The Ima Jean Kidd Archive

Ima Jean Kidd
March 31, 1927 – May 1, 2017


From Jensene Godwin Payne:


Who will remember in the depth and with the constancy of our remarkable friend now that she has left us? Ima Jean kept up with EVERYBODY; we often remarked that there should be some way to download her wealth of people-memory. Without fail, greetings would come on your significant dates. She would take cryptic notes at important church meetings and send them to keep you in-the-loop. As well as keeping up with the newest members and visitors to Park Avenue Christian Church, she had a data base of generations of church personalities in her own mental computer bank.

Her infallible memory was an invaluable resource when she spearheaded the rescue of the fragmented collection of church records into the well-organized archive properly named in her honor. In this enterprise she enlisted Sarah Harwell, the tireless archivist from the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, and Evan Mastroiani, a helpful student she discovered.

Related to this activity was the belated recognition of Elizabeth Bartlett Grannis, an early twentieth-century pioneering suffragist, humanitarian, active church member. Grannis was rediscovered by John Wade Payne in the course of writing the bicentennial history of the Park Avenue Christian Church. Her dramatic story and belated reinstatement to church membership was chronicled by the New York Times.* Consonant with this reevaluation of Grannis’s history, the Elizabeth Grannis Award for significant contributions to church and society was established. Ima Jean was a recipient of the award, in recognition of her signal achievments at the National Council of Churches and at PACC. Audrey Platnick also received the award for her activities with the National Organization for Women and as a long-time devoted Elder. It is to be hoped that that this award will be offered again in the future.

She found ways to involve you. Although we are not full-time New Yorkers, whenever we were in town, Ima Jean would schedule us to serve as elders at Communion. Creative in applying her prodigious memory, she would think outside-the-box to suggest how the talents of people could be employed. A firm proponent of the importance of “process,” Ima Jean insisted on the deliberated and orderly pursuit of any task. Over and over, this approach proved effective.

Now that her chosen Sunday-morning seat in the church is empty of her physical presence, we who loved her will have to attempt to fill it with the living presence conjured by thoughts of her kindness, generosity, and grace. What a blessed legacy of love you have given us, dear Saint Ima Jean…

*David Dunlap, “A Crusading Suffragist Restored to Church Membership,” March 11, 2012.
David Dunlap, “City Room; 86 Years After Her Death, a Church Exile’s Work is Vindicated,” March 12, 2012.

From John Wade Payne*:

The life of that splendid Kidd named Ima Jean speaks for itself. I was honored that she called me one of her pastors for more than two decades, but it often was the other way round. So, as they say on PBS, a brief but spectacular story. Of Ima Jean’s many dimensions, warmly reaching out to everyone and deeply committed to justice, the word so often heard that it has become a synonym for her name: hospitality. Our family has a cherished memory that defines the word. To begin, picture this: sitting with dear ones in front of a bright, flickering fire in a hearth, a welcome, cozy corner on a cold, wintery night. When I became pastor, our family arrived in 1979. After a long, anxious search and sleeping around while waiting for a home, one year later we finally and most gratefully settled into a newly renovated manse for the church, a brownstone at 94th St. and Lexington Avenue called The Searle and Liliath Bates House named for a beloved elder, Chinese scholar and missionary and his wife. To our delight three working fireplaces had been restored. But what is hospitable about a fireplace without a fire? Where does one get fire wood in Manhattan? For five bucks at Gristede’s we could buy a pack of three spindly logs – really sticks – and build a fire that could maybe burn for fifteen minutes. Here is where Ima Jean boldly comes into the story.

In the 1980s one of Ima Jean’s National Council of Churches responsibilities was providing leadership programming at the scenic Geneva Point Conference Center in rural New Hampshire where she spent many weeks each summer. On her return to the city each fall, we were surprised, shocked and overwhelmed as she showed up at our door greeting us with an abundant bundle I could hardly get my arms around of New England’s finest white birch logs for our fireplaces. How she schlepped them all the way on the bus I cannot imagine. But she did. The logs graced our fireplaces for months, saved to be burned on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Each time offering the warm hospitality only Ima Jean could uniquely create and offer unstintingly. One of many spectacular memories of this faith-filled, dearest of friends.

*Adapted from spoken comments at the Memorial Service, July 16, 2017

From Rose Fernandez:

When I first met “Grandma” Ima Jean 10 years ago, I knew she was a very special soul. The only grandparent I had passed away when I was 11 years old and I longed and prayed for a grandparent. And that very first day when I met her in PACC, I knew my prayers for a Grandmother had been answered. But in Ima Jean I also found a spiritual mother and will always be encouraged by her testimony and life while she graced us all with her presence.

She seemed to always know when I was feeling troubled and would reach out with a phone call or a lovely note. I am so glad that I saved each of the notes she sent me! And I have a very special memory that showed how young in heart she was…last year in one of her hospital stays, I gave her a leopard-printed kitty plush with huge eyes. She hugged it and give me a big smile. Later that week when she was back home she told me she would talk to it and hug it all the time. That made me happy knowing that she hadn’t outgrown plushies and that something so simple was bringing her some joy!

