A downtown is the heart of a community. Its health typically both reflects and affects the overall health of a community.
Rarely will struggling communities have successful downtowns, but downtowns in decline more often than not reflect wider local problems.
Tupelo is fortunate to have both a healthy downtown and a plan to continue reinventing and revitalizing it.
A good assortment of retail, financial, professional and governmental offices as well as residential options come to mind when considering the components of a healthy downtown. But often overlooked are perhaps the most stable fixtures of many downtowns -their churches.
The Tupelo Downtown Main Street Association hasn't overlooked churches' contribution to a vibrant downtown. On Tuesday the association honored with its Award for Excellence five churches within the defined area of downtown Tupelo – First United Methodist, First Baptist, Calvary Baptist, First Presbyterian and All Saints' Episcopal.
Churches do not exist to foster commerce, but churches at their best do embody the idea of community and the common good. It's natural and appropriate, then, that churches contribute to the vibrancy of downtowns.
They do this, first of all, by attracting people to downtown. The 6,000-plus members of the five churches all have a closer link to downtown because of where they worship.
But churches do more. Each of these five churches has in some way contributed to the neighborhood through outreach ministries and public events.
Architecturally, of course, the churches provide a pleasing aesthetic element to the downtown area, and their presence also signifies the strength of religious faith and all that means to a community.
All five churches have been longtime fixtures in downtown Tupelo at their present sites, ranging from First Baptist (1860) to Calvary Baptist (1936). Each in the relatively recent past has made a conscious decision to stay downtown rather than move somewhere else. Each has invested significant sums in expanding and refurbishing its facilities, and several have plans to do more in the near future.
Their witness to their faith is the central and most important element of the lives of these congregations, but that witness also makes downtown Tupelo a more viable, grounded, welcoming place. They will likely remain enduring fixtures through many downtown reinventions and revitalizations in the decades to come.
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