I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality lately, over these past six months since Mary Jane moved and I volunteered to be the building host - I really wanted to see how it works. We’ve had a busy summer and fall season be- ing both a performance and a mission venue. And I’m here to tell you, it works! That “radical welcome” that our denomination purports comes true in this edifice.
And it proves that what Thomas K. Beecher anticipated in 1871 – that “A Church Home for all Elmira ” could be created. He challenged his congregation to raise funds to tear down their small clapboard church and in its place to build a gracious nest of walnut and stone to accommodate the burgeoning crowds who came each Sunday. He also wanted our congregation to provide what he called “practical Christianity.”
What did that mean then? In Beecher’s mind it meant seven days a week, helping and hosting all in need -- worship, edu- cation, lectures, music -- feeding people, making sure they had care, offering a place for groups of people, especially women, to gather in order to do things together. And five years later, they found themselves here, inside his vision.
One of the many performances we hosted this fall was the Youth Orchestra (pictured here in rehearsal) of the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes in November!
And now? We have this historic landmark structure, an architectural treasure full of the stories of a handful of Elmira citizens who worked and prayed together, who served each other and strangers. Ministers and music directors; council members and kitchen helpers who for generation after generation found meaningful work to do here.
It was social in the era before the telephone, radio, television and computer. It was sacred when babies were born, baptized, then later married. It was poignant when members died and families could gather here to mourn. It was hopeful during World Wars and holidays --with choirs and candles and the peace of all things wished for. As I tell the fourth graders from Beecher School – a church is a special place where people come together without their individual plans and priorities, a place encouraging us to think larger and act stronger together. A place to find the God of our understanding and to bring meaning into our lives through service.
You may wonder where I’m going with this – but because we’re rounding out the stewardship season – here’s the pitch: this building, its systems and our staff make it possible for all the things that are meaningful for us to happen. Some skeptics have asked me – would we be a congregation without our building? Maybe -- certainly different -- but never without our staff.
If you love being here, being with these other human beings who share your values, consider what else we can be in this building and with our staff. This year has brought many blessings—brightest among them is our return to full- time ministry with Gary. And along with Charlotte’s music, Bob’s care, Pat’s acumen, Jennifer’s organization and Anna’s promotion – our future is boundless. All we need is you to make it happen.
Please think deeply about your dreams for our next 175 years, and do what you want to do as an individual and as pledgers to make those dreams come true.
Thank you, Jenny