History of the Welcoming Congregation Program

In 1987 the Unitarian Universalist Association established the Common Vision Planning Committee, a diverse group of clergy and laity from around the North American continent that was tasked with collecting information about how welcomed and accepted gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons felt in their Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations.

Although the Unitarian Universalist Association had been on record since 1970 as supporting the rights and worth of lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons, the lived experience of these people in UU congregations spoke a different, painful truth. The committee published a report (PDF, 21 pages) that exposed many negative attitudes, deep prejudices, and profound ignorance about bisexual, gay, and lesbian people, which resulted in the exclusion of bisexual, gay, and lesbian people from UU congregations.

This reality troubled many people who were committed to making UU congregations welcoming and inclusive places for all people, especially minority groups who have traditionally experienced exclusion, discrimination, and misrepresentation within our society. Citing the principles of our UU faith—especially the one that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person—the 1989 General Assembly voted to initiate the Welcoming Congregation Program recommended by the Common Vision Planning Committee.

In short order, the Welcoming Congregation Handbook was developed, edited by Rev. Scott W. Alexander (Director of the Office of Lesbian and Gay Concerns), with the help of many diverse contributors. The first edition of the handbook was released in 1990, and brought together 10 workshops and other resources for helping congregations intentionally take steps to welcome people of all sexual orientations.

New editions of the handbook were released in 1995, 1999, and 2002. The 1999 edition was revised, with the editorial work of Rev. Meg Riley and Rev. Keith Kron, to be more inclusive of transgender identity, bisexual identity, and race/ethnicity and sexuality, among other things, and four new workshops were added: “Racism and Homophobia/Heterosexism,” “The Radical Right,” “Bisexuality and Biphobia,” and “Transgender Identity: What it Means.”

Since the Welcoming Congregation Handbook had not been updated since 2002, and much has changed in the lives of LGBTQ people, it was discontinued in 2014. Although in the early years of the program the Handbook may have been treated in and of itself as the Welcoming Congregation Program, this is no longer the case, as so many more resources are now available from the Unitarian Universalist Association and elsewhere. The program is meant to be custom designed by members of a particular congregation to take their unique needs and situation into account. Read more about how to run the Welcoming Congregation Program.