Rev. Wilbur Dean Elliott, rector of Christ Church Gary ca 19191 media/Rev Wilbur Dean Elliott, rector of Christ Church Gary_thumb.jpg 2022-10-23T14:52:47-07:00 John David Beatty 85388be94808daa88b6f1a0c89beb70cd0fac252 32716 1 Rev. Wilbur Dean Elliott, rector of Christ Church Gary ca 1919 plain 2022-10-23T14:52:47-07:00 John David Beatty 85388be94808daa88b6f1a0c89beb70cd0fac252
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Christ Episcopal Church, Gary (defunct)
Efforts to establish an Episcopal Church in Gary began in 1907, when Bishop John Hazen White dispatched the Rev. Legh W. Applegate of Valparaiso to do missionary work there. At that time, Gary was newly-founded under the auspices of U.S. Steel, and all property was designated for industrial use. Applegate preached on street corners until H. S. Norton of U. S. Steel agreed to furnish a temporary building at 5th and Adams streets in December 1907. The Episcopalians thus opened the first formal church building in the city. In January 1908, White made his first visitation to Gary and confirmed seven. On 11 November 1908, Christ Church was formally organized. The Commercial Club attended, as did Norton himself, recognizing the civic importance of the event. Applegate made the building available to other community groups, including other churches.
With the church growing, Applegate asked the General Convention for $10,000, but he did not receive it until May 1910. That money allowed the congregation to purchase a lot on the northeast corner of 6th Avenue and Adams Street. The Rev. L. C. Marsh, called as rector in 1911, conducted the first service on the lot in a new frame church designed by L. H. Ellwood and Sons. Marsh was succeeded by Rev. William N. Wyckhoff in July 1912. He was followed by the Rev. Benjamin F. P. Ivins, who had previously been rector of St. Thomas, Plymouth, and served from 1914 to 1916. Ivins established the first weekday school of religion in the country, and in 1925 was elected Bishop of Milwaukee. Rev. W. H. Blake succeeded Ivins in 1916, and he was followed by the Rev. Wilbur Dean Elliott in 1917. During the 1919 steel strike, members of the congregation sided strongly with the corporation, but Elliott defended from the pulpit the right of workers to organize. The Rev. James Foster, Elliott's successor, later wrote that "no attempt was made to put any pressure on the rector," but by 1920 he became so driven by frustration that, "careless in his personal conduct," he resigned.
That same year the vestry called the Rev. James E. Foster, who would serve the church ably until his retirement in 1956. Foster told the vestry that if there was anything in the church they wished to get rid of, they should do it before he arrived. In 1925, under Foster's leadership, the parish received a $40,000 gift from U.S. Steel. A building fund campaign raised an additional $50,000, and a new church in the Gothic style was constructed in 1926. It was an impressive structure, and though not as large as the Methodist or Presbyterian churches, the congregation wielded much local influence. Foster was also instrumental in helping to found St. Augustine's mission in 1927, in part because his own congregation would not allow African Americans to worship there.
During the Depression, the congregation persevered under difficult times. At one time the bank foreclosed on the church, but it was not lost. Foster proved himself as a priest of enormous strength in guiding Christ Church through this era. A quiet, gentle man, he was interested in social justice issues, helped to desegregate the local beaches, and was a close friend of the Rev. Wallace Wells of St. Augustine's, with whom he exchanged pulpits on some Sundays in the summer. When the Rosenbergs were sentenced to death during the McCarthy era, Foster was among the local priests who campaigned for the commutation of the sentence, which was a controversial stance. He also knew grief. In 1944, his son Patrick died after becoming lost in the Colorado mountains in winter. Receiving the news just before the Christmas Eve service, he proceeded to conduct the service and collapsed afterward. An article in the diocesan newsletter noted after his retirement, "His outstanding characteristic is a fierce sense of integrity. He has a passion for intellectual honesty whether the opinions are popular or unpopular. This trait nearly always compels respect. Father Foster is a man of scholarship, one who has a very strong sense of social justice. He is a man of much personal kindness." When he retired after 36 years of service, he was the senior priest in the diocese.
Foster was a close friend of the Hyndman family. When the head of the family died in a mill accident in 1944, a large crowd gathered for the funeral. Bishop Mallett, who was visiting Gary at the time, later remarked to Foster that the funeral must have been for someone important. Foster replied, "Yes, he was important."
Following Foster's retirement, the Rev. James W. Curtis, the curate, was elected rector and enjoyed another long tenure. A native of St. Louis and a graduate of Dartmouth, he had been tutored for the priesthood and was ordained to the ministry by Bishop Whittemore of the Diocese of Western Michigan. As outspoken and passionate as his predecessor, Curtis extended outreach to local Spanish-speaking community members, supported a Cuban refugee program, and worked to develop ecumenical ties with local Catholic, Presbyterian, and evangelical congregations, including the African American community. He was an advocate for the Open Housing Amendment.
The closing of the church, once a vibrant congregation, can be attributed to the changing neighborhood around it and the flight of its white membership to suburban areas that began with the election of Richard Hatcher as mayor in 1968. At one point, the church was burglarized, and many items were stolen. The congregation put up a sign stating jokingly that it was now "Christ Church of the Good Thief." Increasingly, congregants began attending other congregations, such as St. Barnabas and St. Stephen's, which had been seeded by Christ Church members. The last service was held on All Saints Day, 1983, with Bishop Sheridan presiding. The records of the church are preserved in the Archives of the diocese. The exception is the parish register that dates after 1980, which is located at St. Stephen's, Hobart.
Legh Wilson Applegate, 1907-1910
Lindus Cody Marsh, 1911- 1912
William Nehemiah Wyckoff, 1912-1914
Benjamin Franklin Price Ivins, 1914-1916
W. H. Blake, 1916-1917
Wilbur Dean Elliott, 1917-1920
James Edward Foster, 1920-1956
James Wallace Curtis, 1956-1983
James W. Lewis, At Home in the City: The Protestant Experience in Gary, Indiana, 1906-1975 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), pp. 71-73.
James E. Foster, Christ Church, Gary, Indiana, a Sketch Book of Parish History (Gary: Christ Church, 1940).
Parish Register of Christ Church, Gary, 1908-1928
Parish Register of Christ Church, Gary, 1908-1980
Marriage Register of Christ Church, Gary, 1908-1964
Index of Names
Note that the above parish registers are accessible through Familysearch. A free registration and login is required for access.