First Mennonite Church of Indianapolis (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)

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First Mennonite Church of Indianapolis
Source: Church website

During the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953, Mennonite young men who were conscientious objectors moved to Indianapolis to perform 1-W Service as an alternative to military enlistment. Hospital and nursing programs in Indianapolis drew young Mennonite men and women. The first official meeting of Mennonites in Indianapolis was on 9 August 1952, at the house of Paul Hooley, a medical student. A new meeting place at the Volunteers of America Hall was chosen as the Mennonite fellowship grew. In October 1953, Cleo and Nellie Mann were sent by the Mennonite Mission Board to Indianapolis; Cleo Mann became a 1-W leader and was ordained as a pastor. Construction on a new church building on Kessler Boulevard began in 1956, and the church met at first in the basement of the building.

In 1966 Richard Yoder became pastor of First Mennonite Church, and the church became financially independent from the Mennonite Mission Board. In 1970, an organ was installed and rows of chairs replaced pews. The late 1960s marked the end of the 1-W program in Indianapolis. However, Indianapolis remained a destination for Mennonite medicine, nursing, and social work students, many of whom attended the Church during and after their studies. In the 1970s, First Mennonite Church helped support a Voluntary Service Unit.

In 1983, under the leadership of Bob and Margaret Richer Smith, First Mennonite Church decided to relocate and build an expanded facility. The congregation purchased a 10-acre plot at 4601 Knollton Road in 1984. The church building on Kessler was sold before the new building was completed. The congregation met in the interim period at both Glendale Seventh Day Adventist church and St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. The first worship service at the Knollton Road location was held on 30 March 1986.

Church membership increased significantly in the 1980s, from 95 in 1980 to 149 in 1990. In the early 1980s, the church organized into small groups; these groups met in member homes and were assigned service projects such as supporting Gleaner's Food Bank or rolling bandages for Mennonite Central Committee. The church established a policy that divorced and remarried couples could become members. First Mennonite Church also established a Global Gifts fair-trade store, and financially supported the Indianapolis Peace Center.

Several seed churches were formed by members of First Mennonite Church. Five families left First Mennonite Church in 1974 and moved to Paoli, Indiana to start a health clinic. These families helped to start Paoli Mennonite Fellowship. In 1991, several families left to found Shalom Mennonite Church, which became the second Mennonite Church in Indianapolis. Shalom Mennonite Church was led by Dagne Assefa, a former elder of First Mennonite church. Shalom membership was supplemented in 1996 when thirteen additional First Mennonite households signed a covenant to attend Shalom Mennonite Church for one year; all but one household stayed with Shalom.

Lorene Moore was selected as interim pastor in 1993, and led the congregation until Ryan Ahlgrim was selected in 1995 as a long-term pastor. In 1996, First Mennonite participated in the Interfaith Hospitality Network by hosting homeless families at the church twice a year. The church also collected groceries once a month for the Glick Neighborhood Festival and participated in the School on Wheels literacy program. In 1996, First Mennonite Church, a historically Caucasian congregation, began partnering in Bible Studies and annual worship services with historically African-American Witherspoon Presbyterian Church.

In 1992 and 1996, First Mennonite Church reviewed Mennonite teachings on homosexuality and membership. In 1996, the Pastor-Elder Team agreed to recommend membership for a congregant in a same-sex relationship; however, First Mennonite Church postponed membership until the Indiana-Michigan Conference could study the issue of homosexuality. The Conference Executive Committee responded that granting membership would jeopardize First Mennonite Church standing in the Indiana-Michigan Conference, and the Church rescinded the possibility of membership for congregants in same-sex relationships. In the mid 2000s, First Mennonite Church began offering associate memberships to couples in committed same-sex relationships; these couples were members of the congregation but not members of the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

In the 2000s, First Mennonite Church began hiring associate pastors to help share pastoral ministries, with a focus on youth ministry. From 2000 to 2014, all associate pastors have been women. Associate pastor Shannon Walker-Dycus, appointed in 2013, was the first non-white First Mennonite Church pastor. The congregation funded a significant expansion in 2009 and 2010. The church expansion included nine new classrooms, an elevator, extra storage, and a sanctuary expansion. A new playground and garage were built on the church grounds, and members planted wild grasses, flowers, and 150 trees and bushes in order to create an environmentally natural and sustainable ecosystem. Worship in 2014 included a cappella singing, a piano, and an organ. In 2014, First Mennonite Church includes 145 active households, including 235 adults and 130 children and youth.


Ahlgrim, Ryan, ed. "The Story of First Mennonite Church Indianapolis." First Mennonite Church. 2014.

"A Brief History of First Mennonite Church." First Mennonite Church. Unpublished essay, 1987.

Congregations Volume 3. First Mennonite Church of Indianapolis. Records, 1953-2009.

Mennonite Yearbook and Directory. Mennonite Church USA.

Archival Records

The Archives of the congregation are located at the Mennonite Church USA Archives in Goshen, Indiana.

Membership and pastoral records are located at First Mennonite Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Additional Information

Address: 4601 Knollton Road, Indianapolis, IN, 46228

Phone: 317-251-1980

Website: First Mennonite Church of Indianapolis

Denominational Affiliations:

Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference (1953-present)

Mennonite Church (MC) (1953-2002)

Mennonite Church USA (2002-present)

First Mennonite Church Pastors

Minister Years of Service
Cleo Mann 1953-1966
Richard Yoder 1966-1980
Fred Erb (interim pastor) 1971-1972
Robert and Margaret Richer Smith 1982-1993
Lorene Moore (interim pastor) 1993-1995
Ryan Ahlgrim 1995-present
Laura Van Voorhis (associate pastor) 2000-2003
Mandy Yoder (associate pastor) 2004-2008
Rene Hostetter (associate pastor) 2009-2012
Shannon Dycus (associate pastor) 2013-present

First Mennonite Church Membership

Year Members
1957 24
1960 48
1965 43
1970 90
1975 94
1980 95
1985 98
1990 149
1995 176
2000 180
2005 163
2010 196
2014 201

Author(s) Nathan Geiser
Date Published March 2014

Cite This Article

MLA style

Geiser, Nathan. "First Mennonite Church of Indianapolis (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. March 2014. Web. 22 Oct 2020.,_Indiana,_USA)&oldid=138823.

APA style

Geiser, Nathan. (March 2014). First Mennonite Church of Indianapolis (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 October 2020, from,_Indiana,_USA)&oldid=138823.

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