December’s always a flurry of activities, and this year is no different! Hope you’ll pull out your calendar and make sure all the December events in this issue of Cross Currents are on it. It’s also a great time to invite that friend that you’ve been thinking about inviting to find out about Park.
In addition to all our Advent festivities, this month we’ll be doing some serious brainstorming together as part of our full year’s consultancy with Rev. Paul Nixon of the Epicenter Group Inc. Council met with him by Zoom to hammer out five strategic questions to consider - the answers for which will determine the direction we will take to assure our healthy and mission/vision focused future.
Forty members of Park have been selected by Council to sit together in small focus groups scheduled during the weekend of December 3-4 to brainstorm on the five questions. In addition, everyone who comes to worship on December 4th will have a chance to meet Paul at an informal Q&A adult forum session during coffee hour.
Here are the five questions and how we’ve framed their backgrounds. Of course we want everyone’s ideas, so feel free to send them. Or you can comment after you see what the focus groups come up with. We will publish those narratives in the January Cross Currents
What’s our story and how do we articulate that? We are proud of our history of 175 years in Elmira. In the past we have rightfully focused on our historical connections to people in Elmira. We are also much more than our connection to this history. What are all the ways we might tell our story to people of our 21st century Elmira? Are our communication tools up to date? How can we become more outspoken as a congregation about why we do church together? How can we articulate our vision better? What’s the next chapter we want to write?
How do we make our justice ministries effective? Our congregation has established position statements about: (1) our dedication to an Open and Affirming welcome and (2) to working together on climate justice initiatives. Recently we began a study about (3) recognizing/combating racism and (4) the need to educate ourselves around housing justice in our community. Our 175th anniversary slogan was “advocating for social justice since 1846.” How can we grow these four identified social justice areas (O&A, Climate, Racism, Housing) further as a congregation? Who else in the community shares these priorities and how might we partner with them? How can we create congregational work groups for O&A and Housing similar to the ones that are organized around Climate and Racism? Where shall we invest our resources (people, time, money) to make our social justice ministries more effective and better known in the community?
How do we increase participation in the life of our church community (visibility, invitations, hospitality)? We’re a busy little church for which we are grateful. However, sometimes we “silo” within our specific interests and/or projects and forget that others may not feel as welcome to join in as they might like. How can we increase participation in the life of the church and make sure everyone feels knowledgeable about what’s happening and that they’re invited? Do we communicate effectively about opportunities for participation? How might we better share information or solicit ideas? Our church can work for social justice initiatives and be an enjoyable social opportunity for us as a congregation. Combating isolation through shared adventures is something that makes church affiliation rewarding. How can we keep inclusion always at the top of our minds? We’ve intentionally invited a few “relative newbies” to this focus group to give us some feedback!
How do we turn our greatest liability (our building) into our greatest asset? For 150 years our building has helped to define us in Elmira. However it is no longer filled to the brim on Sundays with worshipers or on other days as it has been in past years. Twenty-four percent of our annual budget is spent on utilities, insurance and maintenance to assure our building's good health. What else could we develop within our current footprint of real estate that could generate funds to assist with building costs? We have location, location, location in downtown Elmira - how can we capitalize on that to attract renters - be they individuals, community organizations, or businesses? Remember how T.K. Beecher defined what he dreamed for us in the 1874-6 new building - that we would embody what he called “practical Christianity" - that is, we would be a "seven-day-a-week set of believers serving Elmira.” In our landmark structure, how can we better serve Elmira?
How do we increase external community engagement – that is, out of the building and into the community? We know who we are and are proud of our history and love working together. However, our numbers are declining as a church congregation and we don’t want to disappear - as have some of our church neighbors. How do we identify activities and partnerships that can reach people who share our progressive values? What organizations in Elmira could we partner with to serve and to share about who we are and what be believe? Remember how T.K. Beecher defined what he dreamed for us (see quote in question #4) With our resources of space and funds, how can we expand our partnerships to better serve Elmira and to engage like believers?
Here we go! Jenny