Black congregation in Seattle follows its members to the suburbs

Here is one illustration of the demographic changes in American suburbs: an African-American church heads for Seattle’s suburbs.

The Rev. Leslie David Braxton saw the writing on the wall in 1999. Members of his former congregation at Mount Zion Baptist Church in the Central District were moving south, and in Seattle, the black middle class was already starting to shrink…

A data junkie and sociologist by training, the reverend rattles off statistics effortlessly. In 1999, he gleaned that in 20 years, the Central District wouldn’t be the epicenter of the black community…

He pushed for Mount Zion to open a satellite campus south of the city. After some internal conflicts, he resigned and, in 2005 started his own church, New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, south of Seattle…

“We’re sitting on 8½ acres. There’s no way you’d be able to get that kind of property in the city.” And, if a similar building existed, he said, “it certainly wouldn’t be affordable.”

To Braxton, there’s an upside, however. For many black families, the suburbs offer an opportunity to live out the American dream — good schools, the house with a two-car garage and a spacious yard — far more easily than the city. It’s a reversal, he says, of white flight, common in the East Coast.

Churches can often go where a majority of their members go. The pattern described here sounds similar to that of numerous white urban churches after World War II: as whites moved to the suburbs, so did a number of the congregations. Such moves weren’t necessarily immediate; it took time for some established institutions to leave buildings and neighborhoods where they may have been for decades and/or served multiple waves of white immigrants.

But, the suburbs today have a wider range of residents including more non-whites, immigrants, and lower- and working-class people. Suburban religious congregations already reflect some of these changes and will likely demonstrate these further in the future.

One thought on “Black congregation in Seattle follows its members to the suburbs

  1. Pingback: Why Americans love suburbs #3: race and exclusion | Legally Sociable

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