|First Congregational Church UCC of Stamford|
by Rev. Jane Ann Groom
STAMFORD (09/19/2012) -- First Congregational Church (UCC) of Stamford, Open & Affirming since 2007, began to display a giant rainbow banner on their stone edifice during Lent of 2012 as an emblem of exquisite hospitality and as a symbol of God's universal love revealed in Genesis 9:13. Since hanging the rainbow banner, First Church has started a non-sectarian youth group called The Rainbow Café, which meets weekly for the community's LGBTQ youth and their allies. The Café, led by two church members and one non-church member, is finding traction among young people in the area so that every gathering sees returning faces as well as new faces joining.
This ministry is a bright spot at the church, for it creates a safe space and offers support, advocacy, and community for one of our most vulnerable constituencies, LGBTQ youth. In addition to being a stimulus to begin this exciting ministry, the rainbow banner has served as an evangelical tool, drawing a steady stream of visitors to the church in the weeks since its hanging. Some of these guests are becoming regular attendees, and at this writing several have chosen to affiliate with the church as full members.
First Congregational entered an interim ministry period in October 2011, with leadership from interim pastor the Rev. Dr. Jane Ann Groom who notes, "Like most mainline churches, FCC is struggling with paradigm shifts in a changing cultural landscape. Among the questions asked among the congregation has been the question about identity: 'Who are we?' By choosing to display the rainbow banner so boldly, the church has determined to live more fully into its Open & Affirming status that is proving to be a lively path of discovery, not without its detractors. However, the affirmation among strangers has been noteworthy: From the carpet cleaner that worked on the church rug, 'I'm not a religious guy and I don't go to church, but if I did, I'd come to one like this that welcomes everyone.' To a youth new to the Rainbow Café, 'I can't believe a church would hang a rainbow banner and welcome us in like this!'"
Dr. Groom continues, "I hope that even LGBTQ people who will never come through the church doors can see the banner and say to themselves, 'Maybe not all churches condemn me. Maybe there is a God who loves me.' The message of FCC's rainbow banner is simply that: God's gracious love for all people, no one excluded."
The Rev. Jane Ann Groom is interim pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Stamford.