A few weeks ago, worshipers at First Congregational UCC in Anoka and St. Paul’s UCC in Delano arrived to find protesters holding signs outside on Sunday morning. The Pastor in Delano, Rev. Bridget Haefner, invited the protester to come into the church, but he declined telling her “women aren’t supposed to speak in church.” Pastor Bridget reminded her church members, some of whom were upset at this public challenge to their support for LGBT friends and relatives, that the law allows anyone to protest as long as they don’t interfere with people coming or going and they don’t trespass. In Anoka, church members invited the protesters to worship and offered to bring them hot chocolate, but both offers were declined. Rev. Chris McArdle, Pastor of the Anoka church, was preaching that day on the story of Nicodemus (Gospel of John, chapter 3) which includes the famous line about being “born again.” When one of the elders of the Anoka church struck up a conversation with the protesters, they asked him “Are you born again?” This began to feel, Pastor Chris said, like a “hilarious cosmic joke,” with the protesters’ presence making his sermon stronger. Church member, Zilla Way, referred to the protesters as “living props.” Pastor Chris said he was proud of his congregation for demonstrating hospitality.
Word about the protests spread fairly rapidly to the Conference ONA Team, and through their Chair, Rev. John Fiscus, to Andy Lang, Executive Director of the national Open and Affirming Coalition. Both groups offered support and advice. Andy Lang said if either church wanted to “go public” about this, the Coalition could ask its 11,000+ Facebook family to post messages of support and encouragement. The Anoka church, which has had protesters before, used social media to post photos and rally members. St. Paul’s in Delano, one of a number of churches in their area to have protesters in recent months, chose not to go public in order to deprive the protesters of additional media exposure.
If your church has protesters or picketers at any time, let the Conference know. Our staff, ONA Team, and the 46 ONA congregations of the Conference stand ready to offer support, encouragement, and advice.