By Caitlin Magness
On the morning of Aug. 7, fire broke out at Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church in Indianapolis. The church was empty at the time of the fire, and no one was injured.
James Boyd, the church’s congregational president, says first responders were able to contain the flames mostly to the basement, where, according to the Indianapolis Fire Department, the fire began.
The building, however, sustained extensive smoke and water damage, with early estimates of the cost at around $1 million. The cause of the fire has not been determined.
Our Savior, with its distinctive red doors in the Highland Vicinity of midtown Indianapolis, was founded in 1939. After years of delay due to building and zoning codes, construction of the church was completed in 1948.
The church, which currently serves approximately 60 members, is known for its history of bringing together black and white Lutherans.
According to the website Indiana Landmarks:
“Our Savior Lutheran Church in Indianapolis holds a unique place in Indianapolis’s social and religious history, a symbol of racial unity during a period of widespread segregation in Indianapolis, the state, and the nation. … The church is also a rare example of a historically black house of worship located in a historically white neighborhood.”
The Rev. Robert Hall, a retired pastor who serves Our Savior part-time, says ministry at the church has been “an enriching experience.”
“I had gone to Our Savior over the years and developed a caring relationship with them,” says Hall. “I had seen the need in black ministry situations, and I saw that the Lord was calling me to answer their call.”
According to Hall, the congregation, which includes white and Brazilian members as well as members from different age groups, is warm, friendly, and deeply dedicated to Christ and the Church.
“I receive a steady flow of love from the people as their pastor,” he says. “It comes in steady, personal ways, including my receiving a piece of candy from the usher at the end of every service.”
Our Savior was recently approved to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, marking the success of a years-long initiative, with a certificate presented to the congregation on Aug. 16.
Repair of the fire damage is in its early stages, as the congregation works with the fire department and insurance company to plan a path forward.
According to Boyd, it is unlikely that the congregation will be able to use the building again for three or four months.
Our Savior is nevertheless moving forward with services, ministry and fellowship. On Aug. 12, the congregation held its first service since the fire, worshiping in tents outside of the church building.
They hope to hold future services in the local elementary school and are working with the local community college to use its space for their programs, including Rebecca’s Garden of Hope, a tutoring and mentoring ministry that serves at-risk students in grades K-5, providing homework help, tutoring, meals and Bible activities.
There is also a community fish-fry scheduled for Sept. 8.
“This is a setback, but it’s not stopping us from doing the Lord’s will,” says Boyd. “The people are the church, not the building.”
The church will observe its 80th anniversary in 2019, with a celebration planned for October of that year.
If repairs proceed as expected, the building will be in good condition again in time for the celebration.
Insurance is expected to cover the damage, but incidental expenses may arise. Those who wish to donate in support of Our Savior may contact the church at 317-925-3737.
Posted Aug. 21, 2018