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St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, Gary
St. Augustine's is the only church in the Diocese of Northern Indiana with a predominantly African American congregation and the only one in the state founded specifically as a so-called "Colored Episcopal Mission." The convention journal of May 1928 reported that the Rev. James E. Foster, rector of Christ Church, Gary, received permission from Bishop Campbell Gray "to hold services therein for Colored people of the city, who have become residents of that section. The work has been so successful and the services so well attended by those who are found to be communicants of the Church that a mission has been established for them under the name of St. Augustine's, which promises well for the future."
The roots of the congregation go back as far as June 1919, when the Parochial Committee of Christ Church in Gary planned a survey to address the spiritual needs of the 8,000-10,000 African Americans living in Gary, many of whom had no church affiliation. However, the survey was never undertaken. The idea for a mission devoted to Gary's African Americans germinated again in 1923. Several families at the time attended services at the predominantly white Christ Church Gary, including Mrs. Frederick Stovall, J. W. Lewis, and Mrs. Anna Washington. The three spoke to Foster about about organizing some missionary work for the church on the south side of the city. That same year, Foster, who was an unorthodox and liberal pastor with strong egalitarian views, arranged to provide regular services to African Americans in Sunday afternoons in Christ Church. The prejudices of the time did not allow the races to worship together, but in Christ Church that feeling may have stemmed more from the congregation than from Foster himself. The following year, the Rev. D. E. Johnson, an African American Episcopal priest, attempted to locate potential members and organize a congregation, but his efforts were unsuccessful.
The momentum for a new church continued. In the autumn of 1926, a group of African Americans gathered at the home of Dr. George Gonsalves to assess the feasibility of establishing a black mission. They included A. J. Butler, Ernestine Lawson, Dr. R. O. Munden, Samuel and Salona Sexton, attorney F. Louis Sperling, Marion Warner, and Anna Washington. Others joined the group later, including Florence "Flossie" Alexander, Cecil and Jennie Kellogg, Frances J. Stovall, Leroy W. Wallace, James Whittier, and Mary Williams.
In February 1927. Leroy W. Wallace called on Foster to assist with the formal organization of a mission on the south side of the city using the building at 19th and Adams streets formerly known as the San Antonio Italian Mission. After a meeting led by Sperling, Mrs. Alexander, and Foster, the group requested the assistance of Bishop Campbell Gray, who agreed immediately to provide the congregation with a priest and a place to worship. As a consequence of that meeting, the congregation held its first official service at Christ Church on May 8, 1927. After it was formally granted mission status later that year, St. Augustine's 30 communicants moved into the former San Antonio's building, which had since been resurfaced in brick. At the suggestion of Mrs. Washington, the membership selected "St. Augustine," the name of her college in Raleigh, North Carolina, as the mission's name.
While many African Americans had come to Gary during the Great Migration to work in the steel mills, St. Augustine's members consisted largely of the upper middle and professional classes. The membership hailed from across the country: Philadelphia, North Carolina, St. Louis, and the Caribbean, among other places, and many had grown up in the Episcopal Church. The new mission gained a local reputation as the "professional church" among African Americans. Some members were physicians or worked on the hospital staff, while many others were educators.
St. Augustine's struggled initially to provide regular services and was served by a series of part-time supply priests. Foster's main responsibilities were with Christ Church, and early on he recruited the pastoral assistance of the Rev. Legh Applegate, a retired missionary priest who attended Christ Church. In 1934 Foster and Applegate handed the mission over to a series of part-time priests that included the Revs. Peter Langendorff, James A. Hilton of Valparaiso, Haven Perkins, and William Driver. These priests were ably assisted by a corps of lay readers that included Fritz Alexander, Herbert Holliday, Gaston Saunders, William Swan, and G. Kenneth Washington.
