Photo Gallery | "Signs of Welcome" service at South Church United Church of Christ

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Rev. Joel Huntington presides over "Signs of a Welcome" service at South Church in Pittsfield

Rev. Joel Huntington presides over "Signs of a Welcome" service at South Church in Pittsfield on Sunday

Tori Jameson gives sermon at "Signs of a Welcome" service at South Church in Pittsfield

Tori Jameson gives sermon at "Signs of a Welcome" service at South Church in Pittsfield (II)

PITTSFIELD -- Rainbow banners festooned the lawn of the South Congregational Church on Sunday, as members and supporters of the church observed "Welcome Sunday" to affirm their commitment to an open and neighborly community.

The church is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, which has long been known as being supportive of and welcoming to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered individuals. But Sunday's ceremony was an official affirmation of that philosophy, according to the Rev. Joel Huntington, pastoral minister of the church.

About 45 parishioners were on hand for the Sunday morning event.

UCC Intern Tori Jameson was the sermonist. She spoke of the historical strides in the community and nationwide against discrimination.

"The issue of the day is rights recognition," she said. "That is, persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and allied."

Massachusetts has now had 10 years of equal marriage, said Jameson, and the rest of the country is following suit. In addition, she said, legislation is in place in many states that prohibit discrimination in the job and housing arenas.

Rainbow significant to bible

The rainbow flags and banners displayed around and outside the church, said Jameson, "are a sign of welcome for all transgressional boundaries."

Following the Call to Prayer, Huntington explained that the rainbow was significant in the Bible. After God sent a flood own to wash away the people of the earth, he relented, said Huntington. According to Genesis, the rainbow became God's sign that all living creatures have his blessing.

The congregation also sang "Amazing Grace" three times during the ceremony. The song, said Huntington, is significant to this particular celebration. The author of the song, he said, was 18th century English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725-1807).

Newton was also a slave trader. And while the song speaks of redemption and forgiveness for all, "the one group of people [Newton] did not initially see as needing redemption were the Africans on his ship."

Eventually, he said, Newton had a very spiritual experience and in 1755, gave up his slaving career to study theology. He wrote "Amazing Grace" in 1779.

Early in the ceremony, Ann Roche, head of Children and Church Ministries, led some of the children in the parish in a prayer.

"Like all the colors that make up a rainbow," they prayed. "It takes many different people to make up a world.

"We are all connected, because God needs each of us. Amen."

To reach Derek Gentile:
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