Our History

"Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."

- JEREMIAH 29:7 -

How it all started...

On the first day of fall, September 21, 1873, the journey of Broadway Church began in Indianapolis.  That day neighbors gathered in Pattison Methodist Episcopal Mission Church (so named after the primary donor, Isaac Pattison, who gave $1,700 of the original $2,700 building cost) located just north of Tinker/7th Street (now 16h Street) and on the east side of Yandes.  Because the path to the 40x40 building was often muddy, ragweed was pulled up and laid along the path resulting in the community calling the structure, "Ragweed Chapel."  Rev. Amos Hanaway was assigned as the first pastor (1873-1875), and Thomas Olcott was named the first Sunday School Superintendent..  Within two years the congregation had grown to 148 members with 180 average worship attendance.  Rev. Frost Craft (1875-1876) and Rev. F. S. Potts (1876-1877) then served short tenures (typical of the times) as pastor of the congregation.

By 1877 the church building had become overcrowded so it was decided to purchase land and move  the physical structure 4 blocks west to the northeast corner of Bellefontaine and 7th Street (now 16th Street).  The congregation led by Rev. J. S. Reager (1877-1880) was only out of the building for two Sundays (December 9 & 16, 1877) before the relocation was completed. This new location was also just south and east of the location of Camp Morton which served as the Indiana State Fairgrounds at that time (& until 1892 when the State Fairgrounds moved to its current 38th Street location).  In 1883 the church building was expanded for a total cost of $5,000, and dedicated on August 19, 1883.  At the dedication efforts were made that day to raise enough money to liquidate the indebtedness of $1,200, but only $800 was given in cash or pledges. The newspaper reported that at that point in the ceremonies, Rev. R.D. Black (1880-1883) and his wife, who had done so much to make the remodeling possible, interrupted Bishop Bowman and refused to let the dedication continue until all the money was collected. Rev. Black said the money would not come in if the building was dedicated first, so it was postponed until later in the week when the remaining $400 had been subscribed. At that time the congregation was also renamed the Seventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church.

The congregation continued to grow and in late 1893 the decision was again made to relocate and build a new church building at the corner of Broadway and Clyde (now 22nd Street).  The new wood frame church (later converted to a gymnasium and classrooms) was completed and dedicated on January 7, 1894 with all bills paid by the generosity of the 143 members.  Three days later, the name was changed to Broadway Methodist Episcopal Church. The Rev. Charles W. Tinsley  (1900-1901) led Broadway into the 20th Century.  Willard E. Beck began his tenure as  Broadway's Minister of Music in 1901, a position he would hold for the next 51 years.  

By 1903 there were 413 congregation members.  Following a period of continued growth,  construction began in 1908 on a new stone Gothic church building at the 22nd Street location for a cost of $50,000.  The new building was dedicated just in time for Christmas on December 17, 1911.  

On Easter Sunday, 1918, Broadway burnt its mortgage and it was the largest Methodist congregation in Indiana with over 1,200 members.  This building went on to house 3 other congregations before it was demolished in January of 2012  to make room for a parking lot for Grace Apostolic Church.

Continued growth...

In 1921, as Indianapolis continued to grow to the north and the now 1,450 members had once again outgrown the church building, the congregation began to search for a new property.  As the congregation contemplated a move, the Moravian Episcopal Church burned to the ground on December 28, 1924.  That congregation then made an offer to purchase Broadway‘s building for $60,000.  Soon after Broadway decided to relocate to its current location off Fall Creek Parkway at the corner of Broadway and 29th Street.  The cornerstone was laid on the new English Gothic Sanctuary building on November 22, 1925.  At the same time the Sanctuary was built, the foundations for the entire church building were laid as a testament to the congregation's great faith and vision for the future.

From November 1925 through September 1926, Broadway held Sunday worship at the nearby 1,100 seat Zaring Egyptian Theatre located at Central and Fall Creek Blvd.  In October 1926, Sunday services moved to the temporary gymnasium in the new building, and then finally on October 30,1927, as the Deagan chimes played “Nearer My God to Thee” the 112-foot high bell tower, the new Sanctuary was dedicated by Bishop Leeye.

Just two years later, the nation and congregation was hit hard by the Great Depression.  For the next several years, the ladies of the church roasted peanuts in the church kitchen each Monday for city-wide sale to help support the church during those dark days.  Rev. Dr. John W. McFall (1924-1930) was the pastor of the now 1,854 members of Broadway.

