In Chapter 12 of To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Harper Lee have Jem and Scout visit the church at that point in the story?
The timing of Jem and Scout's visit to Calpurnia's church is no accident, as it comes just as tensions between the white and black community in Maycomb are stretched through the accusation that Tom Robinson is guilty of rape. What is key to realise is the overwhelmingly positive way in which Lee describes the black church. The black church has a solidarity and community that the white church does not, and this is shown by the curious way that it collects money for the Robinson family, as Helen Robinson is unable to find work thanks to the accusations against her husband:
To our amazement, Reverend Sykes emptied the can onto the table and raked the coins into his hand. He straightened up and said, "This is not enough, we must have ten dollars."
The Reverend Sykes goes as far as shutting the doors of the church until the ten dollars is collected. At this point in this novel, Lee stresses the positives of the black church which serves to emphasise the harsh and ugly nature of the accusation that Bob Ewell has made. The solidarity of the black church contrasts very strongly with the prejudice among the white community. Lee gains the reader's sympathy for the black community in a novel that is all about empathy and tolerance, and the white community's inability to do exactly this shows them to be intolerant and bigoted.