Community rallies to save historic east Indianapolis church

The church that gave German Church Rd. its name may face the wrecking ball.

The stained glass is still spectacular. At a glance, the sanctuary looks good, too. But after 100 years, the historic namesake of German Church Road has a very modern day problem - ceilings are leaking and walls are crumbling.

"It's bittersweet," said Pastor Jimmy Watson. St John United Church of Christ needs a facelift to the tune of three quarters of a million dollars.

"We have to do something," said Watson. "If we're going to survive in the future. This is a money pit. We cannot sustain ministry at this location."

So they've sold to grocery chain Giant Eagle, which plans to demolish the building and construct a marketplace and gas station. That is, if zoning for the site is approved.

The church itself is located in Cumberland, but Indianapolis is responsible for zoning at its location. So what happens at the property is completely out of the hands of people who live in Cumberland.

"We don't have any local decision-making powers in this situation," said Cumberland Town Manager Andrew Klinger.

Powerless in this situation, Cumberland has appealed to the public. The town launched the "Save German Church" Facebook page, hoping the building will survive, perhaps purchased by someone else.

"So clearly there's an interest within the community to save that structure and the town would also like to save that structure as well," said Klinger.

"Everybody gets real emotional about it, but when it comes down to it, you have to look at it in practical terms," said Watson.

At one time, the pews inside the church were filled every Sunday. But that was more than a century ago, when German immigrants flooded the east side. Now the classrooms, and the rest of the building, sit mostly empty.

"I would have the same attitude if I drove by and think, 'Oh, that's a nice church. Historic. It's like a museum.' Well, we're tired of being a museum, really," said Watson.

A new St. John is already under construction.

"We've got to have that's going to be a new church start," said Watson.

But only if the sale of the property goes through.

The rezoning hearing will take place at the City-County Council Building this Thursday at 2 p.m. The meeting will be on the second floor in the public assembly room.

"Save German Church" on Facebook