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A prayer for pride

BACKING LGBT:  Dublin Community Church coming out in support

  • Bill Goodwin, a trustee and "go to guy" for Dublin Community Church, fixes the rainbow banner the church hung over the weekend. This banner, which will be up for the next two weeks and will be brought back out for holidays, is the first LGBT pride banner to be hung at the church.
  • Bill Goodwin, a trustee and "go to guy" for Dublin Community Church, fixes the rainbow banner the church hung over the weekend. This banner, which will be up for the next two weeks and will be brought back out for holidays, is the first LGBT pride banner to be hung at the church.
  • A two-car crash on 202.
  • A two-car crash on 202.

Early Tuesday morning, Dublin resident Bill Goodwin repaired the damage of Monday evening’s strong rain and winds at Dublin Community Church. Using bungee cords, he put back up a rainbow-striped banner that stood out as colorful and cheery against white backdrop of the church’s front pillars. The banner, distributed by the United Church of Christ, reads, “God is still speaking.” This message is the title of the UCC’s national campaign to make religion relevant and welcoming to all.

This banner is the first of its kind for the Dublin Community Church, according to Goodwin, who is the church’s self-described “go-to guy” and is also a former church trustee. The rainbow flag, which has been used as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s pride symbol since the 1970s, went up last weekend, coinciding with the Monadnock Area CROP Hunger Walk hosted by the Dublin church on Oct. 5.

“It was a conspicuous reminder that we are there and active,” Mary Loftis said of the church over the phone Wednesday. Loftis is a 30-year member of the church and the CROP Walk organizer.

Nancy Cayford, who also lives in Dublin and who has been a member of the Community Church for 35 years, was the one who had asked for the banner. “I saw something similar in Brattleboro and it was so good-looking,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I emailed the trustees and word got out, and eventually someone offered to pay for it.”

This rainbow banner, which Cayford said is for general diversity just as much as it is for gay rights, is the first for the Dublin church, though the congregation has been openly welcoming to the LGBT community for eight years. The church, which is a member of the national UCC community and is in the N.H. United Church of Christ Conference, declared itself “open and affirming,” or ONA, in September 2005. According to the UCC website, ONA is a formal designation for any one of the 5,100 UCC congregations in the nation that lets people of different sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions know they are welcome.

Churches spend about two years in the ONA process, first learning about LGBT issues through speeches, films, meetings with other churches and reading materials, and then discussing whether the ONA designation is the right way to go. The Dublin Community Church “studied for a very long time,” according to Cayford, and then took a church-wide vote.

“It passed very easily,” she said. “Our parishioners were a little braver than the rest of us and thought we were ready.”

Loftis, who has also been a deacon for the Dublin Community Church at various times for a total of seven years, said the ONA vote was almost unanimous. “We were so gratified that it didn’t become a divisive issue,” she said.

Cayford noted how important the education and mission statement-writing process was in becoming ONA-designated. “We are subjects of our upbringing,” referring to how prejudices are formed by the environments people grow up in. “As part of the ONA process, we had to write a mission statement that showed up-front how we were open and affirming, and that was so good for our church,” she said.

The Dublin Community Church joined the 16 other UCC-ONA churches in New Hampshire at the time, including the United Church of Jaffrey, which was the second New Hampshire church to decide to adopt the ONA designation over 20 years ago. Though each UCC congregation decides whether it would like to be ONA or not, the New Hampshire UCC Conference passed a resolution in 2005 declaring it to be an “Open and Affirming” conference. Many of the individual churches followed suit, with 17 more New Hampshire UCC congregations — including the one in Dublin — becoming ONA in the last eight years.

For others, like the Union Congregational Church in Peterborough that don’t have the ONA designation yet, “it is a possibility” according to the Rev. Jill Small, interim pastor of the Peterborough church and a Peterborough resident. For the moment though, Small, who moved to Peterborough in August, has not heard any discussion about the issue. “Nobody’s come to me to talk about it,” she said. Small added, “I am not aware of any openly gay members, though there are people associated with the congregation who are, family and friends of members.”

When asked, Loftis said the Dublin church does have some openly gay and lesbian couples.

Cayford confirmed that, though she pointed out that the church doesn’t ask that information of its members. “You don’t get identified by your sexuality here. That’s part of being open and affirming — it doesn’t make a difference.” Cayford later added, “I can’t think that anyone can’t be there in church and disturb my worship service. I never thought of ‘open and affirming’ that way until the ONA process.”

Though the Dublin Community Church has been outwardly supportive of the LGBT community for quite some time, one wonders why the church didn’t have any rainbow flags up before now. Cayford cited timidity as the issue: “I think we were too timid to bother some people in the church, or maybe I’m just projecting and being too timid myself.”

This assessment probably isn’t too far off, as the United Church of Jaffrey has seen hostility, including theft, in the past for the rainbow flag they have had out front since shortly after their 1992 ONA declaration. The current pastor of the church, the Rev. Terri Motley, does not see any conflict in her own congregation, however. “It’s part of who we are,” she said over the phone on Wednesday.

This appears to be the case in Dublin as well. Despite past fears, it only took Cayford’s email for the Dublin Community Church to display the rainbow banner.

Loftis was involved in the decision-making process, which she said was made over the phone between the deacons and trustees and was “very informal.” Loftis didn’t seem to think the banner was anything out of the ordinary.

“It’s only a matter of time until other states join New Hampshire, Vermont, Oregon, California and all the other states that have legal marriage equality,” she said, for gay couples. “For people of my children’s generation, people in their mid- to late 20s, it’s a non-issue. It will take a while to seep in, but culture will shift.”

Cayford reflected on the change in churches to accepting and offering love to people of all different backgrounds and walks of life, including those with different sexual orientations or gender identities and expressions. “I know it’s growing,” she said. “It’s growing everywhere.”

Church members said their rainbow banner will remain on the front of the church for two weeks and will be used again periodically for special events.

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