You might not think free hot dogs are a good way to meet your neighbors, but they worked fine for us at West Park Christian Church on Indianapolis’s Near Westside.
Our church is in the Hawthorne neighborhood, just steps off old US 40 and the National Road. Its houses were built in the first couple decades of the last century. Our building is on Addison Street, but our parking lot is on the lot behind us and it empties out onto Holmes Street. As cars and pedestrians passed, we called them in. Many stopped.
Rob, the husband of our youth pastor, manned the grill. Here he is talking to our lead pastor’s wife, Sue.
On the left is Wanda, who brought one of her friends. At right is one of our neighbors who stopped by with her children.
Jay brought his DJ gear and provided the soundtrack.
He has quite a nice little setup.
He and Phil (right) are our sound engineers on Sunday mornings.
Our little church has its challenges. We’re small in number and often lack enough people to carry out our plans. Sometimes we don’t collect a large enough offering to cover expenses. Heck, sometimes we show up on Sunday morning to find we’ve run out of communion supplies. Frankly, we count our blessings every time our worship service happens without any glitches.
But we are good at just being easy-to-approach people in our community. People find quickly that we are the most non-threatening, easiest to talk to Christians they’ve ever met. The hot dogs were just our clever ruse to let our neighbors find that out.
Nikon FA, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Agfa Vista 200
I know of only one other church in town with curved pews: the former Central Methodist Church, now Indiana Landmarks Center. Their pews, like their whole facility, are lovingly restored. Our pews, like our whole building, could use a lot of love. An exuberant teenager sat too hard on one of our pews a couple years ago and broke it. My father, a cabinetmaker, and I glued it back together as best we could. It was clear it had been repaired many times.
In Remembrance of Me Pentax KM, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M Kodak Tri-X 2017
This is the communion table at my church, West Park Christian Church, on Indianapolis’s Near Westside. The pulpit is behind it — a short pulpit for our vertically challenged pastor. The ladder is a prop he used in a sermon series about The Beatitudes.
It’s a Good Friday tradition at West Park Christian Church, on Indianapolis’s Near Westside, to carry the cross through the neighborhood.
A hundred years ago, our brand-new neighborhood was a cheerful middle-class enclave. West Park Christian Church was new, too — and had hundreds of members. We have several panoramic photographs of our congregation through the 1910s and 1920s on our walls; see one of them here. But the neighborhood, and the church, began to decline in the 1950s. Today, the neighborhood knows too well the problems of poverty.
By the 1990s, most members had long since fled to the suburbs and drove back here for worship. When someone from the neighborhood visited, they found a congregation that didn’t look like them and they didn’t come back. By the early 2000s, attrition (mostly through death) brought us to fewer than 10 members and within inches of having to shut down permanently. But a new pastor in 2004 refocused the church on the neighborhood, and we began to grow again.
We do many things for the neighborhood: a food pantry, a clothing pantry, a well-attended Wednesday-night youth program, referrals to social services. We’re even trying to get a infant-and-toddler daycare off the ground. But on Good Friday, we still carry the cross.
This year it was largely a youth effort. That’s Billy, carrying our large cross through the alley that runs by our building. He carried it for more than half the walk.
We walked down the sidewalks in our neighborhood
The first place we stopped to pray was this pocket park in a formerly vacant lot. A neighborhood resident spearheaded the work to make it happen, including planting this old car into the ground.
Billy was very pleased to carry the cross on this first leg of our walk.
Rob, one of our youth pastors, carried the cross briefly after we left the pocket park. This was our crew, small but determined.
We also stopped to pray at Hawthorne Center, the neighborhood’s community center. It’s another place of safety and stability in our turbulent neighborhood. The building is a Carnegie library.
Several of the younger children took turns carrying the cross. This is one of Rob’s sons. He’s far smaller than the cross, but he handled it well.
Our last stop before returning to the church was at the home of two of our most elderly members, Leo and Marie, both in their 90s. Marie was the director of Hawthorne Center for many years, and now her daughter holds that role. Leo was in poor health this day and couldn’t come to the door. Marie didn’t feel great either, but did come to greet us. Sadly, Leo passed away a few days after we stopped by.
