The church in this week's Wordless Wednesday post is the former City Methodist Church located in downtown Gary, Indiana. Construction of the church once known as First Methodist began in 1925. The sanctuary seated 950 worshippers, and during the mid-1950's the congregation totaled nearly 3,000 members. The church in earlier times was a pinnacle of success and provided a variety of services for the community. The education wing included a theater, which featured a number of presentations for the church members and the citizens of Gary. Additionally at one time, the education wing, Seaman Hall, housed classes for the northwest Indiana University extension.
As sometimes happens with thriving churches in urban areas, City Methodist Church and the city of Gary fell victim to the fear that sometimes accompanies a racially changing community. In the 1960's and early 1970's, the city of Gary experienced the phenomenon of "white flight." Meaning that middle class white people moved away from the increasingly racial-minority inner-city neighborhoods to nearby suburbs. As the City Methodist members moved, they found new church homes in the suburbs. Thus, the once glorious church with Indiana's largest Methodist congregation closed its doors in 1975 due to declining membership.
This last Sunday, October 7, the Calumet District of North Indiana United Methodist Church held a service of repentenance, reconcilation, and appreciation in the street in front of the decaying ruins of the once majestic church. Attendees at the service received a piece of sackcloth at the beginning of the event to acknowledge the apathy and racism that lead to the demise of the grand church congregation. The bishop of the Indiana Methodists reminded the crowd of the lessons learned from the decline of this once dynamic congregation. Participants traded the sackcloth, which represented mourning and repentance, for a packet of seeds, which could represent seeds of hope.
In her comment for the Wordless Wednesday post , Gawilli has asked my thoughts on this matter. As on on variety of topics, I have a multitude of thoughts and feelings. I am sad that the church that welcomed black worshippers at a time when African Americans were refused entrance to white churches eventually had to close its doors partially due to racism. I am not sure that racism is the only culprit for the downfall of this once mighty church. However, as realtors of the 1960's spread the fear of declining property values, racism and the white flight from Gary were undoubtedly a factors that lead to the doors of City Methodist closing. I am concerned that the church that both Gawilli and I attend may suffer a similar fate of closing our doors due to economic decline within our community. If there are lessons to be learned as our bishop suggests, hopefully, we will know how to implement these lessons and how and where to plant these seeds of hope.