition.

Believing that we have achieved all applicable action steps in the process, on 2010 February 14 we voted in affirmation to seek recognition as an official Welcoming Congregation by the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns. A brief summary of the Action Steps and how we attempted to meet them is below. Thanks for your consideration.

The Questions and Responses

    1. Offer religious education that incorporates bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender (BGLT) life issues, including the workshop series from the Welcoming Congregation Program.
      Mountain Light UUC (MLUUC) has no standing Religious Education programs. Instead, we incorporate educational messages into our Sunday services programs. As such, we have presented numerous programs related to BLGT issues, including programs from the workshop series.
    1. Promote participation by the congregation’s minister, religious education minister or director, president, and/or moderator in the Welcoming Congregation Program.
      MLUUC has no minister or RE director on staff, but our Welcoming Congregation Team (planning committee) and Presidents have been actively involved in this process, including serving as presenters for many of the programs.
    1. Offer a congregation-wide workshop program(s), with follow-up opportunities for study and reflection.
      Being a small congregation with a geographically dispersed membership, we opted to present the workshops suggested in the UUA curriculum as Sunday service programs, about one every other month for two years. (For a detailed listing, please click here.)
    1. Use the Unitarian Universalist sexuality education program, Our Whole Lives.
      MLUUC has no standing educational programs of any kind; however, we presented a program entitled “Our Whole Lives — General Assembly Topic” on 2008 Sep 07. We rarely have youth attendees, and the average age of the congregation is somewhere above sixty, so emerging sexuality is not an issue that we need to address at this time.
    1. Form a broad-based Welcoming Congregation committee to offer programs and monitor progress.
      The team (original and current) has included males and females, heterosexual and BGL persons, single and partnered individuals, and came from differing backgrounds. (To date, we have had no one in the congregation that openly identifies as being transgender.)
    1. Adjust congregational bylaws and other relevant documents to include an affirmative nondiscrimination clause concerning membership, hiring practices, and the calling of religious professionals.
      Our congregational documents reflect inclusion. They were revisited during this process to confirm that the existing language was specifically welcoming to BGLT persons, revise it if when needed, and to include it where it was found missing. Examples:

      • Our bylaws (revised: 2009) state, “Each new member is expected to sign a statement in the membership book, agreeing to support the principles and purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association, including its policy that we welcome into membership all persons without regard to race, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, or national origin…”
      • The About Us page of our website reads, “We welcome people of faith or of reason, people from all cultural traditions and all ethnicities, people of any political affiliation or none, people of modest means and the affluent, people of any gender identity or sexual orientation, and people of any age and from any vocation.”
    1. Use inclusive language and content as a regular part of worship services, and provide worship coordinators and speakers with guidelines on inclusive language.
      Our weekly Order of Service (Sunday Bulletin) contains the following wordage: “we welcome people from any faith background or none, people of any cultural background, political affiliation, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, and walk of life.” Additionally, our standard greeting, offered at the opening of each service, was reworded to purposely welcome BGLT persons. (It appears at the opening of this report, also.)
    1. Provide main worship space and ministerial services for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender rites of passage, such as services of union and dedications of children.
      MLUUC has never received a request to provide space or time for special rites of any kind, since we have neither regularly attending youth nor newly formed couples, but we would happily accommodate the needs of those who might make such requests.
    1. Welcome bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender persons in the congregation’s brochure.
      Our brochure contains the same welcoming phrase that appears in our Order of Service and expressly welcomes people of any gender identity or sexual orientation.
    1. Ensure that publications, public information, and programming reflect the requested status of any individual as s/he sees appropriate; recognize same-gender couples in directories and other publications as they desire.
      Unless requested to do otherwise, our member contact directory lists significant others together, without bias toward the gender identities or sexual orientations of the partners, whenever they share the same address.
    1. Celebrate and affirm bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender issues and history during the church year (possibly including Gay Pride Week in June or National Coming Out Day in October).
      Information on special events, such as Gay Pride and Standing on the Side of Love, is published in our newsletter and is orally offered during announcements at Sunday services. BGLT issues are included in Sunday programs when appropriate.
    1. Participate in and/or support efforts to create justice, freedom, and equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people in the larger society.
      During Atlanta pride, we have sent members to help staff the Interweave booth and march in the parade.
    1. (again) Provide main worship space and ministerial services for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender rites of passage, such as services of union and dedications of children. (This guideline is also listed as number 8 under Congregational Life.)
      MLUUC is joyfully awaiting the opportunity.
    1. Establish and maintain contact with local bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender groups to offer support and promote dialogue and interaction.
      Unfortunately, other than one social club (which has declined church interaction), there are no known BGLT groups locally.
    1. Advertise in the local press and/or other media that reaches the bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender communities.
      There are no local BGLT publications, but our ads in local newspapers state, “We are a welcoming community with open hearts and minds.” Also, one of our visiting ministers contributes an article to the local paper as part of its religion rotation/presentations.
  1. Provide use of building space on an equivalent basis with other Unitarian Universalist organizations when requested by members for programs and meetings of an Interweave (Unitarian Universalists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns) chapter.
    Though there are no BGLT groups in our area, per se, we have made our space available to the social club for its potluck dinners. At this time, we have no dedicated space (due to our rental agreement), but we gladly offer our allotted space to any affiliated group either before or after Sunday services.

Do you plan any further congregational action in this area?
To keep us regularly updated and aware of BGLT issues, the Sunday Services Team is considering an annual program to coincide with Standing on the Side of Love. Moreover, we are planning to have follow-up programs and refresher courses, especially for the benefit of new members. Our journey continues.

For more information on the Welcoming Congregation Program, please click here.

Notification of Acceptance

Some time after the application was submitted to the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns, Kasey Castleberry contacted Tracy Ahlquist, the program Coordinator, to inquire about how the process was going. She responded with the following email message.


From: Tracy Ahlquist
To: Kasey
Sent: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 6:02 PM
Subject: RE: Welcoming Congregation

Hi Kasey,

Thanks for your email. I haven’t had time to process your application yet, but I have had time to read it. I’m going to be out of the office for the next week, so I can’t process it officially until later in the month, but I’m happy to tell you that I’ll be sending your letter of recognition and Welcoming Congregation posters upon my return. Congratulations!

Kind regards,
Tracy

Tracy Ahlquist
Program Coordinator

Identity-Based Ministries
Unitarian Universalist Association
25 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 948-6475
www.uua.org/programs/idbm