First Congo branded border for hero banners

June 19, 2022 marked a truly glorious and historic day in the life of our family of faith. Our congregation overwhelmingly approved our Covenant of Inclusion. And just a few days later, our denomination, the United Church of Christ, approved our Covenant, granting us standing as an Open and Affirming church. Open and Affirming (ONA) is the United Church of Christ’s (UCC) designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other UCC bodies that make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.  We will now be listed on the UCC church map at reflecting our ONA status.   

Please take a moment to hear the meaningful words of some of our members as we celebrated the First Anniversary of being Open and Affirming:

Covenant of Inclusion 

We, The First Congregational Church of Western Springs, United Church of Christ, strive to be people of extravagant welcome. We affirm that all people are created in the image of God, and we celebrate the diversity of God’s creation. 

As we seek to become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and endeavor to live out our shared mission, we respect and gladly receive persons of every race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, mental and physical ability, age, socioeconomic status, marital standing and family structure, and religious background. 

We affirm that the Holy Spirit gathers us as a congregation in which all persons are invited to participate in the life, leadership, ministry, fellowship, worship, sacraments, responsibilities, blessings, concerns, and joys of our community of faith. We hope and pray that by establishing and embodying this covenant of inclusion, we might fully follow Christ’s commandment to love God and neighbor and be a safe place where God’s love abounds. 

If you have questions or would like to connect further on this topic, please reach out to Rachel Shaw Callahan or any of the Pastors.

What does it mean to be an Open and Affirming Church?

“Open and Affirming” (ONA) is a movement of more than 1,500 churches and other ministries in the United Church of Christ that welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members. More than 350,000 members of the UCC belong to ONA churches—and our movement is growing rapidly.

After a time of study, dialogue and prayer, churches adopt an Open and Affirming “covenant” committing their members to welcome LGBTQ seekers, support their relationships, and advocate for their basic rights. All sacraments and rites of an ONA congregation are available to LGBTQ people, including baptism, confirmation, communion, and marriage. ONA churches take seriously the Bible’s admonition to “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7, NIV)

What does it mean to be truly inclusive?

Our congregation’s Inclusion Team will continue conversations on the topic of being actively and proactively inclusive, welcoming, and loving to all. In that spirit, we hope to give continued and expanding life to our covenant of inclusivity and belonging at First Congo.

The team wants to hear from different voices to help ensure that our covenant continues to be grounded in faith and reflects our congregation’s commitment to compassion, respect, and unity.

Rachel Shaw Callahan and Heidi Bonjean are co-chairs of this non-constitutional committee. Several church members representing a broad spectrum of our community are on the team, which also includes Pastors Rich and Meredith as ex-officio members. Amy Baldwin, our church moderator, and Kathy Vega, our associate moderator, also serve as ex-officio members.

We invite you to reach out to Rachel Shaw Callahan or any of the pastors with your questions, thoughts and ideas about what it means for First Congregational Church of Western Springs to be an open and affirming church.

Our Commitment to Celebrating Diversity & Differences

At First Congregational Church of Western Springs, we believe in the power of inclusion. Inclusivity extends beyond welcoming individuals from all walks of life—it means embracing those with Autism and special needs wholeheartedly. Inclusion entails offering the same activities to everyone while providing necessary support and services to accommodate diverse needs. We actively reach out to individuals with disabilities, striving to understand and appreciate their differences, fostering a sense of belonging within our community. As we recognize April as Autism Awareness Month, we invite you to explore our resources to learn more about Autism, supporting our commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive environment for all.


The Proud History of Pride Flags 


Gilbert Baker, a friend of San Francisco’s openly gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk, designs the first rainbow flag. The then eight-color flag first flew over the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in June of 1978.  Baker was inspired by the United States flag, with its series of stacked lines, and also by the pop art of the time.  It was hand-sewn and measured 30 x 60 feet.  “We needed something to express our joy, our beauty, our power.  And the rainbow did that”, Baker said. 

