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First Congregational Church celebrates LGBT Pride, one year of inclusion

New London — The altar of the First Congregational Church was adorned with the LGBT Pride Flag while co-pastor Sara Ofner-Seals donned a rainbow stole and rainbow shoes Sunday.

The congregation was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall protests and its first anniversary since becoming an official "open and affirming church." The United Church of Christ is a Protestant denomination of more than 5,000 churches that call for acceptance of all people regardless of color, sexual orientation or creed.

For a message of acceptance, Ofner-Seals read from the Gospel of Matthew.

"You are the salt of the earth," Ofner-Seals read. "But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."

Ofner-Seals spoke on the importance of self-expression and acceptance.

"There are a great and wide varieties of salt," Ofner-Seals said. "People need to celebrate their uniqueness and bring their own flavor to God's world."

Ofner-Seals then ceded the stage to Judy Schiavone, a regular member of the congregation who identifies as a lesbian.

Schiavone talked about her journey to acceptance after coming out in 1978. She spoke on the struggle of finding family, a community and a church that would accept her for who she was.

"Because I am a lesbian, I was not welcomed in churches," Schiavone said. "Six years ago I came here and was accepted for the first time. I really believe God led me here, and this community has cared for and nurtured me."

The Stonewall protests occurred in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a bar that was a safe place for many LGBT individuals living in New York City. Police raided the bar and began to arrest patrons for being gay. People resisted arrest and fought police, bringing the modern LGBT rights movement to center stage.

The actions reverberate today as LGBT individuals fight for acceptance, self-expression and adoption rights for same-sex couples. Stonewall and LGBT rights are celebrated and fought for during the month of June, commonly known as Pride Month.

Ofner said that the church decided to hold this event as a way to reach out to Christian LGBT individuals and let them know they have a safe space in their community. Schiavone encourged anyone needing help to join.

"I hope there are LGBT people out there who can find us," Schiavone said. "I hope we can help them on their journey and help them find their way to God."


Editor's Note: The First Congregational Church has been a member of the United Church of Christ since the 1950's. Also, a quote was inaccurately attributed to the Rev. Sara Ofner-Seals.


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