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Church of the Good Shepherd, East Chicago, Indiana
The first Episcopal services in East Chicago were held on 18 November 1888 by the Irish-born Rev. Robert C. Wall, who preached and opened a Sunday school. The mission of Good Shepherd was formed in 1892 out of that congregation which had been St. Mary's, New Carlisle. East Chicago was then a tangle of competing and divergent ethnic groups, including Hungarians, Romanians, Slovaks, Poles, Canadians, Welsh, African Americans, and Hispanics. Bishop White noted in his annual address of 1903 that he had placed the Rev. Vincent C. Lacey at Indiana Harbor, and through his efforts, "a number of devout church families were found at East Chicago, lying between Indiana Harbor and Hammond, and a most interesting work begun there." In 1907, the bishop formally organized Good Shepherd as a diocesan mission after receiving a petition from a number of residents. The vicar at the time, the Rev. Charles Albert Smith, also had charge of St. Paul's in Hammond and St. Alban's, Indiana Harbor.
The congregation was comprised mostly of Welsh and Canadians who had arrived in East Chicago to work in the steel mills. Meeting initially in a local Odd Fellows hall, the diocese, through the efforts of the Rev. Thomas Hines, arranged for the former St. Mary's edifice at New Carlisle, a small frame structure, to be moved to East Chicago in 1914. The building was partly disassembled and moved by rail car, together with suitcases full of Books of Common Prayer, to a location at 4525 Baring Avenue for $3,600. Money for the move had come from the sale of the New Carlisle property. In January 1915, Bishop White reported attending the first service in the rebuilt church, but he later said in September that it was still being framed. He was likely referring to the resurfacing of the wood frame church in brick, giving it a much different appearance. Bishop White does not appear to have consecrated the new building, having deemed the previous consecration in 1893 by Bishop Knickerbacker sufficient. In 1920, under Hines's leadership, Good Shepherd became a parish but was still not fully self-supporting. Hines died at his post in 1925, and the church later reverted to mission status.
After World War II in 1945, after many years of financial hardship, Bishop Mallett attempted to persuade the congregations of Good Shepherd and St. Alban the Martyr at Indiana Harbor to merge. One suggestion was that the Indiana Harbor building be retained and shared with East Chicago, while another was to sell both churches and build a new one at a different site. Mallett asked Dom Leo Patterson, a Benedictine monk based in Valparaiso, to take charge of St. Alban's, but it did not survive after World War II. St. Luke's Whiting, another area church that never had its own building, folded into Good Shepherd
After many years of mission status, Good Shepherd was admitted again as a parish under Bishop Mallett in 1956, the first formal new parish added to the diocese since 1908. A 1958 article described the parish's industrial location with its ever-present soot and smoke. Nine railroads carried off steel to other parts of the country, and one out of four people were foreign-born. Membership in the church at that time numbered 233.
For many years Good Shepherd was served by the Rev. Canon C. Richard Phelps, who labored to reach out to the poor of the surrounding community. He celebrated daily Mass, which became the "backbone" of the parish, as well as the full rite of Holy Week. Seven stained glass windows gave witness to the seven sacraments.
In the 1980s East Chicago had the highest population density of any town in the state. Life was regulated by shifts in the steel mills. However, by the 1990s, Good Shepherd was located in the most economically-challenged part of the diocese, where it remained a beacon. In 2014, Phelps reported drawing 100 visitors on Sunday, most of them poor in the area who stayed for lunch. The rectory attached to the church was renamed the "mission house," where lunches were served and other care given. Good Shepherd received donations from other churches, including food and clothing. The recipients helped with the meal preparation. When Father Phelps retired, the parish closed its doors in 2018. The records, as well as those of St. Luke's Whiting, are now in the diocesan archives and have been digitized.
