Closing Riley Chapel

May 29, 2004 | 9 comments

We’ve spent some time down in Indy this week. One of the hospitals there, Riley Hospital, is really something. The original hospital was built way back when. It’s grown and grown and grown since then, but they’ve never demolished the original. Instead, they’ve just built the new hospital around it, keeping the original in the center surrounded by courtyards, like the Kaaba or something. In the middle of the old hospital was a chapel.

It was a little too Protestant, and vaguely Protestant at that, for my tastes. I’ admired the stained glass but I’ll admit that I never went there to worship, and rarely to reflect. Still, I liked knowing that the center of this big secular enterprise was a well-appointed chapel, and it disappointed me that all the vague Protestants visiting the hospital never visited the chapel.

This week we happened by the chapel and found that it had been converted to a Family Resource Center. It has a library, with popular fiction and non-, lots and lots of internet computers, several different Playstations or Xboxes or whatever they call those things now, and whatever else might divert family members who are tired of comforting their loved ones. The area gets a lot more use now, and is still beautiful in its way, though the stained glass peeking between computers is a little incongruous.

After poking around I found a remnant of the chapel. I walked into a dark little room with a few tiny bunched-up pews and an altar arrangement against the wall. Above it was some backlighted stained glass and a bland quote from a modern Bible. In a rebellious moment I knelt and prayed.

American Christianity has come to this, that only eccentric Mormons worship in its chapels, and then only in elegy. Alas, my country.

We were driving on an Indy freeway a few days later past a big ol’ mall. One of the anchor stores under construction was, I’m not kidding, the New Covenant Christian Center. Faith and food courts, who would have thought it? And the thing was huge. Maybe there’s some breath left in the body of Christianity after all, albeit bad breath.

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9 Responses to Closing Riley Chapel

  1. Andy on May 29, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Are we any different? Have you ever been to the University Mall in Orem, UT?

    Deseret Book, Missionary Emporium, Living Scriptures, etc….and none of them too far from the food court.

  2. Sheri Lynn on May 29, 2004 at 6:00 pm

    I see all these dying malls, empty anchor stores, and hey, if churches move in, and thrive, I think it says something GOOD about where American minds are headed.

  3. Adam Greenwood on May 29, 2004 at 9:48 pm

    So do I. I said ‘bad breath,’ but breath is a wonderful thing only slightly marred by a distasteful smell. I’d much rather have bad breath than none at all.

  4. Gary Cooper on May 29, 2004 at 11:46 pm


    Don’t count out our Protestant brethren yet. Here in my home town, a core group of 30 people, concerend that in the college environment (we are a university town), many people never go to church and never have any meaningful religious experience, obtained a old Walmart super center that was abandoned and started “Journey Church”. 4 years later, they average 1800 people in attendance in multiple services.

    If anything, *conservative* Protestants (such as evangelicals, pentecostals, etc.) are grwoing just as fast in the US or faster than we are. It is the “old-line” Protestants (methodist, episcopal, presbyterian, etc.) which are fading away, and precisely because they are doctrinally vague and increasingly wishy-washy in what they preach and what they demand of their members.

  5. Russell Arben Fox on May 30, 2004 at 9:58 am

    Like Adam, it saddens me to see the great accomplishments and influence (architechtural, doctrinal, civic, etc.) of the American Protestant mainline decline into invisibility. I’ve enjoyed, if that is the right word, visiting many old chapels over the years: sitting in their pews, opening old hymnals that are likely only used twice a year at best, praying while basking in sunlight filtering through dusty, old stained-glass windows. (Virginia and the Eastern Shore of Maryland are nice places to explore for many of these.) Gary is right, of course, that there is a great deal of spiritual strength left in American Protestantism; the mall-like “super-church” movement is a testimony to that. But I don’t think it’s just nostalgia that makes me fear something profound was lost when the mainline mostly embraced modernity. Evangelicals today too often have no knowledge of or feeling for a world wherein the Christian life (worship, hymns, service) was an alternative, a refuge, and/or a challenge vis-a-vis the world; rather than presenting itself as the center of one’s comnmunity or vocation (literally, in the case of Riley Chapel), many megachurches today appear to present the gospel as just one more weekly source of activities in a choice-filled life.

  6. Sheri Lynn on May 30, 2004 at 10:39 pm

    Speaking as a former atheist, I believe any worship of God is better than none at all. Too many people live their lives thinking that if their peers don’t love them or their parents abused them, that means NOBODY loves them. I remember what what that felt like. It’s like being a helpless baby forgotten in the car in August noontime.

    We are not the only ones who know and love the Lord, and serve him. Most of the Lutherans I know are one prayer away from being better Mormons that many of the Mormons I know.

  7. Adam Greenwood on May 30, 2004 at 11:53 pm

    Remarkably well put, Sister S. L. Mind if I adopt a couple of those lines: ‘It’s like being a helpless baby . . .” and “Most of the Lutherans I know are one prayer away . . .”?

  8. Adam Greenwood on May 31, 2004 at 12:13 am

    The church has opened a Family History Center in a mall.

  9. kind on June 26, 2004 at 10:17 pm

    Hello! I like USED WEAR!!


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