September 29, 2020

Another Story


Built in the 1920’s, the City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana is one of the most famous church ruins in America.

Here is its story from a 1967 yearbook. It is scheduled to become a “Ruin Garden,” according to last information.

There are amazing photos at Flickr by many different photographers. Search City Methodist Gary. This photographer has many good shots. Find his long shot of the entire interior.

Abandoned church photography is quite an art these days. This one is in Detroit. Look at all that has been left behind.


  1. There is something altogether beautiful about a run-down and obviously well used church. Even these churches, which are far from ancient, inspire a sense of reverence for our very old faith, the memory of those who came before us and what they contributed to the global proclamation of God’s glory.
    It’s a shame that we don’t have more of this on the West Coast.

    • Forsooth. The Crystal Cathedral will NOT be this pretty when it’s abandoned (and it *will* be abandoned, have no doubt). It’ll be a windowless, rusted jungle gym a couple of hundred feet tall.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        No, it’ll be bulldozed within the year and a particle-board-and-styrofoam “Gated and Planned Community” of condos built on the site. I’ve lived in Crystal Cathedral’s part of SoCal for some 25 years, and that’s how crazy real estate gets out here. Nothing large lasts long after abandonment because the land it sits on is too valuable for development. When I was working in Anaheim in the Eighties, I saw one lot across the street get bulldozed and built-up TWICE in the four years I was there.

        The only exception is when we have one of our periodic real estate crashes (roughly every 10-12 years; we’re in one now). Then you get a lot of vacant lots and “investment real estate” developments sitting empty for the next five years while new investor-bilking developments go up right next door under the theory “If you build it, they WILL come. They have to! THEY HAVE TO!”

  2. Staggering. I’m sure the neighborhood changed around it, and affluent members moved on to the suburbs. Billy Joel’s “Allentown” comes to mind…maybe Steve Taylor’s “Disco”. It probably got caught in the crossfire of racial tensions of the 60’s. The shift of the United Methodist church toward liberalism in the 60’s probably caused many to leave (I, too am a baptize, confirmed UMC refugee). It kind of goes with one of my earlier comments, that the true beauty of a church is the proclamation of the gospel. When that goes, all that remains is a ruin.

    I don’t think it is a testimony against religious beauty. Even in the throws of death, this is still a beautiful building. If this were your typical utilitarian church architeture (gymnasium and all), I bet no one would be talking about turning it into a park. Does one not build out of fear of ruin?

    A nearby abbey built about the same time as City Methodist recently closed.

    Several videos on youtube of City Methodist.

    Sad. Very sad.

  3. oh how the buildings shape us..

  4. Years ago, decades really, I thought I could make an honest living by installing fire protection systems, alarms and sprinklers, in some of the massive churches in my area. [ In the 1900’s coal was King, and each coal baron seemed to be of a different denomination, They each built huge church buildings in their home towns.] After a year of futile presentations to various boards I got the message. As lovely as these structures were, the most fortunate churches were those that burnt to the ground and were replaced by insurance!
    The old buildings were too costly to heat and cool, had no elevators for the infirm, the rest rooms were not handicapped accessible, lacked adequate parking, had way too much Sunday school classroom area, and in general belonged to a different time. My potential customers would rather place their fate in the hands of God, and pray to be relieved of a beautiful burden.
    Now many of these buildings that were designed to hold hundreds hold tens, some supported by a century of good investment but many are closing. Catholic churches of like era and matchless old world intricate craftsmanship are for sale in every other town around here. Let us hope souls were saved in the duration, and that the structures served the purpose. It ain’t about buildings, it is about mansions not made by the hand of man.

  5. I need to take a jog down and see the one in Detroit. I do go to Comerica to see my Tigers. Been to Cass Corridor too with the Catholics who feed the poorest of the poor. You wouldn’t believe the ministry going on here in the inner-city Michael.

    No chance you got a name on that church you show in your link here in the Motor City?

    • I’ve been to the Cass Park area twice. Worked with the Hope ministry center adjacent to it (which I hear is being torn down and replaced–sadly–with high end structures of some sort). Beautiful area. Check out more ruins of Detroit at

  6. looked at the pics of the church in Gary. Turned my stomach.

