This is not a theological post, no. This post comes out of an email about a PBS documentary and a search string in my stats. Let the Church Say Amen is scheduled to air March 29th at 10:30 on PBS and as part of it’s ‘learn more‘ section of the program’s web site it has listed In Shaw. According to their site the film is about storefront churches and apparently the Shaw neighborhood is featured. So I got to thinking about churches, in general, and gentrifying Shaw.
For one the churches around here are destinations for non-Shaw as well as some residents. Many of those non-residents have cars. I’m particularly thinking of 65 year olds with large Lincoln Towncars circa 1980, mint condition. I swear those things take up as much spaces as an SUV. You have churches that seem to have a fair number of people who drive in and try to park on the streets. Now as Shaw gets gentrified, bringing in folks with cars, there are fewer parking spots on the street. Around Shiloh Baptist on 9th Street, it is really bad. Even though the church has a parking lot, and cars park at an angle on 9th, the streets cannot hold all the cars and I’ve seen horrible parking violations by people trotting into church. Cars will double park, park too close to the curb, park on both sides of a narrow street, and park in places a car should never park. This does create tension between the church and residents with cars.
Second, some churches have missions to serve the poor and other community needs. There services range from counseling, breakfasts, food stocks, clothing, and day care. There is a church not far from me that serves a breakfast with a sermon. So far so good. There isn’t a lot of trash when the mostly male crowd of scruffy looking guys shuffle in and out. The men don’t hang out in front for very long and they either remain in or head out and on their way. But how do those missions relate to gentrification and the transitioning of a neighborhood? The complaints I remember from some neighbors related to who some of the services attracted to the neighborhood and how those folks interacted with the neighbors. In more middle class neighborhoods, by comparison by what I have observed, some church missions appear less obvious, or are carried out off site, so that neighboring residents are less aware of what the church does for the needy. The churches in the middle class neighborhoods I have attended, have only advertised their fundraisers (CROP walk, bake sale, bingo, etc) to their neighbors (via exterior bulletin boards), not their soup kitchens or homeless shelter support. Whereas here, you’ll see the signs advertising the breakfasts and the clothing give aways.
Lastly, there is the church as landowner. There are many churches, from store front to historical, that just have the land there main building sits on. Then you have other churches, like Shiloh that own surrounding properties. Some are good stewards of there property, some are just BAD, bad, bad. Bad landlords. Bad at upkeep. Bad neighbors. Bad in a way that allows the property to be used by drug dealers, prostitutes and the like because they have let the property fall into disrepair, or left it unsecured. The only good excuse I have ever heard for a church allowing this was a condition in a woman’s will that left her property to her church and stated that it could only be sold at a certain dollar amount. The church did not have the funds/will to improve it and because of the will’s conditions could not sell it. Ok, maybe not a good excuse. Some churches have been able to do good with their property and be good neighbors, buying former liquor stores and expanding space for their missions, or tearing down old buildings/ or rehabbing them and making nice auxiliary buildings that ‘go’ with the surrounding neighborhood reflecting the neighborhoods changes and improvements.
Comment policy on this post: No theological content please. Feel free to pan or praise a church as a non-profit in the community but avoid topics relating to creeds or beliefs.