High Street Congregational votes to be 'open and affirming'

AUBURN — Fred Sanborn felt his church's embrace before.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Partners Peter Silvers, left, and Fred Sanborn sit in the High Street Congregational Church in Auburn. The Lewiston couple supported the church's vote Sunday to welcome gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.

But High Street Congregational Church in Auburn never some felt as warm to him as it did Sunday morning, when 73 members raised their hands to make his church everyone's church.

Members agreed to designate the church as "open and affirming."

"I wasn't expecting it," Sanborn said of the overwhelming vote. "I thought some people would vote against it."

When that time came, only one did.

That means that the church will not only welcome people of many sexual preferences — straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered — but it will embrace them in every ceremony. And it will perform marriages, even if the state may see them as nothing more than committal ceremonies.

More important, the designation makes a statement to Lewiston-Auburn, Sanborn said, the church's clerk and a gay man. 

"The community will know that we are open and welcoming," said Sanborn, who met his partner, Peter Silver, at the church. "We aren't discriminating against anybody."

The Auburn church took its time before Sunday's vote.

For 15 months, there were meetings and workshops, materials to read and ideas to talk about.

The issue had split other churches, the congregation knew.

The Episcopal church has undergone pains over the sexuality issue. Members may be gay. Even its priests may be gay. But when a gay bishop was elected, it caused a national re-examination of the issue.

Catholics and many protestant denominations say they welcome gay and lesbian individuals into their churches but preach against homosexuality.

Other churches, such as the Unitarian Universalist Church, have been leaders in the effort to embrace people of every sexual preference.

And Congregational churches were the first to ordain both women and gays.

To the Rev. Stephen Carnahan, High Street Congregational's pastor since March 2010, such decisions as Sunday's are a simple matter.

The Baltimore native had a rough family life as kid. It made him feel life on the fringe.

"Having gone through life as one of the excluded, I don't want to be part of an exclusive community," Carnahan said. "I don't want to do that to anybody else. I wanted the church to say, 'You're welcome here.'"

He spoke about it in Sunday's sermon.

"Jesus was not afraid to go to those who were cast out," he said. "And I don't want to be afraid to do that either."

He also talked about the change with his son, who is gay. Excluding him is unthinkable.

The dad imagines one day presiding at his son's marriage.

"One day I might," Carnahan said.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

I second that YES!

Thank you, Fred. To you and all Mainers who have the courage to stand up for love and acceptance in the face of fear and ignorance that only serves to divide us.
Progress. One step, One Heart, One Person at a time.

Thank you, Thank you!

Mike Miles's picture

Language

The writer may not know it, but by using the term "Sexual preference" he is weighing in on one of the issues that people have about homosexuality. Is it a situation in ife that one is born into, or is it a choice? Most gay and lesbian people feel they were born that way. The more neutral term would be sexual orientation.

KATHRYN PENDLETON's picture

Yes!

A very good decision has been made. Hopefully other churches will follow. Being shunned by Christians is wrong. Nice to see the faithful thinking for themselves. That's why God gave us a brain!

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