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The Other Philadelphia Story

How Local Congregations Support Quality of Life in Urban America

By Ram A. Cnaan. With Stephanie C. Boddie, Charlene C. McGrew, and Jennifer Kang

Publication Year: 2006

For people living in U.S. cities, social services come not only from the government but increasingly also from local religious communities. Ever since the Clinton administration's welfare reform, faith-based institutions, and especially congregations, have been allowed to bid for federal funds for their programs. In The Other Philadelphia Story, drawing on the first-ever census of congregations in any American city, Ram Cnaan and his colleagues provide an authoritative account of the functioning of congregations, their involvement in social services, and their support of other charitable organizations.

An in-depth study of 1,392 congregations in Philadelphia, the book illuminates how these groups function as community hubs where members and neighbors alike gather throughout the week. Cnaan's findings show that almost every assembly of parishioners emphasizes caring for others, even if the help is modest. Thus American congregations uphold an implicit but strong norm of social responsibility and work to improve the quality of life for members and nonmembers alike.

Many of the problems associated with urban life persist in the face of governmental inaction, and the burden of responsibility cannot be shouldered entirely by congregations. However, in a city such as Philadelphia, where half the residents are regular attenders of religious congregations, hopes for urban improvement are largely to be found in these local groups.

Special focus is given in the book to kinds of care that often go unnoticed: volunteerism, provision of refuge, and informal assistance to community members in need. All told, Cnaan asserts, congregations are an essential component of Philadelphia's civil society. Without them, the quality of life would deteriorate immeasurably.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The City in the Twenty-First Century


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pp. i-iii


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pp. iv-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of IIIustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

Readers of my previous books, The Newer Deal and The Invisible Caring Hand, may be familiar with some aspects of this introduction. I came to Philadelphia in 1986 as a visiting scholar for one year. My academic interests at the time focused on how best to provide public social services to people in need. In fact, I did not even perceive nonpublic social ser-...

Part I: Introduction to the Field of Studying Congregations

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1. "Here Is the Church, Here Is the Steeple’’: Defining and Measuring Religious Congregations

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pp. 3-22

Religious congregations have generated great interest among scholars and policy makers for their civic value. Since the passage in 1996 of Charitable Choice, interest in congregations and their contribution to our social capital and civic society has grown exponentially.1 But a lack of clarity persists. The number of congregations in the United States is...

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2. The Religious Landscape in Philadelphia

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pp. 23-37

In many ways, Philadelphia is like other old, formerly industrial U.S.cities where once booming economies have declined and blight has crept in (Sugrue 1996). In other regards, including its religious history, Philadelphia is unique. In 1683, William Penn laid out the city of Philadelphia (‘‘Brotherly Love’’) as part of a quasi-religious utopian experi-...

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3. The Organizational Behavior of the Congregations in Our Study

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pp. 38-60

Congregations come in every shape and size. As we discussed in Chapter 1, there is a wide variability in their theological, organizational, ecological, liturgical, and membership characteristics. In that chapter we struggled to find a working definition for the social organization called ‘‘local religious congregation.’’ Here we identify the key organizational charac-...

Part II: Congregational Contribution to Quality of Life in Urban America

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4. Informal Care by Congregations

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pp. 63-75

One common criticism of congregational social programs is that they are small, unsustainable, and limited in scope (Chaves 1999; Farnsley 2003). The accuracy of this specific criticism will be assessed in the next chapter. In this chapter we focus on the importance and scope of informal care and, in so doing, show that these presumed weaknesses are also...

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5. Formal Care: Congregations as Social Service Agencies

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pp. 76-103

While all aspects of social care by congregations in Philadelphia are important and worth studying, the tallying of the formal programs offered by congregations is the heart of the present study. As we will show, most congregations in Philadelphia contribute to the city’s quality of life, and together they offer a sizeable network of care. With over...

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6. Using Space for Good Use

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pp. 104-120

One of the assets congregations can offer their neighbors and cities is building space. As discussed in Chapter 1, most congregations own a building in which they meet to hold their worship functions. Congregations usually aspire to build a place of worship and enlarge it in order to accommodate more people and be noticeable in the community. Often...

Part III: Special Congregations and Subgroups

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7. Black Congregations in the City of Brotherly Love

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pp. 123-153

Although in Philadelphia there are many important and interesting groups worth attention, we elected to focus on African Americans, Latinos, and women. They are the largest and most interesting groups about whom we could shed new light. We elected not to focus on Muslims as there were too few Masjids within the city limits to generalize. We...

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8. Latino Congregations in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 154-179

The United States is witnessing a dramatic change in its ethnic composition.1 From an Anglo-European focus of new immigrants we are now facing an increasingly diverse population (Singer 2002; Kilty and deHaymes 2000; Cerrutti and Massey, 2001). Public discourse is shifting into the future of the United States as a Christian white society. The cur-...

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9. Women in Congregations and Social Service Provision

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pp. 180-194

Religion was once a major institutional means to control women and that even today it is sometimes used as such (Neitz 1998). One has only to recall the status of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime to appreciate how oppressive religion can be for women. In the name of religion women have been ordered to stay at home, shave their heads,...

Part IV: Area Organizations That Enhance the Congregational Social Service Capacity

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10. Interfaith Coalitions: The Northwest Interfaith Movement

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pp. 197-216

Individuals form groups in order to achieve common goals that are beyond the capacity of individuals or families. But even groups are at times too small and weak to bring about a desired change. In this case, groups gather to form a coalition or an alliance, for what cannot be done by one group can often be done by many.1 Community organizers...

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11. Using Congregational Capacity to Help the Homeless: The NPIHN

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pp. 217-234

In a climate in which there are more partnerships among community organizations, it behooves scholars of nonprofit groups to examine the organization and success of interfaith networks (Cnaan, Wineburg, and Boddie 1999). How do they operate, and what marked characteristics do they exhibit in their social service efforts? Some interfaith collaborations...

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12. Using Congregational Volunteers: Amachi and REST Philly

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pp. 235-250

In the previous two chapters, we presented the case of two umbrellagroups that used the willingness and capability of local religious congre-organization that was formed by a pastor, aiming to resolve neighbor-hood and city problems. Member congregations in NIM are loosely rep-resented and, combined, they form an alliance that aims to tackle a...

Part V: Conclusions and Implications

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13. The World of the Clergy: Contextual Necessities and Leadership Challenges

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pp. 253-273

As a result of the institutionalized separation of church and state in the United States, local religious congregations are not publicly assisted; their operation is distinct from that of the state (Cnaan et al. 2002). Infact, unlike other nonprofit organizations, they are barred from accepting public grants or contracts for supporting their core mission: reli-...

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14. Policy Recommendations: What Have We Learned?

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pp. 274-292

This book contains a wide range of information regarding the social service involvement of local religious congregations in Philadelphia, based on the Philadelphia Census of Congregations (PCC). It is somewhat difficult to summarize and discuss this rich body of knowledge in one chapter. It is even more difficult to draw national conclusions based on these...

Appendix: Methods

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pp. 293-296


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pp. 297-300


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pp. 301-320


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pp. 321-330

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pp. 331-334

The concept for this book began with research grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts through Private/Public Venture (P/PV) to study the role of the religious community in the welfare system at the end of the twentieth century in the City of Philadelphia. I am in debt to their wisdom and insight as to the importance of knowing what is going on in...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812201628
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812239492

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: The City in the Twenty-First Century
Series Editor Byline: Eugenie L. Birch and Susan M. Wachter, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 759158160
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Other Philadelphia Story

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Subject Headings

  • Quality of life -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia.
  • Church charities -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia.
  • Faith-based human services -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia.
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