On Behalf of the Old Stone Church
First Congregational Church of Rockton, affectionately known as “the Old Stone Church,” is part of the United Church of Christ, a larger parent denomination that includes local congregations, hospitals, colleges, and conference centers nationwide. Every local entity or congregation within the UCC values the covenant that we share together. We have staff at the national level, regional or state conferences, as well as local associations, that support and resource congregations to do the work we do. One of the UCC mottos is “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.” We call this “extravagant hospitality.”
However, no single congregation in the UCC is completely bound to the statutes, doctrines, or practices proclaimed by the wider church. We celebrate what we refer to as “local church autonomy” which simply means congregations are free to govern themselves and establish doctrines and practices that suit the local membership and represent the whole community. Consequently, most congregations are a cross-section or microcosm of the local community in which they exist.
The Old Stone Church (UCC) of Rockton, Illinois is as diverse as they come. We have democrats and republicans, liberals, moderates, and conservatives, former Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, fundamentalists, those who have no previous church background, and even those who proclaim the great outdoors as their sanctuary. So, to say we have a unified perspective on every social or theological issue is preposterous. We do, however, seek to function with certain Christian common denominators in mind, and work for unity despite our differences. Many members consider their church friends to be like “family.”
All of this is to say that no one person can represent the congregation as a whole. Not even the pastor. And considering recent controversies in the Rockton/Roscoe area, we simply must deny any “public” support on either side of the issues because that would not represent a consensus of the church membership. We do have people within the congregation who say that they support the library’s decision to host an event featuring a drag queen or who would even support the rights of a newly formed Rockton Pride group to hold a rally. But they do not represent the whole church. We also have people who strongly oppose the very same types of events or organizations or who represent a more conservative bent. But neither do they represent the whole church. We also have those who fall somewhere in between, and they don’t represent the whole church either.
There is a process within the United Church of Christ that gives member churches the opportunity to reflect on issues relating as they do to the LGBTQ community and the more progressive individuals and families that support them. It is an intentional and thought-provoking process utilizing a curriculum provided by a UCC coalition that engages church members in study, prayer, open/honest dialog, story sharing, and introspection; and typically takes a year to complete. At the end of the process, the issue is then presented in the form of a motion to the congregation for a final discussion and vote. If the majority vote supports the motion, then the local church is presented with a certificate that declares them “Open and Affirming.” This declaration thus represents the views of the majority of members within a congregation and becomes a part of their witness to the wider community and is the only situation where a congregation in the UCC can publicly proclaim a mission and purpose that supports, affirms, and welcomes those of all gender expressions.
Just down the road in Rockford, for instance, is the Spring Creek United Church of Christ. They were the first church in Rockford to become an Open and Affirming church. Their website (springcreekucc.org) offers a lengthy description of their beliefs along with their Open and Affirming covenant.
The Old Stone Church, though a member church of the United Church of Christ, is not an ONA church and cannot therefore make such a public declaration. Like most mainline churches, Old Stone Church will, to the best of its abilities, strive to be a welcoming community to anyone who comes to its doors possessing an open heart to experiencing our unique expression of God’s unconditional love. This is what God’s word teaches us at every level. We are not a perfect church and will therefore never claim to have all the answers. But neither will we judge others who differ from us in mission and purpose. And we can only ask that others not judge us for the way that we perform ministry. Judgement is reserved for God and God alone!
If there is one common denominator in the Rockton community, it is a desire for peace, understanding, and a mutual respect for all people. May we therefore all come together in seeking what is the common good for the people of our community and beyond. We at Old Stone Church will continue to pray for healing, sound wisdom, and for the much-needed end to all the hatred, division, and fear that is running rampant in our little town.
Approved and respectfully submitted on this day, July 12, 2023
The members of the Old Stone Church Council