Requiem for a church


The image is sad. The abandoned church is collapsing into disrepair. Stained-glass windows are broken. Sunlight beams through the hole in the

Inside City Methodist Church, Gary, Ind. (Images by Rick Harris.)

Despite its appearance, glimpses of the church’s former glory days are evident. The high gothic arches and vaulted ceilings show the dignity that once graced this house of worship.

But no more. It now stands vacant. Timbers and masonry are falling. The stained glass windows no longer illustrate biblical stories. All that remains of this church is its skeletal structure and even that is crumbling.

Its name was City Methodist Church of Gary, Indiana. The church died in 1975 and burned in 1997. Unlike similar churches in faraway Europe tallying centuries in age, City Methodist was only 49 years old. It opened in 1926, just 20 years after the founding of the city in 1906.

Its first pastor, Rev. William G. Seaman, wanted more than a church. He wanted a place where the community came together. City Methodist housed a community center, auditorium, gymnasium, gardens, classrooms and a meeting hall.

The cost to build the church was $1 million. In today’s dollars that would be more than $12 million. The U.S. Steel Corporation put up a lot of the money for the church. Appropriate, since it basically built Gary.

Looking at the church’s ruins it’s hard not to imagine the life that once filled it…

  • Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter services, pews filled with men and women and fidgety children playing with toys…
  • Memorial services following the deaths of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy…
  • Weddings, baptisms, funerals and life celebrations…
  • Meals served to homeless and hungry victims of the Great Depression…
  • Praise services following the end of World War II…
  • Heartbreak over the 1960s race riots and jubilation over man walking on the moon…
  • Parishioners talking about the latest exploits of native sons in earning an Oscar (Karl Malden in “On the Waterfront”), orbiting the earth (astronaut Frank Borman) and taking over Motown (Jackson 5). …

The church was once alive. Now it’s a ruin.

For people familiar with Gary and Northwest Indiana, it’s easy to understand the economic downturn of the 1970s was a cause. The steel industry changed and didn’t need its thousands of steel workers. Steel built and sustained Gary. It now made thousands unemployed. Many residents left the city.

Quite possible, the church died because its members simply left for personal, economic or spiritual reasons. The church once had 3,000 members. City Methodist lost its members while Gary lost a symbol of its past glory.

(Images by Rick Harris. Images licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

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