These were challenging times, and the church was in poor condition after years of neglect. An article noted, "The ill-fitted plain glass windows admitted more than an ample supply of fresh air, especially in the winter, and the odor and smoke usually filling the church during the winter were the only indications that a fire was burning, for the heat apparently escaped to another location." G. Kenneth Washington, then a boy, purchased coal at a local coal yard and hauled it to church in his red wagon, starting a fire in the boiler so that it would be moderately warm on Sunday. Later, Fritz Alexander had the chore of bringing coal to church under the hood of his car and stoking the boiler to warm the church.
In 1939, Bishop Gray assigned several monks who had recently moved to Valparaiso - Dom Paul Severance, Dom Leo Patterson, and later Dom Francis Bacon of the order of St. Benedict - to take charge of the oversight of the church. Gray brought Patterson with him on his visitation on April 19, and for several months the monk took on the primary management of the mission. His sermons and rigorous liturgy were important to the formative years of the church. After Patterson left for East Chicago, Bacon assumed responsibility, making a number of improvements to the church. He instituted regular times of worship, installed new windows and Stations of the Cross, built a pulpit, and added a new electric organ. At his encouragement, parishioners made regular pledges, allowing the church to grow. The monks stayed with St. Augustine's until 1946, when they moved to Three Rivers, Michigan, to found St Gregory's Priory. The congregation commemorated their years of service by making annual visits to the priory through 2008.
The Rev. Charles Edward Taylor, the first African American priest called to St. Augustine's, succeeded the monks and served from 1947 to 1949. Ordained in 1944, he had served previously at All Saints Episcopal Church in Toledo, Ohio. After Taylor's departure, Langendorff returned to St. Augustine's to lead the congregation for a brief period. His expansive knowledge of the history and traditions of the church were major contributions to the communal worship of the congregation.
In 1951, the Rev. Wallace Lewis Wells, a member of the congregation, a former Methodist and educator, became vicar. A native of Texas and a visionary priest, he had completed his clerical training in middle age at Seabury Western Theological Seminary. Previously he had taught in the Gary school system. Wells rose to several positions of leadership in the diocese, including membership of the Diocesan Council and chair of the Department of Missions, and he was well-respected by Bishop Reginald Mallett, who praised St. Augustine's hospitality. His wife, Henrietta (Bell) Wells (1912-2008), was supervisor of the Welfare Department of Gary. She had been a member of the famed Wiley College debate team of 1930 (its only female member), which defeated many all-white teams of the period and was portrayed on-screen in "The Great Debaters," a 2007 film directed by and starring Denzel Washington.
Two years after Wells's arrival in July 1953, a group of parishioners went on a picnic to Marquette Park, a public beach that included bathing and playground facilities. While there, they were surrounded by a group of white hoodlums who threatened and harassed them. Wells and Clifford E. Minton, executive director of the Gary Urban League and later a parishioner, attempted to reason with the crowd without result. When the police arrived, they failed to intervene or defend the assaulted group, and after the parishioners left the beach, the police did little to respond to complaints. Bishop Mallett also said nothing publicly to support them. A second incident occurred when another group of racists deflated two tires of a parishioner's car at the beach, and in the ensuing confrontation, one of them hit a female parishioner. As a result Gary's mayor called for the full integration of the park, better training for police, and an end to harassment. St. Augustine's congregation therefore played a role in the civil rights movement as it developed in Gary.
Wells's service to St. Augustine's was memorable, and the church experienced considerable growth under his leadership. He led the construction of the present church at 2425 West 19th Avenue in 1959 and helped it achieve parish status in 1961. Previously, when church leaders had inquired about purchasing a pipe organ fr their old church, the sales representative had suggested they commission the renowned Mid-Century Modern architect, Edward D. Dart, to design a new building for the instrument. They commissioned Dart, who had designed many post-war houses in the suburban Chicago area, and he returned an initial design with elaborate stained glass windows that far exceeded the church's $120,000 budget. Bishop Reginald Mallett refused initially to offer any diocesan funds for its construction, stating that it was "too ambitious" for a black congregation. He urged Wells and his congregation to remain in their dilapidated building, but the congregation disagreed and moved forward with the plans anyway, eventually receiving some diocesan assistance of about $2,500 per year. Henrietta Wells was closely involved with the design plans.
