The Reverend and Me: Faith Communities and Public Welfare

Wineburg, Robert, “The Reverend and Me: Faith Communities and Public Welfare,” in David P. Fauri, Stephen P. Wernet, and F. Ellen Netting, (eds.), Cases In Macro Social Work Practice. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.

Robert Wineburg highlights the importance of trust and interpersonal relationships in community social work practice through a narration of “The Reverend and Me,” a community practice case. The case also shows the important role faith communities play in welfare services. Wineburg prefaces the case with a brief description of the distinction between the residual perspective and the institutional perspective on social welfare. While the former considers social welfare only as a temporary, stop-gap measure whose need may have arisen as a result of a breakdown either in individual efforts, family support, of lack of success in the market place, the latter raises the possibility that there are forces outside the control of the individuals involved and social welfare need not be considered a temporary measure to meet a crisis.
Reverend Calbert Richmond, an African American Baptist minister and the narrator of the case, a Jewish social work planner, represent respectively the residual perspective and the institutional perspective on social welfare. While Reverend Richmond has personally experienced the grim realities of growing up in abject poverty, he tends to think that some of the welfare recipients are lazy women who learn how to dodge the system; they need a bout of hard work and help of religious communities to solve their predicament, Reverend Richmond thinks.
As the case progresses, the narrator through his experience in professional social work planning, helps Reverend Richmond set up a non-profit corporation to help his church’s efforts to minister to the needy in its predominantly African American community. The narrative poignantly portrays the development of a trusting relationship between two individuals holding opposite perspectives on social work; it also brings to view the significant role faith communities play in the practice of social work.