A Brief History of The Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis
Second Presbyterian Church is almost as old as Indianapolis. The First Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis was begun in 1823. In 1838, theological differences arose within the Presbyterian Church, thus creating the thinking of the “old school” and the “new school.”
To put it in a nutshell, the differences of the two schools were as follows: The old school: Ever since Adam and Eve, man is born into sin and it is through his thoughts and actions that he redeems himself and finds salvation. The new school: Man is born pure and sinless and it is through his thoughts and actions that he falls into sin and has to atone for the same.
There were other differences between the two schools of thought which eventually came to a head 25 years later in the Civil War.
1838 – Fifteen members of First Presbyterian Church who were of the new school thinking broke away and formed the Second Presbyterian Church. They first worshiped in the Marion County Seminary, which was located on the Northeast corner of Meridian and New York Streets. In 1839 they called Henry Ward Beecher to be their first pastor. (Henry’s father, Lyman Beecher, was President of Lane Seminary in Cincinnati; his brother, Charles Beecher, was a musician and established the first Church choir in the city; his sister, Harriett Beecher Stowe, was an author of some renown, most notably Uncle Tom’s Cabin.)
1840 – Second Church moved into its first Church building, located on the northwest quadrant of Monument Circle. (There is currently a plaque at that location.)
1845 – The first women’s group of the Church was formed. It was called “The Ladies Sewing Society.”
1848 – Beecher left Second Church and went to New York City to become Pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church. He went on to become probably the most famous person in America, even outpacing Abraham Lincoln. (A few years after Lincoln was assassinated, people forgot about him but Beecher kept drawing huge crowds to standing-room-only Sunday services.)
1864 – The next most notable minister to be called was Dr. Hanford Edson. Under Dr. Edson’s pastorate many things happened:
- We colonized other Churches in the city: Fourth Presbyterian became Fairview Presbyterian.
- We founded The Mission Sabbath School which became Fifth Presbyterian and then Westminster Presbyterian.
- We colonized Sixth Presbyterian Church which was a mission on the near Southeast side of town and it became Olivet Presbyterian Church.
- We colonized Memorial Chapel which became Tenth Presbyterian Church.
- We started the West End Sunday School which became Twelfth Presbyterian Church.
- We helped organize and supported the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Presbyterian Churches. The Ninth is now Witherspoon Presbyterian Church and the Eleventh is now Troub Memorial.
1868 – Dr. Edson was the founder of the Indianapolis Public Library System. In a Thanksgiving Day sermon of November 26, he claimed “the deficiency that is really fatal to the city’s character is the want of a public library.” With this sermon, Dr. Edson rallied the city’s leaders and organized a campaign to begin a library system. Five years later, the first library opened at Pennsylvania and Michigan Streets with 12,790 volumes.
1870 – Our Church decided to move to the suburbs and we moved way out to the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and Vermont Streets, next to where the World War Memorial now stands. Dr. Edson was the first minister to see the importance of women in the Church. Prior to his ministry, only men had leading roles in the Church. Dr. Edson got the Elders of the Church to agree to a Female Industrial Society of the Church for visiting the sick and the poor and for evangelism generally.
Also in 1870, Mrs. Edson organized a Women’s Missionary Society that visited new members, raised funds for foreign and domestic missions, served as a social center in the congregation and supported missionaries in Persia and Gabon and a school in Alaska. From this organization descended our current Presbyterian Women organization and the first annual Praise Luncheon (which is still a yearly event) was held.
1871 – Eleanor Kirby came to Second Church and in the Sunday School Department she established the first graded Primary Department in the city. She served the Sunday School for over 50 years and taught three generations of parishioners.
1872 – Dr. Edson persuaded the Session to purchase a plot of lots in Crown Hill cemetery for $150.00 for the burial of the poor of the Church. Dr. Edson was also a founder of the Colored Children’s Orphanage which took in children of former slaves when their parents were injured or killed in their flight north.
1873 – Dr. Edson left Second Church to become the Senior Pastor of the Tenth Church, which was now called Memorial Presbyterian Church.
During Dr. Edson’s Pastorate, Second Church grew from 195 members to 461 members. Taking into account the members who left the Church to colonize other Churches, Dr. Edson more than tripled the membership of the Church in just nine years, a feat no other minister in the history of the Church has come close to matching.
1874 – We established the Twelfth Presbyterian Church called the West End Mission.
1878 – We started a Sabbath School for Chinese people who were working on the Transcontinental Railroad, which was coming from California.
