Turner Chapel A.M.E Church's legacy and impact on Fort Wayne

For many years the black church stands to be a staple in many communities, and due to migration from the south and integration, many churches have expanded in structure and membership including those in Fort Wayne.

Posted: May 21, 2018 5:06 PM
Updated: May 22, 2018 3:23 PM

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT)- Fort Wayne is deemed the city of churches, and there is one church in particular that's become part of fort wayne's historical fabric.

It's over 140 years old and still standing today.

Even through economic turmoil, Turner Chapel A.M.E church is holding on.

When St. John's German Reformed Church offered it's building for sale in 1869, the African Methodist Episcopal church officers purchased the 24 year- old frame church, and moved it to a lot at the corner of Wayne and Francis Street making it Turner Chapel's first home. Turner Chapel is historically, Fort Wayne's oldest African American church.

In 1888, it expanded making it the first church built by an African American congregation in Fort Wayne.

In 1963, it moved to 836 East Jefferson Boulevard where 92 year- old Henria McGee attends church every Sunday.

"When I first joined, we were living on one block and the church was on the other. After they moved there on Jefferson, my family and I would help sometimes and clean the yard, the grass, and trees and stuff like that," McGee said.

McGee is Turner Chapel's oldest living member.

She's been a member over 50 years.

Some of her fondest memories include helping the less fortunate in the community by feeding and clothing them.

There are helpful hands in the church now, but not as many like in the past.

"The membership, I'd say used to be the church. That church used to be full. I mean complete. Well just like all of my kids are gone, other people's kids are gone, so the older people have passed, and it's just getting smaller and smaller,"McGee added.

Like a lot of churches members come and go, but the church's current leader, Pastor Kenneth Christmon said  it's not about the building nor is it about the name of the church. It's about the people who come from all backgrounds to seek their purpose in life.

"Fast forward to 2018, what has happened to a lot of main line churches is young people have to get an education, and they leave home a lot of time for opportunities. People find better jobs in places, so when this city went through some of it's rockiest times losing manufacturing and a number of jobs, then the church was impacted. The number of professionals left. The number of people left,"Christmon said.

That doesn't mean Turner is short handed in the giving department.

The church gives back still providing dinners and clothing.

There are young members who are involved in service- members McGee hopes will keep the legacy going.

"With my kids, I didn't say you had to get up and go to Sunday school. They knew," she said.

Part of what Christmon believes keeps the church going strong is it's push for diversity, which is the same thing that helped it get up and running in the 1800's.

"There are Hispanic people in this church. There are Caucasian people in this church. Black people in this church, and people of other ethnicities,"Christmon said.

Coming together is what he believes is going to keep Turner thriving for another 140 years.

"In 1963, we transitioned over to this particular location so there is a connection to the German, the Lutheran Reform Church, and that is diversity in action. That is people from different walks of life working together because they knew African Americans or minorities at that time would need not only jobs, but need a faith center, and different things, so the leadership at that time worked with other leaders to make it happen."

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