Lockport United Church of Christ has a rainbow pride flag hanging in the front of its building on East Avenue. It’s something that isn’t really seen in Lockport, at least at its places of worship, noted new pastor Rick Danielson.
Danielson recently left retirement, after spending three years running a bed-and-breakfast in the Finger Lakes with his husband, Leroy Lewis, to live in Western New York again and take a job as Lockport UCC's pastor.
“It is a theologically progressive church,” Danielson said. “United Church of Christ generally is, both theologically and socially.”
Lockport UCC is a particularly important church based on its history, according to Danielson.
“It started as an abolitionist church in 1838 and was highly committed to abolishing slavery, so it was a kind of anti-racism church from the start,” he said, noting that it was later joined with the first Free Congregational Church and then St. Peter’s Evangelical, eventually becoming Lockport UCC in 2000.
“This church has only been around for 20 years, but it has very strong, historical roots,” Danielson said.
Several years ago, Lockport UCC declared itself "Open and Affirming."
Explained Danielson, “Open and Affirming is the United Church of Christ’s designation for congregations which have made a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”
“I think one of the things that distinguishes us is that in our community, and in most communities, we have taken a public stand,” Danielson said. “I believe we are the only church in Lockport who’s taken on our denomination's official identity of being fully inclusive of LGBTQ persons in ministry and leadership. Leadership is an important part of that because people are not limited because they’re gay, lesbian, or transgendered, or because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They’re fully equal in that regard. They can become pastors or lay leaders.”
“What I think is important is when a church publicly identifies as open and affirming, it hopefully signals to the community who we are what our values are.”
Danielson was ordained in the Methodist Church, but has been a part of the UCC for 18 years. Faith has always been a part of his life.
“My dad was a pastor and this was a natural path that my life followed,” he said. “I just turned 60, so I’m still relatively young for being retired. I started when I was 20 years old with three churches under my sole care. That was down in the Southern Tier.”
Citing restlessness as a reason for returning to his vocation, Danielson noted that while he was moving back to Buffalo and hunkered down because of the pandemic, Lockport UCC had spent three years searching for a new pastor.
“They were looking for something part time, so it was a good match,” he said.
Lockport UCC will celebrate its new pastor on Sunday.