Priced Out of Bay Area Hometowns, What Effect This Has on Black Churches
Oakland lost more than 50,000 black residents from 1990 to 2010, according to census figures. Richmond lost 8,000, while Antioch gained about 15,000, Oakley 5,000 and Brentwood 3,000.
With the exception of a few predominantly commuter churches such as Beebe Cathedral in Oakland, declining black populations in the inner East Bay have meant fewer people in the pews. Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland has seen its membership drop from a high of 7,000 to about 5,500, Bishop Bob Jackson said. "We lost them to Stockton, Sacramento, Antioch, Brentwood," he said. "They just kind of scattered."
Traveling long distances to church is fairly common across racial groups in the Bay Area, but Black-Americans may feel more invested in their home churches even after they leave their hometowns, said James A. Noel, the H. Eugene Farlough Jr. chairman of Black-American Christianity at San Francisco Theological Seminary. "It's more than just convenience," he said. "It's their understanding of what the church should be involved in. They might not want to live anymore where the church is located, but they want the church to be doing ministry in that locale."
The black churches in the inner East Bay, East Contra Costa and the Central Valley are as intricately linked to each other as they are to the communities they serve. And they are every bit as vulnerable to the roller-coaster housing market as their parishioners. As the housing boom peaked a decade ago, Oakland churches lost members to upstart congregations in Antioch, Oakley and Stockton. When the bubble burst, families who lost their homes to foreclosure started moving back.
"I had little girls coming into the office with tears in their eyes because they had to leave," said the Rev. R. Mario Howell, pastor of Antioch Church Family. Howell's church, which he said consists almost entirely of transplants from San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond, swelled to 400 members on the eve of the 2008 foreclosure crisis. Now membership stands around 250. With the real estate market pushing people eastward once again, pastors in Oakland are bracing for another exodus.
"Every week I hear from people who tell me they're moving to Antioch or Pittsburg," said the Rev. George C.L. Cummings of Imani Community Church. "They say rent is going up and they can't afford Oakland anymore."
Rev. Gerald Agee, senior Pastor at Friendship Christian Center in West Oakland said membership at his church is holding steady for now, but he is promoting the construction of 7,100 new homes in Oakland to help safeguard the city's black community population and its churches. "If we don't do something about the housing shortage, it will affect the churches," he said. "We have to educate people that there is a tsunami en route."
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Story courtesy of Matthew Atrz.