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Open and Affirming: St John United Church of Christ, Defiance, Ohio

st john united church of christ
St John United Church of Christ, Defiance, Ohio

Great news from the land of Christian fundamentalists and right-wing Republicans…St John United Church of Christ in Defiance has officially come out of the closet. Tim McDonough, religion writer for the Defiance Crescent-News, reported today that St John’s is now an open and affirming church, a designation given to churches who welcome gays and same-sex couples into their assembly.  Here’s an excerpt from McDonough’s front page article (behind pay wall):

Following a 16-month discernment and education process, the congregation of St. John United Church of Christ in Defiance has voted to become an open and affirming church. Open and affirming is the United Church of Christ’s designation for congregations, campus ministries and other bodies in the UCC, which make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

“This process really began back in April of 2013 when we were having a congregational meeting,” said Pastor Bob Jencks, who has been serving in an interim role at the church since August of 2012. “We were having a discussion about our identity and our purpose when someone said, ‘we’re the liberal church in town.’ I asked, ‘what does that mean?’ The response was, ‘we’re open and affirming.’

“The truth is, we were not,” continued Jencks. “I explained that there was a process we had to go through to have that designation. At that time, there was only one church in northwest Ohio that was, and that was First Congregational United Church of Christ in Sandusky. The pastor there (Lenore Kure), was at one time the director of Christian education here, so we reached out to her, talked about the process, brought that information back here, where it was voted on that we begin that process.”

Melissa Davies, chairperson of the open and affirming committee, explained that the process was all about educating the congregation as to why St. John UCC wanted to have the designation. “The UCC denomination is pretty progressive, and within the denomination churches have the opportunity to signify themselves as open and affirming, after a discernment process,” said Davies. “At the end of the process, churches vote whether or not to carry that distinction. We started with a series of educational congregation-wide sessions, where we learned what science has to say about sexual orientation, what the Bible has to say about sexual orientation, and how quotes from the Bible are used to ostracize people.”…

…At a congregational meeting in January of this year,a vote was taken to see if St.John UCC would become an open and affirming church. With more than 50 percent of the church in attendance,the vote to carry that designation was a resounding 52 for, and only two against. “To be in this part of Ohio, which is more traditional, that vote was surprising,” Davies said. “We know we tend to be more progressive leaning on social issues, but it was a little strange in our meetings when we realized that a pushback that we thought we would get, really just wasn’t there for a large majority of our congregation…

…Both Davies and Jencks do expect that some members of the congregation may stop going to church at St. John UCC since the vote, and both expect some feedback from the community. “We haven’t had anyone come out and tell us they are leaving the church, but if anyone has, they haven’t been vocal about it,” said Davies. “We really just want to be a welcoming place to worship.” Said Jencks: “We haven’t heard anything yet (from outside the church), but this is conservative northwest Ohio. We’re taking this stand because it is a social issue, we believe it’s an important one, and we believe Jesus accepts all people…

I can’t wait to see the letters to the editor from local Christian culture warriors who are deeply offended by St John’s rejection of their fundamentalist homophobia and bigotry. Should be an entertaining couple of weeks. I think I will wait until all the fundamentalists are done venting their spleen before I write a letter to the editor. Might as well let the chosen ones have the first word.

Congratulations to Pastor Jencks and the fine people of St John United Church of Christ for willingly putting equality, justice, compassion, and science first. They rightly recognize that far too many local Christians use the Bible to abuse others, denying them the right to love and marry whoever they want.

For you who live in more progressive areas, you might not realize how big of a deal this is. Tonight, despite the pain I am in, I feel good. It’s nice to see goodness and decency prevail in at least one corner of rural NW Ohio.


  1. Avatar

    Living in Eastern MA, churches of many denominations have rainbow banners and signs in support of equality- it seems normal to me, and it’s a good reminder to not take it for granted. Having spent my early childhood in a UCC church I am not surprised either- I didn’t realize until I was a teenager that some denominations thought women shouldn’t be ministers, since I grew up with seeing one.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I have to do the same. I need to remind myself that not every part of the country is like where I live. There are many places where a church becoming open and affirming would have elicited a yawn. Here? I suspect local fundamentalists will be quite animated and outraged. I can’t wait for same-sex marriage it be legal. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Becky Wiren

      I live in the same area, and there ARE gay people here. I’ve worked with some of them. Anyway, the point is, the church is welcoming to ALL.

      • Avatar
        Bruce Gerencser

        Yeah, Steve’s a good friend of mine. I know his humor and sarcasm well. Unfortunately, not everyone is as well schooled in Steveism. 🙂 There have always been gays in this area…closeted, but much more open today.

        • Avatar

          Yep, that was my point, lol; gay people wouldn’t even bother to try & live there.

          But, I’m glad I’m wrong & there are gay folks there; (I’m wrong, once every hundred years or so 🙂

          • Avatar
            Becky Wiren

            Well, I’m a liberal 56 year old woman with 2 adult disabled sons, with a 66 yr old husband who has to still work. All of us are liberals and we’re STUCK in this area (not far from Bruce). There is good and bad, but it is largely conservative Christian Republicans.

            But, we can’t afford to live in the liberal Northeast or West. Oh well. My preference would be live around a mixture of people, races, religions, politics, etc etc.

            The gay people I know grew up around here. One young man I worked with in retail is now a massage therapist in Defiance. So he’s not leaving the area yet.

  2. Avatar
    Suzanne Titkemeyer

    I’m sure you’re going to see all sorts of Good Christian ™ types come out of the woodworks to tell the parishioners at St. John that they are going to hell. Think it’s something in that part of Ohio’s water that seems to be prevalent there and everywhere else. Having my own Ohio experience right now with someone from that part of the world. More on that later. Bruce, are you familiar with the fundy community in Findlay, Ohio?

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Yes, I went to Jr High and High School in Findlay. I attended an IFB church, Trinity Baptist Church. I am sure I am out of the loop somewhat, but Polly and I go to Findlay several times a month to eat, shop, etc.

      When we first moved to Findlay in 1971, we attended Calvary Baptist, a GARBC church. Having pastored in Ohio for many years, I still know many of the older fundy pastors throughout the state. I am sure they would like to forget me. 🙂

      • Avatar
        Becky Wiren

        If this church had come forward about 5 years ago, I might have attended. Although if I knew someone there I could see visiting. But my religious views have moved a bit too far away from theirs. Wish them the best of luck though!

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