Here's your weekly update of news and media relevant to Bricks and Mortals's mission.
Today is November 7th, the eve of election day. Over the summer the United Church of Christ published a blog from their General Counsel reminding congregations that houses of faith can be political but not partisan. Many houses of worship incorporate political advocacy in their mission, by opening up their space to discuss politics, educate congregations on political matters, and organize “Souls to the Polls” events.
In Florida and Georgia, several Black churches have been revisiting the “Souls to the Poll” campaign to encourage church goers to go and vote after attending church service on Sunday.
New York is seeing its share of political advocacy led by faith based leaders, especially around the current migrant crisis. Last week in Staten Island, local community organizations and faith leaders gathered to highlight their service work, including food and clothing distribution, in support of asylum seekers. This kind of impactful, mission-based work requires resources; how does the City support this work? Recently, some community development and faith-based leaders have remarked that the New York State Office of Faith Based Community Development Services, created by Cuomo in 2015, has “little accountability.” Bricks and Mortals' very own Chair, Jason Labate, shared with the Times Union his own insight and experience with the office.
Through transitions of political power, changes in congregations, and recovering from the pandemic, houses of faith remain a precious asset to their communities. This week we see several examples of development, protection, expansion, donation, and acquisition of faith-based properties across the nation of these faith-owned properties.
In Mississippi, The Abraham House of God, finally received approval from the city to begin construction. After battling discriminatory zoning, Abraham House of God will serve as DeSoto County’s first mosque.
In New York, efforts continue on the Upper West Side to save West-Park Presbyterian Church. The church has been up for demolition since last year and had plans to be transformed into an apartment tower, that is until the Center at West Park, an arts non profit, announced last week that they raised 3.5 million dollars to buy the church building from the West Park congregation.
In Massachusetts, a non-denominational church in Massachusetts, is expanding their “physical footprint” by moving into a former nightclub. Vox church plans to use this Springfield campus as a way to explore different outreach opportunities in the downtown area.
In West Virginia, Halltown Presbyterian Church has transferred their property to Jefferson County Community Ministries (JCCM). The donation allows JCCM, a faith-based nonprofit organization, to have a fixed location to provide services to those in need. It is because these properties are so valuable, that a problem arises when a development company says they will build a church, but they never finish the project.
Meanwhile, the City of Birmingham is filing a lawsuit against a church-run development company for failing to complete construction of a church building, offices, and daycare facility. The project started in 2014, and to date, only a shell of the church has been built. Now, the City wants the money and land back.
With synagogues in particular being on high alert over the weekend, security continues to be a concern for houses of worship. Recent developments point toward solutions to keep these sacred spaces safe across the nation. Members of Maryland's congressional delegation recently announced that they will be distributing funding for enhanced security measures and lawmakers in Pennsylvania are expanding grant programs to help houses of worship pay for security improvements.
On the federal level, The Faith-Based Security Advisory Council Department, put together by the Department of Homeland Security, has begun its work. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, is a member of the committee and hopes through their work they can get to the “root of the problem.”
Signing off today’s newsletter with a reminder from the late John Lewis that “Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society."
Thanks for reading and happy Election Day-eve!