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Welcome Without Limits: A Welcoming Congregation Profile of the Midcoast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Members of the Midcoast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship's Welcoming Congregation Committee. Left to right: Sandra Barth, Carol Robins, John Adams, Julia Fitz-Randolph, Kate Pennington, and the Reverend Erika Hewitt.

Members of the Midcoast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship's Welcoming Congregation Committee. Left to right: Sandra Barth, Carol Robins, John Adams, Julia Fitz-Randolph, Kate Pennington, and the Reverend Erika Hewitt.

The Midcoast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (MUUF) is a small congregation in rural coastal Maine. Founded in 1982 and initially lay-led, MUUF now has a half-time minister and 49 members. MUUF has always been the spiritual home to people with a passionate commitment to social justice. Over the years MUUF members have put their faith in action on a variety of issues, including antiwar, antiracism, and antisexism efforts, protection of the environment, and LGBTQ rights.

In 2012 several MUUF members took a leadership role locally in the statewide campaign to legalize same-sex marriage. Many MUUF members—gay and straight—joined the effort and made phone calls, knocked on doors, wrote letters to the editor, and participated in monthly public demonstrations in support of marriage equality.

Building on the success of the marriage campaign, MUUF’s dormant Social Justice Committee was reactivated early in 2015, and among its first priorities was to initiate the process of becoming officially recognized as a Welcoming Congregation. In May 2015, with approval from the MUUF Board of Trustees, the Social Justice Committee began sharing information about the Welcoming Congregation designation and process via the monthly newsletter. Two post-Sunday-service open conversations were also held. The committee emphasized that becoming Welcoming would not entail a predetermined checklist of activities but rather a process of assessing our congregation and identifying steps needed to ensure that LGBTQ people are full members of our faith community. An October Sunday worship service discussed the theological underpinnings for supporting LGBTQ rights.

At its November 2015 annual meeting, MUUF’s congregation added inclusion and anti-discrimination language to the Fellowship’s bylaws and voted unanimously to work toward becoming a Welcoming Congregation. A Welcoming Congregation Committee was established under the umbrella of the Social Justice Committee. That committee met monthly through the entire 2016 Welcoming process, and it continues as a standing committee as we affirm our congregation’s ongoing commitment to being Welcoming.

The work of educating and raising awareness within the Fellowship has been primarily through Sunday services and monthly newsletter updates. Worship services in 2016 included “The Intersectionality of Being Queer,” “Both Sides of the Fence” (by a transgender guest minister), “The Welcoming Dictionary” (focusing on terminology), “Some of Us Are” (on the power of partnering to achieve social justice), and a talk by the director of OUT! Maine, a local nonprofit organization supporting rural LGBTQ youth.

MUUF also has reached out to local community organizations and to other people of faith working toward equality and justice. MUUF members have met with the Mid Coast Queer Collective (another nonprofit supporting LGBTQ youth), and with the local chapter of SAGE, which supports LGBTQ seniors. In April 2016, MUUF held a daylong “Transgender 101” workshop exploring issues of gender identity and invited members of other local faith communities to attend. In June 2016, MUUF members displayed our banner at a silent vigil honoring those who lost their lives at the Orlando nightclub shooting. Later that week we carried that banner in the statewide Pride parade in Portland, joining several UU congregations marching along with the Maine UU State Advocacy Network. We continue to look for ways to be visible in the community.

Midcoast Maine is not always a safe or easy place for LGBTQ people to live openly. A segment of the population remains homophobic and transphobic, and LGBTQ Mainers face harassment and discrimination. There are no LGBTQ bars or community gathering places. As a Welcoming Congregation, MUUF is proud to embrace the LGBTQ community in all its diversity and to provide a spiritual home and a safe space for all. In the words of our brand new mission statement, adopted in May, “Our mission is to nurture spiritual growth, engage in justice, and love joyfully, without limits.” Being a Welcoming Congregation is one of the ways we live our faith and our mission.

The Midcoast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was recognized as a Welcoming Congregation in April 2017. MUUF would like to thank the UUA and its department of LGBTQ and Multicultural Programs for support and inspiration throughout this process.