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Two Historic Happenings at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo

Rev. Joan Montagnes
Rev. Joan Montagnes

This summer saw two happenings of historic significance at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Elmwood Avenue and West Ferry Street: the congregation saw the arrival of the Rev. Joan Montagnes, the first settled female minister in its 184 year history, and the placement of the 1906 church building on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Unitarian Universalist Church building was placed onto the National Register of Historic Places on June 30th of this year. The building was designed by local architect Edward Austin Kent and his brother William Winthrop Kent. Both brothers had been raised in the Buffalo Unitarian Church. The church was found to be significant both for its architecture as a notable example of ecclesiastic architecture, specifically English Country Gothic Revival, and in the area of social history for its prominent role in the spiritual, political, and social lives of the community.




The English Country Gothic Revival exterior is complimented by an extraordinary interior that features both Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau influences. Noted Buffalo Historian Austin Fox referred to the interior as “one of the most intriguing Arts and Crafts interiors in the city.” The congregation played a significant role as a leader in the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement and the effort to improve the working conditions for American workers. It has also been active in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered rights activities. Historically the congregation played a significant role in the education and welfare of immigrants to the community, starting with Neighborhood House serving German immigrant children in the 19th century. This program is currently part of the neighborhood services offered to the community by the City of Buffalo.

Sanctuary facing north jpeg


A three-year search process led the congregation to call Rev. Joan Montagnes to the Buffalo Church. Rev. Joan is no stranger to cities being raised in the city of Toronto, Ontario and coming to Buffalo from a church outside of Seattle, Washington. She has a Masters Degree in Botany from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta and a Masters Degree in Divinity from Meadville/Lombard Theological School in Chicago, Illinois. Rev. Joan has been active in ministry for the past 20 years.  She has begun her ministry in Buffalo and is eager to help the congregation expand its already established connection with and outreach to the Western New York Community.  In speaking of the church’s historic place in the community, Rev. Joan said: “Our robust roots inspire a growing future.   Being the historic heart of Elmwood Village and being blessed by such a beautiful, time-honored space, carries responsibilities.  Our church building, in its central location, has always demanded two things.  First, we must offer nourishing worship that is relevant to our whole community; and second, that we do the joyful and faithful ministry of leading the fight for economic justice, public education, and civil rights.”

Rev. Joan and her husband Martin Morgan, a bioinformaticist and recent addition to the staff at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, moved to the city in July. She looks forward to her first service which will be held this coming Sunday, September 13th, at 10:30 in the church on the corner of Elmwood and West Ferry.


Written by Mike Puma

Mike Puma

Writing for Buffalo Rising since 2009 covering development news, historic preservation, and Buffalo history. Works professionally in historic preservation.

View All Articles by Mike Puma
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