One of the reasons that churches get property tax breaks is that the buildings are supposed to be used for the enhancement of the neighborhood where they are located.
Churches are supposed to be sites for the common good. This is the reason that churches are often hosts for homeless shelters, food banks and free meals.
Churches are turned into emergency shelters when a disaster strikes, and they are often used as “town-hall” auditoriums when neighborhoods have need to call citizens together. I think neighborhoods have a rightful claim on church buildings opening up to community needs.
In my current University District church, we help house homeless young adults, sponsor an alley needle exchange and provide meals, showers and a thrift store for the poor, along with friendship to anyone. We also host public conversations through our Common Good (conversational) Café.
On Thurs., April 11 at 7 p.m. we and Real Change are hosting a city conversation about homelessness. Founding Director Tim Harris and a gang of friends will be educating us about the Occupy CEHKC movement. The goal of this movement is to create a beautiful city where all are welcomed and valued. We don’t want the poor to remain mired in poverty. We want to be a city that provides networks that create opportunities for people to better themselves.
We want to live in a city that is scandalized and shamed whenever someone sleeps unwillingly without a roof over her head, food in her belly and happiness in her heart.
We believe in the promise of America’s founding covenant that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the birthright of all Americans. Educating for action is what churches do.
On Sat., April 13 at 7 p.m. our church and the University Book Store will host Dr. Hawa Abdi, a human rights activist known as “the Mother Teresa of Somalia.”
Dr. Abdi runs a hospital and school in one of the largest, internally displaced persons’ camps, offering sanctuary to more than 90,000 people. As a church we host this because we know that we are all connected to one another, under one sky in one world. Churches have a global perspective that breaks into the tribal thought patterns created by American nationalism. In this way churches help keep our country focused on a higher good than imperial conquest.
Finally, on Thurs., April 18, again at 7 p.m., we will host University of Washington professor David Montgomery as he talks about his book, “The Rocks Don’t Lie: A geologist investigates Noah’s Flood.” As a church we host these conversations because we affirm science and critical thinking: We’re not afraid of truth in all its forms. As a church we hope to contribute to the evolution of thought throughout the public square of civil, civic conversation.
Churches have a role to play in creating the commonwealth of a community. What roles do your neighborhood churches play in building a strong neighborhood of peace and justice for all?