The Church Is Essential: COVID-19 and the Hyperlocal Politics of Mutual Aid in Black and Latina/o Churches


  • Felipe Hinojosa



This article explores the work of Latina/o and African American churches in New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston as they serve their communities and, in the midst of a pandemic, are fundamentally reimaging the relationship between religion and society in hyperlocal sites. A focus on neighborhood churches provides a particularly clear view of how mutual aid is practiced and informed by a relational and horizontal orientation as much as it is rooted in a social ethic with strict expectations around charity. Churches are often criticized for their vertical and heavenly focus, but for many churches, the pandemic radically changed that orientation, prompting them to redirect their efforts toward supporting the spiritual and physical wellbeing of their Black and Brown parishioners and other community members. As churches became sites for food distribution, transformed their sanctuaries into classrooms, and joined Black Lives Matter protests, they renewed their commitment to a radical religious tradition grounded in concerns around economic, racial, and immigrant justice.