  7. Tragic when you see what CMC clearly was in it’s heyday. However even from the 1967 yearbook you get a sense that there may have been more of a cosy club atmosphere than a real gospel missions mentality. “True beauty of a church is the proclamation of the gospel”- spot on.

    However, if the church handbook was produced in 1967, and the church closed in 1975, that’s a frighteningly fast decline. You’d never get the sense of decline from the handbook photos.

    • According to the yearbook, they did have a minister of inner-city missions. That seems progressive for the time, or even now.

      • Yes, I thought so too. But simply having a pastor for inner-city missions doesn’t tell you much about what the mission mentality is.

        According to some website I looked on earlier, the Sunday congregation went from over 3000 in the mid 50s to under fifty by 1972. That’s either a vast number of “Sunday” christians who lost it somewhere along the line, or a major departure in genuine believers who went elsewhere for their fellowship. Either way, something’s not right.

        • There’s a provocative two-part video on youtube called “Ghost Town”, which documents the history of Gary and its racial conflicts. It mentions City Methodist twice. It claims that it became a church for the white elite of the city and did not admit non-whites into membership. I haven’t found collaborative evidence to verify this. It doesn’t fit the vision of Dr. Seaman who founded the church, but things could have changed after he was forced to leave shortly after the church opened in the 20’s. Race tensions grew worse after WW II. Needless to say, Gary experienced a serious case of “white flight” in the 50’s and 60’s, with the African American population reaching 90%. If CMC truly didn’t reach out to non-whites, then closure was inevitable.

          For any Lutherans out there, the LCMS still has parishes in Gary and is actively reaching out to African Americans.

          • OK, a little collaboration on the segregation issue.

            After it was announced in 2007 that City Methodist was to become a ruin garden, UMC Rev. Michelle Cobb lead a “Repentance, Reconciliation and Appreciation” service at the site of City Methodist . During the service, she stated, “What we are trying to do is publicly acknowledge the reason why the church closed in 1975 was principally racism, fear, apathy and lack of vision. We are coming back to repent for that sin before God and also through this service to recognize that we are reconciling a relationship with the city of Gary”.


          • Thanks for that- I’ll check that out. I’m very interested to hear the perspectives on this situation. I’m a Brit (and from an admittedly strongly white upper-middle class background), and so have little comprehension of the history involved.

            I suppose it parallels to some degree the increasing dominance of Muslim communities in what were previously white working class manufacturing areas. The big problem is that many of them are acknowledged to be breeding some pretty aggressive and politicised forms of Islam. It’s going to be a massive challenge for missions.

  8. Interesting that the only black faces in the handbook belong to the housekeeper and the two custodians…

    • Will:

      That was one of the things I noticed as well. Also, the housekeeper was the only woman. I think that speaks volumes.

    • It speaks volumes about 1967 guys. The UMC is quite progressive on race and women in ministry.

      • Yep. 1967 was about a year or two before the SBC church I was in had the big debate.

        “What do we do if they show up?”

  9. Oh, it’s too bad that this church has been left to go to ruin!
    Lewiston, Maine had St. Mary’s Church (Catholic…of course!) which was closed due to low attendance and it has been made into a Franco-American cultural center. Very nice! You can read about it at the URL above. It, too, is a Gothic style building.

    There is a big Catholic church in Portland, Maine, which has closed or is being closed. They are talking about turning it into apartments that low-income elderly could rent. They said they would have a chapel in there and keep some of the artwork in the chapel and in other places in the building. That sounds like a good solution. And instead of the church having to pay upkeep on the building, they would bring in some money, though they plan to keep the rent low so that people can afford to live there. I wish them well!

    (Michael, if I write the correct HTML code, can I show photos right in this place? Or, even I am able to do that, would you prefer that it not be done? Thanks.)

  10. Trust me folks, the “church yearbooks” from our hip, relevant churches will be sheer comedy in 42 years.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Nothing gets stale faster than over-relevance.

      (Seen any reruns of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In lately?)

      Except Pretentious Over-Relevance.

