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Sunday, March 23, 2003

Too many churches?

Fascinating article in today's Boston Globe about sociologist Omar McRoberts's four-year study of Dorchester's impoverished Four Corners neighborhood and its churches, Streets of Glory. There are 29 churches in less than one square mile — all but five in storefronts — but surprisingly they are profoundly uninvolved in their neighborhood:

McRoberts found that most of these churches are attended and run by people who don't live in the neighborhood and are less inclined than other groups to respond to neighborhood needs. They come from all over the Boston area to worship in Four Corners ''because of the low overhead and the availability of space,'' he said . . .

Like many church leaders in Four Corners, [the Rev. Pierre] Dumornay acknowledged little involvement with the immediate neighborhood and said that is not part of the church's mission.

He said he is serving his God and loyal church members, many of whom have followed the congregation from one building to another for the past 15 years or so, and he is proud of the fact that many come from as far away as Brockton . . .

There's nothing wrong with churches taking an isolated, ''in-reach'' approach, McRoberts takes pains to make clear in his book. People have the right to worship wherever and however they want, and these churches clearly attend to some of their members' needs. The problem is that Four Corners ''has fallen through the cracks'' and is not well-served by its churches or anyone else, he said.

At the same time, some of these churches have opposed entrepreneurial development because they fear being displaced. He argues that this is at least part of the reason why Four Corners has not witnessed much of the revitalization occurring in adjacent neighborhoods, such as Fields Corner and Codman Square.

Furthermore, because of the important work other black churches have provided over the years as centers for civil rights protest and community organizing, some health, employment, and other social welfare agencies send notices about programs to the Four Corners churches, expecting them to get the word out to the neighborhood. But, in fact, McRoberts said, the notices rarely go beyond the corkboards on the churches' walls.

Wow. So who exactly is going to run the president's "faith-based initiatives"?

Urban paganism.

Also in the Globe, a profile of Christopher Penczak, author of several books on contemporary paganism for city-dwellers. How does a neo-pagan find magic in the avenues of modernism?

City-based paganism resonates with those unable or unwilling to leave the city. It turns old rituals upside down, substituting squirrels, pigeons, seagulls, and feral cats for enchanted animal totems, exotic, elusive spirits such as wolves, lions or eagles. These days, even cockroaches could work as signs of spirit life.

''City Magick'' encourages readers to make sacred stones out of mundane materials like tar and asphalt and create spells that can help the caster get a job, an apartment, or a parking space. In a pinch, an urban pagan can even use Big Dig rubble as a magical ingredient in a personal protection charm.

Okay . . .

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 23 March 2003 at 10:45 PM

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