Instagram Meet Up – St. Paul's Memorial UMC


On Saturday March 22nd I invited a group of local photographers to explore St. Paul's Memorial UMC, the West Side church built by the Studebaker family. Pastor Tom Thews, pictured above, climbed all around the church with us, sharing stories the whole time.

While I plan to return to St. Paul's for a more in-depth story on the building itself, this story captures a combination of the structure and the people at our meet up. If you are interested in local meet ups stayed tuned to my Instagram (@West.SB) for our next one, currently scheduled for the end of May.


Prior to Pastor Tom's arrival, we roamed around the main level, introducing ourselves to newcomers and shooting the sanctuary space. Once Tom was in the building we were off to the upper levels, aka the ceiling (and skylights) above the sanctuary.

I don't think any of us expected Pastor Tom to be the most adventurous of the group, but he led the way the entire time. Following him was a good move, these skylights were stunning:


After a good while of marveling at the skylights and a few history lessons from Pastor Tom we sought out higher ground in the bell tower. Getting up to the bell tower requires a few more staircases, a couple catwalks around the edges of the tower and once you think you must be on the roof ... an old, wooden ladder awaits:


This was my second visit to the bell tower roof and it continues to hold on as one of my favorite views of the city. The West Washington neighborhood is simply gorgeous, and one of the few West Side neighborhoods that wasn't thinned out during the 1,000 homes in 1,000 days initiative - giving it a dense, colorful aesthetic.

Portraits and beach chairs were the main attractions on the bell tower roof:


We ended our time at St. Paul's with another visit to the sanctuary - it's massive size and ornate details make it an inexhaustible space for photographers. We soon found our way behind the main stage to a 'cavern' left open by the pipe organ that is currently removed for refurbishment.

Our friend Jordan Moya had just returned from a trip documenting stories along the Mexico-USA border and brought back an Instagram-worthy outfit. He fit in well with the organ's home:


St. Paul's endurance as a church, gathering place, and historical structure is what makes South Bend a Rust Belt city on the move. 

We're so grateful for Pastor Tom Thews' enthusiasm for hosting our group. It's always special to be given access to historical locations - it's even more special to have a host that climbs above the ceiling with you.