Background on Coppin Chapel
Coppin Chapel was organized around 1917 in Indianapolis as a mission under the nurturing of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The congregation of about 10 people from the neighborhood met in a small family dwelling at 1748 Northwestern Ave.
Under the leadership of the Rev. T. L. Greenfield of Bethel AME, the mission began to grow and prosper. By 1920, it had more than doubled in size and had moved into a larger building at 1549 Mill Street. Over the next 20 years, the church continued to serve as a solid rock in an all-African-American neighborhood facing the economic and political trials of a segregated city.
In 1949, a new church was built at the Mill Street site at a cost of about $25,000. Thanks to an enthusiastic membership, guidance from Pastor S. D. Hardick and assistance from a sister church, St. Paul AME and the Indiana Conference Expansion Fund, the property was free and clear of mortgages the next year.
Coppin Chapel was forced to move from its Mills Street location because of a redevelopment project in 1954. The pastor, Rev. David E. Mitcham Sr., found a relocation site at 3201 North Capitol once owned by The Church of the Brethren. The now 100-strong member congregation made its move in 1955 to the “uptown” location and again was blessed to have been able to pay off the mortgage in a short time. They then set out to make the building and the neighborhood around it their own.
By 1961, while Rev. J.W. Wright was the pastor, a parsonage was purchased a few blocks east of the church. Six years later, Rev. C.S. Smith III oversaw the pouring a gymnasium floor in the basement and the installation of glass doors.
And in 1968, as black churches across America became sanctuaries of enlightenment for African Americans during the height of the civil rights movement, Coppin Chapel was a cornerstone of enrichment in the Crown Hill area.
Under the leadership of Rev. J. Sidney Tate, the now 130-member congregation was active in NAACP and Urban League-related activities. Meanwhile, physical and spiritual renovations continued. A new pulpit was designed, and a new choir loft was added along with other general remodeling. Most importantly, the church’s educational mission was revitalized with the founding of the Hazel T. Gomez Educational Building.
The church continued to take flight into the 1970s. Under the direction of Rev. David Perry, the church parsonage and parking lot were paid off, and in 1979, with Rev. Alfred Johnson in the pulpit, a new boiler was installed and the educational building was fortified and renovated.
Coppin’s true neighborhood presence was seen and felt during the 1980s after Rev. Anderson V. Sanders was appointed pastor. Rev. Sanders, a builder by trade, immediately began planning the reconstruction of a church that required substantial repair. With only the frame remaining, a new building was erected at 3201 North Capitol Avenue.
The recreational/educational unit, which had housed the gymnasium and meeting rooms, was rebuilt to house a conference room, trustee/steward room, pastor’s study, two associate pastor’s studies, library, two restrooms, and a nursery. A new sanctuary, vestibule, choir loft, remodeled lower level with kitchen; pantry and two restrooms were also completed. New choir robes, furniture, and organ were purchased as well.
But even as a new church edifice began to take shape, a spiritual reconstruction was beginning as well. Youth activities became more prominent; a youth choir was added to the regular Sunday service and youth church. The youth organization became more active and involved in the community and church activities.
The focus on youth and neighborhood community continued into the 1990s under Rev. Jerry Hawkins and continued under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Brigitte A. Black who took over in 1995.
Rev. Dr. Black spearheaded efforts to involve young people in spiritual, educational and leadership activities. The church established important ties to the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association and its influential neighbor, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.