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President's Message - March 2024

Thank you all for your attendance last week at our Chicken & Biscuits church lunch. We raised $350 to donate to our mission partner, the John W. Jones Museum.

And didn’t we have fun posing for our newest congregational photograph commemorating Thomas K. Beecher’s 200th Birthday on February 10th? Each week it seems we find new folks that make their way to Park. In these times, when the news can be so isolating and the commentary so mean, it’s good to find real people to sit down with and share truth, hope and welcome.

Thanks to Team Brent, all the remaining spaces on the second floor have been cleaned out, re- painted and re-purposed. Now we’re ready for a directory sign that can list all the folks that are using our facility in creative and life-affirming ways: Phyllis Bishop and Jon Knight who continue making paintings and fiber art pieces in their studios (rooms 201 and 202); Connor DeLaney who is creating a gym for fitness training and classes for youth-at-risk (room 200) and Emmi Saufley and her team of fashion designers who create amazing fundraising regional fashion shows to benefit non-profits through their operation as Runway for a Cause (rooms 203 and 204).

And thanks also to Tyler Gee, and his advisor Doug Couchon, for completing lots of painting in Room 203 to ready it for Emmi and her fashion artists. Tyler asked the church last fall if we had a community service project he could assist us with in order to complete his Eagle Scout achievement. Tyler was drawn to Park because of our articulated support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Three months from now will be the Elmira PRIDE Celebration on Saturday, June 1st in Wisner Park! A planning team has commenced the work of gathering stage performers, creating art activities for all ages, bringing together organizations to table that support the LGBTQIA+ community, and inviting food trucks to line Main Street. Please mark your calendars and invite your friends and family. Notices to put around town and share on your social media will be available soon! We have received a $3000 Community Arts Grant to expand art and performance activities at this year’s event. Your tax dollars at work! This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes.

I’m putting together a fund request application to The Fund for Sacred Places, a part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation especially designed for projects to assure the survival and adaptive re-use of religious structures. It is a highly competitive national competition, but we do qualify as a healthy congregation serving a diverse population with a desire to make fuller use of our historic building to serve more mission partners. Now that we have air-conditioning (at least in the sanctuary and Beecher Hall) our next big ticket item would be to improve accessibility. We’ll be going through a complete building condition assessment with an architectural firm this spring in order to develop plans and estimates for future work. At our February Council meeting these project priorities were approved for the fund request application process and for initial planning and cost estimate stages:

  1. determine how and where an elevator can be added to our building to serve all floors

  2. design a new ADA-compliant, unisex bathroom on the ground floor;

  3. determine how the two entrances (parking lot door and “funeral door”) can be reconfigured for more accessibility, security and energy efficiency; and

  4. decide how to upgrade the bathrooms on the second floor.

In my research for the fund request, I found documentation that our building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places (US Department of the Interior) on May 25, 1977. And it was added as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site (National Park Service) on June 20, 2006. And finally - most recently - our property was included in The North Main & West Water Historic District Boundary Increase, Elmira, Chemung County by the New York State Board for Historic Preservation on December 9, 2021.

That last designation mentions the Park Church as an example within this expanded downtown Elmira historic district. Here I quote from the nomination: the expansion contains “...a collection of late 19th and early 20th century commercial, religious and civic architecture, with its monuments and churches encompassing a significant public gathering place; offering a more complete story of the historic and architectural development of this neighborhood – in a broader context. The expansion includes some of Elmira’s most architecturally significant buildings, some designed by important local and regional architects including Horatio Nelson White (designer of Park). Wisner Park and the surrounding churches reflect the multifaceted use of this downtown and reflect the broad trends of Elmira’s development.”

Interesting to note – we’re the only church in this district that still functions as originally intended! And by offering our building for use by lots of artists and organizations, we can continue to pay for the cost of its utilities and insurance. In addition, I came across this article in the designations folder, penned in 2011 by Elmira College archivist Mark Woodhouse. I thought you might like to read it as it’s a concise article about the relationship between three of our founding families: the Langdons, Beechers and Clemenses.

Thanks for all you do to keep us “a healthy congregation” on Sunday mornings or other times. We are beginning to resemble what TK wanted us to be – a seven-day-a-week church doing God’s work in Elmira. See you soon, Jenny


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