  11. Wow, that large photo of the one in Detroit is stunning! I hope someone saves the stained glass and the organ. And look at the detail on some of the wood. Too bad if they just trash it all.

  12. The architecture is beautiful but even so God chose not to live in man-made buildings but in the heart of believers. I wonder how many lost people look at run down churches and think “God couldn’t keep that church in business how can he help me with my problems.”

    Acts 7:48 -50 ESV
    Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
    “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
    What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
    Did not my hand make all these things?’

    Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV
    So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

  13. So sad to look at that photo and think that was once a lively church…

  14. And how is this different in point from the previous pics of the CPC Nashville edifice? (Other than the obvious need-to-sweep-up!)

    Nice pics, nice architecture, nice art, glorifies God and all that, gives me warm and fuzzy God feelings just looking at the pics… but couldn’t we just walk out into the woods and look at some tall trees or mountains, etc., and accomplish the same thing?

    • How many mountains and forests do you think the residents of Gary can experience weekly?

      Sure, you can appreciate God’s magnificence in nature. But when you gather with other believers to worship, I think this architecture glorifies God and directs worshippers in an appropriate direction.

      It’s very sad to me that this structure isn’t being used, but that doesn’t do away with the need, desire or seemliness for beautiful worship space.

      • PL,

        I’ve been to Gary, and the answer is—they would have to leave town to find some trees and mountains! I was in the Great Smoky Mountains a couple of weeks ago and saw several Indiana license plates. Maybe some of them were from Gary…

        Do you suggest that the residents should therefore find a nearby building to inspire them with God’s magnificence? Does it have to be a church building? Does the inspirational, artistic architecture have to include arches, columns, tall ceilings, and stained glass?

        How many residents of Gary would you guess are actually experiencing God’s magnificence via church architecture in that city? My guess is that it’s not relatively very many.

        I’m not taking issue with the need or desire for beautiful worship space. I like beautiful worship space. IMonk posted a link to pics of this now defunct church. I enjoyed looking at the pics and even downloaded the one of the sanctuary and made it my computer desktop background. Nice to look at…as long as it’s somebody else’s albatross to deal with. I suppose one man’s burden is another man’s inspiration…

  15. A Most Appropriate Edifice

    The sacredness of the place
    lingers like the angled summer sunshine
    through tinted glass

    This is a most appropriate edifice
    for unremarkable lives noted only
    in dusty record books

    For knees bent in reverence,
    for the hands moving:
    forehead, shoulder, shoulder, heart

    For a generation long ago
    where the holy wafer was dispensed
    and funeral dirges mixed with wedding marches

    For the silence

    © Joseph E. Arechavala 8/13/09

  16. I live about 20 minutes from this church, and much of the surrounding neighborhood is now run-down and abandoned, with the exception of a local Catholic school and cathedral, and the Gary Police Department building. Very sad….

    • From what I can find on Google, this scene is repeated over and over again across the rust belt (Detroit, Buffalo, etc.)…churches dying along with their communities. I don’t know if or how such churches could have stemmed the tide. With the Detroit auto industry practically evaporating, it will only get worse. If this were an ugly, cheaply built church, it still would probably be closed. If it were ten smaller churches rather than one huge ediface, perhaps a few would have survived. But if the people are gone, what becomes the mission of the church?

      Perhaps churches should be actively involved in encouraging urban renewal. I would think that churches particularly should speak against turning more and more productive agricultural land – which could be used to feed the starving around the world – into even more suburban sprawl. Perhaps a new homesteading effort could be started to encourage people to move back to abandoned urban neighborhoods. Even in my smaller city, development continues north and east while other parts deteriorate.

      On another note, this church appears to have been a predecessor of the modern mega-church: giant auditoriums, gymnasiums, amazing sound system (organ). It had it all. I bet smaller churches couldn’t compete even then. But when the bottom fell out, the smaller churches may have been a little more agile to adapt to a changing mission. There may be a lesson or a warning in this story unrelated to church beauty.

      • “this scene is repeated over and over again across the rust belt (Detroit, Buffalo, etc.)…churches dying along with their communities. I don’t know if or how such churches could have stemmed the tide.”

