I’m in Rochester, NY, temporarily. When I’m here, I go to church in the Bay-Goodman neighborhood. Its per-capita income is in the bottom 5% of American households. If you want to buy a home here, it will set you back, on average, $33,887. However, more than one in four homes is currently vacant, despite the city’s constant work demolishing abandoned houses. 34.8% of the households are headed by single moms, and 73.9% of its children live in poverty.
Grocery shopping here means a corner store with security shutters on all the windows. Department store shopping is limited to the Dollar Store. It seems like every house has a pit bull in the yard, and for good reason. This isn’t Rochester’s highest-crime area, but it ain’t Mayberry, either.
What is most noticeable about Bay-Goodman, however, is the number of churches. In fact that’s true of many of Rochester’s “bad” neighborhoods. The church is the still-beating heart of distressed urban America. I went downtown to the National Day of Prayer this spring and remarked on how it was overwhelmingly an urban-church event.
People frequently opine at me that we should remove the tax-exempt status of churches. In some ways, this reveals naiveté about taxes, because churches are mostly exempt in the same ways as other non-profits are. But it also tells me that the speaker has never spent much time in the city.
Over the last two weeks, Joy Community Church—at the corner of Bay and N. Goodman—collected and filled backpacks for kids returning to school. They distributed 179 of these to kids in the neighborhood.
This is just one of many good works that happen, quietly and unremarked, in our cities. You will never read about them in the news, which is why so many people believe that only government helps the needy in modern America. And it makes me wonder about the agenda and insularity of those who want to see churches further weakened. Perhaps their only familiarity with urban poverty comes from the six o’clock news.