During Rev. Dr. Richard Millard’s pastorate (1932-1940) a candlelight Christmas Eve Service was first instituted.  On March 3, 1946 the mortgage was burned.

A postwar baby boom saw many new families joining Broadway.  Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Robert Pierce (1949-1957) membership was growing at a rate of 35 new members per month to reach a membership of over 2,800.  In 1950 Broadway's Summer Day Camp began first  at Washington Park, then at several member's family farms before moving finally to Marott Park.  The day camp continues still today after over 70 years.  

In 1952 Willard and Minnie Beck celebrated their retirement after leading the music ministry at Broadway for 51 years (1901-1952).    Willard Beck was named Minister of Music Emeritus on October 12, 1952.  The Chancel Choir continues to  rehearse in Beck Hall today.

Since 1927 temporary buildings had housed the chapel, Sunday school classrooms, and a gymnasium.  Built on the foundations set years ago, on May 23, 1954 the new permanent chapel, Youth Center, education building with 20 classrooms, and the parlor were dedicated.  The cost of the new addition was $445,000.

In 1958, Rev. Dr. James A. Armstrong (1958-1968) became the pastor of Broadway which had an average worship attendance of 1,200 on Sunday mornings, with an adult membership of 3,367.  At that time Broadway was the largest protestant church in Indiana.  In the early 1960's a Neighborhood Ministries program was started and involved  neighborhood children in small groups for oil painting, crafts, sewing, and a variety of other recreational activities.    

During Rev. Dr. Armstrong's tenure (1958-1968), the final temporary building was also replaced with a permanent education building which was dedicated on September 12, 1965.  In 1968 Broadway started a neighborhood Well Baby Clinic to care for expectant and newly parenting mothers.   That same year Rev. Dr. Armstrong became the youngest United Methodist Bishop ever elected (age 43) in the United States.  He was assigned to the Dakotas Area where he served from 1968-1980.   Later Bishop Armstrong was a mediator in the American Indian occupation of the Wounded Knee settlement in 1973, was assigned Bishop of the Indiana Area in 1980, and was elected the President of the National Council of Churches in 1982.


Rev. Richard Thistle (1969-1971) came to Broadway from First Methodist in South Bend.  It was a difficult year as many members began moving to the suburbs with the racial integration of nearby neighborhoods.  Over the next year more than 1,100 members left the church with the membership dropping to under 2,500.  Worship attendance declined significantly as well.

Rev. Robert Fribley (1972-1977) came to Broadway in 1972.  Along with his spouse, Jane, the congregation sought to strengthen neighborhood programming including a summer day camp and summer program.  In these years Broadway welcomed several African American members, many of whom were educators and professional leaders.  Efforts to address poverty were seen in traditional ministries like the beginning of a food pantry (now the Mid-North Food Pantry which is still in operation at 3333 N. Meridian) and a thrift shop.

By the mid to late 1970's the congregation declined dramatically in membership as many long-term area residents moved to the suburbs.  Much of this was fueled by school desegregation orders in the early 1970s that initiated the busing of students to encourage racial integration within the Indianapolis Public School system.  The merger of city and county services known as “Unigov” was a part of the reality of a changing population distribution and concern for the loss of political strength held by the white population.  The phenomenon of “white flight” meant that many homes were sold at a loss as many families moved to schools outside of the IPS system.  There was a shift toward rental properties dominating the area, and most of the 850 congregation members now commuted.  But as many congregations chose to move farther out into the suburbs, Broadway discerned its mission was to remain in the city, and make neighborhood ministry a priority.

In 1977 Rev. Dr. James Morin became the Sr. Pastor (1977-1986) and was joined by Broadway's first female pastor, Rev. Christy Marshall, and Broadway's first African American pastor, Rev. Don Jackson.  Summer Day Camp, recreational programming, Thanksgiving baskets to neighbors, the food pantry and thrift shop were evidence of the congregation’s continuing commitment to ministry with neighbors.  Mr. Bob Goler was assigned responsibility for oversight of many of these programs.  During this time women from Broadway UMC, Meridian Street UMC, and students from Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, and the Jewish Community Center began a tutoring program for neighborhood children.  This program continued for 30 years and reached an average of 40 students each week.

An Open & Inclusive Mission...

