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Monday, January 31, 2022

Civic Value of Churches and Faith

Many posts have discussed the role of religion in American life.

Giovanna Dell'Orto. at LAT
Across the U.S., historic urban churches built decades ago to accommodate hundreds or thousands of worshipers have struggled with shrinking flocks and rising preservation costs. Many are finding new ways to use their buildings that let them keep the sacred places viable while serving the neighborhoods they’ve anchored for decades.
In Minneapolis, landmark churches have hosted everything from food pantries and Finnish language classes to tai chi practices and group discussions on reparations.

Elsewhere in the country, they’ve rented space for preschools, bringing in much-needed revenue, and made their buildings available for free to community group gatherings as diverse as nutrition clinics and arts workshops.

Historic religious buildings are not just civic and cultural landmarks but crucial social centers, with noncongregants making up an estimated 90% of the people served, according to Bob Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places. The nonprofit helps religious institutions nationwide make plans and raise money to repurpose their spaces for a different era.
“Congregations have enormous civic value but are often underused,” he said.

Surveys show that the United States is growing more secular, with churchgoing and membership on the decline. Fewer souls in pews mean less money coming in to pay for staffing, maintenance and programs, forcing many smaller congregations to sell their buildings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated those problems by further shrinking attendance. It has also heightened the need for food, housing, job and educational ministries among both the faithful and broader communities.

Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed:

Ilana M. Horwitz’s new book focuses on the one in four American high school students who are “raised with religious restraint”—they orient their lives around God and try to behave in ways that they believe will please God. Her book is based on 10 years of survey data and 200 interviews.

She finds that these religious students excel in high school and college. Generally, these students are more likely to graduate from college; boys from lower-middle-class families especially benefit. But girls—especially from middle- and upper-class families—question the value of attending religious colleges and “undermatch” in their choices.

Horwitz shares the results of her work in God, Grades & Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success (just published by Oxford University Press). Horwitz is the Fields-Rayant Chair in Contemporary Jewish Life at Tulane University, but her book is primarily (as she explains below) about Christian students. She responded via email to questions about the book.
"... Why do religious adolescents earn better grades in secondary school than their less religious peers? In my book, I argue that schools and churches promote similar ideals—both institutions value kids who abide by the rules and respect authority figures. Intensely religious teens are precisely these types of kids—they are deeply conscientious and cooperative. As it turns out, the very dispositions that teens adopt to please God are also the dispositions that help them earn good grades."