Also in 1878, Dr. J. G. E. Renner, a member of the Church, volunteered to go to Tennessee to help people who were victims of the yellow fever epidemic which was spreading throughout the south. While serving there, he contracted the disease and died. There is a monument on the Crown Hill Cemetery plot which says: “J.G.E. Renner, M. D., Born at Eschenrod Hesse Darmstadt, Germany, Jan. 20, 1850. Died at Memphis, Tenn., Sep. 16, 1878, of yellow fever, a victim in the cause of humanity. Erected by his fellow members of the Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, as a tribute to his Christian heroism.”
1880 – We founded the Peck Mission at Delaware and Nineteenth Street, thanks to the generosity of our member, E. J. Peck.
1890 – Dr. Joseph Milburn became our Pastor. It was said he was a great factor in the religious, social, civic and intellectual life of the city. Generous to a fault and keenly interested in the underprivileged, he deserves a great deal of credit for Mayer Chapel. Mayer Chapel was established thanks to the generosity of our member Ferdinand Mayer. It was built on the southwest side of town to further mission work. Its programs included education, athletics, health care and community activities.
1898 – Dr. Charles Hansen was called to be our organist. Blind from birth, Dr. Hansen was one of the great Church musicians of his time. He was our organist for 47 years, making him the Church’s longest term employee.
1901 – Miss Lucy Mayo served in Japan for six years as a missionary from the Church. Due to her work, the Church established the Nippon Mission Circle, which supported her work.
1905 – The Church was redecorated by the Tiffany Studios of New York and the Ascension Window, which you see every Sunday morning at the back of the chancel, was installed in the Church. It was moved to our current sanctuary when it was built in 1959.
1912 – The Church formed Boy Scout Troop #18, which is still in existence. It is the oldest Boy Scout Troop in Indianapolis.
1914 – We established an association with Hanover College, which is still maintained. Many of our members have served on the Board of Directors of Hanover College.
1921 – Dr. Jean S. Milner was called as our Pastor. He was our longest-serving minister as he was here for 39 years, retiring in 1960. He took a forceful stand on Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which almost caused a split in the General Assembly as William Jennings Bryan, a delegate, had introduced a resolution to exclude all members who accepted the Theory. A great lecturer, Dr. Milner filled the Church on Wednesday evenings with lectures on religious subjects, Church history and his trips to the Holy Land.
1942 – The Service Men’s Center was established at Second to serve men on leave from Fort Benjamin Harrison.
1948 – The Presbyterian Women’s Bazaar begins.
1959 – We moved from our downtown location to our current location. Charles J. Lynn, an Elder of the Church, and Dorothy, his wife, gave us the 20 acre parcel on which the Church is located and also a gift of $1,000,000 for construction of the current edifice.
1967 – We built our first addition to the Church, an education wing. We also remodeled the sanctuary and installed a new organ. Also, this year, the first women Elders were installed.
1969 – The first women Deacons were installed.
1977 – Dorothy Nevill, a member of the Church, became the first woman minister to be ordained at Second Presbyterian Church. A Third Age Council was established to focus on activities for retired members.
1982 – We entered into an association with Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Church we founded in 1864, and that association is still maintained today.
1988 – The 150th Anniversary of the Church was celebrated and we added the east and west wings of the building.
1994 – We began a sponsorship of Dr. David and Emily Matthews, Church members, as medical missionaries to Cameroon, Africa. Our sponsorship of them lasted until they returned to Indianapolis about five years later. We also started a joint worship service with Light of the World Christian Church and we held that service in Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus. It was called Celebration of Hope.
1996 – We started broadcasting a half-hour service on Sunday morning radio. We expanded our joint service with Light of the World Church to include about twenty additional Churches and the service was held at Market Square Arena with a catered lunch afterward. We also added the Columbarium on the east side of the Sanctuary.
1997 – A gift from an anonymous donor created the Residency in Parish Ministry Program. This program was created to have two or three recent seminary graduates join our staff and learn the ropes about being a minister under the tutelage of our staff. Later (in 2002) it was learned that the gift had come from Tom and Marjorie Lake. Tom had been President of Eli Lilly and Company and also President of the Lilly Endowment. Tom was an Elder at Second Presbyterian Church. The name of the program was changed to the Lake Fellowship Parish Ministry. About $4,000,000 was contributed to support this program from the Lake family.
