Exclusion in Upscaling Institutions: The Reproduction of Neighborhood Segregation in an Urban Church

Erick Berrelleza

Published 2020


City & Community

This paper examines the intersection of neighborhood change and parish reconfiguration in Charlestown, MA. The merger of two Roman Catholic churches has unsettled the congregational cultures, just as gentrification is unsettling broader neighborhood dynamics. Based on findings from 28 in–depth interviews and participant–observation, I examine the spatial reproduction of neighborhood segregation in the sanctuary of St. Mary’s church. Affluent newcomers and “Townies”–stalwart residents who have weathered earlier waves of neighborhood upscaling–form power alliances that result in the exclusion of the poorest residents in the shared space of this urban church. By paying attention to the seating arrangements and other social interactions of churchgoers, I discover that the new parish vision of the merged church–albeit one that purported to celebrate the diverse residents of the neighborhood–resulted in the cultural exclusion of Latinos. Institutional decisions, the desire to maintain ethnic enclaves, and tacit messages of group exclusion reify the race and class divisions of the neighborhood within the walls of the church. I conclude with an exploration of the strategies of resilience to gentrification and merger evident in this case by attending to the actions of the disadvantaged in relation to the changing institution

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