Domestically and abroad, America is known as the richest country in the world. It is hard not to be impressed by the standard of living in the nation s most affluent suburban and urban neighborhoods. Yet, scattered amid stretches that abound in wealth, the country is home to neighborhoods rife with violence, poverty, segregation, and decay. Within these blighted urban landscapes, however, there is at least one notable example of plenty: churches. They do not always appear as traditional houses of worship, but often emerge from the retrofitted shells of former storefronts, garages, factories, warehouses, domestic dwellings, and public institutions. Regardless of the facade, churches populate America s poorest neighborhoods.
Bringing together more than 300 richly textured color photographs and a series of candid interviews with pastors, church officials, and congregation members, this extraordinary book explores the conditions, beliefs, and practices that shape the churches and the lives of the nation s urban poor. Over a period of thirty years, sociologist and photographer Camilo Jose Vergara repeatedly visited these places of worship and the eclectic mix of buildings that house them. In twenty-one cities located in ten states across the country, photographic sequences coupled with insightful narrative show how ordinary structures assume, modify, and shed a religious character, how traditional churches if they fail to adapt to new congregations are demolished, and how new churches are designed and built from the ground up.
Vergara pays special attention to the objects, texts, and imagery that religious leaders make use of to create environments that inspire devotion. Pastors of developing congregations often arrive as crusaders, with missions that cannot be served by traditional religious iconography, and with budgets that force them to use inexpensive materials. In some cases, pastors bring objects of worship from their home towns in places such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Africa, and the West Indies. Despite the idiosyncratic features and folk decoration that distinguish ghetto churches from one another, however, Vergara shows that, for the most part, they are driven by similar religious agendas. They tend to preach about resilience, avoid involving themselves in national and international events, and consider their truths to be absolute and eternal.
A powerful, poignant, and visually arresting portrait, "How the Other Half Worships "stands as a stark witness to how churches are being rebuilt in the dilapidated streets of America s cities and how religion is being reinvented by the nation s poor."