Friday, September 2, 2011

Sermon on the Sidewalk

If I told you I was excited to see one of our nearby empty storefronts finally returned to productive use, I'd be lying. Not because I want to see these spaces stay vacant, but because when something opens near us, it tends to be one of three things: An Herbalife outpost, a tire shop, or -- like the building in question -- an evangelical storefront church.

These outfits tend to come and go in our neighborhood. For a while small pockets of people will drive up at odd hours -- maybe 10:30 on a Friday night, or 11am on a Tuesday -- and echoes of shouting and staticky music will be heard as far as the next block. Then, just as quick as they set up, they're gone, leaving a hollowed-out building and crooked sign in their wake.

I've never quite understood how these operations work. How do they establish their flocks? Why so peripatetic, and where do they go when they leave? What kinds of tax breaks do they get? Perhaps most importantly, do they follow much of the faith community in having a social mission? If so, what do they contribute to the neighborhood?

They never stick around long enough to guess.

Just a couple doors down from this church used to be a fantastic upholstery shop, and a number of yard-sale finds in our house carry their hallmark. I've always mourned the closure of the shop, which left another empty bay on the strip. So you can guess that when I walked by the other day, and saw yet another sign for yet another church, I got grumpy.

But wait, a closer look, and something didn't quite jive. Bad News Bible Church? West Side School for the Desperate? Either the evangelicals are getting cheeky, or this is something else altogether. Something new. Something that doesn't grow out of pyramid schemes or over-reliance on personal automobiles.

Sure enough, it's a small, culturally diverse, fringe literary group who is using the space for poetry slams, readings, variety shows, and any performance that folks from the community want to bring to their four unassuming walls. My heart may have audibly fluttered.

Ok, I get it: This could easily ring of gentrification, and if I were worth my salt as a lover of community, I'd embrace the evangelical church as heartily as the literary space. But I'm going to refuse that duality. Not everything associated with my cherished existing neighborhood is a good, and not everything sporadic newcomers bring with them is a bad. I like good poetry more than I like bad church. I think it's better for community. So there. I said it. Out loud.

If I'm proven wrong in time -- if the church sticks around, takes in homeless kids, helps women suffering abuse, or even cleans the litter from in front of their storefront . . . and if the literary troop stands out on the sidewalk, spewing treacly verse to unwitting passersby, demanding audience participation -- I'll humbly eat my words. Amen.


tracy said...

"I like good poetry more than I like bad church."
These are some fabulous words to live by.

Rosemary said...

That was the line that stuck out for me, as well.

So, is this place *both* church and literary salon? That's an interesting, if improbable combination...I'll be interested to hear more about this place down the road, if (unlike the other storefront churches) it sticks around!

Christy said...

Rose, it's actually not a church, but it's paying homage to part of its recent history, as the Good News Bible Church. I take them at their word that 'Bad News Bible Church' is an homage (and not a burlesque).

I hope to attend one of their events soon and will surely report back. Keeping fingers crossed they find their roots in this building, rather than seeing it as one more temporary stop on their odyssey.

leslie said...

Fun! And good for you for shedding the gentrification worries. The day poetry becomes such an economic force that it overturns neighborhoods and displaces families, I'm moving to the woods and giving up. How can this little literary endeavor be a bad thing? I hope to check it out soon.