For Easter in 1914, a photographer made this panoramic image of the congregation at West Park Christian Church in Indianapolis.

On Sunday, armed with my new iPhone that automatically takes panoramic shots, I tried to reproduce the scene. (Click either photo to see it larger.)

Much has changed at West Park Christian Church in 98 years. In 1914, it was a large congregation in a new middle-class neighborhood. Today, it is a very small congregation in an impoverished, blighted neighborhood.

This is where my sons and I have decided to be a part of the family of Christ. The pastor here was an associate pastor at North Liberty Christian Church, where I attended while I was going through my divorce. He counseled me often during that difficult time. After we didn’t fit in at the big suburban church this summer I decided to take my boys here one Sunday just for a visit. But we were so welcomed, so obviously wanted, and so quickly included, that we simply decided to stay.

By any demographic measure, my family should have been at home in the big suburban church. Yet somehow we weren’t. The group at West Park is harder to demographically categorize; it is truly a diverse congregation. Yet somehow we plugged right in. I think there’s a faith lesson in there somewhere.

The pastor at West Park calls this an “urban mission” congregation. When Jesus sent his disciples to spread the gospel, he told them to first heal the people of their sicknesses (Luke 9:1-2). I think Jesus did this for two reasons: someone who’s sick is preoccupied with it and can’t hear the message of Christ, and delivering that healing demonstrates Christ’s love for us. Many of the people in this congregation’s neighborhood are sick, at least in a broad sense; they hurt in some way. There is much work to do here to show them Christ’s love and attract them to him.

For now, I’m just getting to know everybody and become fully a part of this family. In time, I trust the part God has for me in this mission will become clear. I look forward to serving here.

(It doesn’t hurt a bit that this church is steps away from the old National Road, by the way. Longtime readers know how much I love the National Road.)

Love paves the way to Christ. Read that story.


13 responses to “The urban mission”

  1. ryoko861 Avatar

    Wow, there’s trees there now. In the older picture it looks like the street is so much wider. And the house is still there! And that’s one old house and church! Not much has changed other than the economic status of the neighborhood. I’m glad you found a church you feel welcomed in. It’s amazing how people react to outsiders, even though you’re suppose to feel welcomed in a church, alot don’t like when newbies show up.

    1. Jim Avatar

      The lens of the 1914 camera had a different focal length than my iPhone, which changes the perspective a bit. But I also think that the tree lawn on the church side of the street wasn’t there in 1914. When you look at the 1914 photo in person you can see that this street was not paved then.

      It wasn’t that the suburban church wanted to shut us out — just that everybody stuck to their pre-existing relationships. This urban church just doesn’t seem to have that problem.

      1. ryoko861 Avatar

        You mean it was cliquey. All it takes is just a couple of people to create that atmosphere and it just sticks. Nice to know you and your son’s have found a place you feel comfortable at.

  2. Dani Avatar

    I am glad that you and the boys have found a church home. Both you and the church have been blessed.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks Dani!

  3. davidvanilla Avatar

    Those buildings were constructed to last. Blessings to you and the boys as you find your place of service here.l

    1. Jim Avatar

      It’s remarkable how this church looks no different now than in 1914. Inside, it looks like all that’s been done is routine maintenance. If this were an old car, we’d call it a survivor.

  4. Ted Kappes Avatar

    It may be that most people look only at what they can get from a church instead of what they can give. Looks like you were looking for more than that. I hope it turns out that you have found it.

    1. Jim Avatar

      It has to go both ways. You get encouragement from the family of Christ so you can give love to the world.

  5. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    A new spiritual home and the National Road… can you have it all? :) I hope it settles in for you, Jim. You worked so hard in other congregations, and they were fortunate to have you. Without placing fault, I think it’s fair to say you weren’t getting back what you needed, for whatever reason. May you find it in abundance here.

    Those are great shots. It’s striking how similar the views are in terms of the buildings, and yet how different in terms of setting. It’s always struck me as somehow backward when I see shots of old neighbourhoods and they’re denuded of their trees… weren’t “the good old days” full of trees? But that’s what it takes to make a new neighbourhood. It’s later on that we reap the benefits of the work done by others and get the comfy, established, tree-lined boulevards that they could only dream of, “one day”. I’m reminded of how George Templeton Strong mused, around the time of the Civil War, how lovely New York’s Central Park would eventually be in the future; “A.D. Ninteen-hundred”. :) Now that I think about it, perhaps the same can be said of that church itself. I hope you find the pews tree-lined and comfy, as it were. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      LP, thank you. You’re right, I’ve done a lot of unbalanced giving. Lesson learned, I hope: I need to receive too, if for no other reason to fortify me for the giving I want to do.

      The neighborhood my sons’ mom lives in is a modern cul-de-sacced vinyl village with lots of twiggy little trees. It is hard to imagine that the street the church is on once had twiggy little trees, too. Funny what happens in 100 years.

      The thing I find most interesting is how the tree lawns appear not to have been present on the west side of the street, and narrower on the east, in 1914. This street is fairly narrow today — cars parked on both sides leave about 1.5 driving lanes. Yet in 1914 there was far less traffic. I wonder when the tree lawns were added.

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        It seemed to me the street looked quite a bit wider in the 1914 shot, but then I put that down to where you were standing and differences in the lens or something. But given you’ve actually stood on the spot and reached that conclusion, sounds like I second-guessed myself out of the truth. :)

        Just out of curiosity I had a poke around the area on GoogleMaps and the neighbourhood looks pleasant enough to me. Impoverished neighbourhoods should all be so blighted! :)

        1. Jim Avatar

          It’s not the kind of neighborhood where you should walk at night. And up close, many of the houses are in need of basic maintenance.

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