The Church, North Portland, and Me, the Atheist

by Steve, April 14th, 2007

St. Andrew'sThe Catholic Archdiocese of Portland dodged a major bullet yesterday, when a federal bankruptcy judge ruled that they don’t have to sell any properties to settle child sex abuse cases. In an answer to their prayers, they get to transfer church and school properties to the parishes. This is exactly what the gambled on when, in 2004, they were the first archdiocese in the US to file for bankruptcy protection in the face of hundreds of millions of dollars in sex abuse lawsuits.

Wacky Mommy took one look at the picture in the paper of St. Andrew’s Church in Northeast Portland and said “I wish they’d make them sell off their churches, and then they’d have to open up store-front churches like all the other churches in North Portland.” You know, like “Christ Died For Your Sins on the Bloody Cross of Holy Redemption Church of God in Christ our Lord.” But seriously, the Catholic Church’s holdings, including St. Andrew’s (pictured above) are quite ostentatious compared to the rest of the churches in the neighborhood. Would it kill them to cough up a little more to atone for protecting child sex abusers for so long?

North and Northeast Portland are home to the only historically black neighborhoods in Portland. Store-front churches abound, but with gentrification pushing in (and Portland Community College’s Cascade campus expanding), they may soon be an endangered species. So while Wacky Mommy took the Wacky Kids to swim lessons this morning, I took a brief tour of North and Northeast Portland churches.

Christ MemorialFirst stop was the Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, with its adjacent “Future Home of Community Center & Basketball Pavilion.”Christ Memorial

Next comes what we refer to as the “LoveLee Ladee” complex, which includes both the Holiness or Hell Church of God in Christ and the Jubilee Tabernacle Full Gospel, Pentacostal Church.Lovlee Ladee We refer to it as “LoveLee Ladee” because of the painted-over sign above the entrance to Holiness or Hell, indicating it used to house a beauty salon, or, uh, well, you know.

Jubilee TabernacleThe entire complex used to be Holiness or Hell, but at some point the Jubilee Tabernacle came in.Holiness or Hell

Across the street from LoveLee Ladee is the Full Holy Ghost Mission Church of God in Christ, Inc., fronted by a lot of blacktop and a forbidding chain-link fence.Full Holy Ghost

A block further, we get a threefer: A More Excellent Way Christian Center, Northwest Voice for Christ Community Church, and The Ark of Safety Church of God Pentacostal, all housed in a building with a facade made to look like Noah’s Ark.Ark

Just a few blocks over, we come upon the Open Door House of Prayer.Open Door

I’m not posting pictures here to make fun of these joints. Even though I am a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, I respect the right of people to worship (or not) as they choose. And I am impressed by the humility of these neighborhood based churches, many of them unaffiliated with larger governing bodies. They stand in sharp contrast to the Catholic church, one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations on the planet. And every Sunday finds them brimming over with lively music and sharply dressed parishioners (oh the hats!).

The gentrification I mentioned before recently claimed the only black funeral home in town, and turned it into a pub. I’m not shitting you. Across the street from that is the Florida Room, a hipster restaurant whose reader board proclaims it as the Church of the Bloody Mary and for a long time also sported the message “Go Team Evil! Sin all the Damn Time!” This is just a stone’s throw from the LoveLee Ladee. Of course, as an atheist, I have no problem with this personally, but it is culturally insensitive (to say the least).

In ten years, there will probably be no more store-front churches in this neighborhood. The part of me that sees religious belief as the source of global strife doesn’t care. But the part of that appreciates diversity and humility is saddened.