GARY — With a voice that soared to the curved peak of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church nave, the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, primate and presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, delivered a message of love, encouragement and equality Sunday during his historic visit to the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana.
Members of numerous Episcopal congregations from across the northern third of the state filled the pews for the 10 a.m. Mass and Holy Eucharist at the diocese’s only historically African-American parish.
One group traveled from St. Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington, New Zealand, to honor the newly ordained eighth bishop of the Northern Diocese, the Right Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Sparks who concelebrated the Mass.
Curry’s three-day visit included ordaining Sparks on Saturday in Fort Wayne.
The reading of Galatians 5 during the worship service was especially meaningful, Curry told those gathered.
“For freedom, Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” he repeated during his homily. “Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians calls us to freedom.”
Throughout his ministry, the 63-year-old has been active in issues of social justice, speaking out on immigration policy and marriage equality.
“Jesus did not come to start an institution. He started a movement that changed the landscape,” Curry said. “(Jesus provides examples of) how to be more than we could be. He said ‘Follow me and I’ll show you how to be more than a collection of self-interested humans’.”
While there’s “nothing wrong with being human,” Curry said, “It’s not enough.”
The passage from Galatians 5 also emphasizes the command “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Curry noted.
A story about what his father told him as the pair drove to Curry’s freshman year of college illustrated this message.
“My father told me ‘Treat every girl like you want others to treat your sister. Treat every boy like you want others to treat your brothers,;” Curry said. “We are already family. … May God hold us all in those almighty hands.”
Refreshments and fellowship followed in the church’s lower level. One of St. Augustine’s oldest parishioners, Felicia Childress, recalled how the congregation had outgrown its original building in Gary’s Midtown during the 1950s. Founded by 30 African-American professionals in 1927, St. Augustine’s congregation flourished during the ’50s.
During negotiations for the purchase of a pipe organ, the organ representative suggested hiring mid-century modernist architect Edward D. Dart from Chicago’s North Shore to design a new St. Augustine’s
“We baked pies and did everything we could to raise the funds,” said Childress, 99.
St. Augustine’s opened its doors in 1958 to acclaim including the AIA Citation of Merit and the Church Architectural Guild’s Honor Award. It was also featured in numerous magazines and advertisements, although the black congregation was not pictured.
“The old folks are used to it,” said Paula DeBois, a member of St. Augustine’s parish and church historian. “But they photographed them and never really let you know it was a colored Episcopal mission, which would be about what they would do back then. It’s kind of like they neutralized you. That’s my best description,” she said.
DeBois provided the documentation needed to list the church at 2425 W. 19th Ave. on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation it received in 2013.
Photo: Suzanne Tennat, The Times