Blog

Personal Empowerment vs. Social Change: Must We Choose?

When we consider strategies or methods that congregations or faithful citizens use to bring about lasting social change, personal empowerment projects are often overlooked.  Unlike direct service programs which meet immediate needs (cash, food or clothing), empowerment projects seek to undergird the whole person through counseling, mentoring, training, educating or supporting recovery from traumatic circumstances.

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How to Throw a Block Party

  Weather permitting there is nothing more enjoyable than a block party—walking through a crowd on blocked off streets with the aroma of food and the sound of a band playing somewhere.  Have you ever thought about organizing one?  My focus here is the small-scale block party, the kind hosted by a congregation, faith-based organization, […]

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The Revival Center: From Social Service to “Mutual Aid” (Part Two)

How can congregations move beyond “helping” the poor to being in ministry with them?  A black Pentecostal church on Chicago’s Near West Side offers a model for pulling families out of poverty.  Serving as a something like a “mutual aid society” where everyone has a voice and anyone can ask for help, The Revival Church […]

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The Revival Center: From Social Service to “Mutual Aid” (Part One)

  Most socially minded congregations seek to “help” the poor through service activities such as a food pantry or clothes closet.  A better model might be the congregation as “mutual aid society” for its members.  Historically, mutual aid societies (fraternal lodges and labor unions are two examples) offered fellowship, equal participation and, more importantly, material […]

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Bridging the Class Divide: Lessons From Four Cities

  Last week we looked at a Morehouse College project in Indianapolis, Denver, Camden and Hartford that studied the relationship between congregations and high poverty urban communities.  The Faith Communities and Urban Families Project, directed by R. Drew Smith, was sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  The questions they asked:  What connections exist between congregations […]

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The Congregation in High Poverty Areas: Distance and Isolation

  Urban religious leaders often express a desire to bridge the social distance between their congregation and the surrounding neighborhood.  How can this be achieved?  First, it requires an accurate picture of the landscape.  In what follows, I will address a stark description:  churches and low-income residents in geographic proximity and yet worlds apart.  To […]

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Success Story: Volunteers Bridging the Class Divide

  It looked like a set up for failure:  White, middle class volunteers driving into a low income neighborhood from outside to “help out.”  Beyond simply helping, the group wanted to deepen their connections with their neighbor in the Park community, a low income neighborhood of mostly African-American, Hmong, Vietnamese and Spanish speaking Central Americans.  […]

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Helping Poor Families: A Case Study in Failure

Here’s a program for poor families that failed.  What went wrong?  Adopt-A-Family was a short-lived program started to help African American families hurt by welfare reform in the late 1990s.  The program’s goal was ambitious: white volunteers, moving out of their “comfort zones,” would get deeply involved in the life of an adopted low income […]

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Mothers in Poverty: “Yes” to Spirituality, “No Thanks” to Worship

Aletta is a 22 year old black/Latina mother of three young children (ages 5, 3, and 1).  She used to attend a Seventh Day Adventist Church twice a week.  Then she and her husband moved away to a long-term transitional housing shelter, and she stopped attending church. She still continues to pray with her children […]

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