Written by Anthony Moujaes
Colleagues from the United Church of Christ are celebrating the life and ministry of Sam Loliger, the former national coordinator for the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, with memories of his drive for LGBT diversity and inclusiveness. Loliger, 76, died Thursday, Jan. 2, in Buffalo, N.Y.
In Loliger's private life, the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president, and the Rev. Loey Powell, executive associate to the general minister and president, remember his unique sense of humor and his love of the arts, coupled with his devotion to the UCC and the LGBT movement in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Andy Lang, executive director for the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, said that pioneers such as Loliger paved the way for the denomination to be more inclusive.
"Sam Loliger was an all around great guy, a UCC leader who was not only a staunch advocate for full LGBT inclusion, he was a strategist with a sensitivity and concern for the health and well-being of the whole church," Black said. "Sam was a respected leader in the New York Conference during my tenure there. I always found him to be accessible, collegial and really thoughtful. He was a person that I could count on for guidance and support. On top of all that, Sam had a great — and sometimes mischievous — sense of humor."
Powell briefly worked alongside Loliger when the two were national coordinators for the Coalition for LGBT Concerns from 1983 to 1984. She recalls his extensive and tireless work to support the Coalition, promoting the Open and Affirming program, addressing legislative issues for LGBT rights, strengthening the Coalition's understanding of, and support for, transgendered people, and helping keep the Coalition's attention on those living with HIV/AIDS — especially the UCC's ministry to and with them.
Powell added that Loliger and Jan Griesinger, who succeeded Powell, provided core leadership for the Coalition from 1984 to 1997 through a period of expansion and growth. It was under Loliger and Griesinger's leadership that the General Synod of the UCC adopted the Open and Affirming resolution in 1985.
"The number of churches becoming Open and Affirming grew dramatically, and the UCC came to be recognized internationally as a denomination of extravagant welcome, support and advocacy for LGBT people," Powell said.
"Sam will be missed — his sense of humor with its unusual twists of logic, his love of opera, and his love for the UCC," Powell said. "He was a faithful member of the people of God and rejoiced in the witness of the UCC for all of God's people."
Loliger is survived by his husband, Don Behr, three sons and several grandchildren. The two were partners for 35 years before marrying in their living room on Oct. 1, 2012, when same-sex marriage became legal in New York. Born in Canton, Ohio, and a graduate of Heidelberg College in 1959, Loliger's hobbies included "stringer" journalism, reading, crossword puzzles, theatre and opera. He and Don attended approximately 550 opera performances.
"He was of that generation that took a real risk when they came out publicly in the church," said Lang. "I think it's important to remember that the UCC for most of its history was not the "LGBT-friendly" denomination it is today. It was because of people like Sam and the many others who built the Coalition in the 1970s and 80s that the church gradually began to change. If today LGBTQ people are safe in many of our congregations, and young LGBTQ seminarians can aspire to ordination and call, Sam was one of the early leaders of our church who made it possible."
Loliger requested that donations in his memory be made to the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns. Read the Coalition's announcement of Loliger's passing, and more about his life's work, on their website.