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President's Message - July 2024

I had the opportunity to offer a Mission Moment on June 23 and repeat it here, hoping it will inspire you to action:

The sign in the church window says “Advocating for Black Lives Since 1846.” It was produced four years ago, in June of 2020, by our former interim minister so that a group of us could use it when we participated in the Elmira Black Lives Matter March. It was during Covid so we were all masked and we hoped that it would be a peaceful demonstration. Some of my friends just weren’t sure, so they opted out. On the drive from the church to EOP, where the march was to start, I decided to leave the sign in my car. ‘Cause it just wasn’t about us.

Sure, our congregation had begun 175 years prior as a small group of men and women who broke away from the First Presbyterian Church in Elmira over the issue of slavery. And some of our founders from that group had put their bodies and livelihoods on the line by working alongside John W. Jones and members of the First Baptist Church to hide and to succor run-away former slaves on their way to freedom in Canada. Jervis Langdon, called Brother Langdon by Jones, was always ready to assist the efforts of the Underground Railroad that operated from Elmira to St. Catherines, Ontario. Black and white abolitionists worked together – albeit in two distinct groups – throughout the decade of the Fugitive Slave Act and into the beginning of the Civil War.

Fast-forward one hundred and sixty years. Yesterday a monument to John W. Jones was dedicated at the site where his former home has been opened as a museum. Many of our congregants have worked over the past 20 years to see that this museum and the story of Jones is secure within Elmira’s history. I proposed to Council last week that we purchase a paver at the site of the monument in honor of the abolitionist founders of our congregation. If you would like to contribute to this effort, a green box will be available at coffee hour to collect your donations.

Contributions in this way are great, but they are not enough! Systemic racism still poisons our community, state and nation. It’s time for us to do more to truly understand the history of the past and decide, as our founders did, and come to understand that we can be abolitionists today. Doing the work, together with others, is our task at hand -- the abolition of white supremacy.

We are blessed to have found a group of friends who can help. We are blessed to be within a denomination that believes racial justice is possible. We are blessed to have leaders like Rev. Gary T. Smith and his Center for Racial Justice. You can join one of Gary’s amazing book discussion groups. I have participated in six and can attest to their value. And the best part of these Zoom meetings is that I was able to listen to ministers and members of UCC congregations from across New York State – many who brought their Black perspectives into our discussion. (

Racial Justice is one of our church’s four Mission priorities. We have a racial justice lending library that you can visit at coffee hour. Take a book home and learn. Watch one of many great YouTube presentations on your computer. Continue to push forward at the uncomfortable edges of your awareness. And come back here to share, to be loved, and

to be challenged.

Your participation in our on-going search for truth and justice is why we are church.

See you next Sunday! Jenny


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