The original LGBT pride flag contained the colors hot pink, meant to represent sexuality, and turquoise, meant to represent art.  Hot pink was removed from the original pride flag because fabric and dye in that color was difficult to find.  Turquoise was removed to make the flag appear symmetrical when hanging vertically. 

man waving pride flag

Michael Page designs the bisexual pride flag, a three-color design. Page explained that the pink represents same-sex attraction, the blue represents opposite-sex attraction, and the purple overlap represents attraction to both. 

bisexual flag

Monica Helms, a transgender woman, creates the transgender pride flag. The light pink and blue represent the colors traditionally associated with girls and boys, and the white represents transitioning, neutral or undefined genders, and intersexuality. “[N]o matter which way you fly it, it is always correct, signifying us finding correctness in our lives,” Helms said of the flag. 

transgender pride flag

The White House, lit up in the rainbow colors after the US Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. The Supreme Court ruled on June 15, 2020 that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, handing the movement for LGBT equality a stunning victory. 

White house in pride

Following an outcry over racism in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, the city commissioned the design of a new eight-color flag with black and brown stripes to recognize the contributions of LGBTQ+ people of color. The flag was unveiled at Philadelphia’s Pride celebration in 2017 and remains the official LGBTQ+ flag of the City of Philadelphia. 

8-color LGBTQ+ flag

Designer Daniel Quasar creates the “Progress Flag”, which combines elements of the 2017 Philadelphia flag and the trans flag with the traditional rainbow flag. According to Quasar, the colors in the chevron represent trans individuals, people of color, those living with HIV/AIDS, and deceased members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Progress Flag
Why the Pride Flag is an Important Symbol for Churches to Display 

Symbols facilitate understanding of the world in which we live, thus serving as the grounds upon which we make judgments.  We hope and pray that as a Christian congregation, when people see the cross displayed around and within our church campus, they know that we are a place where its members are striving to follow Jesus who calls us to love our neighbor. We would hope that when people keep a cross on their wall or wear it around their neck, it’s a sign of their identity and a signal to others that they’re a safe haven. But of course, we know that not all churches that display a cross welcome all people. In fact, we know that many have entered a Christian church only to be shamed and sent back out into the world because of their sexual orientation. Proudly displaying the pride flag symbol sends a message to the world that we truly are a safe haven, a true sanctuary, for all.   

“My experience shows that churches can play an important role in helping LGBTQ people integrate their sexuality and spirituality. Just seeing a rainbow flag in a worship setting can have a healing effect on sexual minorities. It expresses God’s love for LGBTQ people and counteracts the condemnation we have received in the name of religion. 

Of course using the rainbow symbol in churches is only an outward sign of a deeper commitment that must be expressed in action. As the Bible says, ‘Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ (James 2:17) 

Treat the rainbow flag with respect. Many have lived and loved, marched in the streets and even died because they are part of the LGBTQ community that it symbolizes. The rainbow flag has been hallowed by their courage and sacrifice. Our flag represents an honorable people blessed by God.”   ~ Rev . Kittredge Cherry 

“Ascension United Church of Christ is an Open and Affirming Church. We fly a rainbow flag. Last night a woman stopped by my house which is attached to the Church building. We were just about to serve dinner for some guests. I thought to myself this is not the best time. But I went to the door to speak with her. 

 The story is becoming familiar to me – very familiar. It goes sort of like this: “Hi, I drive past your Church every day. I see the Church, I see the messages on the sign. I wanted to stop in for a long time, but I haven’t. Today, I just . . . I just decided to stop.” Somewhere in the conversation there will be an apology. “I am sorry for bothering you.” It may take a long time for them to get to the reason they have been wanting to stop in at the Church.

“My child is gay.”  “Your church appears to be a welcoming place; my church isn’t.” “I don’t know why I haven’t stopped by sooner; we haven’t been to church in a while.” “We always went to church, but we have not felt welcome, you know, because. . . “ “I see the Church, I see the messages on the sign. I thought my child; I thought we might be welcome here at your Church.” 

