Reporting and writing by Zaïré Talon Daniels

Diversity, equality, and inclusion have been on many of America’s minds in the wake of social unrest stemming from the death of George Floyd. In times of distress, some people look to the church and religious leaders for guidance — yet, due to COVID-19, many connections to helpful resources have been postponed due to safety concerns.

The members of First Congregational Church of Akron are dedicated to showcasing their community’s diversity with a new art installation that opened at the end of August. 

Janis Worley, the church’s finance and operations manager, says, “God’s doors are open to all, and all are welcome at First Congregational Church of Akron.” 

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This mantra fits perfectly for the installation. Eight local artists, representing various ethnicities, genders identities and sexual orientations, were commissioned to decorate a door based on the colors of the Pride flag. The artists were invited to adorn their doors with cultural or symbolic figures that relate to them personally. 

The decision to use the Pride flag color scheme as a motif comes from the particular relationship that members of the LGBTQ community may have with religion, as many religions demonize homosexuality. “God is one-size-fits-all, it doesn’t matter who you are,” Worley says. 

The First Congregational Church of Akron displays this sense of inclusion by entrusting leadership to Senior Pastor Rev. Nanette Pitt and the assistant minister, Antigone Lowery; both women in a role that has traditionally been held by men in most Christian churches. 

 The First Congregational Church of Akron also has a deep passion for the community. “Everything we do is for the people of Akron, right here in our own backyard,” Worley says. 

Founded in 1833, First Congregational Church of Akron was not actually the first church in our area, but its beautiful brick exterior has been standing in its location at 292 E. Market St. since 1908. For the past 20 years, the church has had a local garden and food pantry and also doubles as a meeting space for other community organizations like PFLAG, Let’s Grow Akron and recovery support groups. In 2019, First Congregational Church of Akron produced 152,600 meals from their food pantry and grew nearly 2,000 pounds of produce in their garden.

Challenges arose this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As dictated by CDC guidelines, all services and gatherings have been moved online and much refiguration has taken place. Three weeks before Easter, the church had to find a way to make their sermons accessible to the masses — which initially proved to be difficult for their older members. “We did a survey about online services and a lot of our older members were hesitant to return before a vaccine was available,” says Worley.  

As time went on, First Congregational Church was able to thrive in the new environment by creating a few workarounds. To reenergize the congregation and to strengthen ties, members are now able to visit with friends online after the service for a “coffee hour,” just like they would after a physical service. 

“Part of going to church is the community, and that was lost a bit during COVID-19, but we have been able to figure out how to share the gospel to our members over the internet,” Worley says. 

The  First Congregational Church of Akron welcomes and affirms people of every race, age, nationality, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, family circumstance, socio-economic status, physical and mental ability and spiritual background. The church invites all who are seeking God’s presence in their lives to join in Sunday worship (9:30 am and 11:00 am). To learn more, visit the website at www.akronfcc.org or call 330-253-5109.

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