GARY, Ind. - As we go to press, United Methodists are scheduled to share in a very special service and ceremony in Gary on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7, weather permitting, at the remains of the old "City Church" in Gary, site of the former First Methodist Church, once one of the largest Protestant churches in Middle America. (If weather does not permit an outside service, it will be held in the school across the street from the site.)
Then, came the days of "white flight" during the 1960s and with many White constituents fleeing the inner city, old City Church closed. The remains of that once-proud building have stood for more than 40 years as a silent and unsightly testimony to the results of racism, urban decay and the blight caused by fear and abandonment.
United Methodists are scheduled to gathering to share in a worship service called "Repentance, Reconciliation and Appreciation." Participants plan to gather to confess that United Methodists allowed racism and fear to destroy a congregation. They plan to offer words of appreciation for those United Methodist congregations which stayed in Gary, and will turn toward the future to explore "Seeds of Hope."
During the event, Gary city officials plan to announce how they will turn the old City Church site into a garden and park. Participants will have a time to share their hope for the future of Gary and United Methodist ministries in particular.
The idea for this ceremony began with the Rev. David Schrader, previous Calumet District Superintendent. The Rev. Michelle Cobb, current Calumet District Superintendent, has continued those plans.
Cobb said, "I am delighted to participate, and I have invited the mayor and several other city leaders to join us. I invite United Methodist leaders from Indiana to attend. This is not just a ceremony for the folks in Gary or the surrounding areas, and it is certainly not just a ceremony for our African-American constituents. This is an opportunity for United Methodists to make a public witness to our repentance for racism, and also to express our hope for a future in God's hands."
Coverage of this historical event will be published in the Nov.-Dec. issue of the Hoosier United Methodist Together newspaper and online at www.inareaumc.org.