        I think they were following the trend. I lived just outside of Pittsburgh in the 80s. It was a surreal place. Entire neighborhoods abandoned. Stores, shopping malls, houses, etc… There was even a long newspaper article while I was there about the Carnegie libraries falling into ruin. The communities could not keep them up. Call it white flight if you want but it was more than that. By the late 50s the incomes in the rust belt factories, (steel, auto, whatever), had risen to the point that the kids could go to college. And the kids for the most part did not come back. (A variation of “How you going to keep them on the farm once they’ve seen the city.”) And as the parents retired a new group of non college educated people moved in to take their place. And to be blunt they were in many cases not white. Many were from where iMonk lives. Black and White. “Eyes on the Prize” documents this for the rural south black population. But the last wave got caught in the decline of the heavy industry in the US.

        My point is that the population that supported these churches basically died out. And was replaced by people from other faith backgrounds.

        This population movement to the suburbs started with the US winning WWII and is just now beginning to end. And since it occurred so rapidly (in historical terms) there was/is a lot of social upheaval. Does this tie into iMonk’s collapse thesis? I don’t know. But it sure has been a rough ride in many ways for communities in the US for the last 60 years.

  17. Looking at these church interior photos made me very sad, almost as sad as looking at depression-era photos of people in Appalachia, or current-day photos of starving children in Africa.

    Ruins are one thing. Desecrated ruins are another.

  18. I would like to note that this could be as much or more about socio-economic factors such as “white flight” than about buildings. In the ’60s and ‘70s, as many urban neighborhoods became increasingly populated by African Americans and other minorities, whites tended to move to the suburbs, taking their businesses and churches with them. This, ironically, fed into the growth and demographic of the typical suburban (mainly white and middle class) American evangelical church (and megachurch). Whether to abandon the building or stay has been a source of contention in many downtown churches. The church I attended while in college and in which I was married was a downtown stone monolith in a not particularly good neighborhood. However, this allowed the church to reach out to the poor where they were at. Once a month, the church hosted a large food pantry, and during the week, the church building was used by various addiction and other such social programs. Due to its location, the church building was within walking distance of many of those whom it served—many of which did not own vehicles. However, I was told by some of the older members that, in the ‘60s or ‘70s, the building issue had actually led to a church split, with those who wished to stay in the neighborhood and serve its population even at it declined economically pitted against those who wished to flee to the surburbs. Sadly, despite their zeal for helping their neighbors, the congregation remaining in the church is small, not filling even half the sanctuary, and largely elderly.

    • In case anyone is tempted to get smug about these issues, let me remind the audience that in the 1960’s many northern cities experienced actual race riots on the scale of the 1992 LA riots. How many of us would have stayed after that??

  19. Dan Allison says

    In central Florida we’ve gone through a period where the big churches abandoned the inner cities and purchased properties on the Interstate beltways. That’s always smacked me the wrong way, and listening to Tim Keller speak about cities only reinforced those feelings. The beltway megachurches are inaccessible to anyone without an automobile, and they (generally) tend to reinforce an upwardly-mobile, consumerist cultural attitude (which says “We’ve arrived…somewhere”). Churches should be in the forefront of urban restoration. The city is where the homeless, the drug addict, the immigrant — the person who needs Christ — is found. Here’s a link to a great essay on the topic by Philip Bess, who teaches at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. I found it really stimulating and eye-opening.

    • “a period where the big churches abandoned the inner cities and purchased properties on the Interstate beltways. …. The beltway megachurches are inaccessible to anyone without an automobile,”

      But would the inner city residents attend a church populated by people driving in from the burbs?

      • Dan Allison says

        Good point, Ross. They did up until the eighties but I don’t know how that would work now.

        While no one’s a bigger fan of beauty and art than I am, we have to admit that a great deal of God’s work today is done in the ramshackle, rundown storefront churches of the inner cities. Many of these preachers are independent, self-appointed, and without seminary or Bible college training. Many of their churches are eyesores. But they’re doing the work other churches won’t do, so thank God for them.

  20. I found some additional stories about this church that were thought-provoking to me.

    From one article:

    “The church was built as a symbol of decency in the heart of a rowdy, irreligious Gary that was less than 20 years old.

