June 13, 2023
United Church of Chapel Hill Renews and Expands Open and Affirming Covenant
The commitment marks 30 years of intentional inclusivity and affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C., June 13, 2023 — The congregation of the United Church of Chapel Hill renewed its 30-year commitment to supporting, advocating on behalf of, and affirming the LGBTQ+ community by entering into a revised and more expansive covenant.
UCCH members adopted a new Open and Affirming Covenant by unanimous vote at a called annual congregational meeting on Sunday, June 11. The Covenant, effective immediately, guides the congregation through four movements: Turn, Celebrate, Covenant, Commit.
The recommitment comes during June, celebrated as Pride Month, and 30 years after the church signed its first Open and Affirming Covenant. UCCH first made explicit their affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community during a time when few Christian churches were publicly taking this stand.
In a letter to the congregation, Rev. Mary Elizabeth Hanchey shared, “I am thrilled that we have the opportunity to vote in favor of updates to our Open and Affirming Covenant. It is an important opportunity for our church to reaffirm our commitment to include, support, advocate on behalf of, and affirm the LGBTQ+ community.”
“We want all in the LGBTQ+ community to hear this clearly: You are beloved. You belong there. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God,” promised Rev. Hanchey.
The Chapel Hill congregation’s recommitment comes as the United States experiences a surge of hateful and inhospitable treatment of those in the LGBTQ+ community, with a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being considered and passed in state legislatures, including in North Carolina. The Human Rights Campaign also recently took the unprecedented step of declaring a “state of emergency” in light of the dramatic rise of anti-LGBTQ+ actions. This week also marks the seventh anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
The United Church of Chapel Hill seeks, with the new covenant, to counter that hatred and serve as a place where all of God’s children with the myriad of sexualities and gender identities are celebrated, accepted and protected.
These are the commitments included in the covenant:
- We commit, with God’s help, to putting our faith into action by loving, celebrating, and accepting everyone as created in the images of God. God is still creating. We anticipate the unique identities in God’s creation yet to be revealed.
- We commit to learn, grow, laugh, and lament together. We know this is a continuing effort.
- We commit to our ongoing growth and the practice of God’s extravagant welcome.
Celebrating the vote, Revision Committee Coordinator Jill McArdle shared, “I’m so grateful that our congregation of UCCH chose to further extend God’s table. Our revised covenant makes it more abundantly clear, by using explicit and expansive, modern language, that the LGBTQ+ community is welcomed here.”
A statement from Vicki Gardner who participated in creating the original Open and Affirming Covenant as well as the Revised Open and Affirming Covenant:
“In 1993, my partner at the time and I participated in the multi-year process as this congregation determined what becoming an Open and Affirming church would mean. We were a part of the group who gathered at the Saturday retreat to write the original covenant. For me it was about spiritual survival and making a home for myself and so many others who could not be both members of a church and honest about their sexual orientation.
I have been a member of United Church for more than 30 years now. During that time, the congregation has grieved with me the loss of my relationship with my first partner as well as the death of my parents, celebrated with me the birth, baptism, and confirmation of my son, consecrated my new life with Patricia and our new blended family, and laid hands upon our various physical infirmities. In and among all that joy and sorrow I have never felt separated from God’s love, not for one dadgum minute.
Our 1993 covenant did not age well and many of us felt like it was not as inclusive as it needed to be thirty years on. If we believe in our hearts that no one is separated from God’s love, we need to have a covenant that says so plainly. I’m proud of the work and proud of this church. Thanks be to God.”