2007 – We built our newest addition to the Church, which houses the Music and Fine Arts Departments, the youth area and McFarland Hall, a large gathering room for social activities. This was named in memory of Sally McFarland, an Elder and very active member of the Church who died in the prime of her life. Her husband, Dick McFarland, donated over $3,000,000 toward the construction of this addition.
Memories from Members
1940’s X-mas Pageant—The Absolutely Wonderful Christmas Pageant. The highlight for every kid in the 1940’s Second Church Sunday School was the annual Shepherd’s-in-Bathrobes Christmas Pageant: not because we appreciated the significance of Christ’s birth, but because we were bribed with cookies, candy and cartoons after rehearsal.
My mother, the music lady, and organist Edwin Biltcliffe tried vainly to keep us corralled while we practiced “O Come Little Children” and “Silent Night.”
Amazingly the results were breathtaking when Sunday evening candles flickered and actress Jane Myers’ velvet voice intoned, “There were shepherds abiding in the field.”
We sang like angels. It was a Christmas miracle.
Margaret Durham Herder
I didn’t want to move to “the new Church!” I didn’t want new chairs and tables in a new classroom. I didn’t want a new Library. I didn’t want to go north. I wanted my old Sunday School room upstairs above the kitchen. I wanted the smells of the polished old wood tables in the Library. I wanted the red, scratchy carpet in the Lecture Hall where I had juice and ‘Nilla Wafers. I wanted the drive past all the old homes on Fall Creek Parkway. And I wanted the “rolling-down” hill next to the Church. There were no hills on the new Church’s Meridian HILLS campus.
But nine-year-olds adapt well. With a new Choir Room and Children’s Choirs on Saturday mornings, being encouraged to sing in the big Church was scary, but fun. New spaces meant exploration. We found the catacombs and the attics. We played hide and seek in the Sanctuary—that didn’t go over well!
Now, after nearly 50 years at 7700, it’s an old friend. The Choir Room and Library have moved three times, and the Youth Lounge, four. But no matter what’s moved or been added on, Second is and always will be “Home.”
Becky Downey Hagarty
When I was a kid growing up at the old Church, there were two maiden-lady sisters, Edwina and Drucilla Shroud. They always patted me on the head at Church and called me “Little Freddie.” They lived in an old house on Fall Creek Parkway with a sunroom on the front and I remember when you drove past at night it was always lit up, with red and black furniture. It was rumored the Shroud sisters had a lot of money. Right after we moved to the new Church building, Drucilla died. They asked me to play the organ for her funeral, as she was very fond of “little Freddie Kortepeter.” After the funeral, a man came up to the organ and told me he was Miss Scroud’s attorney and he wanted my address, as she had “remembered me in her will.” My heart leapt with joy as I knew I was going to get a lot of money. I was 17 or 18 years old.
Weeks passed and I had forgotten about the conversation with the attorney. Then, one day, I got an envelope in the mail. It was from the attorney. I could hardly believe my eyes! My ship had come in! This was it! This was the big time! I ripped open the envelope and in it was a check. A check made payable to me for $25.
About 65 years ago, Dr. Milner asked my mother, Marian Beesley and Sally Anderson’s mother, Lois Gordner, to form a children’s choir to sing at the Christmas service. Sally and I eagerly joined the group as did Sally’s sister, Suzanna. We practiced diligently with Dr. Hansen, our organist, and we were all dressed up in white robes and given lighted candles to hold for our big performance. Unfortunately Suzanna, with her beautiful hair, was in the row in front of us and Sally and I could not resist seeing how quickly we could singe the ends of her locks. Oh my, what a mess and what a smell. As I recall, Dr. Milner did not smile either
Mary Lou Hurst
The tradition of the congregation standing and turning to face the rear of the Church at the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus on Christmas and Easter Sundays began at the old Church located on the North West corner of Vermont and Pennsylvania. That was because the Ascension window was located at the back of the Church. This is the same stained glass window that at our present Church is located behind the chancel. Nonetheless, we still stand and turn to the rear while viewing the choir, the organ pipes, the back of the organist and the magnificent Rose window, copied from the Chartres Cathedral.Fifty or more years ago, our organist, Edwin Biltcliff, augmented the four paid soloists with 8 to 12 of us from the congregation to sing the Hallelujah Chorus.
I got chills and suppressed a tear or two singing the Hallelujah Chorus back then and still do—under four subsequent choir directors and now an 80-voice Choir.
