Delegates call for Transgender Remembrance Sunday; Approve Accessible for All Resolution

Delegates call for Transgender Remembrance Sunday; Approve Accessible for All Resolution

By Tiffany Vail
Associate Conference Minister for Communications

HARTFORD, CT - At the 150th Annual Meeting of the Connecticut Conference, delegates not only voted overwhelmingly to move toward forming a new combined Conference with their Rhode Island and Massachusetts counterparts, they also passed resolutions calling on churches to mark Transgender Remembrance Sunday and calling on the Conference to be an Accessible to All Conference.

The meeting was held as a part of the first-ever Tri-Conference Annual Meeting with the other two conferences at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

The United Church on the Green, UCC, in New Haven brought the Resolution Recommending Churches of the Connecticut Conference Mark Transgender Remembrance Sunday, specifically to mark it on the Sunday before Nov. 20. The church's Kathryn Thomas explained that Nov. 20th is recognized internationally as Transgender Day of Remembrance, and that date was chosen in honor Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was stabbed 20 times.

Thomas said the church had sponsored the resolution because they learned from personal experience: a trans person who had transitioned while attending their church stopped attending because church members had difficulty "not mis-gendering her" and calling her by the wrong pronoun.
Board Chair Mark Engstrom looks over meeting materials during the Connecticut Conference plenary
"This is a way for us to remind ourselves, to teach ourselves to honor each person for who they are and who they choose to be," Thomas said. "All God's children have a right to be who God has created them."

The Rev. Nicolette Siragusa of the Bolton Congregational Church UCC, said that "part of the reason we need such a day is because trans folk, particularly trans folk of color, are targets of violence. The day is meant to denote understanding and empathy as well as provide space to grieve those who have been lost."

The Rev. Greg Gray, Pastor of the Thompson Congregational Church UCC, said last week marked the 13th trans person of color to be murdered this year. 

"it’s a staggering statistic and it happens year after year after year," he said. "The church has something to say about this, and for us here in the United Church of Christ in Connecticut, we should have something to say about this."

Delegates passed the resolution by an overwhelming margin. They also unanimously passed a Resolution of Affirmation for the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ to Become an "Accessible to All" Conference.

The Rev. Thea Racelis, pastor of the South Congregational Church of Middletown, which brought the resolution along with the Conference's Disabilities Ministries Team, said: "As a church we affirm and we celebrate that we’re all made in God’s image, whether we are temporarily able bodied or if we live with any kind of disability. We hope that our Conference can reflect this by becoming accessible to all."

Marty Knight, a member of South Church and the Disabilities Ministries Team, said accessibility is not only about making buildings accessible. "Equally important is that attitudes of people are equally welcoming to people with disabilities," she said, and as an example said "there are some people with disabilities that have mannerisms that sometimes offend people."

Other delegates spoke about invisible impairments, such as vision and hearing, that it is important for churches to be aware of.

One delegate questioned what the resolution will mean for Conference facilities. Conference Minister The Rev. Kent Siladi acknowledge that the Conference office building, which occupies three floors without an elevator, is not accessible. He said a study had been done several years ago about the feasibility of moving the office, and that will be an issue to be discussed again moving forward.

Delegates, with relatively little discussion, approved the resolution to join with the Rhode Island and Massachusetts conferences in forming a new Conference.

Board Chair Mark Engstrom, who is finished his seventh year on the board, urged delegates to move forward with the proposal.

"I have appeared before this meeting more than once with news of shrinking congregations, church closings and consolidations and general financial woe. I have to be honest with you, I make myself depressed listening to myself. I often drive home in a funk from these meetings," he said. "This is a purely anecdotal observation on my part, but it appears to me that this cloud of pessimism has started to dissipate since we’ve started talking about the possibly of forging a collective future with our sisters and brothers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I will always remember the feeling I had when our joint Board meeting broke this past January. There was a genuine sense of joy in the air, and I had no doubt in my heart that God was calling on us to be together."

Engstrom also shared a story about hearing a preacher featured on television news recently who expressed the fundamentals of Christian belief as "hating liberals, hating Obama, hating abortion and hating same sex marriage."
Rev. Kim, Moon-Hee, Moderator of the Kyung-Ki Presbytery PROK (Gyeonggi Presbytery), weighed in on the Tri-Conference vote in his translated remarks, saying: "I am confident that the three conferences in Southern New England will be bound together for the foreseeable future and will be a model of beautiful cooperation and unity that is pleasing to God."

"That, my friends is not an articulation of Christianity that I recognize," he said. "How can a Christian minister possibly frame the fundamentals of our faith in terms of hate? Yet that  is often what is presented as the Christian point of view in our public discourse. I am sick and tired of seeing my faith hijacked. We simply have to find a better way of explaining that Christians did not build their church on fundamentals of hate, but rather on fundamentals of love; that we don’t stand against people, but rather welcome people regardless of who or what they are or where they are on their faith journey."

"That’s why I think it's important for the southern New England conferences to merge together," he said. "It'll be critical mass that will amplify our message of extravagant welcome and love."

But Kathy Fratoni, a member of the United Congregational Church of Tolland, asked what happens if the Conferences join together, and then 10 years down the line one of them decides to separate.

"I've been part of a yoked church, Baptist and Congregational, we had what they call a divorce," she said. "I’ve got to say as a Christian, it was the most horrific time."

Siladi said he doesn't see that happening.

"My hope would be that we would be so clear in our mission and ministry and the impact that we might make together, that that would in fact keep us sealed in a covenant together," he said.

The Rev. Bridget Fidler, Pastor of the First Church of Christ, Congregational, in Suffield, said she has already been collaborating with folks from the other Conferences - as one of the planners of this Annual Meeting, as part of a Pastoral Excellence Program and as a Board member.

The members of the Annual Meeting planning team, she said, were "all amazed at how smoothly and wonderfully we were able to work together and at how each Conference brought something to the table."

"All of these programs and opportunities have given me a sense of what we can build together with our colleagues, lay and ordained, from Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts," she said. "I am convinced that my ministry and experiences as a member of the Unite Church of Christ has been enhanced, expanded, and enriched by the relationships, and I believe the collaboration will serve us all."

Former Conference Minister the Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree also weighed in.

"Many of you have asked me what I think. I think this is a fabulously faithful adventure and I am enthusiastic about the future," she said. "I think this is a golden opportunity, and it is in perfect keeping with the history of the United Church of Christ."
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