The Invisible Caring Hand

The Invisible Caring Hand: American Congregations and the Provision of Welfare

Ram A. Cnaan
Stephanie C. Boddie
Femida Handy
Gaynor Yancey
Richard Schneider
Foreword by John J. DiIulio
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 329
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  • Book Info
    The Invisible Caring Hand
    Book Description:

    Popular calls to transform our current welfare system and supplant it with effective and inexpensive faith-based providers are gaining political support and engendering heated debate about the separation of church and state. Yet we lack concrete information from which to anticipate how such initiatives might actually work if adopted. Despite the assumption that congregations can help many needy people in our society, it remains to be seen how extensive they wish their involvement to be, or if they have the necessary tools to become significant providers in the social service arena. Moreover, how will such practices, which will move faith-based organizations towards professionalization, ultimately affect the spirit of volunteerism now prevalent in America's religious institutions? We lack sufficient knowledge about congregational life and its ability to play a key role in social service provision. The Invisible Caring Hand attempts to fill that void. Based on in-depth interviews with clergy and lay leaders in 251 congregations nationwide, it reveals the many ways in which congregations are already working, beneath the radar, to care for people in need. This ground-breaking volume will provide much-sought empirical data to social scientists, religious studies scholars, and those involved in the debates over the role of faith-based organizations in faith-based services, as well as to clergy and congregation members themselves.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9020-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    John J. DiIulio Jr.

    In this path-breaking book, Ram Cnaan admirably achieves two things that are very rarely achieved at all, let alone together. The first achievement is timeless, world-class scholarship. This book contributes mightily to our objective understanding of critically important social phenomena and institutions. It will inform interested academic researchers and their students for decades to come. The second achievement is timely, policy-relevant scholarship. This book promises to influence greatly key real-world decision makers, both public and private. It will discipline their present debates and leaven their future deliberations. Let me commence with the latter achievement as it pertains to certain ongoing...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Ram A. Cnann
  5. I An Overview of Congregations
    • 1 Congregations in Society
      (pp. 3-14)

      The intermingling of church and state is as old as the history of civilization. For the people, religion offered a means of understanding the power of nature and acted as a source of confidence that their intent and behavior might bring about prosperity and prevent natural calamities. For the state, religion was a tool to keep people in order and to give them some form of hope in the face of hunger, wars, and inequality. For religious organizations, a group of believers was a form of power vis-à-vis the state. At times, the two collaborated and supported each other, while...

    • 2 The Historical Development of American Congregations
      (pp. 15-32)

      The roots of the current American congregation go back to the seventeenth century, when the first congregations were established by people who fled Europe to seek religious freedom or, more accurately, to escape religious persecution. This distinction is quite important in that these early settlers were themselves intolerant of other religions, and those who deviated from the accepted religious norm in a given colony or town were often persecuted and prosecuted. As a result, institutional crises related to church authority arose early in the seventeenth century. In the Antinomian controversy of 1636, several of the most prosperous and outspoken members...

  6. II Congregations Involvement:: Empirical Findings
    • 3 The Congregations in Our Study
      (pp. 35-56)

      Before we discuss the extent and nature of congregational social service delivery, we would like to answer these questions: “Who are these congregations? Are they old or new? Are they large or small? Are they stable in their location or planning to leave?” These and many other questions will help us understand the characteristics of the congregations in our study.

      Findings from our study of 251 older and newer congregations in seven cities (Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Mobile, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco) and one small town (Council Grove, Kansas) support the characterization of America’s congregations at the end of...

    • 4 Congregational Involvement I: Areas of Involvement
      (pp. 57-81)

      Gary Trudeau’s comic stripDoonesbury, known for its ironic commentary on current events, is a telling indicator of how congregational involvement in local communities has become part of our civic culture. A recentDoonesburycartoon depicted a group of congregants planning social and community activities. When one congregant asks about Sunday worship, he is told that it has to be canceled to accommodate all the other social activities. Trudeau exaggerates his point to make us laugh but also to make us think. The point is that many congregational buildings are busy seven days a week, serving the community in numerous...

    • 5 Congregational Involvement II: Characteristics of Service and Financial Value
      (pp. 82-100)

      Congregations are often labeled social clubs (Smith, 1993) or member-serving organizations. This school of thought assumes that the sole beneficiaries of congregational activities are the members. Our findings suggest the opposite, namely that congregations are a major force in sustaining the quality of life in the community and that they are essential for social stability in urban neighborhoods. As we show in this chapter, there is compelling evidence in support of the argument that congregations are community-serving organizations.

      In determining the social importance of congregations, does it matter whether a congregation serves its members or others? We believe that it...

    • 6 Which Congregations Tend to Get Involved
      (pp. 101-115)

      Like the society they serve, American congregations are diverse. They range from megachurches to storefront places of worship. Some have significant financial endowments; others struggle for daily survival. Some are fundamentalist in their beliefs; others are liberal. This diversity raises an important question: do congregational characteristics explain and predict congregational involvement in social services provision?

