On Sunday afternoon, October 7th, we United Methodists will be sharing in a very special service and ceremony in Gary, Indiana. We will gather at 3 PM local time (4 PM EDT) at the school across the street from the remains of the old “City Church” in Gary, the former 1st Methodist Church which once was one of the largest Protestant churches in middle America. Then came the days of “white flight” in the 1960’s, and with so many Anglo constituents fleeing the city of Gary, old City Church had to close. The remains of that once-proud building have stood for over 40 years as a silent and ugly testimony to the results of racism, urban decay, and the blight caused by fear and abandonment.

Now we United Methodists are gathering to share in a service time which we are calling “Repentance, Reconciliation, and Appreciation.” We will gather for a time of worship in which we will confess that we allowed racism and fear to destroy a church, we will offer words of appreciation for those United Methodist congregations which stayed in Gary, and we will turn toward the future and explore what my message will call “Seeds of Hope.” We will also hear from the city officials in Gary about their plans to turn the old City Church site into a lovely garden and park. And we will have a time to share our hope for the future of Gary, Indiana, and our United Methodist ministries in particular.

The idea for this kind of ceremony began with Rev. David Schrader, the previous Calumet District Superintendent, and the new Calumet DS, Rev. Michelle Cobb, has continued those plans. I am delighted to participate, and I have invited the mayor and several other city leaders to join us. I am using this e-pistle to 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.

Even if you cannot personally attend on October 7th, please pray for this event as a time for healing and hope for the future. Thank you.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner