Debate over plan to sell historic Cumberland German church

INDIANAPOLIS - Controversy continued to swirl around a Cumberland church this weekend – not because of its beliefs, but instead for its building.

The congregation of St. John United Church of Christ is planning to sell the building to a company that will put a convenience store on the site.

Members of the community argue the 101-year-old church should be saved for historic reasons.

Jimmy Watson, the church's pastor, said the church is in need of repair and would be too expensive to stay in.

"It would take three-quarters-of-a-million dollars to renovate this place," Watson said. "But then again, it is very old, and then you have future maintenance after that. This is a very small, aging congregation."

The congregation is in the process of selling the building and the land to a company that wants to open a convenience store and gas station on the site.

A Facebook page was created by residents who argue that the church formed by German immigrants more than a century ago should be saved.

"That's the reason German Church Road was originally called German Church Road," said Chris Mikkelson. "It's just such a historical part of the community."

People like Mikkelson argue there are enough gas stations in the town of Cumberland.

"Hopefully the building can be saved and put to a, you know, it doesn't have to be a church … I'm sure another business could take it over," he said. "Hopefully publicly accessed."

The pastor says he wants people to know the church will not be leaving the community.

"It's not a matter of saving the building for us," Watson said, "it's a matter of saving the congregation. I think a lot of people are only seeing it as we need to save this building. But the building is crumbling and I'm not sure what you would get out of that, because it would cost so much to renovate."

Even though the church is in Cumberland, it's in Marion County, which means Indianapolis city officials will have the final say over whether or not land can be rezoned for gas stations and convenience stores.

The issue will be the focus of a re-zoning hearing on Thursday at 1 p.m. at the city-county building.

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