Many people know the story of how Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic came to be born, how it sprang from the words of a pastor who cast a bold vision from the pulpit of the big stone church at 34th and Central.
What might be less known is how the roots of the Clinic reach deeper into time, to the 1960s, when an all-white congregation refused to submit to white flight. Or even further into the past, to the 1920s, when a downtown church saw an emerging neighborhood as an opportunity for outreach. As such, Tabernacle Presbyterian Church’s seemingly out-of-the-blue decision to start a legal clinic decades later was not so out-of-the-blue at all, but rather, wonderfully consistent with its history.
Launched in the mid-19th century at Ohio and Illinois, the church then known as Third Presbyterian Church changed its name to Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, moved to 11th and Meridian, and identified a neighborhood north of downtown as an area in need of a children’s Sunday school. It started that Sunday school and a few years later moved the church itself to Mapleton-Fall Creek and erected the iconic building that stands at 34th and Central today
A few years later, Tab launched its storied recreation program, integrating it in 1961. By the mid-1960s, seeing that many of its members were migrating to the city’s north side, Tab’s leaders considered whether the church itself should relocate, as others were doing. In 1965, the church made the decision to remain where it was, working to be “a light for Christ in the heart of the city.”
With such milestones as its foundation, it really should not have surprised anyone when, on Palm Sunday in 1992, Pastor Frank Kik challenged Tab’s congregation to embrace an ambitious vision for community outreach and service. “Let Indianapolis be a city where the affluent help the poor and the poor love the rich,” Rev. Kik said, “a city where love and charity and peace rule supreme as they will in the city whose builder and maker is God.”
As part of his vision, Rev. Kik suggested that the church purchase the former dentist’s office across the street and use it to, among other things, launch a legal aid service. After a couple of years of research and planning, a handful of attorneys hung out the shingle of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic—the amazing organization that we celebrate this year.
I share this history not to shine a light on Tab, or to make sure the community knows that Tab had a hand in the success that is the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. The point of the history lesson is to highlight what’s possible when a leader listens to the prompting of God, and when a congregation acts on that prompting and pushes faithfully forward against all odds and with little sense of where the journey will lead.
Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic has grown well beyond what those first volunteer attorneys could have imagined, helped far more people than they could ever have hoped, and achieved even more than Rev. Kik could have guessed when he cast his vision of that “city where love and charity and peace rule supreme.”
And so we say, “Congratulations!” but also, “Thank you!” to the people who, over 25 years, have built the Clinic into such a powerful force for justice and grace. We are grateful for the example you offer and the hope you provide in showing us that, with God’s guidance and provision, we are, together, truly capable of great things: We can help His people.
To celebrate with us by attending the Justice for All Gala on Oct. 3, please visit: justiceforallgala.org