Eastern Star Church, the largest predominantly African American religious congregation in Indianapolis, was established by a mission of 12 people in 1920. Originally located at 1200 E. 17th Street, the church relocated to the northwest corner of 22nd Street and Columbia Avenue in 1921. Eastern Star is an Independent Baptist congregation. It is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination, convention, or hierarchical structure.

A large group of children and some adults gather in front of and on the staircase leading to the church entrance.
Vacation Bible School at Eastern Star Baptist Church, ca. 1960s Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

In 1988, Indianapolis native Jeffrey A. Johnson Sr., a 25-year-old graduate of Bishop College, a historically Black institution in Marshall, Texas, became pastor of Eastern Star Church. He brought in new members with his powerful style of “expository” preaching. He also launched new programs designed to address spiritual and practical needs. Johnson was assisted by a dedicated team of church employees, ministry leaders, and volunteers.

By the 1990s, Eastern Star had become the largest church with a predominantly Black membership in the city. This rapid growth continued, leading to a move to a new building at 5750 E. 30th Street in 1994. Church membership grew from approximately 400 in 1990 to more than 10,000 by 2005. The church created more than 30 ministries, including JEWEL Christian Academy, an accredited parochial school; JEWEL Bible Institute; and The Chronicles, a newsletter that evolved into a monthly magazine.

Eastern Star Church also formed outreach initiatives to assist area residents, including renovation of the nearby Beechwood Gardens apartments, college scholarships, support for students at IPS School No. 99, and a program to feed thousands of families each year through its JEWEL Human Services outreach arm.

Eastern Star Church added two new locations for the convenience of residents across Central Indiana, including a northeast campus in Fishers in 2003 and the 120,000square-foot Cooper Road campus on the westside of Indianapolis in 2011.

In 2018, Eastern Star Church launched the Renewing Our Community for the Kingdom (ROCK) Initiative, an effort to revitalize the Arlington Woods neighborhood that is home to its main campus. Church resources and private donations were used to construct or renovate a dozen homes and open a new building on 30th Street that has low-cost apartments, a credit union, a legal clinic, and a market offering healthy food options. By 2021, Eastern Star had received $8.1 million in Lilly Endowment, Inc., Enhancing Opportunity Initiative grants. The church is using part of these funds to construct a $9.4 million community center for children and youth.

Revised March 2021

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