When steeples compete with summits.

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The river-to-rail city of Cumberland, nestled between the prodigious hills that dominate western Maryland, may not be thriving, but it sure offers some charming, timeless vistas.   As is too often the case, this photo only partially captures its objective: the Cumberland skyline—a city of churches. It isn’t a big city at all, so the …Read more…

City View Church: an old, urban fedora atop a young, suburban head.

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Religious conservatives have bemoaned the perceived encroachment of secularism in this country for decades, manifested most powerfully through surveys over the last few years that reveal an unequivocal rise in religious “Nones”. Credible those these results may be, polls do not always align with on-the-ground manifestations of those surveyed sentiments, as the data collected before …Read more…

Highest and best may not be tall, but it’s still higher and better.

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Urban neighborhoods have been changing considerably over the last decade, and, in many locations, income levels have risen steadily. When we hear about gentrification, the coverage often reaches us through a few recurrent tropes: data-driven accounts of demographic and socioeconomic change; journalistic interviews of individuals who have either left or feel threatened by the rising …Read more…

Who needs Vegas for quirky chapels? The rest of the country is holding its own.

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I’d wager that the American religious landscape is currently undergoing a cataclysmic shift, but that would be disingenuous, since it suggests that the shift, with all these denominations, is something recent. It isn’t. Religious expression—or the demonstration of it among its adherents—has never really been static in this country. Throughout the twentieth century, the number …Read more…

Along the road to Calvary, a bingo parlor.

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I’ve ruminated multiple times on this blog about how we spatialize ourselves through religion—a subject of great interest to me, but one of which I haven’t plumbed any great depths. And this is not the time. I’ll keep it superficial, while at least adding a little texture to the layer. And here’s that texture: a …Read more…

Communion for Camrys.

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In a quiet residential area of a town that I will leave anonymous, I found this unusual marquee.I’ve certainly heard of “blessing of the animals” events, but cars? Apparently I’m not as well-traveled as I’d like to think I am. Since car-blessing seems even more quintessentially American than valet parking at a strip-mall nightclub, I …Read more…

Among those ritzy restaurants…a Reading Room.

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In a nondescript nook within Summit, New Jersey’s generally thriving downtown, we encounter a main street standby from days past. Yes, it’s a Christian Science Reading Room. I imagine most of us—most Americans, at least—have seen one at some point, even if quite a few probably don’t know exactly what they are. In the past, …Read more…