Yesterday, I did a Thing.
I went somewhere, did a Thing, did some other Things, did another Thing, and then I came home. All in all, I drove 200 miles to spend six hours doing this Thing – and it was so, so worth it.
What did I do? I went to church.
I should explain further. I am an avid urban explorer. I like to find hidden places where I am (likely) not supposed to be, photograph them, and leave no trace of my presence. No damage, no vandalism – just pictures and memories.
City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana, has long been in the top three of my abandoned-places-to-explore punchlist. When my friend Rhiannon messaged me about going on an adventure, I gave the only answer possible: yes. She wanted to shoot aerial silk video, needed extra hands, and had a permit for us to legally be there. Win/win.
I have never been anywhere like this place. It’s special – a slow decline into ruin, a spectacle of beautiful 1920’s craftmanship allowed to fall gracefully into a stunningly gorgeous complex of memories and rubble. This place is not dead – it is a living testament to the interplay between us and nature. It reminds us that beauty is not always what we make or what nature makes, but is instead transient, impermanent, fluid. Beauty is what it is when it is, and it rewards those who can see it in the now.
The complex is full of Gothic architecture. Stained glass windows that have survived forty years in ruin. Ceramic tiles lie untouched under a layer of dirt; chalkboards and lockers in the complex remind us of times when the church thrived. A basketball hoop remains nailed to a pole in the remains of the second floor gymnasium.
Others have been there before me, just as others were with me and will follow me. Their refuse is everywhere – broken hangers, empty water bottles, spray paint cans, and fireworks. Graffiti is common. Some of that graffiti is tagging, some is street art, some is from explorers like me who signed the designated check-in wall with our Instagram handles. These are not pristine ruins, but this is a place of Story.
Somewhere around 1975, the church was abandoned. While I have no doubt that the church was properly deconsecrated by the Methodists, there is far more to a building built for worship than the rites of man. This is still holy ground. Even the street art that some would label as blasphemous is holy, for it tells a story.
The story that City Methodist Church tells us is a story of community and connection. Exploring the complex, you can see plainly what once was – and you can also see what is, as the new community of artists and explorers protect and care for it. You see those threads in the way that teenage girls are deliberately reverent in their touch of the handrails, in the way that a photographer directs a high school senior to pose, in the way doves perch on the apex of the roof.
If you stand in the center of the sanctuary, close your eyes, and look up, you can feel the hymns that rose in that space. You can see countless brides who walked down that center isle of Bedford stone and ceramic tile at the beginning their lives – and you can see the countless others who were carried out at the end of their lives.
When you open your eyes, you see a black net with debris in it. Way up above that net you can see two windows in the remnants of the bell tower, and that’s when you feel the confluence of all that was in this place, all that is in this place, and all that will be in this place.
This church is a place of reverence and awe. Your personal religious beliefs (or lack thereof) do not matter here, because it is here that you will connect to the Universe. This place may have fallen into ruin, but it is not dead. It is alive, and it is full of wonder to behold.
I want to give a shot out to all of the folks who are currently supporting my roadtrip-related creative projects on Patreon. Thank you to Sean, Chris, Xap, Jen, Julie, Stef, Nancy, and Googs – y’all make it possible for me to do these things, and I am grateful.
Here is a small gallery of photographs I shot onsite yesterday: