Race and Class in Central-City and Suburban Churches
As more middle- and upper-income individuals and families moved to the suburbs during the twentieth century, some churches followed the members of their congregations to the suburbs. pattern is known as "upgrading" and results in the church having newer facilities and more members who are in the upper-middle and upper classes. Meanwhile, the church's former building site is often taken over by a minority congregation or by a denomination that appeals primarily to members 'of the working class, older members living on a fixed income, or recent immigrant groups such as Vietnamese Americans (Hudnut-Beumler, 1994).
The sociologist Nancy Am merman (1997) and her associates examined churches struggling to survive in central cities and concluded that the efforts of many churches that remain in the central city and engage in community outreach have had mixed results. When church leaders seek to include people from the immediate neighborhood in the life of the church, some long time members find the experience too disruptive and discourage future endeavors to reach out to the surrounding community (Ammerman, 1997). As a result, the church may stagnate as older members die or move away. On the other hand, racial and cultural minorities who feel overpowered by their lack of economic resources may be drawn to churches that help them establish a sense of dignity and personal integrity that is otherwise missing in their daily social interactions. For example, African American churches have provided members with a sense of personal dignity and worth in the face of persistent racial prejudice and discrimination while serving as a family lite and social service center, a community organization, and a means of providing hope for the next generation. As the sociologist Andrew Billingsley (1992: 349) explains, "Over the centuries, the church has become the strongest institution in [the African American] community. It is prevalent, independent, and has extensive outreach As a pastor ... I have watched families struggle with an assortment of devastating problems. have shared the pain of families in which members have been accused or convicted of theft, drug addiction, prostitution, rape, and murder. I have been involved with homeless families who have been so desperate for a place to live that squatting in abandoned houses was their only recourse. 1have witnessed elderly persons lose all sense of autonomy because of homelessness, illness, and loneliness. I have heard the cries of children, parents, and the elderly as they faced conditions of hopelessness. Through it all I have witnessed a remarkable fact-for these persons the church has been the central authenticating reality in their lives. When the world has so often been willing to say only "no" to these people, the church has said "yes:' For black people the church has been the one place where they have been able to experience unconditional positive regard. (qtd. in Smith, 1985: 14) As previously noted, members of other subordinate racial and ethnic groups have also found support and hope in their churches.