Written by Lisa Morris, Executive Director, Metro Ministries, Inc.

Conference Superintendent of the Central District, Rev. Jim Bushfield, issued an invitation to United Methodists, as well as our neighbors, throughout the Central Indiana area and surrounding areas to join in on a conversation that many may consider long overdue. Together, invitees pledged to gather last week, prepared to listen to gain understanding, to entertain to new perspectives, and to have their mind, faith, and any preconceived notions they may have harbored over time challenged through open and fruitful conversation. 

Jim Bushfield was sharing live posts on social media while traveling by bus from Nora. He had noticed, during his first day at the office, that there was a bus stop nearby, which sparked his interest in the Indianapolis public transit system and the stories of those who rely on it on a consistent basis. 

As the Indiana Conference shifts its trajectory to support the goal of being fully ‘missional’ by the year 2020, Jim wondered, "what do our neighbors who depend on public transportation need and how does it affect our ministry within our communities?” The Jesus on the Bus event was developed. 

More than 19 pastors and laity listened to Jerome Horne, Indy Go's Special Transit Projects Coordinator, tell us about the successes of Indy Go – Indianapolis Public Transportation and its future plans. Through the social justice work of IndyCan and pastors like Matt Landry, Associate Pastor at Meridian Street, and Ronnie Bell, Associate pastor at North UMC, voters approved a .25 Marion County Income Tax that will be bringing enhancements like the Red Line, and the Julia M. Carson Transit Center which has completed its first year. Jerome said, "The new transit center has brought dignity to those using the cities buses."

There were stories from each of the participants of the "Jesus on the Bus"gather, which took place at Roberts Park United Methodist Church in Downtown Indianapolis on Wednesday, October 18. Dave Buckner was first to arrive after driving from Pittsboro to Speedway to catch the bus to downtown. He shared, "I had a chance to talk with the bus driver, she has worked for Indy Go for 20 years."  Eric Kersey, pastor at St. Andrew UMC, was excited to catch the bus and find Jim Bushfield. His bus schedule had him switching buses in Broad Ripple, but when he saw Jim wasn't getting off, he followed him to downtown without having to make the switch. 

The overall experience was eye-opening and provided many valuable takeaways for a majority of attendees. It takes time to plan your route, compromise on a time-friendly schedule, find the exact change required for fees, ensure that your bags are packed with the things you’ll need for the day, and start your commute to work, school, or an event happening across town. In most cases, it’s a long commute which requires lots of planning beforehand. The buses only circumvent within the I-465 circle, so those who work outside of the city limits, in areas like Plainfield, Brownsburg, and Greenfield, are left with meager choices — something to think about in your own networks and for future conversations.

Following the initial question: How do we rethink and re-shift our ministerial work and community activism to welcome and accommodate the needs of our neighbors who rely on public transit? Especially during the cold months ahead when it becomes incrementally challenging, and at times dangerous, to wait at a bus stop. We’ll continue to follow this conversation thread, cultivate space for other new and unique engagements like this, challenge each other, follow the progress, hold one another accountable, and continue to advocate for a safer, healthier, and stronger community, starting with issues that affect our neighbors.