In January 1986 Broadway welcomed Rev. Philip Amerson who had a background in urban ministry.  He came from Patchwork Ministries in Evansville and was soon joined by Rev. Mary Ann Moman, and Rev. Mike Mather (1986-1991).  Rev. Moman shared many of the administrative and pastoral tasks while Rev. Mather focused on neighborhood ministries with a shared Council established with Castleton, Meridian Street and St. Luke’s United Methodist churches joining Broadway with financial support.  That same year Asian Help Services (1986-2011) was founded to provide cultural, language, support, and referral services to Asian immigrants and citizens.  Encouraged by Rev. Mather’s understandings of the strengths inherent among the neighbors, the congregation began to shift programming away from addressing “neediness” to building on the gifts already present among the neighbors.  Two African American women pastors joined the pastoral team in these years, the Rev. Vanessa Allen Brown (1987-1992) and the Rev. Jicelyn Thomas (1987-1993).

New ministry initiatives were not primarily based on new programs designed by the clergy.  Laity in the congregation stepped forward with new mission initiatives.  A group of women met for prayers on Fridays.  The focus was on healing for persons, the community, the congregation and the world.  These women stayed for lunch and Bible study.  Amerson and Moman led these gatherings; however, it was there that ideas and possibilities were considered and bathed in joyful fellowship and prayer.  Over the years such groups have continued to meet.

Many other lay persons took initiative during this time.  For example, Ms. Sadie Flowers used her connections within IPS to help set up a kindergarten at Broadway for kindergarten-aged neighborhood children who were not offered this option as the busing under the desegregation order did not provide for the half-day experience.  The Broadway Worker’s Sunday School class offered their classroom for this over a three-year period.  Another example is the initiative of retired public school music teacher, Ms. Alberta Denk, who decided to begin teaching neighborhood children the violin.  She asked for donations to purchase instruments, set up a program where families were to assist and soon there were dozens of children learning to play the violin.  Her legacy of teaching children the violin continues today through the wonderful work of the 200-student Metropolitan Youth Orchestra (MYO) that calls Broadway home.

The staff was fortunate to have custodial workers like Mildred Lasley and Cliff Hatcher who lived nearby and were critical linkages and interpreters within the neighborhood.  Mr. Hatcher, a member of the congregation, regularly made breakfast for children who faced an early morning long bus ride to Decatur Central Schools on the far southwest side of the city as a result of the desegregation order.

In 1988, the congregation purchased a house in the neighborhood known as The Bridge House, that would be used for meetings, and to house ministry interns.   In 1989, a Korean United Methodist congregation under the leadership of Rev. Suhyoung Baik began to worship in Broadway's Chapel, and the Jubilee Summer Youth Program began with classes devoted to literature, math, character education, crafts, basketball, cheerleading, and field trips under the leadership of Rev. Mather.  

During Amerson's tenure (1986-1992), Broadway's congregational commitment became more open and inclusive.  This was when our Mission Statement (that we still say together each week in worship) was crafted, and members of the LGBT+ community began to find a home of love and care at Broadway.  Rev. Dr. Amerson later became the President of Claremont School of Theology in California (2001-2006) and the President of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL (2006-2014).

Our Mission: As followers of Jesus Christ, responding to God’s love, our mission as the people of Broadway Church is to be a multicultural, Christian community that in its ministry seeks, welcomes and values ALL people.

Dr. Amerson left in 1992, and Rev. Moman stayed as co-pastor with the addition of Rev. Summer Walters (1992-1995).  In 1994, care for our neighbors took a large leap forward with the opening of the Shalom Wellness Center at Broadway.  This partnership between Broadway, the IU School of Nursing, and the Indiana Health Department provided access to health services focussed on  the wellbeing of our neighbors.  This ministry continues now as the Shalom Health Care Center with two (2) locations in Indianapolis.  

In 1996, Rev. Frank Sablan (1996-2003) was appointed as the Sr. Pastor.  Sablan is remembered for his pastoral care skills and visitation.  While many new members had joined in the previous decade, there were many aging members who benefited from his care.  In 2001, the replacement of both the Chapel (II manual, 9 rank) and Sanctuary (III manual, 54 rank) organs was completed by Reynolds Associates.  
In 2003, Rev. Mike Mather (2003-2020) returned to Broadway this time as the Senior Pastor and joined Rev. Rachel Metheny who had been an intern in the early 1990s and had returned in 1999, while working on her PhD.

