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President's Message - October 2023

Checking Our Vision

One of my favorite parts of my work at the Church is giving tours of our building. I have to admit I love history and architecture and our landmark building was the first thing that attracted me when I joined ten years ago last month. I’m a museum educator and regional tour guide by profession – so I love stories about people, places and things. Learning about how the history of our congregation overlapped the Underground Railroad, woman’s suffrage, and the abolitionist movement grabbed me back in 2013 and it still inspires. But in addition to preservation and interpretation needed by any museum or historic site - we’re a church! And that adds a whole ‘nother layer to our organizational management.

Because it really is management – this dance we do – trying to stay balanced between care of our people and places – and the declining interest in doing church today. In T.K. Beecher’s time there were few social services provided by state or federal entities. The church was that place that organized services for citizens, and provided their safety net. Park Church members considered being part of this care just a given – Beecher called it “practical Christianity.” To him it meant that Park Church would be a seven-day-a-week operation for use by all of Elmira. Through the largess created by the Langdon family and many others, our huge building was erected to serve.

So now, 150 years later, we still have the behemoth building and (thankfully) generous parishioners. We’ve spent quite a bit of money this year stabilizing our historic structure and adding amenities to the building to make it a more usable space and safe for us and for others. The new HVAC systems in Beecher Hall and the Sanctuary bring air-conditioning, dehumidification and heat, while taking that part of the building off the fossil fuel grid. Restoring six of the west side sanctuary windows was an investment in future inspirational activities in our gorgeous sanctuary. These two major expenditures were funded through our historic preservation and capital endowment accounts – that had been enriched with gifts from Charles William Brand and Nonnie Denton in 2021 and 2022.

Preserving the building is but one of the management tasks we have as a church – the other is to preserve our “Why?” – Why does it matter that we are here? – What are we doing to advance our passion for justice? – Are we keeping up with Rev. Beecher’s challenge that we be a seven-day-a-week operation to the benefit of all Elmira?

Forty years ago when I began my involvement with community volunteer leadership, I learned an important concept about the difference between management and leadership:

  • MANAGEMENT is the art of doing things right (on budget, on time, according to the law, efficiently, effectively, etc.) and

  • LEADERSHIP is doing the right things (needs-based, authentic, inspirational, future-thinking, purposeful, non-duplicative, etc.).

And the tricky part is we have to do both at the same time! They are two ends of the same beautiful wand we have been given to carry into the future. Can we discern the balance required to use them both judiciously?

So please, spend a moment with me and contemplate our Purpose and Vision Statements:

Our purpose is to build and nurture our faith by worshiping God together, by actively welcoming all, by growing in Christian understanding and acceptance of the diversity of God’s creation, and by sustaining one another in a community of caring people.

We will live our faith by sharing our gifts and talents, by identifying and ministering to human needs, and by working for peace and justice in our community, in our

nation, and in the world.

Vision: The Park Church works for social justice with a progressive pulpit and a caring congregation in a landmark structure. We are an active and hopeful partner in Elmira’s renaissance.

Thanks to you it’s working. What else shall we begin?

Grateful for your commitment, yours truly, Jenny


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