After being informed that the congregation preferred a more minimalist design at a reduced cost, Dart drafted a new plan that used Indiana limestone, wood, and small clerestory windows. He intended his design of its roof line to resemble hands in prayer. The congregation broke ground in 1958 and held the first service in the new church in April 1959. Mallett consecrated it on May 8. The following year Dart received a citation of merit from the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry for his unique design. A second award came from the Church Architectural Guild.
Having transformed St. Augustine's in his twelve years as rector, Wells resigned on September 1, 1963, to accept a call to St. Luke's Church in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Rev. Robert Earl Hood succeeded him on November 17, 1963. Born in 1936, Hood had attended Ohio Wesleyan University and Union Theological Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1962. He was working on his doctorate at the University of Chicago at the time of his arrival and agreed to serve until his education was completed. An innovative leader, he did much to attune St. Augustine's to the social changes of the sixties while also introducing an expansive program of music and art to the church and community. During his tenure the Moeller organ was dedicated in a recital by Alec Wyton of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The parish chapter of Episcopal Church Women began staging an annual fashion show with clothing from a local boutique and receiving attention in the local press. In 1967, Hood left to pursue an academic career and became a member of the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He would later work as an assistant to Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. He was the author of the book, Begrimed and Black: Christian Traditions on Black and Blackness. At the time of his death in 1994, he was director of the Center for African-American Studies at Adelphi University in New York City.
In January 1968, St. Augustine's congregation welcomed its third rector, the Rev. William James Walker. He had grown up in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church but was ordained in 1962 in the Episcopal Church, serving first as an assistant at Grace Episcopal Church in Detroit. He was a scholar and a noted authority on African American hymnody. While at St. Augustine's, he introduced the wide usage of Negro Spirituals into the services, but he remained in Gary only through December 1969. He moved later to All Saints Episcopal Church in St. Louis, where he spoke out in 1975 against the ordination of women to the priesthood. Three years later he authored the booklet, Word, Bread, Cup, which offered trial ecumenical communion liturgies in the period leading up to the adoption of a new prayerbook in 1979. He later moved to Detroit to become rector of St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church and died there suddenly of a heart attack in 1987.
Walker's successor, the Rev. Joseph Walter Riggs, became rector in September 1970. A native of Chicago, Riggs, who was white, had been ordained in 1968 and was just 29, having previously served as curate of Gethsemane Church in Marion. A gentle man who opposed the Vietnam War, he imbued the parish with his spirituality. The church mortgage was burned during his tenure. New stained glass windows designed by City Glass Specialty of Fort Wayne, were installed in 1974. Riggs served as rector until August 1975, when he left to become rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Lafayette. He later became director of Episcopal Community Services for the Diocese of Indianapolis from 1977 to 1980 and died in Indianapolis in 1983 at the age of 42 after years of being a heavy smoker.
During the interim after Riggs's departure, the Rev. C. Richard Phelps, an established diocesan priest, served briefly as priest-in-charge until the parish called the Rev. James D. Manning as rector in 1976. Manning, an African American and a bachelor, was a native of Washington, D.C., born in 1937. He had attended California State University at San Jose and received his M.Div. degree from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in 1972. He had served as vicar of the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin in Boston before arriving in Gary. His rectorate is remembered for his ability to blend humor with rigorous interpretations of the customs and traditions of the church. He later became rector of St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in Baltimore, St. Gabriel's Church in Hollis, New York, and interim rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Rosedale, New York, where he died in 2011.
In November 1983, the Rev. H. Roy Thompson became rector, and his seminary training led him to place strong emphasis on the use of traditional Anglican liturgy in worship. Thompson had attended Codrington College in Barbados and was ordained at St. John's Church there in 1969. He arrived in Gary with his wife Yvette and their two children and took an early interest in missionary outreach. In 1988 he visited the companion diocese of Enugu in Nigeria. He left St. Augustine's in July 1989 to become rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Flatbush, New York.