      Determining the congregational characteristics associated with social and community services provision is of critical importance on two counts. First, such knowledge provides congregations with a means of comparing themselves with others, determining whether change is required to facilitate further social and community involvement, and identifying...

    • 7 Comparing Neighbors: Canada and the U.S.A.
      (pp. 116-136)

      It is one thing to claim, as we have, that congregations in the United States are unique in their involvement and impact on the quality of life of individuals. It is quite another to substantiate this claim. We have demonstrated in previous chapters that local religious congregations constitute a significant part of the nation’s social safety net. In chapter 2 we have also shown that, compared with congregations in the United States, congregations in Europe are only minimally involved in social and community services provision. But the question remains: are congregations in the United States truly unique in their involvement...

  7. III Congregations for Society:: Additional Studies
    • 8 Small-Town Congregations: The Case of Council Grove, Kansas
      (pp. 139-155)

      Congregations can be studied as closed systems or as open systems. The closed-system approach focuses on the intradynamic and organizational structure of the congregation and does not consider the ways in which the congregation influences or is influenced by its environment. We used this approach in studying, among others, St. Gabriel’s Church, in Philadelphia (see chapter 10). The open-system approach focuses on the congregation as an interdynamic organization that influences and is influenced by other religious and secular institutions. We used this approach in our study of congregations in Council Grove, Kansas.

      The open-system approach to the study of congregations...

    • 9 Mediating Structures: The Greater New Orleans Federation of Churches
      (pp. 156-177)

      Ideologies differ widely when it comes to the power relationship between a state and its citizens. Many people believe that the primary duty of government is to protect and serve citizens, including those in need, while others believe that the government should relegate the responsibility for service provision to others. The problem with these positions is that each views the relationship as a two-player game: government and citizens. What they fail to consider is that there is a third—and equally important—player: the many nonprofit and voluntary bodies that mediate the power relationship between government and citizens.

      In contrast...

    • 10 Social Ministry in the Community: The Case of St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church and Urban Bridges
      (pp. 178-208)

      In the previous chapters, we have discussed social and community services delivery as an ancillary aspect of the work of religious congregations. We stressancillarybecause, as we have made clear and reemphasize in chapter 14, the primary function of a congregation is to be a place of worship. People do not come to a religious congregation to provide social services. They come because they want to pray with others, worship with others, and find spiritual guidance. Although American religious congregations have become a hub of social and community care, the religious mission of the congregation takes precedence over its...

  8. IV Concluding Remarks
    • 11 Volunteerism and Organized Religion
      (pp. 211-233)

      The United States may justly lay claim to two closely related titles. First, it is the most religious of all modern democracies. According to the World Value Survey, conducted from 1990 to 1993, more people in the United States (82 percent) defined themselves as religious than did those in any other country (The Economist, 1995). In a 1993 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 71 percent of Americans reported membership in a church or synagogue, and 41 percent reported attendance at a church or synagogue in the seven days prior to the poll (McAneny & Saad, 1993). A more recent study, by the Pew...

    • 12 Why and How Congregations Get Involved in Service Delivery
      (pp. 234-254)

      In previous chapters, and in the following chapter, we show that the extensive involvement of congregations in the provision of social and community services is the norm in the United States. We also analyze the social factors behind this impressive involvement. The question ofwhycongregations get involved in service delivery still needs to be answered. In this chapter, we explore this important issue.

      In the first section, we present the rationale for congregational involvement in social services. For clarity and for brevity’s sake, we delineate the primary motives and present them as though they were distinct from one another,...

    • 13 The Congregational Norm of Community Involvement
      (pp. 255-279)

      In 1995, Robert Putnam wrote a scholarly article on a fairly obscure topic—the bowling habits of people—that managed to engage the attention of the mainstream media, which generalized its findings into an indictment of modern society. The same thesis appeared in various venues, and a book-length treatment,Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, was published in 2000. The essence of Putnam’s argument was that although the number of people who bowl today is greater than it was fifteen years ago, fewer do so in organized leagues. Putnam used this finding as an example of a...

    • 14 The Broader Perspective: Congregations for Society and Beyond
      (pp. 280-298)

      The findings and ideas presented in this book represent one of the first in-depth studies of the social and community involvement of America’s local religious congregations. The data bring to light the broad scope and the previously unheralded role of local congregations in social and community service provision.

      Findings from our own studies and from the literature provide compelling evidence that religious congregations are a major force in today’s society. For many Americans, the local congregation makes the difference between survival and destitution. For many others, the activities of the local congregation significantly enrich the quality of life in their...

  9. Appendix: Methodological Notes
    (pp. 299-304)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 305-306)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 307-320)
  12. Index
    (pp. 321-328)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 329-330)