And when I last saw her right before Palm Sunday, I read a belated birthday card to her while she sat on her hospital bed. I cried as I read how much she meant to me and how honored I was that she had allowed me to “adopt” her as my Grandma. She also wiped away a tear…it was as if we both knew we wouldn’t see each other again. Not here…but we will, and forever in the presence of our Lord Father! I’ll always love you Grandma Ima Jean, you were the sunshine in my life!


From Charles Schreiner:


From Sue Plastrik, Vice President,  Temple of Universal Judaism, July 16, 2017

Ima Jean Kidd was a warm welcoming presence when I joined the Temple of Universal Judaism in 2009.  One of my earliest responsibilities was picking up the TUJ mail in the PACC office in the annex.  Since most of the time Ima Jean would be working in a cubicle inside the office, I assumed she was a member of the staff.  Gradually I realized that she too was a volunteer dedicated to her faith and place of worship.

Ima Jean was generous in sharing the history of the ministry and the church itself. She presented me with a copy of the book she had helped prepare for the church’s significant anniversary.  The contents included the origins of the longstanding partnership between PACC and TUJ.  Ima Jean was a strong supporter of this partnership.  Until her later years when illness intervened, she would attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, especially to enjoy the soulful traditional melodies.

Over time I learned that she had studied in seminary at a time when few women had this opportunity; that she was the PACC archivist, collected stories for publication in the church newsletter and served on the Elder Team.  But she always found time to serve on the reception committee for the annual PACC/TUJ Martin Luther King Jr./Abraham Joshua Heschel memorial event

It is inspiring to know that these reminiscences will be combined with others in the Ima Jean Kidd archive, available to all who loved her.

Rabbi Fridkis, Cantor Anesi, the President, Trustees and members of the TUJ congregation join me in celebrating the long life of this gentle yet passionate servant of the Lord.


From Jack Anderson:

Every church needs an Ima Jean Kidd, someone always present who can observe a congregation like an archivist and help guide it like a conscience, and do all this quietly, yet firmly. Looking back, I now realize that she did this sort of nudging to me on several occasions, possibly tilting her chin firmly upward a bit as she did so. It was hard to say no to her. She had a gift for unobtrusive persuasion. And whatever issue did arise, she could take a positive, yet not a Pollyannaish, attitude toward it, and then move onward.

When I was new to PACC and she realized I was a poet and a dance critic, she unexpectedly telephoned me one morning to talk about the arts as gifts, and I stated my conviction that no matter what we think its form, content, or tone might be — inspiring, controversial, frivolous, rude — every work of art could be considered a gift of the Holy Spirit. She thought that was an interesting remark, and would I write it up — I forget for what, an issue of Forward, perhaps? Of course, I did. How could I say no?

And, several years later, how could I have said no when after church one Gay Pride Sunday she asked me if I would stay behind along with a handful of PACC people to talk with teenagers from a visiting Kentucky church group. I had thought of marching, (I forget if PACC had an official contingent that year), but I did stay around and talked with the kids, answering their questions. As I recall, none of them involved sex. These were just wide-eyed, slightly tongue-tied kids from Kentucky, nervous about life in the big city; I hope all of us at PACC made them feel more at ease.
Ima Jean cared about people, and issues, and about how issues may affect people. There was a meeting about sexuality one afternoon in the Parlor, focusing on the attitudes of Disciples — laity and clergy alike — regarding sexual issues, including gay ordination. Among those present were officials of the denomination, as well as members of the PACC community. And during the course of discussion, Ima Jean tilted her chin and quietly announced, “I consider myself straight but, I hope, not narrow.”

Ima Jean had a wide-ranging interest in culture and its many manifestations. From my own experience, I know that poetry was among them. She went to some of my poetry readings, including ones in unlikely places. For instance, I was invited to read at a café called Mona’s Pub in “Alphabet City” (the uptown-downtown streets with alphabetical names east of First Avenue). It turned out to be a distinctly shabby, although not disreputable, place — far from glamorous, though — where I shared the program with a decidedly shaggy-looking, yet competent, poet. Ima Jean was there, as were, I recall, Ann Canady, Joyce Clevenger, and Mac Senterfitt. The ambience disconcerted no one, certainly not Ima Jean.

It was quite a contrast to that a few years later when, to celebrate the publication of my book Traffic, I was invited to read at a wine-and-cheese reception at the brownstone headquarters of the venerable Pen and Brush Club. Stepping up to the podium, I looked down and saw, sitting next to each other in the first row and chatting happily away, Ima Jean Kidd and Selma Jeanne Cohen, a notable dance historian and aesthetician.

Ima Jean’s many interests included, of course, PACC. She loved the Park Avenue Christian Church — its members, friends, and its history, which she made us all realize was a proud one. She helped maintain its tradition of community service, in many endeavors, as when, after 9/11 she was among those who insisted that the church be kept open daily. When I first started attending PACC, I noticed that a little history of the church was often sold during coffee hour. I was initially not interested enough to buy a copy. But then, when my involvement with the church had grown, I noticed that I had not seen the book in a long time, and mentioned that to Ima Jean. A few minutes later, she returned with a copy of Rose M. Starratt’s A Sesquicentennial Review of the Park Avenue Christian Church (the forerunner of the later history by John Wade Payne). It’s a fascinating history in anyone’s telling, and Ima Jean was justifiably proud in wanting it told.