restricted access IV. ‘‘Beyond Religious Boundaries’’: Urban Ministry and Social Order
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IV ‘‘BEYOND RELIGIOUS BOUNDARIES’’: URBAN MINISTRY AND SOCIAL ORDER Reflecting on the rise of urban ministries in Indianapolis during the s and early s, a reporter for the Indianapolis News observed , ‘‘There was a time when a church’s charity work was done across town, in a place few of the congregations ever saw. Those times are gone now, at least for many of the proud old churches whose neighborhoods, once the most exclusive in the city, gradually gave way to inner city decay.’’ This was the case for Trinity Episcopal at  Meridian Street, where Reverend Lynch confirmed, ‘‘Churches have always helped those in need. It’s just that now, if we’re talking about mission work, there’s work to be done right under our noses.’’1 Before the s, most Indianapolis congregations concentrated on serving the spiritual and social needs of their own members. This changed in the s as religious leaders and laity confronted intense racial, social, and economic changes occurring in their own churches’ neighborhoods. If the War on Poverty pushed African American and politically engaged white clergy to consider the role of religious institutions in the city, most Catholic and mainline Protestant churches failed to see the relevance of the federal initiative for their churches. However, massive urban demographic transformations , such as deindustrialization and white flight, compelled them to rethink their urban responsibilities.   A Public Charity Like other Midwestern and eastern industrial cities in the s and s, Indianapolis witnessed dramatic migration of white residents to the suburbs. Although Indianapolis did not suffer from as severe depopulation and deindustrialization as Chicago and Detroit , its middle-class whites were nonetheless drawn to the suburbs, made accessible to the downtown workforce by highway construction . The poor and nonwhite remained in the city and were not welcome in the suburbs. The impact of ‘‘white flight’’ on urban housing prices and business has been well documented.2 Churches also felt the effects. In the s and s, in Indianapolis and in other urban centers, approximately one-third of all congregations closed or moved.3 In contrast to previous decades, in the s, large, wealthy, white mainline churches were overrepresented among relocated congregations .4 Middle-class white churches generally followed congregants who moved to the suburbs, creating what one reporter dubbed a ‘‘honeymoon in suburban communities.’’5 The immediate postwar period recorded some of the highest levels of church attendance and church building in American history. In Indianapolis, denominational planning commissions helped organize this new growth.6 Notwithstanding religious exuberance in the suburbs, a minority of white, middle-class Protestant congregations chose to remain in the city and redefine their identity and mission. Although historians know that urban Catholic parishes necessarily remained anchored to urban space because their canonical definition required them to minister to all residents in their neighborhood, we know less about Protestant congregations who self-consciously remained and remade their identity.7 In Indianapolis, Protestant urban clergy and congregants came to understand their churches as ‘‘neighborhood’’ institutions with an obligation to respond to the social needs of their neighbors, regardless of whether nearby residents were congregational members. Urban congregations established a broad range of programs, from day care centers to employment training, as they committed themselves to their neighborhoods and developed a territorial -based vision of ministry. As Superintendent Gerald Clapsaddle of the Indianapolis district of the Methodist Church ex-  ‘‘Beyond Religious Boundaries’’ plained, ‘‘Protestant clergy are working to develop a parish type of ministry in the inner city.’’8 As urban congregations committed themselves to their neighborhoods , some churches also took on urban issues through interdenominational housing nonprofits, ecumenical pastoral groups, and participation in the War on Poverty and neighborhood associations. Urban congregations were sensitive to the impact of policy makers, who reflected Indianapolis’s conservative political culture, and encouraged private institutions such as churches to address social problems in neighborhoods. In addition, religious and secular nonprofits tapped resources that became available when the federal government began to channel money to the private sector in the late s. The dismemberment of War on Poverty programs did not curtail the federal government’s outreach to nonprofit organizations, as some had expected . In fact, the federal government in the late s relied more heavily upon nonprofits.9 In Indianapolis, the number of religiously affiliated organizations receiving public funds increased significantly , filling them with dreamy expectations that they could solve urban social problems. Although few clergy could have predicted how difficult their missions would be and how quickly enthusiasm...


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