Despite voting to open its arms to people of all sexual orientations, the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ does not want to be known simply as "the gay church," a congregation member said.

Despite voting to open its arms to people of all sexual orientations, the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ does not want to be known simply as "the gay church," a congregation member said.

The church, located at 1801 E. Jackson St. in Medford, recently allowed its members to vote on whether to publicly announce that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people are welcome to attend the church, said Rob Hight, a volunteer with the church's adult education ministry team.

"For us, the gospels mean inclusiveness not exclusiveness," Hight said. "We welcome anyone no matter their sexual orientation."

The church began the process of becoming an Open and Affirming Congregation (ONA) in 2008. Church leaders started a series of educational classes and had LGBT speakers visit the congregation. Church leaders showed DVDs featuring gay couples talking about marriage and parenthood, Hight said.

"We wanted everyone to put everyone on the same page as we went forward with this decision," Hight said.

The United Church of Christ is a large organization with churches all over the country. The Medford chapter is the 861st church in the organization to declare itself open to the LGBT community, Hight said.

The Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ also is an ONA church, Hight said.

The ONA designation is part of the Welcoming Church Movement, which is shared by more than 10 other denominations throughout the country. The movement is rooted in an inclusive reading of the Bible.

"We didn't want to live in the shadow of Ashland anymore, so we decided to pursue becoming an ONA church ourselves," Hight said.

The idea of accepting the LGBT community into the fold is rooted in a basic reading of the gospels, Hight said.

"To me, the heart of the gospels is that we are all one in Christ," he said.

The eventual vote to become an ONA church wasn't even close, Hight said.

"It passed with overwhelming support," he said.

However, the church does not want to be defined by the ONA designation.

"We certainly don't want to be known as 'the gay church' or something like that," Hight said. "We are so much more than that. We don't even know how many of our congregation is of the (LGBT) community. There isn't a litmus test to join."Hight does hope becoming an ONA congregations will lead to more young folks attending services.

"We'd like to see more young faces," Hight said. "I think all churches would enjoy that."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.