Roman & Goth | religion in Tampa


mericans are way more religious than Canadians. Churches abound, literally – they are everywhere, in all shapes, sizes and sorts. They range from the pillars-of-the-establishment to the uppity storefront “ministries” of more dubious pedigree.

The older, formal churches make few claims about themselves. Housed in imposing, architecturally-sterile buildings, they are discreet and solidly assured of their place in the established order of life (dwindling though that “place” may be).

The storefronts are brazen and bright-eyed, making claims about what God does through them that might make the Lord himself blush as they elbow for a place at the table of American public life. And that place is one the established churches have long had reserved for themselves.

The start ups are mostly ethnic, and down here that means either Hispanic or African-American (and never the twain shall meet). The establishment churches are for the most part white, firmly middle-class and belong to denominational clubs. The storefronts are either lone wolves or members of roaming tribes. Kind of like the Romans and the Goths. The former like to talk, the latter prefer to act:  dispassionate intellectualism versus fervent emotionalism.

In the denominations, truth was established and codified generations ago and nowadays simply burnished each week in the pulpit. In the tribes, truth is new and fresh and revealed each bright, new miracle-filled morning… and it can take some strange twists and turns in the telling.

In this section of Tampa, there are literally train tracks dividing neighbourhoods. One can talk of the other side of the tracks without a trace of irony or cliché. On one side the denominational outposts loom large, detached from other structures, secure on their own plots of land, following  a rule of law of which private property is the basis, I suppose.

On the other side of the tracks, the wrong side, the storefronts jostle in random strip malls, alongside and attached to cafés, tattoo parlours, dollar stores, cheap clothing outlets and “Vacant – For Rent” signs. No security here.

Both of them, in the world, but only one of them, of the world.