Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: As my doctoral students know, I’ve been concerned that a great deal of church planting has focused on middle class suburban young people moving to urban areas because of the gentrification of the area and not because they are called to minister to the needs of longtime residents. But happily,’I’m seeing more church plants address this in a positive manner, such as a recent Church of the Nazarene plant on the east side of Indianapolis.
I believe that instead of planting young, mono-cultural, middle-socioeconomic congregations in these areas… mother churches should partner with and renew existing churches – like the historic Baptist Church mentioned in this article. Granted, that would require growing a truly multicultural church… but that’s what people like myself in the Mosiax Network have been advocating.
Read this article from National Public Radio about the pitfalls and potentials of launching churches in rapidly gentrifying areas.
By Sam Gringlas, National Public Radio, 1/16/17.
…”I go outside, and these people who been here for 15 minutes look at me like, ‘Why you here?’ That’s that sense of privilege they bring wherever they go,” he said in his front yard on a sunny Saturday in November. “I been here since ’78. They been here six months or a year, and they question my purpose for being here.”
…Even neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of poverty and crime — places once thought immune to the influx of newcomers — are being eyed by developers.
At Brookland Manor, a housing development in northeast Washington home to about 1,200 mostly low-income residents, the landlord has stepped up evictions of poor tenants as the owners prepare to redevelop the property for young professionals, often filing lawsuits for late rent payments totaling less than $100.
…Carlos Pyatt grew up across the street from where Peterson lives. Pyatt hadn’t been back to this block since he moved away in the early ’80s…. Pyatt’s old next door neighbor bought her house for $42,000 in 1981. In 2017, the property’s tax assessment was more than $888,000. The city’s assessment of her home jumped nearly $150,000 in the past year. Developers call her up constantly asking if she wants to sell. Even with all that equity, it can be hard to keep up with the property taxes on a fixed income, which makes the option to sell tempting. Many have taken the offers.
… Curtis Smith, administrator at the historic Third Street Baptist Church down the street, said very few of his congregants still live in the neighborhood. Most commute in from the suburbs or elsewhere in the District.
“In the old days, maybe 80 percent could walk to the church,” he said. “Now just turn that around.”
Shifts like this one have meant that institutions such as churches preserve some of the few remaining ties drawing former residents back to the community. Smith hopes his church can serve as a centerpiece of the community, not just as a relic of the past.
“We’re trying to portray that we’re not the Black church on the corner, but we’re the community church,” he said.
Though every now and then someone who’s not a longtime congregant will stop in for the free community movie nights or public forums on topics like neighborhood policing, it’s not often. Smith said that’s something churches throughout Shaw are grappling with — how to play a role in a community that looks less and less like their membership.