In the spring of 2019, the First Parish Standing Committee convened a task force to begin the process of fulfilling the UUA requirements to become designated as a Welcoming Congregation. The COVID 19 pandemic slowed but did not stop our efforts; we continued to host educational events and community programs for the public, and address congregational processes of welcome & affirmation (full list of achievements & programs below).
On February 6th, 2022, at the annual meeting of the congregation, First Parish Church in Weston unanimously voted to accept recognition as a Welcoming Congregation!
At the end of the 2021-2022 church year, the UUA officially confirmed First Parish as a Welcoming Congregation. We consider this to be only the start of our welcoming journey, and we are committed to renewing our welcome through ongoing education, spiritual reflection, and community outreach.
The Welcoming Congregation Process
In the 1980s and 90s, when the word “welcoming” became a code word for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) launched a Welcoming Congregation Program to help us learn how to undo homophobia—and later, transphobia (prejudice against transgender people)—in our hearts and minds, our congregations, and our communities.
The official requirements for recognition as a Welcoming Congregation are:
- Measurable achievements in the areas of education, congregational life, and community outreach, using the Welcoming Congregation Guidelines and Action Steps as a guide.
- A congregational vote in affirmation of being recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Welcoming Congregation.
The First Parish Welcoming Congregation Task Force was originally convened with this charter: “To organize and coordinate a program to help First Parish become more welcoming and inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities with an ultimate goal of being certified as a UUA Welcoming Congregation.” The Task Force had a direct liaison to the Standing Committee and included representation from the Officers of the congregation. The Parish Minister & Assistant Minister attended Welcoming Congregation meetings and contributed their support/guidance. The committee met monthly from 2019 through the winter of 2022, even during the pandemic.
Timeline of Programs & Achievements
March 17, 2019 – Rev. Keith Kron lead worship as a guest preacher and then presented an after-church program called “Beyond Categorical Thinking.” The program was well attended and well-received. Shortly after this, our Welcoming Congregation Task Force was formed.
September 2019 – First Parish began offering the OWL curriculum in our Church School program for the first time.
October 24, 2019 – FPCW Book Group discusses Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt.
February 9, 2020 – First Parish welcomed members of Greater Boston PFLAG for a presentation to the congregation.
March 1, 2020 – Rev. Paul Langston-Daley offered lead worship as a guest preacher, and offered an after-church forum called “LGBTQ 101,” which presented an educational space where members could ask whatever questions they may have.
March 2020 – The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic briefly interrupted plans for any further spring programs, but the committee rallied to continue the work.
Fall 2020 – During the 2020–2021 church year, our religious education take-home packets featured modules on LGBTQ families & inclusivity.
January 3, 2021 – First Parish added the following message to its weekly Sunday worship bulletins:
“First Parish Church has long welcomed people with different perspectives, backgrounds, and orientations. While we currently pursue formally becoming a Welcoming Congregation, we happily welcome all people as part of our 21st-century community and church.”
April 25, 2021 – The First Parish Denominational Affairs Committee invited the Rev. Michael Crumpler, LGBTQ and Multicultural Programs Director to speak during our Sunday Fellowship Hour. He offered a short presentation, and we set aside some time for Q&A and discussion.
May 7, 2021 –The First Parish Welcoming Task Force brought the Peace Flag Movement to Weston. We invited First Parish members and friends to pick up a flag from church and fly it as a symbol of equity and justice – for the earth, and every culture, race, spirituality, gender, sexuality, ability, and age. First Parish is now listed as an official Pick Up Site for the Peace Flag Movement. First Parish donates to the Peace Flag Movement to keep a stock of flags, which are available for free in our church vestibule. We invite anyone who takes a flag to donate to the Peace Flag Movement as well.
May 25, 2021 – Several First Parishioners participated in OUT MetroWest‘s virtual training session “LBGTQ+ Basics and Beyond.” This course aims to give clergy, staff, and congregants tools to be welcoming and inclusive neighbors, friends, and loved ones.
June 13, 2021 – First Parish Church in Weston held its first LGBTQ+ Pride-themed service and invited the Weston community to join us for “Lawn Games & Lemonade” with a rainbow/Pride theme.
October 21, 2021 – First Parish hosted a forum featuring Rob Coburn, a member of the Board of Directors of Freedom to Marry, and the Vice-Chair from 2012-2016 (a term which encompassed the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and the federal recognition of marriage equality in 2015). His presentation was entitled “Welcoming, Inclusion, and Equality” and it was followed by an opportunity for questions and discussion.
February 6th, 2022 – At the annual meeting of the congregation, the First Parish Church in Weston considered and voted upon the following motion:
The Welcoming Congregation Taskforce offers a motion that it is with great pride and joy that First Parish Church in Weston accept the recognition as a Welcoming Congregation, as defined by the criteria of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The motion was seconded and passed by a unanimous vote of the congregation.
June 2022 – First Parish updated the main sign on the front lawn to permanently include a rainbow horizontal stripe along the bottom.
Our Ongoing Commitments
In addition to these specific events, we have a number of ongoing projects or structures that were initiated before or during our initial Welcoming Congregation program, and that we continue to support today.
- We began a thorough review of our church documents to confirm the use of gender-neutral language and LGBTQ+ welcome. There is a nondiscrimination clause in the First Parish Personnel Manual which specifically includes sexual orientation.
- First Parish has one bathroom that is a “family” or single-stall bathroom; as we consider updates to our interior signage, the bathroom will be expressly designated as gender-neutral.
- Books supporting LGBTQ+ identity were added to the First Parish Library and are available for borrowing (the current list is on our main LGBTQ+ Welcoming page).
- First Parish will continue to celebrate Pride festivities in June and include other worship services and LGBTQ+ Days of Observance throughout the year.
- Rev. Jeff Barz-Snell and Rev. Sarah Napoline are both clearly and enthusiastically willing to provide pastoral services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer milestone rituals such as weddings, baptisms, and gender-affirming ceremonies for members of the congregation as well as non-members and the wider public.
- First Parish uses the hymnal “Hymns of Truth and Light” and many historic hymns are not gender-neutral. The Welcoming Congregation Task Force began exploring the possibility of including a disclaimer at the front of the hymnal and an invitation to employ inclusive versions of lyrics as people sing.
Community Presence & Programs
- We frequently hold speaker events and other educational forums, and work to intentionally include topics relevant to LGBTQ+ inclusion & affirmation.
- First Parish’s Outreach Committee provides annual financial support to OUTMetroWest, which builds communities where LGBTQ+ youth thrive. They currently run more than a dozen youth meetings per month out of locations in Framingham, Newton, and Wellesley. Since 2011, OUT MetroWest has directly served more than 1,000 youth at its meetings, has conducted dozens of trainings for local schools and organizations, and has welcomed thousands of supporters to its community events.
- First Parish continues to build a LTGBTQ+ affirming presence online, including anti-discrimination and inclusivity messages on social media profiles, a rainbow of hearts in the footer for our website, and a web page (www.FirstParishWeston.org/LGBTQ-Welcome) that expresses our support for LGBTQ+ community and informs congregants about our progress toward become a Welcoming Congregation.
- First Parish is in the process of analyzing how we present ourselves in our interior space, which will include updates to our literature & pamphlets; we are very intentionally including pamphlets from the UUA about LGBTQ affirmation & inclusion, and will be seeking out pamphlets and info sheets for local resources and organizations.