    Even in the 1920s, the neighborhood around the church wasn’t ideal. In a letter soliciting money, one civic leader wrote of the adolescent steeltown: ‘Down here are saloons and dance halls and brothels where God is forgotten.’

    Lane’s Gary history, ‘City of the Century’ recalls city founder Elbert Gary’s reaction U.S. Steel executives were asked for a donation to pay for the downtown church: ‘(Expletive), men, they want to build a church in our town.’ ”

    As already discussed, there are pros and cons to building this type of building. But I think it can be said that this kind of building wouldn’t be mistaken for a saloon, dance hall, or brothel and, in that environment, is a pretty strong statement of “Yes, we are building an (expletive) church here.”

    From a comment on some photos of the church:

    “The first pastor of City Methodist, William Seaman, sought to bring an inclusive ministry into the city by offering a church that went beyond just Sunday morning preaching. The design of the campus bears this out. The gym, the education/commercial wing, and the sanctuary were all meant to feed more than just the soul.” Another article says “The church and adjoining Seaman Hall were centers of cultural life in Gary until the early 1970s, with Seaman Hall hosting plays, musicals and pageants open to all city residents” and “Seaman Hall housed an Indiana University branch campus that would become IUN, and students could see revelers headed to the Washington Street red light district.” And the photos from 1967 show an immunization clinic with plenty of non-white faces. ( Wasn’t the polio vaccine push right around that time? Anyone remember what the world “polio” did to the hearts of parents before then?)

    The list of many of those facilities sounds pretty megachurch familiar in 2009, does it not? Although I don’t think a church in 2009 would likely give “to feed more than the soul” as the reason for their desire for such facilities. I would expect a more “attractional/seeker-sensitive” reason. Hmm. I’m sure the 1920s reason gives some the social gospel willies. But yet … how’s the “attractional/seeker-sensitive” reasoning going to sound with the perspective of time and hindsight?

    And, finally, some more comments from the photo site:

    “I keep wondering what purpose this space serves now. Sure, it’s an awesome spot to photograph. But why does this sanctuary stir the soul more than any well-lit, air-conditioned, meticulously maintained cathedral I can find in almost any city in America? … I would love to be a part of an ongoing conversation about this place. In one sense, it may have been abandoned decades ago, but there is something powerful there worth rediscovering.”


    “My husband I recently went to New Orleans to visit our son who is working south of the city (Bursas and Venice) in environmental clean up and we can honestly say that the city looked just like Gary but they have a reason, KATRINA. What natural disaster hurt Gary? Was it man?”

    I get the definite sense that even with the congregation gone, this old building is still preaching. But, it is preaching from the position of ruined beauty. (Makes me think of C.S. Lewis’ spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy. ) Modern American evangelicalism isn’t exactly comfortable letting ruined beauty preach … whether it be buildings, aging/sick bodies, or lives that show permanent sin scars. The quotes above show questions that this ruined beauty raises in non-Christians (or, at least, people commenting on a photography site rather than a Christian site.). But even for many of us Christians, does this building also preach something we need to hear about a theology of glory versus a theology of the cross?

  21. says

    So Sad!

    That’s a picture of what I was talking yesterday. It’s sad to think that in 20 or 30 years all the investment in this monumental pieces of art will be seen empty, rusted, and falling apart. Hope that is not an image of the church that used to gather in that building. We’re in the midst of a great breakthrough in church life, the christian landscape is changing, we have to consider the times we’re living and make wise decisions about the resources that God has put in our hands.

    “Don’t make treasures in this world…” (Jesus Christ)

    Peace & Love

    • I agree Charlie.

      Let us not focus on the buildings and get out there and love up on someone in need.

  22. Christiane/L's says

    I look at the ruins. I think maybe someone homeless might find a shelter there and sleep in the sanctuary safely and unbeknownst to anyone, but the Lord.

    If that possibility has happened, then all the effort, money, beauty, and gloriousness of the original church building will finally again be fulfilled.

    The idea of ‘sanctuary’ needs to be brought back into Christianity, the way it was intended in ancient days.

    The beauty of the Church building lies in the sanctuary it offers hurting people.

