African-American church services in NYC
June 27, 2011 10:40 PM   Subscribe

New York City MeFi: As a Canadian, I've watched a lot of American media. And from this media, I've become really interested in attending a (stereotypical) "American black church" service. It's stuck out to me as something really unique, something very Americana, and I would really like to be a part of it, at least once. (As for what I mean exactly by "stereotypical American black church", I'm don't quite know the precise words -- black gospel? Southern? Baptist? Additionally - if possible, I would love to witness the "whooping" style of preaching.)

So, about NYC - I'm making my first-ever trip to NYC this weekend and am really hoping to make this happen, but I have no idea where to go? Can anyone recommend a church service for me and a friend to visit on Sunday? I'll be staying in Midtown.

As a sidenote - I spent many of my childhood years in the church and I will be very respectful of the service.
posted by demagogue to Religion & Philosophy (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure where in Canada you live but in the Toronto area there are "southern baptist" and "fellowship baptist" churches that are exactly what you are looking for from the Sunday hats to the amen's. Late father was a baptist preacher, that's what I grew up with, although we are quite white it never mattered. Message me if you want a Toronto location.
posted by saradarlin at 10:59 PM on June 27, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks saradarlin. I'm not in Toronto, but thank you!
posted by demagogue at 11:10 PM on June 27, 2011

FWIW, Margaret Laurence's A Jest of God (set in Manitoba) has a scene in a Holy Roller church.
posted by brujita at 11:33 PM on June 27, 2011

It's been many years, but I went to such a church service in a small place on Atlantic Avenue around 3rd avenue in Brooklyn. I'm sure of the Atlantic Avenue part but I could be a cross street or 2 off.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:50 PM on June 27, 2011

Like all churches and all other kinds of organizations, black churches range from welcoming to exclusive, from openhearted to rapacious, from inspiring to boring and every combination of those traits.

But, try it out! Just don't imagine it will be exactly like it looks in te movies or that all churches will be like the one you visit. Give a couple bucks in the collection plate and explain if asked that you are curious but also that you go to a different church at home (if you're an atheist I wouldn't mention that because I think it might seem slightly condescending that you're visiting just for entertainment value.). My 2 cents as a widely churched individual.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:22 AM on June 28, 2011

It's a little further south, but nobody's life is complete without a visit to the Revered Al Green's Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis.

(Yes, he sings while he preaches. The Holy Spirit is strong in that place, amen.)
posted by bardic at 12:28 AM on June 28, 2011

You should visit Mother A.M.E. Zion Church on W 137th St in Harlem. It is the oldest black church in the US, founded in 1796, and it is a beautiful place filled with wonderful people. It was a part of the Underground Railroad and has been at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights ever since. They're used to curious white folks dropping in now and again. They made me feel very welcome. :)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:51 AM on June 28, 2011 [13 favorites]

You might find this interesting.
posted by beisny at 1:29 AM on June 28, 2011 [16 favorites]

I wish I could give you more specifics here. There is an evangelist preacher woman who is often at the big Manhattan subway stations in rush hours. Big and fat, holding up some kind of leaflet, and preachin' really hard.

I am stumbling around downtown one Sunday morning, and hear her voice through a doorway. Holy shit, I say to myself, here's where she is giving her service!

I guess a lot like you, I am thinking "wow, take this opportunity, what a cool random chance to see a black church service." I duck inside and sit way near the back, trying to be quiet and respectful.

I was gone within three minutes, stared down by about half the men in the back pew, who had turned towards me, gazes fixed on me. They weren't smiling. I don't think that I was particularly welcome.

