By Joey Coachys
Riverside Normal City is a neighborhood that has changed dramatically over the past several decades. We have seen it go from a family oriented working class neighborhood to a more student centered and rental based community as the factories shut down and Ball State attendance has risen. This change has been felt all throughout the neighborhood and the eight churches in it are no exception. I found that many churches used to have congregations that primarily lived around them, but as residents moved out and students moved in, the churches in RNC have felt a disconnect from their neighborhood. Now only a few members in each church live in the neighborhood and their involvement in the community has lessened. However, even with this disconnect, the RNC churches still strive to make their spaces of worship places of community and comfort whether you live directly in the neighborhood or far outside of it.
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church is located on the eastern side of Riverside Normal City. The churches congregation is led by Pastor Danny Mackey and averages about 120 people per week out of its 296 baptized members, however only three of those are actual members of RNC. Grace Evangelical was founded in its current location in 1938 and was added on to in 1965. Out of all the churches in the Neighborhood, Grace Evangelical does the most to give back specifically to RNC. Aside from working with the Salvation Army, the church runs neighborhood clean ups and their Deacon is a member of the Neighborhood association. They have also been nationally recognized for their “Community Assistance Day”, a day where they give out coats, food, and haircuts for anyone in the neighborhood who may be in need.
St. Francis of Assisi University Parish
St. Francis of Assisi University Parish was founded in 1963 and is located in the Southeast corner of campus on New York St. and Riverside Ave. It is the only Catholic Church in the neighborhood and boasts by far the largest congregation at a little over 900 people on a given week, a large percentage of which are students. St. Francis is lead by Father Doer who believes that students, and other community members, are drawn towards a more traditional religious experience, something he strives for in his sermons. While the church does not do any work relating directly to the neighborhood, it does give back to the surrounding community by donating food and clothes for the less fortunate and also working with Ball Community hospital for emotional support.
Christian Student Foundation
The Christian Student Foundation, better known as the Christian Campus House, is located directly across the street from campus almost directly in the middle of the neighborhood and is led by Minister Mark Pike. This is the only church in the neighborhood that caters exclusively to the students of Ball State. The congregation averages around 50 to 60 people per week but fluctuates depending on whether students are on campus. The church was founded in 1966 in the basement of another church down the road but eventually grew so much that they needed their own building in 1971. While most of their congregation lives on campus or other neighborhoods in Muncie, the church gives back to RNC by doing neighborhood and river clean ups, raking leaves for people, and also singing Christmas carols in the winter.
Hazelwood Christian Church
Hazelwood Christian Church is located on University Ave about a block East of the Village. The congregation is led by Reverend Jason Jones and they average about 60 people per week. While the church itself is aesthetically pleasing, the real attraction is the property it sits on. The church is adjacent to the Kitselman mansion, once owned by a prominent and wealthy family, and overlooks a massive yard. Although they have no programs dealing directly with the neighborhood, Hazelwood does a lot of
charity work for the surrounding community like donating food and clothing, organize charity walks and after school programs. The church also does some international outreach.
College Avenue United Methodist Church
College Avenue United Methodist Church is located on the Southeastern corner of the neighborhood and has been led by Pastor Lisa Schubert Nowling since 2013. The church was founded in 1929 but moved to its current location in 1956 due to a growing congregation. While the church does not do any obvious outreach work with the neighborhood, it does focus much of its charitable efforts towards missions encouraging its congregation to engage in their community both locally and nationally.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Holy Trinity is located on the Southeastern side of the Neighborhood on White River Blvd. The building itself is hard to mistake with a caved in roof designed to look like an open bible when viewed from the top. The congregation is led by Pastor Jerry O’Neal and averages about 180 people per week. While the church only hosts one family that lives in the neighborhood, a large part of Holy Trinity’s goal is to give back to the community they are located in. The church gives donated food to over 70 families every month, works with the Salvation Army, and owns two houses just outside RNC that they rent out for free to families in need. Holy Trinity also hosts a troupe of magicians called Muncie Mystifies, a non-religious affiliated magic group that uses the church to practice their magic tricks.
First Presbyterian Church
First Presbyterian is located on the Southeast corner of campus and has one of the largest church buildings in the Neighborhood. The congregation is led by Pastor Patrick “Pat” Smith, who has only been with the church for 10 months. The congregation averages about 250 people on days of worship spread out through three different services; one of which caters to primarily Korean Christians in the Muncie area. Because of its location First Presbyterian hosts a number of student members but also five families that live in Riverside Normal City. The church tries to give back to its surrounding community by creating an “open” atmosphere, welcoming anyone who needs guidance. Outside of the neighborhood, First Presbyterian supports 21 local, state, and national outreach programs.
Riverside United Methodist Church
The Riverside United Methodist church is located on the Northeast side of the neighborhood on Wheeling Ave. The church was formed in a building directly across the street in 1903 but moved to its current location in 1930. Today the congregation is headed by Pastor John A. Young and averages about 80 members in its worship per week. However only three of those members live in Riverside Normal city. While the church does not have any programs directly relating to the neighborhood, its hospitality reaches further. As of November, Riverside United Methodist is hosting church services for Remedy City Church while they find a new location. The church is also involved with other charitable organizations like the Salvation Army and the Boy Scouts of America.
The churches in Riverside Normal City are a large staple in not only the neighborhood, but in Muncie as a whole. After doing research, it was interesting to find that much of the congregations from each church comes from outside the neighborhood and not from within. However, it is important to note that many members used to live in the neighborhood but have since moved and kept the same church. It was also interesting to discover that many of the churches charitable efforts are focused on areas outside the neighborhood. While some like Grace Evangelical hold “community assistance” days, most churches chose to focus their efforts on mission trips or donations to the Salvation Army. While every church may not interact with RNC on a regular basis it is obvious that each church cares about the community it is set in and works hard to maintain a positive relationship between them and Riverside Normal City.
Studying the churches in Riverside Normal City has been incredibly interesting and exciting however, there was one overlying theme to all of my research. As far as what I’ve studied, there are only Christian religious institutions in the neighborhood. Because it is very unlikely that every member of the neighborhood is Christian, it would be very interesting to look at other religious institutions in or around the neighborhood; whether they are public and formal or private and informal. For example, it would be fascinating to interview some of the neighborhoods Jewish population and find out where they practice. It would also be interesting to discover how large the Muslim population in the neighborhood is and whether or not they attend the Islamic Center outside of the neighborhood. Overall, getting a good sense of the non-Christian population of the neighborhood would give us a much more accurate depiction of Riverside Normal City.
Header image, featuring the Riverside United Methodist Church, courtesy of Minnetrista Heritage Collections, Muncie, IN.