Religious communities remain an integral part of a healthy society …
If we’re not careful, we may recognize too late how critical they are in dealing with the ever-shifting social stresses of modern life
If any one religious congregation disappeared from your city, would your community and city be better or worse off?
There are Canadians who think it would be better if they did disappear, like e old relics that have become burdensome, even en embarrassing.
The think-tank Cardus us published the results of research that hat examined the question through ugh The
Halo Project report in 2016. 16.
That research suggests gests that any Canadian city ity would be worse off, quite e a bit worse.
Although a given congregations’ individual impact may seem small, when all aspects of their work or the work of many congregations are added together, the common good effect can be significant. In fact, the research suggests it would d cost municipal coffers rs around $4.77 to replace the common good value produced by every $1 in a local congregation’s budget.
Applying that ratio Canada’s biggest cities, it would cost an estimated $19.9 billion to replace religious congregations’ common good contributions - like soup kitchens, childcare, suicide prevention and even community event space.
The many common good contributions of local faith communities means that they may well be among the most socially productive settings in cities.
What might this mean for city planners, developers, educators, business owners, entrepreneurs and arts leaders?
What if faith communities are more than some ancient crus- taceans, the horseshoe crabs of community life that may have co-existed with the dinosaurs but which survive only because of some fortuitous evolutionary glitch?
Those who are genuinely interested in addressing issues such as disparity, social isolation, access to work, environmental degradation, justice, human trafficking, or any of the other ills that plague us u will need to be careful neither to overlook overloo nor caricaturize religious communities commun and commitments. In some som circles, religious communities and their beliefs can be dismis dismissed with a few favourite anec anecdotes that point out failing ings without any recognitio tion of contributions. Understanding and appreciating the work of religious communities doesn’t imply that everyone needs to join a congregation. Someone without religious commitments can learn to appreciate their common good contributions. As an example, I have trem mendous respect for the ar arduous work of becoming a ballerina without making an any pretence of strapping ballet s slippers on my size-12 basketbal basketball-gnarled feet.
Many of the issues and challenges we face aren’t the th type that will be remedied by things like unrestrained economic growth.
If the recent past is any indication, it’s likely that global dynamics will generate new ills out of, and complimentary to, the existing cocktail of struggles we face daily.
Religious identity can create real and sustained difficulties but it is also the well of some of our deepest creativity, care and continuity. Like Homer Simpson washing his socks in the last precious bit of canteen water while adrift in the lifeboat, famously misquoting Samuel Taylor Coleridge with “Water, water every-