Pastor • Rev. Paul Werner
Rev. Paul Werner is originally from the New York metro area. He lived in the New York city borough of Queens, northeastern New Jersey, and on Long Island. He moved to Florida with his family after high school and spent a considerable amount of time in Florida. He returned to New York to serve as our Pastor in January 2022.
Paul earned a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature, a Master of Arts in Foreign Language Education (Spanish), and a graduate certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of South Florida in Tampa. He taught Spanish to middle school, high school, and college students and ESOL to college students for over 20 years.
He began attending First United Church of Tampa when he was a teenager. He participated in various aspects of church life, and he ultimately decided to answer God's call to ministry by earning a Master of Divinity from the Florida Center for Theological Studies (which has since merged into St. Thomas University in Miami). Paul was twice awarded the UCC's William R. Johnson Scholarship, which is a competitive seminary scholarship for openly LGBT ministerial candidates in the United Church of Christ. He was granted licensure (now called lay ministerial standing) by the Florida Conference in 2008, and he was ordained by the Florida Conference in 2013.
Having spent his adult life in Florida, Paul served in a few ministry roles in the Florida Conference of the UCC. Most recently, he served as an Assistant Pastor of First United Church of Tampa, a church that has made being Open and Affirming, multiracial and multicultural, anti-racist, and accessible to all some of its core values. He also served as the Pastor of St. Andrew UCC in Sarasota and the Designated Pastor of Trinity Congregational UCC in Winter Haven. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Florida Conference. Paul now serves on the Church and Ministry Committee of the Western Association of the New York Conference.
Paul has a passion for social and economic justice, and he believes that the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and vulnerable are particularly loved by God, and that we are to emulate the actions and teachings of Jesus to work for justice and peace for all people and to end the sin of systemic injustice. Guided by the ethos of the United Church of Christ, he is especially interested in how churches can express a progressive Christian faith and witness with prophetic voices and actions to practice the gospel.
As a techie, Paul enjoys computers and technology. He loves (usually) healthy cooking, watching live bands perform, a good beer (after all, he is half German!), strong coffee, and anything with chocolate. He lives with his partner and two cats (they're in charge).
Director of Music and Choir Director • Ciaran Krueger
Ciaran Krueger has been our Director of Music since 2010, and he is also a music teacher at Franklin Middle school in the Ken-Ton school district. Ciaran also served as the Artistic Director of the Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus.
He received a Bachelor's in Music History and a Master's in Choral Conducting with Harold Rosenbaum, both at the University at Buffalo. As a choral singer, Ciaran has performed under the baton of Robert Bass, Leon Botstein, Ennio Morricone, and Michael Christie, at such locations as Carnegie Hall, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Radio City Music Hall, and before the General Assembly of the United Nations as part of Ennio Morricone’s North American concert debut. He can also be found on stage or on the podium for various theater productions ranging from musicals and light opera to grand opera.
Ciaran lives in Clarence with his wife, Lisa, and their four beautiful children.
Accompanist • Jonathan Rizzo
Jonathan Rizzo is our talented Accompanist. He began in the fall of 2010 and regularly receives ovations from our congregation.
He is an active pianist, keyboardist, creative musician, and recordist in the WNY area and currently serves on the faculty at Buffalo State College as a staff piano accompanist for various choral groups and Musical Theater classes and productions. He holds a BME in Music Education from SUNY Fredonia, and he has studied piano with Dr. Emily Boyce, Mr. Sean Duggan, and Mr. Steven Bianchi. While studying piano with Dr. Boyce at Buffalo State College, Jonathan won the school's Young Artist Competition, performing the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor with the Buffalo State Philharmonia.
Jonathan also holds the position of Music Accompanist at St. James UCC, and he regularly accompanies various choirs for Lancaster High School's choral program. He has also accompanied local groups such as the Freudig Singers of WNY, the Ambassadors of the Amherst Male Glee Club (now Red Blazer Men's Chorus), and the Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus.
During his time as a keyboardist in Western New York Progressive/Hard Rock band Blueshift, Jonathan performed at events such as Warped Tour Cincinnati, the Niagara Falls Arts Festival, and the Buffalo Infringement Festival, and he has opened for such internationally-known acts as Tony Levin (Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson), Carmine and Vinnie Appice (Jeff Beck, Black Sabbath, Dio), Green Jelly, and Consider the Source.
An avid songwriter and creator of original music, Jonathan's original material can be heard at:
Administrative Assistant • Cynthia (Cindy) Hager
Blessed in her ministry with the family of God at St. James UCC, Cindy is living out her personal mission statement: "To love, praise and serve the Lord our God and God's children, abiding in God to tell the story of Jesus and his love." In serving Christ's church (including work in the wider church), Cindy deeply loves serving God and God's people. She volunteers in her community, including as a member of the local Friends of the Library, making various items for food pantries and schools, and serving in various community needs as they come along.
Cindy is married to Doug. They have grown children and four young adult grandchildren. She is an avid reader and participates in biblical book study groups, plus she enjoys computer games, golf, and cornhole. She truly enjoys taking walks with Doug and exploring various parks around the area when the weather is accommodating.
She sews for her church, preparing crosses for cross ministry, and she serves as a lay reader and teacher of adult classes. Her most favorite time is at home with her children and grandchildren. God has blessed her to serve as an Administrative Professional for 40 years. Cindy is so richly blessed and so eager to share God's love.