Open Doors Save a Parish
Robert Carter Wall, 1888
Henry Borradaile Collier, 1892
George Moore, 1896-1897
Vincent Corbett Lacey, 1903
Charles Albert Smith, 1901-1909
Thomas Hines, 1914-1925
Frederick Murray Clayton, 1925-1927
William Edward Hoffenbacher, 1927
Alexander Eberhardt Pflaum, 1929-1936
William Edward Hoffenbacher, 1936-1945
Gail Colyer Brittain, 1946-1952
Horace Lytton Varian, 1952-1954
Willis Jay Handsbury, 1954-1960
Charles Sutton, 1960-1961
William E. Smith, 1961-1962
Donald L. Bell, 1963-1967
Michael Grant, 1967-1975
Cecil Richard Phelps, 1980-2017
Parish Register, 1892-1940
Parish Register, 1941-1971
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Douglas Everett Sparks, Eighth Bishop
Bishop Douglas Everett Sparks, the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, is the current incumbent. Born on 8 January 1956, he studied Philosophy at St. Mary's Seminary College, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in 1980. Subsequently, he received a Master's degree from De Andreis Institute of Theology in 1984. Ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in 1984, he served parishes in Missouri, Colorado, and Illinois. In 1989 he was received as a priest into the Episcopal Church, serving as rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Whitewater, Wisconsin, from 1990 to 1995. He also married Dana Wirth and had three children: Christina, Graham, and Gavin.
Sparks later served at St. Matthias Church in Waukesha, Wisconsin, then went to New Zealand to become Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in Wellington. On returning to the United States, he became rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Rochester, Minnesota. From here he was elected bishop on 6 February 2016. He was consecrated at Trinity English Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, on 25 June 2016 by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
Bishop Sparks has adopted a five-point plan of mission that will guide his episcopate:
1. Tell the Good News of the Kingdom.
2. Teach, Baptize, and Nurture new believers.
3. Tend to human need with loving service.
4. Transform unjust structures of society.
5. Treasure God's Creation and renew the Earth.
Bishop Sparks has reversed previous diocesan policy and approved same-sex marriages being performed in the diocese with the consent of individual parishes. He was personally present for the wedding of South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg to Chasten Glezman on 16 June 2018 in a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend. He also permitted openly gay priests to be ordained and serve in the diocese. He has also formed a strong pastoral partnership with Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of the Diocese of Indianapolis, marching for social justice issues, against gun violence, and in favor of greater acceptance of all marginalized groups in the Church. He is an "activist bishop" and comfortable in that role, but he is always careful to ground that advocacy in his faith.
On a national level, the Episcopal Church began an initiative under Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to become a "Beloved Community" and to promote racial reconciliation and more loving, Christian relationships. The movement provided materials to individuals and congregations to "help us to understand and take up the long-term commitments necessary to form loving, liberating and life-giving relationships" with one other. "Together," promoters said, "we are growing as reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers in the name of Christ." This effort was also coined "the Jesus Movement" by the Presiding Bishop. Part of that process involved studying and apologizing for sins committed against minority groups throughout the Church's history. During his sabbatical in 2022, Bishop Sparks walked the Potawatomi Trail of Death, traveling on foot from Plymouth, Indiana, to Kansas. He left an account of his pilgrimage. It symbolized the work of the Diocese of Northern Indiana to account for acts of racism in its past.
For several years during Bishop Sparks's episcopate, from 2020 to 2022, the nation suffered under a devastating COVID-19 epidemic. In-personal worship was canceled, and services were conducted remotely online through Zoom, a computer meeting software. When vaccines became available and the virulence of the epidemic eased, congregations met in limited form with enforced masking and social distancing. Bishop Sparks was instrumental in developing protocols that had never been previously considered in diocesan history.
In 2023, the Diocese of Northern Indiana embarked on an exploratory path to discern the possibility of reuniting with the Diocese of Indianapolis. That process remains ongoing at this writing.
Episcopal News Service:
Consecration of Bishop Douglas Sparks, 25 June 2016, Trinity English Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne