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Until a few years ago, the greatest threat to the future of 99-year-old New Light Beulah Baptist Church in Philadelphia’s Graduate Hospital neighborhood was a thunderstorm that barreled through on a Thursday evening, ripping off part of the roof.

The raging downpour in June 2010 flooded the sanctuary, rendering the church uninhabitable. Yet, the determined congregation restored its house of worship at a cost of $250,000, and a year later moved back to the corner of 17th and Bainbridge to resume its ministry.

But the vicissitudes of nature paled next to another looming threat: the pressures of gentrification on an urban pocket where housing prices have increased more than 400 percent since 2000.

With long-time black neighbors moving out and mostly younger, mostly white newcomers moving in, the community’s transition helped sap the church of its membership — Sunday attendance dipped from a peak of 250 to 65 — and turn the stucco and stone edifice into an albatross.

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Black Churches Leaving Philadelphia As Neighborhoods Gentrify  was originally published on

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