Building Community Around Religion

Growing up I attended church every Sunday, though, being as young as I was, I was stuck in Sunday school. Now, I have not set foot in a church for no other reason than voting in elections. But even though I no longer attend, the church is a center point for community and togetherness in the places where I have lived. Most churches reach beyond the surface level worship services and offer other means of helping the community such as local clothing drives, fundraisers for schools and other nearby businesses, and sponsoring events hosted in or nearby by their locations. In my experience, the community surrounding the church can be felt by others other than those who attend.

Photo by Brianna Simmons

Bible Depot sits on the edge of North Front Street, one of the main sources of customer traffic, in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Situated on the outskirts of the town it sits away from the main street that runs through Sunbury, putting it in a residential location. It looks like a house made into a bookstore, blending into the community, though the sign out front makes it stand out for what it is. But, this bookstore is more than it seems as it is the center point for all nearby churches, of which there are 12. Church supplies, Bibles, other books, and gifts are sold here. The most interesting of which, to me, is the church supplies. This bookstore, with its other merchandise, services a potential 12 churches within a 1.5-mile radius.

Also shown in the map are a Masonic Temple, a Spiritual Center, an Islamic Center, and a synagogue. I chose to include these other places of worship and community as it is necessary to look at other religions and how they show up in the neighborhood. Of course, these places of worship might not interact with Bible Depot at all for various reasons such as they do not carry products for other religions other than Christianity. But these places of worship are in the same vicinity and share the same local community of Sunbury.

Sunbury has a population of 9,705 as of 2016. Looking at the ethnicity statistics of the town at the time shows that “there were 14.9 times more White residents (8,793 people) in Sunbury, PA than any other race or ethnicity. There were 591 Hispanic and 258 Black residents, the second and third most common racial or ethnic groups” (Data USA). Sadly, no updated statistics have been done for the religion demographics for the town, though it would be very helpful to see how many people, and specifically who in the community, are attending churches in the area.

Screenshot from Google Street View of a Parish down the road from Bible Depot.

“By the end of the seventeenth century, the bookshop was a fixture in colonial social, commercial and religious life” (Tebbel, 5). Looking at John Tebbel’s “A Brief History of American Bookselling”, the view of bookstores as a community meeting spot is discussed at length. Tebbel uses the example of women going to bookstores to talk while they drank coffee and tea, an addition added by bookstores for the attraction of customers to their business. Using this method gains more customers and another avenue of revenue. This way of using another marketing strategy appeals to a new community around the building and the people who run it. Bible Depot, while it does not have a Starbucks inside, builds a community out of the local population through its religious nature and the nature of the people it serves.

On the same level as this, Tim Cresswell in “Defining Place” discusses different definitions of place. What is place? How do we define it? Looking at Bible Depot as a location can be viewed differently than the bookstore as a place. It is located in Sunbury but what is its place in that location? I say it is the center point for a community. That is how I view this place, this bookstore that is nestled in the vicinity of 12 churches. These churches as well are places tied to Bible Depot loosely but the connections are stark when seen.

Growing up, I could not see the community that churches gave me. Looking back now, I can see what I was involved in, the people that helped my mother and father, the people who took care of me, but most importantly, the way the people took care of the community around me. After looking at the neighborhood surrounding Bible Depot, it would seem that they may just be the center point for Christian churches in Sunbury.

 

Sources:

“Sunbury, PA.” Data USA, 2016, datausa.io/profile/geo/sunbury-pa/#demographics.

Cresswell, Tim. Place: a Short Introduction. Blackwell Pub., 2009.

Tebbel, John. A Brief History of American Bookselling. Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Company., 1975

bibledepotsunbury.com

24 PA-147, Sunbury, PA, Google Street View, Jully 2016

 

Map:

Bible Depot – Place and People, Sunbury, PA. Google Maps, 2019.

 

Photos:

Photos taken by Brianna Simmons