; charset=UTF-8" /> Open, Affirming and Reaching Out : Connecting Voices
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Open, Affirming and Reaching Out

by John Glenn Paton, member of United Church of Christ in Simi Valley

     “How can we reach out to the town where we live?  What does Simi Valley need that we can offer?”  Those were questions we asked when our Simi Valley UCC met for a visioning workshop.  One answer that came to us seemed so obvious no one could understand why we had not seen the need long ago:  Simi Valley had no chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). And no one could be better situated to fill that need than our congregation, O&A since 1998. 

     We announced an open to the public forum about the work of PFLAG for a weekday evening. The organization was happy to send an engaging, experienced speaker, attorney Steven Krantz. Most who turned out for that event signed up on our contact list, and at a second meeting we talked seriously about forming a PFLAG chapter with monthly meetings, officers and everything an ongoing organization requires. All our church needed to supply was a meeting room, and we are not asking for rent because the goals of PFLAG are so harmonious with our own goals as a church.

     When it was time to choose officers, four volunteers spoke up, and we were on our way. (Only one officer is from our congregation.)  The president took on the task of clearing our tax exempt status with the state and the IRS.  With that done, she announced our first regular meeting in emails to the nearby colleges and gay organizations.  From the beginning, our meetings attracted a range of ages from 20 to 70+, a variety of gender identities and persons who have never taken notice of our church before.

     So many voices are asking, “What can we do to prevent teen suicides?”  PFLAG offers a practical, realistic answer to that plea:  Give people a place to tell their stories and to listen to the stories of others, seeking understanding and compassion together.

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