In 2004, De'Amon Harges (a Broadway member and neighbor) was hired to be Broadway’s Original “Roving Listener,” to rove the neighborhood, block-by-block, spending time with neighbors, not to chronicle their needs, but to understand what gifts, talents and passions were present. He would bring these conversations and his
neighbors back to conversations with folks at Broadway and it changed what happened, as people from the church began to meet neighbors not as people to serve, but as people with gifts and imagination, to get to know and to join in God’s good work.

Many members of Broadway like Hertha Taylor, Margaret Pengilly (later Glass), Scott Collins, Hope Tribble, Mike Schaefer, Ann Chernish, Frances Leath, Bill Brown, Marc McAleavey, and Seana Murphy, began to connect these persons and their gifts in ways that changed the church’s practice of mission. It began moving more deeply from “how do we engage our neighborhood” to “how do we engage with what God is doing in the lives of our neighbors."

Over the next few years, De'Amon continued to operate out of his understanding of life and community, using theology, Asset Based Community Development principles, and plain old common sense, to bear witness to what God was doing in the lives of his neighbors and neighborhood. to his work and expanded it to include others.

One of the places in which this happened, in the late 2000s to move from the Jubilee Summer Program to hire young people from the neighborhood to meet their neighbors.  De’Amon, Seana Murphy, Terri Coleman, Martha Thompson-Wright, Duane Carlisle, Trienna and Carmen Evans, worked to develop that in ways that built on what was best in the neighborhood.

Young people from the neighborhood were hired to go block-to-block meeting their neighbors to Name their gifts, Bless them, and Connect them with others in the neighborhood who cared for the same thing (Name, Bless and Connect). Together we honor one another by listening and discovering the gifts, passions and dreams of our neighbors, and finding ways to utilize them to foster "community, economy, and mutual delight.”

The second summer after the young people started their roving work the State Department of Health asked to talk with the young people. They told them, “our job is to make the people of our state healthier and we haven’t been doing a good job. What our data shows is that what you are doing is changing the health of people in your neighborhood. We just got a large grant and we’d like to give you $250,000 to build on the work you have been doing.” The young people were thrilled.

In the early 2010s Dr. Metheny started a new worship service that grew to be a central part of the life of the congregation. The Celebration Worship is an intergenerational worship time that has great energy and commitment (and still gathers today in Backstage at Broadway with music led by the Celebration Band on the 3rd Sunday of each month).
On December 17, 2017, in the early morning hours a fire started in the Community Room on the lower level of the church building and quickly spread upstairs to the main Sanctuary located directly above. Over $8 million in damages were incurred, and the congregation was displaced for over 2 years.

The congregation used this opportunity to dream in new ways about the building and the blessing of it to the parish - both inside and outside of the walls - and  that was a huge gift that came out of a terrible moment.

It allowed Broadway to give much needed code updates, as well as a facelift that has pulled out, and buffed up, the natural and historic beauty of the building for the long haul.

In 2018, Rev. Mike Mather's book, Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places, was published about the life and ministry of Broadway.

For years the congregation had been visited by religious and secular organizations who wanted to see what it would be like to move from a church that served the neighborhood, to a church that practiced being a good neighbor, by supporting what God was doing in the lives of their neighbors.

Over those last two decades there were many learning journeys taken with people inside and outside of the congregation to visit economists and gardeners, community developers and artists,  dancers and social innovators. Those journeys helped grow community and encouraged the people of Broadway in the ways in which they were living out their faith in new and distinctive ways.

On April 21, 2019, the congregation celebrated Easter Sunday in worship together for the first time back in the restored Sanctuary.  In addition to the fire remediation work, building improvements were made throughout including new LED lighting, Wi-Fi expansion, fresh paint, air conditioning in the parlor, and a complete remodel of the Community Room (now known as Backstage at Broadway) including new stage lighting, sound, and video technology.

Special thanks and recognition to Cathy Pilarski (who joined the staff at Broadway in 2008 before becoming the Building Supervisor in 2009) who did an excellent job coordinating this demanding and complex restoration project.

On October 6, 2019, Broadway hosted a special dedication concert for our new Shadd piano, including a visit by the piano designer and builder, Warren Shadd.   And on December 17, 2020 the Sanctuary organ restoration (the final fire-remediation project) was completed by Reynolds Associates.

Watch for more history updates soon...

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