On May 13, I was driving from Indianapolis when I noticed a billboard on I-65, just south of the Columbus exit. It featured the face of a hopeful, young African American woman and words so large they only took seconds to read, “The best candidate is not always the typical candidate.” I was surprised to see the ad, especially since there was no identifiable brand or logo to go along with it. I didn't notice any product, but I got the message (loud and clear).
I was just leaving a meeting in which Church Development (CD) staff announced and celebrated with conference committee members their endorsement of a new church start with predominant focus on reaching an African American (and multi-ethnic) population in Indianapolis, naming me (not your typical church planter in Indiana) as the new church start pastor. To my delight, having served on CD staff since 2009 among many of those in that room, there was no surprise, rather a great deal of excitement about the news; and upon noticing this signboard it struck me. We made history!
Since establishing Madison Ebenezer (1867), the first black United Methodist Church in Indiana, there has always been a need to empower ministry that addresses the Black experience in America. And in the Crossroads of America, namely Indianapolis-Marion County where 3-in-10 residents are African American, our conference acknowledges the opportunities that exist today. Ebenezer may have been a beginning, but the traditional church has followed suit – whether Muncie Trinity (in its heyday) or Indianapolis Barnes today.
Likewise, this new church will be passed the baton to continue a legacy that appreciates the contributions of the historical black church, but engages a new model of church to address the concerns of increasing numbers of African Americans and an African American community that is far more diverse in its theological influences - that is redefining and refashioning with greater texture shared experiences that speak to their emergent worldviews and the complexities of social realities like mixed race families, black immigrants and a growing underclass.
A partnership to establish a new church with the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis provides this unique opportunity for the Indiana Conference to “pour new wine into new wineskins” and reclaim our missional DNA as a church planting church. This new faith community, seeing the YMCA and its members as our mission field, and I get the privilege of being actively involved in supporting the Y, its programs and mission so that we reach the community for Christ.