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I shot this with a Canon AE-1 Program that was recently donated to my film-camera collection. I already had one, but this one was in better condition. So I sold the other one and loaded some Fujicolor 200 into this one to test it. I planned to write a new review of this camera from that test roll. But when Good Friday came around, I’d only taken a couple photos on that roll. I decided to take a chance and use it to document our walk. Heightening the risk, I tried a lens I’d not used before: a 35-105mm f/3.2-4.0 Vivitar SMS zoom. I’ve owned it for so long I forget where it came from. I have had such mixed results with off-brand lenses, but this one handled very well. I figured I’d be fine when, on more than one occasion as I brought a subject into focus, I had that “ohhhhhh yes” feeling knowing I’d nailed it. A lens hood would probably have eliminated the flare I got when shooting into the low sun, but the effect is at least not displeasing.
West Park Christian Church Canon AE-1 Program, 35-105mm f/3.2-4.0 Vivitar SMS Fujicolor 200 2016
I’m an elder in my church. All that means is that I and a few other elders try to care for the people in our congregation and lead the doing of things that try to make our church a light in its neighborhood. It’s all straight uphill, as we serve a blighted, impoverished part of Indianapolis, and we have limited resources.
While a few of our elders have been part of West Park Christian Church for decades, a few of us are relative newcomers. I’ve been a part of the church for only about four years now, and an elder since last year. Our monthly elder’s meetings and our fly-by discussions on Sunday mornings hadn’t let us bind together as a team. So our pastor arranged for us to spend a weekend away. We all piled into the church van on a recent Friday night for the drive down to Camp Allendale near tiny Trafalgar.
We spent our weekend in this lodge getting to know each other better, coming together as a team, studying and discussing, praying and dreaming about the future.
Gray skies and light rain couldn’t cover the land’s beauty. I took my camera out on short walks when we took our infrequent breaks. But we had work to do; the weather outside mattered little to that.
Sometimes I’m amazed our church gets anything done. We’re mighty disorganized, and only a tiny handful of us are doing most of the heavy lifting. And the overwhelming majority of our members have deep need and little to give. Our task is to help them find resources to meet their needs, to stand firmly on their own with God’s help — and then help them find a life of service to God in which they begin to give back. This creates such value and meaning in these individual lives, but also makes the whole congregation more able to serve in our neighborhood, to let the light of love shine brighter and brighter.
But there is real crisis among our congregation. I’m seeing how complex and intertwined the problems of poverty are: poor life skills, addictions to drugs and alcohol, undereducation and limited employment opportunities, psychological and emotional damage from abuse and neglect. For many, it’s a long road to reaching life stability, let alone being able to give and serve.
We recently opened an infant and toddler daycare. The idea is to have a very low-cost place for the single moms to leave their kids so they can work. Without it, they end up stuck on assistance and never get off. But assistance doesn’t really cover expenses, and so the moms end up living with a parade of boyfriends and roommates to share the financial load. They end up moving constantly as one situation falls through and they find or make another. But because addiction is a pervasive problem in our neighborhood, even a mom who’s clean is likely to end up involved with a user, which creates chaos in the family. So we hope to provide a safe place for the children, allowing the moms to find jobs and hopefully make more money, helping them avoid the desperate living situations. Our hope is to create a generation of children in our neighborhood that knows basic stability.
Getting it off the ground has been shockingly difficult. We thought we’d be overrun with children immediately, but six months in we care for just three babies.
Sometimes the problem is that the mother lacks the life skills to get CCDF, a program in which government pays the bulk of child care expenses. Another problem is that our neighborhood has a large and growing Hispanic population, and they steer clear of churches that don’t speak Spanish.
But the biggest hurdle, we are starting to think, is a catch 22: moms need a job to get money to pay the portion of our fee that CCDF doesn’t cover, but can’t get that job until they put their kids with us. We are talking about letting moms place their kids with us for free for 3 or 4 months while they wait for CCDF to take hold and while they look for work. It will spike our cash burn rate, but we are starting to think we have no choice if we want this to happen.
But practical matters aside, we elders still needed to come closer together as people, to form a strong and solid team. I think we began to accomplish that over this weekend. We saw each other’s hearts and our practical strengths and weaknesses. The more we work together in harmony, the stronger our church will be in the programs it takes on, and the stronger the church will be spiritually.
We’re all busy people. (For example, the woman at the end of the photo above is also the president of the Indianapolis Public Schools board, and runs the local community center.) It was hard to take a full weekend away. But this critical time investment feels like it will pay off.
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