We looked for ways to live out what it means to be an Open and Affirming Congregation in the United Church of Christ. We created a scholarship for students involved in their school’s GSA. We sponsored a support group for lgbt students and their families (Qmmunity Alliance). We began flying a Rainbow flag in front of the Church. The members of our Church were very receptive. Then there were times when someone would ask, “Why do we need to do that?” The answer is simple, “I see the Church, I see the messages on the sign I am amazed by these people who have stopped by my house to talk about life; fear and pain, love and hope. I am honored they would want to share their story with me. I do not say much in these conversations, mostly I listen. There are somethings I am certain of: God loves them, and I am called to love them and they are indeed welcome at Ascension Church. 

I must admit, I am extremely happy to hear ““I see the Church, I see the messages on the sign and I thought I might be welcome here.” ~ Rev. Dwayne Mosier 

It has become common practice for UCC congregations that vote to become Open and Affirming to display a rainbow flag somewhere on their property. It is a shorthand way of saying “All are welcome here.” 

The rainbow has a beautiful history in the evolution of our faith. It serves as a powerful symbol of God’s grace. You may recall that in Genesis, at the end of the story of the great flood, God had a change of heart and promised never to destroy life like that again. As a sign of God’s covenant with us, the rainbow was offered. To this day, it stands – at least in part – to remind us that God’s grace abounds. 

It is no wonder, then, that when the LGBTQIA movement was looking for a symbol to speak with power about an extravagant welcome – the rainbow appeared. Not just a reminder of God’s grace, it serves also to suggest that when variety is assembled there is beauty. We are not all of the same stripe and color –and that is good.”  ~ Steven (Steve) Liechty, UCC 


  • AN INTRODUCTION ON THE INCLUSION JOURNEY: Please view this brief introduction video from Pastor Rich. CLICK HERE TO WATCH.
  • AREN’T WE ALREADY INCLUSIVE? When hearing about the Inclusion Team, several of you have commented, “I thought we were already Welcoming.” Kathy Vega and Meredith Onion discuss the importance of not only being welcoming, but striving always to be learning more about being truly inclusive and affirming. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO.
  • HOW CAN I BE AN ALLY? Our Inclusion Team chair, Rachel Shaw Callahan, shares the basics of being an ally. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO.
  • SANCTUARY FOR ALL: Pastor Meredith gives a beautiful sermon on the importance of providing sanctuary for all. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO.
  • A PERSONAL STORY: Chase Dost grew up in our church, and served twice as a Summer Intern in Ministry. He reflects on his experience as a transgender man and shares his thoughts on our church’s journey to become a more inclusive community. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO.
  • PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Rachel Shaw Callahan and Heidi Bonjean, original co-chairs of our Inclusion Team, spoke at the Annual Meeting on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022 and their reflection is not to be missed. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO.
  • MOTHER’S DAY REFLECTION: Melinda Abney Kaiser beautifully honors all mothers, but pays particular tribute to mothers of special needs children, in this eloquent and touching reflection from Mother’s Day 2022. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO.
  • VETERAN’S DAY REFLECTION: Please take a moment to listen to this Veteran’s Day reflection by our very own brave and beloved member and veteran Val Price. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO.

Resources for LGBTQ+ Youth

  • The West Suburban Community Network: Professionals Serving LGBTQ+ Youth (or the Community Network for short) is a group started back in 2001 to help providers and community members build capacity for supporting LGBTQ+ youth and to get to know one another. Monthly meeting on the 3rd Thursdays from 1–2p on Zoom.
  • YOUTH OUTLOOK: Youth Outlook is the first and longest-running social service agency in Illinois solely dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ youth. They work in seven counties in northern Illinois, offering drop-in centers for youth, caregiver, and parent support, plus community education and professional development.
  • LGBTQ+ Resources and Self-Advocacy Links from Youth Outlook.
  • LGBTQ+ Events Bulletin Board
  • Family Acceptance Project® — LGBTQ YOUTH & FAMILY RESOURCES to Decrease Mental Health Risks & Promote Well‐Being

Online Resources

Books on Inclusion

Inclusion Team Co-Chairs

Rachel Shaw Callahan, Co-Chair
Alex Onion, Co-Chair

First Congo branded border for hero banners

Please join us every Sunday at 8:45AM & 10:30AM in the Sanctuary or via livestream at 10AM (recorded for continuous viewing) on our YouTube channel for worship.