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Civil rights leader, local pastor dies at 84

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The Rev. John Bean, who died Saturday, was photographed in 1989 in front of North Christian Church. FILE PHOTO
The Rev. John Bean, who died Saturday, was photographed in 1989 in front of North Christian Church. FILE PHOTO

The Rev. John Bean, an early civil rights leader and the longest-serving pastor of North Christian Church, died Saturday in Indianapolis. He was 84.

A memorial service will be conducted at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Northwood Christian Church, 4550 Central Ave., Indianapolis.

Bean and his wife, Julia, had moved to Indianapolis from Columbus several years ago. He served as minister for North Christian Church from 1967 to 1992, retiring on the occasion of his 25th anniversary.

In that time span he was a central figure in several major initiatives.

  • He was a co-founder and former president of the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches.
  • He drafted the ordinance that led to the creation of the Columbus Human Rights Commission.
  • He chaired a committee of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indiana that integrated the church’s leadership, requiring a certain percentage of women and blacks on the national board. While he was the senior minister at North Christian Church, three associate ministers were women.
  • As recognition of his efforts on behalf of civil rights, the Columbus Human Rights Commission selected him as recipient of the 1989 William R. Laws Award, named in honor of the late First Presbyterian Church minister who was also a leader in the civil rights movement in Bartholomew County.

While his impact was communitywide, Bean’s 25 years at North Christian also left a lasting impression on members of the congregation.

“This is a great loss,” said Helen Haddad, a longtime member. “I mean no disrespect to any of the other ministers who went before or followed him, but he was hands-down the best minister we ever had. Even after he retired and left Columbus, he was often invited back to preside or speak at funerals of church members. I still remember the wonderful sermon he gave for my husband Bob’s mother, Agnes.”

Others remembered the forthright manner in which he addressed controversial issues that earlier church leaders in Bartholomew County had preferred to avoid.

In a 1989 interview with The Republic, he recalled the reaction he got when he approached the Bartholomew County Ministerial Association with a suggestion that the group support a fair-housing ordinance that was being considered by the City Council. He recalled that members of the association told him there was no chance of that happening, as the association was a fellowship group, not an action group.

That didn’t deter Bean from diving head-first into controversial issues facing the community. He was not afraid to take the lead. In 1968 he was the first minister in Columbus to conduct a communitywide memorial service following the 1968 assassination of civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr.

“Some doctrines say the church should stay separate from the community,” he said in an 1989 interview. “But a central part of my ministry involves service to those unable to compete, those who are marginalized by society.”

One of the early steps he took was involvement in the creation of the Ecumenical Assembly. It developed a Mobile Health Care Clinic that provided medical assistance to low-income families. The group also established a fund that offered assistance to disadvantaged families. One of its major initiatives was the creation of the Love Chapel food pantry.

Bean was active in a number of social service organizations. He was one of the leaders in the Community Action Program, which provided aid to indigents, and was on the Advisory Council for Atterbury Job Corps Center.

He frequently stepped out of his ministerial role in becoming involved in a variety of aspects of community life.

He was a former president of the Distinguished Visitors Series, which brought national and international personalities such as author and poet Maya Angelou and baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron to Columbus. He also chaired the Independent Nominating Assembly, a nonpartisan group that slated candidates for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Board. He was a member of the boards for the Rotary Club of Columbus and the United Way of Bartholomew County.

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