Black Congregrations Have A Higher Rate Of Providing Social Services In Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA When it comes to social services provided by religious congregations in Philadelphia, black congregations are on top.

In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work entitled "Black Church Outreach: Comparing How Black and Other Congregations Serve Their Needy Neighbors," Penn researchers Ram Cnaan and Stephanie Boddie report that black congregations had a higher rate of providing social services, with an average of 2.4 programs per congregation. Other congregations had an average of 2.25 programs.

"The findings suggest impressive religious involvement in providing social services, along with a strong willingness to collaborate with government in order to serve the neediest members of our society," Cnaan said.

This report compares black congregations to white, Hispanic and Asian congregations. The 1,044 congregations studied in the Philadelphia area typically offer 2.3 social programs on average. Black congregations, which comprise 53 percent of the total, offer social programs such as business clubs and affirmative-action programs. Black congregations are also more likely to collaborate with other religious groups in social-service programs.

C. Milton Grannum of the New Covenant Church said Cnaan study "picks up a reality" that black churches are very strong on empowering people. "The black church is the one institution blacks have had for centuries for social, cultural and other aspects of their development. Churches are their voice in the community."

For example, the New Covenant Church in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia encourages community members to be fully employed, to complete college and to become homeowners.

Philadelphia congregations are an important partner in the social-service system, Cnaan said. Nine out of 10 congregations help their community, and he estimates that if the government were responsible for providing all the services the churches in Philadelphia provide, it would cost a quarter of a billion dollars.

Black congregations also provide more services to at-risk youth, health- care services, child-care services and education services than do non-black congregations, according to the study.

The Cookman United Methodist Church in North Philadelphia, for example, does a lot of work with youngsters in crisis and offers GED tutoring and job placement services, according to the Donna Jones, the pastor.

Robin Hynicka of the Frankford Group Ministry said that while one-third of churches reported having financial difficulties, this did not affect their level of outreach to the community.

"The fact that good community service is going on while budgets are suffering, shows resolve on the part of the churches," Hynicka said. "It is part of our core mission."