SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

December 9, 2009

Our view: Churches' contributions are more than monetary

Few downtown thoroughfares have as impressive a collection of churches as does Beverly's Cabot Street.

Lining the east side of the street beginning at City Hall are the First Baptist Church with its soaring steeple that has long guided mariners into Beverly Harbor, the historic First Parish Church now sporting a fresh coat of yellow paint, and the brick-and-brownstone mass of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church.

Of course, their contributions to the community go far, far beyond this magnificent architecture. Besides being important houses of worship, they operate or assist with numerous social programs important to people of all denominations.

The point was well-made in a recent letter from the business manager of the First Baptist Church to City Councilor Judith Cronin, who has made it her task to wring every available dollar out of the various nonprofits in the city whose property is, by law, exempt from taxation. He was responding to a letter from the council committee Cronin chairs seeking payments or services in lieu of taxes from churches, colleges and anyone else not obligated to pay taxes in the city.

The effects of the current recession have been felt just as much by institutions like his, the First Baptist's John C. Thompson wrote, as by municipal government.

"We feel strongly," Thompson continued, "that we and other nonprofits have been contributing to the Beverly community for many years, and that those contributions have a very significant and positive impact on the city." He then goes on provide a two-page list of some of the projects with which his church has been involved ranging from the development of affordable housing to its youth fellowship programs.

The letter did include a check for $250, which Thompson emphasized "should not be considered as a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) or SILOT (services in lieu of taxes) or any other 'in lieu of' payment, but simply as a heartfelt donation." Thompson concludes by noting "we often wonder what our downtown would be like without our churches, schools, the YMCA and other nonprofits." Which is something everyone, including city councilors, should think about, too.

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