WBEZ Chicago: Nestled between barbershops and vacant buildings, storefront churches are Chicago fixtures

“Drive down Division St. in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, and you’ll pass storefront after storefront with names like ‘Christ Resurrection Missionary Baptist Church’ and ‘Old Rugged Cross Missionary Baptist Church.’

“Storefront churches are defined by their location: They’re houses of worship tucked into strip malls or street-facing buildings that might otherwise serve commercial purposes. These churches are often sandwiched between all sorts of spaces, including barbershops, chicken-and-fish eateries and vacant properties.

“This style of church became popular in Chicago in the early 20th century, when African Americans moved to the city to escape the Jim Crow South during the first wave of the Great Migration.Today, you can still find storefront churches all over the city. But they’re particularly prevalent on the South and West Sides, in neighborhoods like Austin.

“In a highly unscientific survey, Curious City counted over 60 storefront churches in the Austin neighborhood on Google Maps. Depending on the size of the space and level of participation, congregations at these churches can range from 20 to a few hundred people. In Chicago, like many cities, these churches are prevalent in majority-Black neighborhoods, and more recently in Latino and Asian communities.

“City leaders recently made Austin a priority area for revitalization efforts to address these very concerns.

“Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago says when many storefront churches closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, neighborhoods lost out on essential services. ‘We lose food pantries, we lose counseling services, we lose childcare services, we lose community dinners, we lose celebrations,’ Miller said. ‘And we lose a network of friends and family that come together.'” (Namigadde, WBEZ Chicago, 1/25/24)

Read or listen to the full story at WBEZ Chicago

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