I will make my covenant between me and you.

Gen. 17:2 NRSV

An Open and Affirming covenant is more than a statement, policy, declaration, or an amendment to a congregation’s by-laws. A covenant is an act of faith, a solemn promise to God in response to God’s holy Word. An ONA covenant is a serious step for a congregation in its life of faith.

In a church covenant, a congregation seeks “to walk together in all God’s ways” (Constitution of the United Church of Christ).

In the New England Reformed tradition, a church covenant was affirmed by the congregation as a body after a time of prayerful discernment. As a contemporary expression of this tradition, an ONA covenant is grounded in prayer, Bible study and dialogue “according to the rule of love” (1638 Dedham church covenant).

Explore this page to learn how UCC congregations have framed their ONA covenants plus read some FAQs about ONA covenants below.

Examples of covenants

The Giving Circle Church, Mililani, HI

In the beginning, God created diversity, made all of humankind in the image of God, and God saw that this was good. However, the Christian church has historically denied the full dignity of those with diverse expressions of gender and sexuality, and failed to celebrate the full spectrum of loving human relationships that give meaning to our lives and reflect the love that God shows to each one of us. The Giving Circle Church seeks to be an agent of healing and reconciliation in communities that have been silenced and dehumanized by false interpretations of the Good News: God’s love poured out for all humankind. Therefore, we declare ourselves to be an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ, advocating the full inclusion of all people regardless of sexuality or gender identity in the vital life of the congregation, the association, conference, and national setting of the United Church of Christ. Furthermore, The Giving Circle Church commits itself to ending the systemic injustice faced by people of all expressions of human diversity, including race, class, ethnicity, national origin and residency status, age, ability, sexuality, and gender expression throughout our society.

Giving Circle Church
United Church of Christ Congregational Boxborough

First Congregational UCC, Alexandria, MN

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [John 13:34-35} There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3:28] Because we value our sacred scriptures and how they inspire us as people of faith, we reference these passages in making the following statement of welcome. We as members of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Alexandria, MN, know that the love of Christ that we are commanded to share extends to all of our neighbors, including our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender neighbors whom we claim as our siblings. We believe that no matter your race, culture, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or economic status, you are first and foremost a beloved child of God. We celebrate the gifts of all in our pulpit and in our pews; and we see God in all of us. We pray all people of faith will heed Christ’s call to be known by our love. We declare ourselves to be open to and affirming of all people. We recognize our unity in diversity welcomes the many diverse gifts of God among us. Through our diversity we will strive to grow and practice a unity of faith that transcends our differences.

United Church of Christ, Congregational, Boxborough, MA

In the beginning, God created diversity, made all of humankind in the image of God, and God saw that this was good. However, the Christian church has historically denied the full dignity of those with diverse expressions of gender and sexuality, and failed to celebrate the full spectrum of loving human relationships that give meaning to our lives and reflect the love that God shows to each one of us. The Giving Circle Church seeks to be an agent of healing and reconciliation in communities that have been silenced and dehumanized by false interpretations of the Good News: God’s love poured out for all humankind. Therefore, we declare ourselves to be an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ, advocating the full inclusion of all people regardless of sexuality or gender identity in the vital life of the congregation, the association, conference, and national setting of the United Church of Christ. Furthermore, The Giving Circle Church commits itself to ending the systemic injustice faced by people of all expressions of human diversity, including race, class, ethnicity, national origin and residency status, age, ability, sexuality, and gender expression throughout our society.

United Church of Christ Congregational Boxborough
Congregational Church of Pinehurst, NC, UCC

Congregational Church of Pinehurst, NC, UCC

The Congregational Church of Pinehurst, UCC, is called to follow Jesus’ way of love, justice, and inclusion. We do this by:

  • facing issues of faith openly and honestly
  • nourishing the spirit of God within us all
  • creating a caring community that celebrates human diversity
  • respecting the wisdom of other religious traditions
  • working with others to create a just society
  • promoting the sustainable and equitable use of the earth’s resources

To that end we receive with respect, and nurture with intention, the gifts of all who come to us on the journey of faith. We invite everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, physical or mental challenges, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, to join us in the life and leadership of our congregation, and in our ongoing commitment as an Open and Affirming Congregation.

Old South Church, Boston, MA

The Old South Church in Boston, in the name of its host, Jesus Christ, and in the spirit of Christ’s invitation carved into the stone of this church’s portico, “Behold I Set Before You an Open Door,” welcomes all who seek to know God.

Following the One who we believe is Sovereign and Savior, we affirm that each individual is a child of God, and recognize that we are called to be like one body with many members, seeking with others of every race, ethnicity, creed, class, age, gender, marital status, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to journey together toward the promised realm of God.

We invite everyone to join in the common life and mission of our reconciling community through participation and leadership in this congregation, and by fully sharing in the worship, rites, and sacraments of this church.

As we all move forward with the work of this church, we commit ourselves to making justice and inclusivity a reality in this congregation and in the world. On the threshold of Christ’s open door, we rely upon the healing, unconditional nature of God’s love and grace to be our help and guide.

Old South Church, Boston, MA
rainbow flag hanging from a church entrance next to a welcome sign

Frequently Asked Questions

It affirms an explicit WELCOME to persons of all “sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions” (or persons who are “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary”) into the full life, ministry and sacraments of the church (e.g. membership, leadership, employment, marriage).

No, not if you wish to be listed by the Coalition as an Open and Affirming congregation. LGBTQ Christians have learned from painful experience that a vague welcome often doesn’t include them and their families. The words are important. Just as a marriage covenant normally centers on an exchange of vows, an ONA covenant shows that the congregation is serious about its commitment to LGBTQ inclusion.

No. A nondiscrimination policy, while important, is different from an Open and Affirming covenant. A covenant is more than a policy, but a solemn promise to God in response to God’s holy Word.

Most ONA churches expand their welcome to persons of every race, ethnicity, age, economic circumstances, mental and physical ability, etc. Some congregations also include a welcome to single parents and their families, to military service members and veterans, or to those of every faith and faith background.

Usually, but not always. Some churches adopt an ONA covenant by a vote of their governing body. Others develop a process to reach a consensus without a formal vote. In either case, the covenant should be adopted as an official action of the congregation. The covenant should express a commitment by the congregation as a body, and its members should gather to affirm the words of the covenant during worship on Sunday morning.

Please complete this online certification form.

The Coalition staff is ready to help. Call us at 216-736-3789 or write office@openandaffirming.org.

How to renew your ONA covenant

Your Open and Affirming covenant is the beginning, not the end, of your mission as an ONA congregation. Vital ONA churches renew their covenant once a year—either on the anniversary the covenant was affirmed by the congregation, or (preferably) on Open and Affirming Sunday (the fourth Sunday of June). The annual renewal is an opportunity for a program of study in ways the congregation’s ONA commitment can be deepened and expanded. Some ONA churches, for example, will begin a study of the transgender experience several months before ONA Sunday and then celebrate an amended covenant that includes an explicit welcome to transgender seekers. Other churches will organize educational experiences leading up to ONA Covenant Sunday on issues like marriage equality and basic civil rights, bullying and suicide, care for LGBT seniors, and evangelism. Contact the Coalition at office@openandaffirming.org for music and worship resources to help you celebrate your ONA Covenant Renewal.