I was up in Anderson, Indiana yesterday and stopped by The Mercy House. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be open, but heard about this unique church during Shane Claiborne’s stop in Indianapolis last year as part of the Jesus for President Tour.
Anyways, if the rest of the country is in a recession, Anderson is in a depression. Located a quick drive from thriving white-collar Indianapolis suburbs like Fishers and Noblesville, Anderson’s once strong industrial economy (home to more GM jobs than any other city, including Flint, Michigan), has been wrecked by the thirty year process of economic globalization.
Here is a New York Times article from this spring about Anderson that paints a more rosy picture about Anderson’s future, but the city that has lost tens of thousands of GM jobs and other factory jobs and has declined in population by 8.3% since 1970. Check out the recent HBO documentary Dirty Driving: Thundercars of Indiana for a glimpse of post-industrial Anderson.
The Mercy House is located in the old Shadeland Elementary School on the westside of Anderson’s downtown. The Shadeland neighborhood is a historically African-American neighborhood, whose economic well-being was tied to the fortunes of GM. The elementary school shout down about ten years ago and was sold to a church, who then turned the building over to the Mercy House.
Anyways, in this abandoned elementary school, Mercy House is a place of hope. From the website:
For this reason, everything we plan, organize, participate in revolves around this idea of reconciliation: acts of unity, social justice, and relationships. We hope to continue to be a place of reconciliation for Anderson, challenging the church to take Jesus seriously and offering grace, mercy and love to the world around us.
I talked with Steve, who heads up the maintenance for the mammoth building. He is a graduate of Anderson University and talked about how the Mercy House is making a difference. Though virtually ignored by Anderson’s political structure and surrounded by over a dozen slowly dying churches, Mercy House has large and multi-cultural worship services. In a city that sees more people move away every year, the success of Mercy House has attracted people to Anderson and more students from the university are staying because of what’s going on there.
What Steve said made a lot of sense. People in Shadeland and Anderson are tired of outsiders coming in to town with big dreams, promising the world, and then leaving when things seem too tough. After five years of being part of the community and a commitment to be there for the long haul, Mercy House might be post-industrial Anderson’s biggest asset.