    Tonight, some homeless soul may find a way into an abandoned church ruin, and the ruin will become once more a place of sanctuary;
    just for a while, it will be again, as it was intended to be..

    • Beautiful thought

    • I think you might be misled by the modern meaning of sanctuary as a refuge or safe place. Really, it means “holy place”, the place where the holiest objects are kept and the holiest ceremonies are performed. This is the meaning in Latin and Greek Christianity (sanctuarium/hagion) and the Jewish religion which preceded it (the Holy of Holies in the Temple)

      Perhaps I’m wrong and I am curious as to which ancient days you refer to.

      But it is a nice thought.

      For the sparrow has found herself a home,
      And the turtledove a nest where she brings forth her young,
      Thy altar, O Lord of Hosts, my God and my king.

      • Christiane/L's says

        ‘Sanctuary’ as a place of refuge, has a tradition in my Church.
        If someone could make it to the Church, and enter into the Sanctuary, he was not to be harmed by any who pursued him. This was not always honored.
        St. Thomas a Becket was murdered in sanctuary by the king’s friends.
        When the King found out that his men had carried out this deed, the king chose to
        do penance for the murder.

        Sanctus: holy
        Sanctuary: a place of holiness, of ‘The Presence”’

        In my description, both your and my ideas really do merge.
        I wonder: is there anything more precious to the Lord Christ, that one of ‘the least of His’ might find rest and safety in a holy place once dedicated to Him ? I imagine not.

        • Christiane/L's says

          Here’s more on ‘Sanctuary’:

          Sanctuary in medieval law

          The Church as a Place of RefugeSanctuary was also a right to be safe from arrest in the sanctuary of a church or temple, recognized by English law from the fourth to the seventeenth century.

          • Ah yes, I forgot about the legal aspect.

            I think that is more because those who fled to a church could demand to be tried under canon, not civil, law, which was considered more lenient. I guess it’s a bit like an embassy nowadays.

  23. According to the Book, “City of the Century”, Dr. William Grant Seaman, who had the vision to build City Methodist, held integrated services with African American congregations and joined with other pastors to protest the showing of the pro-KKK movie, “Birth of a Nation”. Even at that time, building a church in an urban center was not the norm, as other churches were already moving to the suburbs in th 1920’s. Dr. Seaman’s vision was revolutionary.

    The history of Gary, Indiana is tragic, caught between U.S. Steel, the KKK and Jesse Jackson. So many abandoned, decaying buildings – including two Frank Loyd Wright houses.

    I saw another story indicating that CMC will be featured in an up-coming Freddy Krueger movie.

  24. Atheist gladiator says

    Will the last Christian to leave please turn out the lights?

  25. Very sad. I hope the organ was removed and sold before the building was completely abandoned – built in the 20’s, it would have had a wonderful pipe organ, I’m sure.

    I wonder if the Detroit church linked is also Methodist – it is certainly laid out as such. Methodist, or possibly Presby. I have fun guessing denominational identity from the architecture – I’m right more often than not.

  26. The abandoned Detroit church is Woodward Avenue Presbyterian church. The photographer seems to want to keep this a secret. There are some good walk-through videos of it on youtube. It’s even more eerie than CMC; furniture, books, etc. left just as they were the last time it was occupied.

  27. To learn more about Gary, IN (GI); its past, present and future, check out the Dave’s Den web site at It presents a lot of info.

  28. These buildings certainly inspire. As a photographer, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to spend a day shooting in such an environment.
    Speaking of photography, here’s an amazing way to enjoy the grandeur of such places:

  29. All of you, please, pardon my massive ignorance as displayed in the following question:
    But with a building this beautiful, and many congregations struggling to find worship space, what on earth is preventing this building and others like it from being used? To the denominations who own them simply refuse to allow access to it even from their own churches? If the upkeep is too much for them to maintain, cannot they simply sell the building to a growing church body who might find it easier to buy than build? I don’t understand…

    • If you read the history, that is what the church did. They leased to a Pentecostal church. A fire destroyed the current facility in the 90s. If someone wants it, they better have some money in their hand. There will be millions spent to get it to usability and then no one will insure it.