Our earliest memories of Second Presbyterian Church (herein “Church”) revolve around the building at Vermont and Pennsylvania. The history of the Church was important to us, as was the welcoming congregation. We both grew up in different denominations in small towns and we were impressed by the elegant old sanctuary with the Ascension window over the choir loft and pulpit. The sanctuary was certainly large enough and to our surprise – all the other activities, meetings, dinners, classes and even Bazaars were squeezed into other rooms and nooks. The primary department, where Cynthia was a co-superintendent was up a narrow stairway over the kitchen but it was far enough from the sanctuary for Margaret Durham (Marg Herder’s mom) to pound out hymns on an old upright piano. Bill and John Meyer (Marjorie’s husband) taught an older-class in a little cubby hole!
When the Church was sold to the state (due to the work of State Senator C. Wendell Martin and others) the move was on. It was sad to leave and amazing to us that our grand old Church had occupied such a small amount of real estate.
Bill and Cynthia Roberts
Two memories stand out. Of recent vintage is my marriage – the first to take place in the sanctuary of our current Church at 7700 North Meridian Street.
Second is a memory of one of the most memorable individuals I ever met – Will Stantley. Will who? Will Stantley was a custodian at Second when we were at Vermont and Pennsylvania Streets. A soft spoken, respectful, kindly, efficient and unique individual, Will, each Sunday morning, would don his white jacket, proceed to the pulpit with his head held high and carry a glass of water on a silver plate for Dr. Milner. It was one of his proudest moments and one I’ll always remember.
G. Vance Smith, Jr.
It is the week of my sixth or seventh birthday and something wonderful is about to happen. I am so excited as I climb the stairs to the Sunday School department of Second Presbyterian Church at the corner of Vermont and Pennsylvania streets in downtown Indianapolis. Mrs. Sanders’ kindergarten room is on the right. These days, however, I get to turn left into the large room where all the “big” boys and girls go, into the elementary department presided over by Mrs. Hoft.
Our individual classes meet at tables around the edge of the room. Later we all gather together on chairs in the middle of the room for a worship service. And then the big moment comes. A small, metal toy Church is passed up and down the rows, and because I have had a birthday, I proudly drop six (or maybe it was seven) pennies into the slot on the top of the little Church. Oh, joy. Never again would Church stewardship produce such profound bliss.
Nancy Lowe Kriplen
In 1952, when I began attending Second Church, I walked there, downtown at Vermont and Pennsylvania. How warm and inviting were the people! Always greeting me were friendly, helpful, smiling faces. They caused me to respond in kind. Soon I was volunteering at their local mission, Mayer Chapel.
A year later following my honeymoon, I became involved with the Women’s Association and never let go.
The Church According to Bain
We joined Second Presbyterian Church about a year after we were married. The Church was still downtown and I think it was around the end of September, 1955. I was hugely pregnant, had on a two piece, black watch plaid maternity dress and Lesley, our first child, was born on October 3 – about a week later. All of our six children were baptized at Second Presbyterian. Lesley and Corben by Dr. Milner (after Corby spit-up on John’s navy blue suit we decided to wait until they were at least eight months old to perform the ritual). Adam was baptized by interim minister Dr. Harold Martin and Robyn, Dana and Colin by Dr. Hudnut.
Early on we became members of the Mr. and Mrs. Group along with Dotty and Don Elliott, Bill and Cynthia Roberts, the Downeys, the Bickells, the Weavers and the Davises (all known as the “Nest”) and lots of other young married folks.
On Sunday mornings, we left our children in the care of the wonderful Kitty Shumaker who for years was the Mother Superior of the nursery. At coffee hour, we glowed as the little darlings cavorted for admiring elders.
I attended “Circle” at night with other young mothers so our spouses could stay home with the children. I believe Frances Lord was instrumental in starting a sitter program so we could meet in the daytime.
John became a deacon and ushered at least once a month – did such a good job that he got promoted to elder.
This was all early on before Christmas Benevolence and all the other wonderful mission work that we do now, so maybe I was just too busy, family-wise, to notice. We were in the new Church by now and I joined the Kirk Bell Ringers; Myrtle Neff, Betty Wilson, Priscilla Downey, Mary Alice Garrison, Pat Slichenmyer, Connie Bragg (Martin) and others. Bob Shepfer was our leader and we got a beautiful set of new bells sometime along in there. We were a good group, had so much fun and Bob, Ted Gibboney and Martin (Ellis) were very patient with a group of non-professional, mature women . . . when it was decided that practice would be on Thursday evenings, just before choir practice (which I couldn’t do because of family commitments), I cried all morning.
I am enjoying PWCT now – always some new, young Christians to meet!