Richard H. (“Rick”) Taylor grew up in the industrial city of Paterson, New Jersey, the son of blue collar parents, including an immigrant mother. His family had mixed religious backgrounds, and while they were nominally Congregationalists, many of his youthful faith experiences came in congregations of the Christian Reformed and Independent Fundamentalist churches. The exclusive and judgmental views encountered there led him to break away to seek an ecumenical and inclusive Christianity. But this conservative upbringing hid from view other nearby influences including attending the high school where Allen Ginsberg's father was teaching English, and living three doors away from the church where Virginia Mollenkott grew up.
After graduation from city schools Rick attended Marietta College and Andover Newton Theological School, becoming a pastor in the United Church of Christ in 1968. This was the year of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy's assassinations and the Democratic Convention riots, not exactly an ideal time for a city-kid to take up a pastorate in Appalachia.
1968 was also in a time when there were no gay pastor role models. The prejudices of the years produced guilt and fear, and the help one sought told you to become straight.
Through a slow coming out process Rick devoted himself to pastoral work, serving nearly four decades in varied settings: Kittanning, Pennsylvania, Hinsdale and Middlefield, Massachusetts, Andover, Connecticut, Benton Harbor, Michigan, and Providence, Rhode Island. The longest pastorate was in poverty-stricken, broken Benton Harbor where he worked for racial justice and in wide variety of outreach ministries.
Rick became a member of the national UCC Lesbian and Gay Coalition (now the Welcoming and Affirming Coalition) in 1983. His coming-out process was well supported by Lois Rose in Massachusetts, and by the UCC Coalition's Connecticut chapter including Alice O'Donovan, Shirlee Bromley, and others.
In 1984 a young man, who had grown up in the Connecticut church where Rick was serving, returned home because he was dying with AIDS. He felt rejected and disowned by the Philadelphia gay community. Rick reached out with health information and other support. After some months the young man shared his condition during Sunday prayers at church. The congregation was very supportive, but - as the word got out - the community less so. The young man later gave interviews to local media, being the first person with AIDS in central and eastern Connecticut to publicly discuss the disease. In some of the interviews he mentioned the church's support, which brought it much attention - positive and hateful.
Also during the 1980s Rick co-celebrated his first holy union service.
After coming to Providence, Rick led his congregation to become Open and Affirming, only the fourth congregation of any denomination to do so in the state. He then worked with other churches going through the process, so that within a decade a majority of United Church members in Rhode Island belonged to ONA congregations. His church also became the first to endorse a resolution presented by a Minnesota congregation to request that the United Church General Synod call on local churches to welcome transgender people into their congregations. Beneficent Church became an annual participant in Rhode Island Pride, the home of the Providence Gay Men's Chorus, and several related ministries.
Rick and Bill Zelazny became the co-founders of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality. Eventually over one-hundred twenty religious leaders signed on, witnessed and testified for justice on this issue. In what has been the most Roman Catholic state in the country, equality was eventually approved by the legislature in spite of the strong opposition by the local Catholic bishop. On the final day of passage there were more supportive clergy than state senators were in the State House. The Associated Press reported that one of the two key influences in the vote was the religious coalition.
In addition to being a full-time pastor, Rick has devoted his life to research and scholarship in religious history and demographics. He served three years as president of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, of which he remains a life-member. He was a co-editor of both the 2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study, and the 2010 U.S. Religion Census. He served for seven years as the chair of the national Historical Council of the United Church of Christ, over twenty as vice president of the Congregational Christian Historical Society, as well as local history groups. He is a director emeritus of the American Congregational Association, a life member of the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society, and pastor emeritus of Beneficent Church in Providence. He has written nine books and many articles and papers on church history and demographics.
Because of his history interests, Rick played a critical role in laying the foundations for the UCC Coalition archives, and other related collections such as the papers of Bob Wood, both of which are being preserved at the Congregational Library in Boston.
Rick is the adoptive father of an African-American gay son, Julian Smith. In his retirement, Rick now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania.
(This biographical statement provided by Rick Taylor.)
Biography Date: December, 2015
United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Open and Affirming in the UCC (ONA & formerly UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns) | Clergy Activist | Marriage Equality | Providence | Rhode Island
“Richard ‘Rick’ Taylor has been a dear friend since the 1980s. He’s a remarkable person and I don’t know of any person who has contributed more to the research of Congregational religious history than Rick. Several years ago my partner and I visited Rick in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where he was pastoring a UCC church under very difficult circumstances. He was in the frontlines of racial injustice in a broken city. Seeing him during this stressful time only heighten my admiration and respect for Rick. Rick is a very sweet and kind man who has helped so many that we will never know about. He’s an undying advocate for the LGBTQ community and injustice wherever he sees it. I’m very honored to be his friend.”
– as remembered by Shirlee Bromlee on July 20, 2020
“I grew up in Middlefield Mass., and Rev. Taylor was the Pastor of the Hinsdale/Middlefield yoked parish. The Rev. started a youth group so the teen-aged kids, in this very small town, would have something productive to do. I can remember he loved music and could sing. He took the youth group to Tanglewood to see Peter, Paul, and Mary (would have been in the summer of ’78 or ’79). I was into music myself and it would always amaze me the way he could sing. In church he would sing the melody line in the first verse of a song, and then sing the bass line or a harmony for the next two verses, and then back to the melody line for the final verse. I was so impressed by him that I applied to and was accepted at Marietta College. But ended up at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA) in August of 1979. I never really thought about the LGBT thing as it was never talked about back in the late 70’s. After I went off to college in ’79 I never saw Rev. Taylor again. But over the years I kept up with his career and now at almost 60 I understand. He was a great man!”
– as remembered by Mark Pease on May 24, 2020
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