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Phillips Temple celebrates 107 years of making city history

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Phillips Temple C.M.E. Church recently celebrated 107 years of ministry in Indianapolis with music, food and guest speaker, Bishop Marvin Frank Thomas Sr., the 62nd bishop of the denomination.

The storied church has left its mark on Indianapolis history.

Church historians love to recount how mission preacher Rev. John Taylor of Louisville, Ky., came to Indianapolis in 1907 to establish a Christian Methodist Episcopal congregation.

At first, the fledgling church met in the home of city residents Mr. and Mrs. Gip Ringo, at 702 Fayette St. As more members joined, the church rented space in the former Vicars Building, which once stood on the corner of 12th and West streets. With just a dozen members, the church purchased a lot on Drake Street and erected a frame church, with founding member Gip Ringo doing double duty as treasurer and janitor.

The inaugural conference was held in 1911 and the church was then christened Phillips Temple for presiding prelate Bishop Charles Henry Phillips.

Eight years later, Bishop Phillips transferred Rev. G.I. “Master Builder” Jackson from Texas, who led a campaign to build a new church home at 1226 N. Martin Luther King Jr. St.

With this move, Phillips Temple Church became the largest African-American owned auditorium in the Hoosier State, boasting a seating capacity of 1,500 and earthly treasures including stained-glass windows, and a pipe organ from Chicago.

The congregation grew to 2,000 establishing the church as one of the largest in the C.M.E. connection.

However, by 1992, Phillips Church leaders decided to move to 210 E. 34th St., the former home of the Third Christ Scientist Church. Pastor Oliver DeWayne Walker preached his last sermon at the old location on Nov. 1, 1992 and the congregation’s final service was at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 8, 1992 with Rev. Dr. H.L. Burton as a speaker.

The congregation then celebrated with a car caravan to its new home on 34th Street, where members celebrated with a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony. Walker preached a “Vision to Victory” message, with an afternoon dedication service with Bishop Othal Hawthorne Lakey preaching. By May 23, 1999, the church was able to hold a mortgage burning, with Senior Bishop Nathaniel Linsey preaching.

During the Nov. 16, 2014 ecumenical worship service, the young people of the Phillips Temple Grandsteppers of the Nu Generation Drill Team delighted the congregation with a lively worship performance, and the entire congregation sang, “We’ve come this far by faith.” Musicians included Lester Johnson on bass, Damon Dillon on piano, and Tony Cheesborough on drums and guitar.

Sister Betty Ruth Stephens addressed the congregation with memories of the church’s history titled, “From Infancy to Adulthood—A Journey Through the Years.”

Senior Pastor DeWayne Walker introduced Bishop Thomas, who congratulated the church on the milestone. The Womack Memorial C.M.E. Church Senior Choir sang “You Are a Great God” with soloist Theresa Jones.

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