Equality NC Honors Equality Hero, Hendersonville First Congregational Church
By Jen Jones on 07/17/2012 @ 01:12 PM
Hendersonville, N.C. - Equality NC asked you to nominate "Equality Heroes"—unsung North Carolinians who worked tirelessly to defeat Amendment One—and you responded with dozens of local leaders who did their best to defeat the discriminatory rewrite. Equality NC is proud to recognize Hendersonville First Congregational Church, nominated by Clay Eddleman.
Hendersonville First Congregational Church was nominated by Clay Eddleman. We thank all the citizens of Hendersonville and Laurel Park who voted against Amendment One, and we thank each and every member of Hendersonville First Congregational Church!
From Clay Eddleman:
I would like to nominate Hendersonville First Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) as a local Equality Hero for being the ONLY church of the over one hundred churches or houses of worship in tiny, conservative Henderson County (population 100,000 in western North Carolina) to come out publicly AGAINST Amendment One. Under the leadership of The Reverend Doctor Richard Weidler and Moderator Ed Argue through 2011 and Moderator Mark Fagerlin starting in 2012, First Congregational Church took a leadership role in opposing the amendment.
FCC is a member of the Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ. Like many churches, its congregation is significantly older, but one that takes seriously its motto "Our Faith Is Over 2000 Years Old; Our Thinking Is Not." Its Open and Affirming Statement reads as follows:
As Christians and members of First Congregational United Church of Christ, we are a diverse group of people. We are persons of various ages, races, gender identities, accomplishments and goals, abilities, sexual orientations, theological and political beliefs, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. In our diversity we find strength and a way to understand the inclusiveness of God. We recognize each individual as a child of God. We welcome all people to join in our common mission through participation and leadership in this communion of faith.
Shortly after the passage of Senate Bill 514 and using some initial resistance by some congregants as an opportunity to learn, First Congregational formed its first social justice group to coordinate internal and external efforts against the amendment. Additionally, a small, community-based, grass-roots group of LGBT supporters opposing the amendment sought to use the church building as a meeting place, given that there were few other places in the county which would allow such a meeting. Again, using some initial resistance by some congregants, who viewed the amendment as a political issue not appropriate for church involvement, as an opportunity to learn how marriage equality is indeed a social justice issue, FCC agreed for the group, several members of which attend FCC, to meet at the church.
Starting in the fall, First Congregational used its Sunday morning forums, which are announced in the local newspaper and are open to the entire community, to make presentations, including "Implications of the Marriage Amendment," "The History of Marriage," "The Theology of Marriage," and "The Marriage Amendment and the Social Justice Ministry of Jesus." Unlike many, if not most, of the ministers in Henderson County who were actively encouraging their members to vote FOR the amendment while condemning homosexuality in general, Rev. Weidler spoke from the pulpit nearly weekly in some way about the social justice ministry of the New Testament and about opposing Amendment One.
On April 21, FCC sponsored a community/panel discussion with five experts in their fields: a theologian from Davidson College, a social worker from the local Council on Aging, a businessman from Raleigh, an attorney from Asheville, and a retired psychiatrist from Emory University, all of whom opposed the amendment. One attendee was the president of a local Tea Party group, who commented that "I cannot believe ANY church would sponsor a panel like this." Following two congregational open discussions, the congregation overwhelmingly voted to oppose Amendment One as a congregation AND to voice that opposition by taking out three one-half page ads shortly before the primary in the local Times-News, again being the ONLY church of the over one hundred churches or houses of worship in Henderson County to oppose Amendment One publicly. Following their vote, the church put up numerous signs opposing the amendment along the two roads forming the intersection where the church sits and kept them there through the primary.
It should be noted that although the name is Hendersonville FCC, the church is actually in the small town of Laurel Park with a population of approximately 2,000. The town has only two traffic lights and one blinking light at the four-way stop where First Congregational sits across from the town hall. Partly due to the outspokenness of the church, the ads in the paper, and the signs at a major intersection in the town, the Laurel Park precinct was the ONLY precinct in Henderson County actually to vote AGAINST Amendment One: 48.73% FOR and 51.27% AGAINST, whereas Henderson County at large voted 66.27% FOR and 33.73% AGAINST compared with the state's 61% FOR and 39% AGAINST.
Locally, First Congregational Church, which has an active Sunday attendance of only 110, has both been congratulated on its bravery for speaking out in this religiously and politically conservative county AND has been condemned publicly and privately for opposing Amendment One and for doing so publicly.
We're so proud to continue profiling local heroes for equality who fought the good fight against Amendment One.
Please click here if you'd like to make a donation to Equality NC. If you'd like to nominate your own Equality Hero, please email me at email@example.com. Describe your hero's selfless work against the amendment and be sure to include a photo!