Lockport's Desire for Unity


by Jess Olivito

Hey everyone! It's been almost a whole YEAR since I've written a fresh blog for the ministry, but that's not because I haven't been active. It's quite the opposite - I've been so active that God had to intervene...slowing me down a wee bit to regain some balance. But it's hard to slow down when God is doing so many amazing things in Lockport - there's just such a spirit of unity that has formed here and I'm anxious to share some of the news with you. But don't just take my word for it. I've provided plenty of links to all the photo galleries and videos (with all the tags and commentaries on Facebook & YouTube) so that you can quickly catch up on anything you missed. As you'll see, there's been a whole lot of effort by the local faith community in the name of UNITY (and Jesus) and I'd just like to applaud it.

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#1: Good Friday Cross Walk - March 30, 2018
On Good Friday, over 100 Christ followers participated in the annual Cross Walk. This event is coordinated by the Lockport Homer Area Ministerial Association (LHAMA) and involves carrying a large wooden cross throughout our city - starting at Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church and ending at Lockport's Central Square. Eight mini-sermons were unpacked by church leaders at six different historic churches downtown Lockport. I was truly honored to be included in a small portion of the overall message. The fullness of the body of Christ was realized on that sunny (yet somber) day. Here's what was covered:

Pilot Condemns Jesus - Rev. Ed Loughran, Legacy Vineyard
Jesus Accepts the Cross - Rev. Eric Quinney-Bernard, First Lockport Congregational
Simon Carries the Cross - Rev. Phil Sheets, First Lockport United Methodist
Jesus Meets the Women - Rev. Bobby Molony, Episcopal Deacon
Jesus Stripped of His Clothing - Jess Olivito, Sozo Group
Jesus Nailed to the Cross - Rev. Sharon Engert, United Methodist Church
Jesus Dies - Rev. Jon Pedersen, Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church
Jesus Taken Down from the Cross and Buried - Rev. Dana O’Brien, Cross of Glory Lutheran Church

We were blessed with good weather as we collectively "took up our own crosses" in anticipation of Easter Sunday. A collection was taken at each church stop, with the proceeds being donated equally between the Lockport Resource Center and the FISH Food Pantry.

#2) Keeping Faith: Sisters of Story - April 13, 2018


Pastor Jon Pedersen [Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church] invited the community to an artistic presentation - an evening of storytelling offered by women of three different faiths - a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim. The 90-minute program was intended to "counter the current rhetoric of differences and help us focus on compassion and unity." Pedersen was careful in explaining his position as to why he wanted to offer this event at the church, "While there are obvious differences in the three religions, there are also great similarities. The focus of this is what we have in common...we are all created by God and bear God's image."

The pews were full and the audience was fully engaged as the three women gave equally energetic performances. Their storytelling moved the audience, especially when Rohina Malik shared that her brother [a Muslim-American] was killed while rescuing others trapped inside the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attack. Near the end of the performance, the "sisters" allowed ample time in order to entertain questions from the crowd... who were receptive and quite vocal in offering positive feedback. After the event concluded, I was blessed to be able to spend a few minutes dialoguing 1:1 with the Muslim storyteller (based on some of my own fears and insecurities). After leaving the event, God reminded me that perfect love casts out fear. And, since a dialogue has to start somewhere... I appreciate Pastor Jon's heart for orchestrating the event in the first place. :) I would have provided some pictures, but photography was prohibited during the performance. 

Christ Vision Building is at 18th & Washington. Stained Glass is from First Lockport United Methodist on 10th Street.

#3) Pulpit Swap - April 22, 2018
Lockport history was made when a pulpit swap was coordinated between two congregations with a heart for building bridges. First Lockport United Methodist Church & Christ Vision Community Church held worship services "back to back" last month bringing awareness to racial and religious unity, as well as to address the larger definition of church. Both Pastor Sheets and Jones received warm welcomes during the Spirit-filled pulpit exchanges - with both congregations feeling deeply blessed. Sozo Group Community's Facebook Page has lots of photos and videos highlighting the particulars of these services.

Christ Vision Community Church. First Lady LaConja Jones and Daughter/Worship Leader Mia sing during a pulpit swap event in Lockport on April 22, 2018. History was made! #CommUNITY

Worshipping first at First Lockport United Methodist Church, the orchestra opened with beautiful hymns. Then, First Lady LaConja Jones [Christ Vision Community Church] and daughter/worship leader Mia sung a beautiful Acepella song praising God called "I Give Myself Away" which touched many members of the Methodist congregation. Pastor Phil then spent a few minutes speaking to the children of the church about the vastness of the body of Christ (click for video) and explained why pulpit exchanges are important. Pastor Jones quickly won the hearts of every Methodist member because of his warm smile, sincere heart and genuine prayers.

The second service was held at Christ Vision Community Church where Pastor & First Lady Jones personally greeted (and hugged) every person who came through their doors. The worship was amazing - featuring an "on-point" acapella choir that was in perfect harmony. Pastor Jones reminded us that history was truly in the making... with him being named the first African-American police chaplain in Lockport. "This was such a heart-warming experience that we're going to do this again next year," stated Pastor Jones. "Every spring there will be a pulpit exchange."

Pastor Phil Sheets won over Jones' congregation with his first sentence when he made an empathetic statement about politics before quickly switching the focus of the importance of understanding one another. His sermon compared the Tower of Babylon to Pentecost and provided some interesting revelation for all those who attended. As pastors who intend to build some bridges, I would say they're doing a pretty good job!

#4) Lockport Prayer Warriors: National Day of Prayer - May 3, 2018

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Robert Morris [Lockport Prayer Warriors] orchestrated a community-wide prayer service in observance of the National Day of Prayer earlier this month. The theme was UNITY, referring to Ephesians 4:13 "Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Local pastors prayed through the seven spheres of influence at City Hall on the National Day of Prayer. We prayed for government, military, media arts, businesses, education/schools, churches and families.

Lockport Police Chief Terry Lemming led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Reichert Zalameda [Thrive Church] singing the national anthem. Prayers were lead by: Bob Morris & Mayor Streit, Anna Molton [Word of Life Church], Jacquie Munch [Crosspoint Church], Suzy Balicki [St. Dennis Church], Pastor Brian Bougher [Thrive Church], Pastor Gil Palmer [First Baptist Church] and Pastor Eric Marquez {New Life Community Church]. The service concluded by praying in small groups holding hands.

#5) COMING UP SOON! Canal Days Unity Service - June 17, 2018

If you plan on enjoying Lockport's summer festival, you might as well try a different kind of worship service that's happening on Father's Day downtown Lockport. Under the main tent, (approximately 8th & Hamilton, in front of Central Square) there will be a UNITY WORSHIP SERVICE. Pastor Phil Sheets [First Lockport United Methodist Church] and Pastor Richard House [Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church] are coordinating all the details for "We're Making History Now!"  Join us at 9am downtown Lockport for continued unity and revival this summer at Old Canal Days!