Rainbow Connections

4/4/2019
By Debby Kirk

Silver Lake Conference Center Director the Rev. Ryan Gackenheimer welcomes people at True Colors.
March 22, Storrs, CT – True Colors Executive Director Robin McHalen greeted the energetic crowd like a pastor kicking off a revival worship service.  

“We are going to do something magic here,” she called. “For the next 48 hours, we are going to create a world that everyone wants to live in. We are going to make sure that every human being feels welcome here!  Turn to your neighbor and tell she/him/them ‘you belong here!’” 

True Colors is an annual event that attracts over 3000 LGBTQ youth from across the state and around New England.  The theme of the 26th event was “This Is Me.” On this rainy Friday in March, the atmosphere inside was one of jubilance as youth from the full spectrum of gender orientations were welcomed and affirmed.   

Leaders in the gay community greeted the assembly before they dispersed to workshops.  This year newly elected CT Kid Governor, fifth grader Ella Briggs of Avon drew cheers when she named her platform commitment of LGBTQ safety.   

“I decided I wanted to run when someone came up to me to tell me they were part of the LGBTQ  community, but they were too afraid to tell anyone. I felt my heart break for them. I want to help all the kids who feel like that to feel free to be who they are,” said Briggs. 

Youth attended workshops on range of topics from gay pride, passing culture, and activism to spirituality. 

Rev. Alice O’Donovan, Bridge pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd in West Woodstock led “The Bible: Voice of Hope or Word of Death for Sexual Minority Folks.” 

Initiated several years ago by The Rev. Sue Foster of East Woodstock Congregational, a display table with Open and Affirming (ONA) information has become a fixture at True Colors. This year the Connecticut Conference and Silver Lake Conference Center, as well as Immanuel and Tolland Congregational Churches, had tables that shared our extravagant welcome. Volunteers agreed that the UCC presence at True Colors is an important outreach ministry. 
 
The Rev. Christa Swenson at the CTUCC ONA Table at.True Colors
Youth hovered over the large state map to see if there was an ONA church in their hometown.  They were interested to know that there are 107 ONA congregations in CT and over 1500 in the United Church of Christ nationwide. Some asked how they can help their congregation in initiating the ONA process. Many stopped to learn about our inclusive outdoor ministry programs at Silver Lake.

“It felt like it mattered. I loved being there with congregants and sharing the experience with them. I loved seeing kids so freely and fully themselves. I connected with kids, their teachers, therapists, and people from other booths,” said The Rev. Christa Swenson of Mystic. “This experience has pushed us to begin to think more concretely about how we publicly declare our ONA welcome.” 

Other volunteers named intentions for follow up.  One said she is thinking about offering free tutoring to True Colors kids.  Another was going to look into mentoring or fostering an LGBTQ teen. 

“I plan to set up a meeting with Gay/Straight Alliance at our local high school and community college,” said Pastor Paul Doyle of Park Congregational in Norwich, our newest ONA congregation. 

“At Silver Lake I regularly talk about God loving you to the deepest core of your being, not because of anything you have ever done or anything you will ever do, but simply because you ARE.  The True Colors event was one of those moments, when 3000 LGBTQ youth, adults, and allies were able to be all that God created them to be and to simply be loved because of all they are.” said The Rev. Ryan Gackenheimer, Executive Director of Silver Lake. 

Click here for ONA resources  

To support Open and Affirming Ministry  donate online  

Debby Kirk, CTUCC Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, is the ONA Liaison for the conference.