Dr. Katurah Johnson talks about the impact of Stewart House Urban Farm and Garden Ministry.
GARY, Ind. – The “perfect storm” which wracked Gary, Indiana, on October 31 almost undid the dedication of the latest monument at a major Indiana United Methodist historic site.
Prompted by forty-mile-an-hour winds and stinging snow, the organizers conducted a hasty unveiling of the blue and gold marker. The crowd then gladly retreated to a nearby church where heat and light quickly restored their ceremonial mood.
The marker identifies the very spot on Massachusetts Street in Gary, Ind., where a remarkable drama of Christian love and service played out almost a century ago. In the 1920s when black laborers and their families were streaming north to seek jobs in the burgeoning steel industry of northwest Indiana, any organized assistance for African Americans was almost nonexistent. The shining exception was the humanitarian work provided by the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church of Gary under a dynamic pastor, the Rev. Frank S. Delaney. Their initial efforts grew into a movement to build a “settlement house” to provide food, shelter, clothing, schooling, medical aid, recreation, and even legal advice to people drowning in an unfamiliar urban lifestyle.
The project caught the eye of William Wilson Cooke, Indiana’s first registered African American architect and a member of the Trinity congregation, who agreed to design the building and waive his fee. Another noteworthy name was the one given to the mission itself-- the John Stewart Settlement House. Stewart had been a free black convert to Christ who walked hundreds of miles on the way to discovering his calling to preach to the Wyandot Indians of Ohio. His ministry there established the field of missions for the Methodist Episcopal Church and Stewart is honored as the first of the American missionaries.
Did the spirit of helping die when the venerable old house finally came down in the 1980s? Absolutely not! The Christ UMC of Gary, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Katurah Johnson, who currently serves Wall Street UMC in Jeffersonville, Ind., organized the Stewart House Urban Farm and Garden (SHUFG) ministry, which continues under the current pastor, the Rev. G. Thomas Jones and Mr. Herman Miller, SHUFG president. In season, the once empty lot is now verdant with sustainable crops cultivated by volunteers, providing produce and poultry to the community.
Dr. Johnson also dreamed of a historic marker for the site of the grand settlement house. The Indiana Historical Bureau agreed and funding came from the African American Heritage Fund of Indiana Landmarks, a private nonprofit dedicated to saving meaningful places, and from United Methodist donors and others.
Approximately forty-five friends of the Stewart House, including dignitaries such as Rev. Larry Whitehead, Superintendent of the North District, as well as Gary’s mayor and a councilwoman, gathered to celebrate the new marker. In the brief ceremony at Christ UMC, Casey Pfeiffer, Historical Marker Program Manager of the Indiana Historical Bureau, together with Pastors Johnson and Jones and Mr. Miller, paid tribute to the extraordinary service rendered by the staff and volunteers of the mission over its five decades of existence. Mrs. Eva Heffner, Mr. Willie Green and Mrs. Alma White added interesting observations and acknowledgements.
Recognizing the pivotal role which Indiana United Methodism played in the history of the John Stewart House, the Commission on Archives and History is pleased to report that this site has just been approved for inclusion on the Indiana United Methodist Heritage Map which can be found on our Conference website at www.inumc.org/heritagemap.