Two years later in October 1991, the Rev. Canon David L. Hyndman became rector of St. Augustine's and remains its longest-tenured pastor. A 1964 graduate of Seabury-Western Theological seminary, Hyndman had been ordained in Christ Church, Gary, and had ties to the city. For 25 years he had served as vicar of All Saints Wawasee, a ministry that had included leading an annual summer camp by the lake. At St. Augustine's he oversaw many interior and exterior improvements to the building and grounds. The edifice became the first of Edward Dart's commissioned designs to be listed the National Register of Historic Places. Nominated by a parishioner, the church was listed on September 18, 2013. At that time, St. Augustine's was Gary's only postwar modern church structure.
Through the years the congregation supported a variety of activities and outreach projects in the community surrounding the church. Parishioner Charlotte Strowhorn, who held many diocesan offices, played an instrumental role in creating Camp New Happenings, a diocesan-sponsored event at Camp Alexander Mack in Milford. Designed for children aged 8 to 11, it serves those whose parents or caregivers have been incarcerated. Another outreach project is the Martha Mansker Food Baskets. In the 1970s, Mrs. Mansker, a social worker, began collecting canned goods for clients. Her fellow choir members joined the project and expanded it. Now known officially as Martha Mansker Food Baskets, the congregation continues to give it support as an outreach project.
In 2016, after the consecration of Douglas Sparks as the diocese's eighth bishop, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry came to St. Augustine's at his his own request. As the first African American to head the Episcopal Church, he was intrigued by the history of the parish and wanted to experience it first-hand. He preached, celebrated communion, and afterwards met with members of the congregation.
Two years later in September 2018, Hyndman retired, and the congregation was thankful for his leadership and spiritual guidance. St. Augustine's was invited to join the Calumet Episcopal Ministry Partnership (CEMP) in the summer of 2018. Under this arrangement several parishes in the Calumet area shared the services of a priest as a means of addressing both a shortage of clergy and a shortage of funds. With this partnership of churches, St. Augustine's headed into the future with faith and hope that it would continue to be a concrete reality in the community for what God has planned in His love.Additional information from Paula DeBois, Parish Historian, 2019.
James Edward Foster, 1927-1934
Peter Langendorff, 1934-1936
James Arthur Hilton, 1936-1938
Haven Palmer Perkins, 1936-1939
William Aaron Driver, 1938-1939
Dom Paul Frank Rolland Severance,1939-1940
Dom Francis Hilary Bacon, 1940-1945
Dom Leo Kenneth Douglas Patterson, 1945-1947
Charles Edward Taylor, 1947-1949
Peter Langendorff, 1949-1951
Wallace Lewis Wells, 1951-1963
Dr. Robert Earl Hood, 1964-1967
William James Walker, 1967-1969
Joseph Walter Riggs, 1970-1975
Cecil Richard Phelps, 1975-1976
James Donald Manning, 1976-1982
Henderson Aaron Fitz-Roy Thompson, 1983-1989
David Lee Hyndman, 1991-2018
Michelle I. Walker, 2018-2020 (CEMP)
Kristine Graunke, 2018-2020 (CEMP)
Pamela Thiede, 2020- (CEMP)
Cynthia Moore, 2020-2021 (CEMP)
Text adapted from St. Augustine's website: http://calumetepiscopal.org/st-augustine/about.php
Mrs. Childress interview
Organ Concert Program, 1967
Rev. Joseph Walter Riggs
Rev. Joseph W. Riggs was born in Chicago on 22 June 1941, the son of Joseph Archie and Verna Anna (Christophel). He graduated from Oberlin College in 1963 and Fordham in 1965. He then went on to General Theological Seminary, receiving a degree in 1968. He was ordained a deacon later that year and a priest by Bishop Klein in 1969. He married Betty Elaine Parsons on 22 June 1968. He began his career as a curate at Gethsemane Church in Marion, Indiana, from 1968 to 1970. He then became rector of St. Augustine's in Gary, serving from 1970 to 1975. He moved to St. John's in Lafayette, and then came to Indianapolis in 1977 as executive director of Episcopal Community Services, remaining until 1980. He became ill with cancer and died in Indianapolis on 17 June 1983.