The Gold Coast Church and the Ghetto

Christ and Culture in Mainline Protestantism
  • Author:
  • James Wellman
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Date: 1999
The Gold Coast Church and the Ghetto

‘One of the nation’s best known churches, Fourth Presbyterian is a thriving mainline church housed in an elegant Gothic building in Chicago’s wealthy Gold Coast neighborhood. Less than a mile to the west is another world: the Cabrini-Green low- income housing projects. In this evenhanded account, James Wellman surveys the church’s history of balancing its theological aims and its social boundaries and sheds light on the strengths and weaknesses of liberal Protestantism as a modern religious institution. Wellman shows how Fourth Presbyterian has moved from an establishment congregation to what he calls a lay liberal church working to overcome class and race inequality in its urban context while carving out its institutional identity in an increasingly pluralistic environment’.’By examining the church’s four main leaders over the course of the century, Wellman tracks Fourth Presbyterian’s gradual shift away from an evangelical role and toward the current focus on service, epitomized in the church’s main outreach program, an extensive volunteer tutoring program that serves hundreds of Cabrini-Green residents each week. In documenting Fourth Presbyterian’s struggle to meet the needs of its privileged congregants while challenging them to move beyond exclusive boundaries of race and class, “The Gold Coast Church and the Ghetto” opens a window into the past, present, and future of the Protestant mainline’.