Fort Wayne: A City of Faiths?

Known as the City of Churches, the city also is home to many non-Christian faiths

Fort Wayne has evolved from a city of churches to a city of faiths. That change can be seen on Goshen Road, where the Universal Education Foundation Islamic center, left, is a neighbor with St. Matthew's Lutheran Church. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
Welcoming Fort Wayne's yard sign campaign provides a way for people to show their support for welcoming people of all cultures to the city. The program is a ministry of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
The Rev. Roger Reece, executive pastor of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County.

Fort Wayne long has been known as the City of Churches, but the City of Faiths more accurately describes the community today.

Jobs, immigration and refugee resettlement have brought a array of people — and their faiths — to the Summit City. Along with Christian and Jewish congregations, which have histories dating back more than a century in the city, we now have several Islamic centers and houses of worship for Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.

Related story: Welcoming Fort Wayne working to build stronger community

Many feel Fort Wayne’s newer residents make a good addition the city and signal positive things for the community.

“We need not be threatened,” said the Rev. Roger Reece, executive pastor of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, said of the benefits and challenges of becoming a city of many faiths.

Associated Churches is a ministry through which numerous local Christian congregations partner to address needs in the community, such as hunger and the needs of new parents on limited incomes.

“The typical new resident to Fort Wayne is an immigrant, a peaceful person who just wants to fit in their new community,” Reece said. “We want to respect their faith tradition and hope they know we are Christian by how we treat them.”

Fred Gilbert, who has a long history locally of working with the immigrant and refugee community, sees three main benefits of being a city of many faiths and cultures:

* “It’s an affirmation of the strength of the community,” he said of people wanting to move or settle here.

* It broadens local residents’ experiences, first though working with co-workers from a different faith or culture, and then among students of different backgrounds attending school together.

* It helps business, providing workers for a variety of jobs, including foreign-born residents making up the core of the medical community serving Fort Wayne and the region.

There are challenges, however, such as some people’s resistance to immigration and those who have a deep disrespect for Islam, Gilbert said.

He believes school systems will play a key role in helping young generations grow up with an appreciation of people of all cultures.

Fort Wayne’s range of faith groups — both Christian and non-Christian — offers an impressive array of opportunities for people to connect with others, said Irene Paxia, executive director of Amani Family Services, which works with local immigrants and refugees.

“For immigrants and refugees, the biggest question we have to answer every day is, ‘Is this our home?'” said Paxia, who immigrated here from Italy.

Religious congregations play a huge role in helping people build an identity here and a sense of belonging, she said. For people new to the city, religious leaders often also serve as a guide in how to live in the community.

But it takes a conscious effort to be inclusive, Paxia said.

She recalled recently attending a major conference locally on children’s issues, which began with a Christian prayer. That left her feeling badly for the Jewish person seated next to her.


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