The Ima Jean Kidd Archive – A Remembrance from Jack Anderson
Ima Jean Kidd
March 31, 1927 – May 1, 2017
A Remembrance 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.
Remembrances are being collected in a volume, and deposited in the Ima Jean Kidd Archives at Park Avenue Christian Church, and are also available on the church website.