University of Pittsburgh
March 20, 2006

Pitt Researcher to Explore Impact of Crime on Clergy and Church Congregations

Professor of social work, also pastor of a Homewood church, to conduct one of the first studies of its kind

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH-John Wallace, an associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work, has received a $50,000 grant from the Louisville Institute to study the impact of inner-city crime and drug-related violence on clergy and local church congregations.

Wallace, also a pastor at Bible Center Church of God in Christ in Homewood, will conduct a one-year study titled "Congregations Helping to Unite and Revitalize Communities Holistically" (CHURCH) through Pitt's Center on Race and Social Problems, part of the School of Social Work.

"The project gives me an opportunity to combine my research-based knowledge and experience with qualitative insights I have gained from being involved in the community," says Wallace, adding that his involvement in both will add depth and richness to the research.

As the ones who frequently counsel grieving families, visit shooting victims in hospitals, and preside over funerals, clergy are often on the front lines of inner-city violence. Through focus groups and interviews with pastors throughout Homewood, Wallace hopes to identify the challenges that members of the clergy face as they lead congregations in communities that experience high levels of crime, violence, and poverty.

Past research indicates that involvement in religious organizations reduces the likelihood a person will engage in criminal behavior. However, Wallace says there is little information on how criminal activity influences the clergy and congregations who reach out to those affected by crime. Initially the study will focus mainly on Homewood and its approximately 28 churches, but Wallace is hoping to expand the study once the key issues facing clergy are better understood.

The Louisville Institute, based at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, is a Lilly Endowment program for the study of American religion. Pitt's Center on Race and Social Problems conducts applied social science research on race, color, and ethnicity and their influence on the quality of life for all Americans.