So, yeah, there are some places that are not so keen on outsiders, especially white rubbernecker types.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:55 AM on June 28, 2011

Best answer: Quite a few of the churches in Harlem are used to receiving tourist visitors. You might want to check out this Slate article about this phenomenon and the mixed feelings on the matter)

I believe A.M.E. Zion is one of the usual suspects, as are Ebenezer Baptist and Abyssinian Baptist.
posted by Sara C. at 6:08 AM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sara C linked to the article I was thinking of. If you go, go to one of the churches that is used to having tourists, rather than search out a place where your presence may be more disruptive.
posted by Forktine at 6:25 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This church, which is not too far from where I live in Brooklyn, is still, after some 30-odd years, presided over by the Rev. Huie Rogers, who is the subject of the fascinating Werner Herzog film Huie's Sermon, an excerpt from which you can see here. (God's Angry Man, the trailer for which is on that page, too, is also fascinating.)

For the reason of its inclusion in a Herzog film, and for its proximity to my house, I have often thought about going there to witness a sermon. I'm about as atheistic as they come, but am still pretty curious. I did not, however, know about the "tourist trade" in African-American churches -- that article that beisny linked to is pretty interesting. This makes me think a little differently about it ... but the curiosity persists. Generally, I'd imagine that any place you choose - it being a church and all - would be happy to see you, in the spirit of "all are welcome."

If I weren't headed out of town for the weekend, I'd invite you to join me at the services at The Bible Way Church on Sunday ...
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:30 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

More on Apostle (not just Reverend!) Huie Rogers here.
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:33 AM on June 28, 2011

This can come across as really racist if you're not careful. Maybe call the church in question to check out whether they welcome visitors?
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 6:50 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Noooooooooo! Seriously, please do not do this unless you have very specific permission from the church or for some reason know someone who invites you. I have lost count of the conversations I've heard and things I've read on the internet about how frustrating it is to black church attendees to have white (or really any race) tourists drop in to see what it's like. People may not be mean to you about it - and I'm sure that you aren't doing this to be creepy - but you're going to make at least some people extremely uncomfortable and angry just so that you can see something.

There's a whole history of 1. white people being tourists in black culture; 2. black culture stuff being treated like it's weird or deviant ; and 3. black spaces being treated as learning opportunities for white folks. This means that going to observe a service has a whole history of painful, uncomfortable stuff around it - it's not like if I for example stopped in at the local UCC church. It's not even like if I, a non-Jew, dropped in to some random temple.
posted by Frowner at 7:18 AM on June 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

"Someone" meaning a regular church member.
posted by Frowner at 7:19 AM on June 28, 2011

Frowner, I completely understand what you say, and it's the main reason that, despite my curiosity, I have not even been a "church tourist." But do you think that it is at all possible to attend a church service not as a gawker, but as someone who is genuinely interested in learning more about the service, the sermon, the religion, the attendees?

Not trying to be confrontational here - just sincerely asking (and this may not be the place for it) whether it's truly impossible to be a well-intentioned learner rather than a wide-eyed starer. I am not a churchgoer, so I don't know how one would feel about this. I'd imagine there'd be a range of responses, though, and I do have faint memories of being in synagogue as a kid and the rabbi happily welcoming any "visitors."
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:32 AM on June 28, 2011

Best answer: Frowner, see the link that beisny posted above - while the implications can be more than a bit odd/uncomfortable, many NYC churches welcome and encourage tourists, and even use the revenue they get from sunday tourism to fund things they do for their own congregations and the wider community during the rest of the week.
posted by Wylla at 7:41 AM on June 28, 2011

After reading the Salon article, even for the churches which welcome tourists, it strikes me as very rude to leave after the opening worship but before the sermon. It's possible that this is a request made by the church, but in that case it might be better to just go to a gospel concert.
posted by muddgirl at 8:08 AM on June 28, 2011

Best answer: The question was, "Given that I will be respectful, how can I observe a black gospel church service?" It was not, "What are your thoughts on whether it is respectful to observe a black gospel church service?" OP, one avenue you might explore is here.
posted by foursentences at 9:17 AM on June 28, 2011

If it's just a gospel style service experience you're after and find yourself in San Francisco, I highly recommend attending a arrive at Glide Memorial. I'm an atheist, but enjoy going from time to time when I miss the sense of purposeful community I used to get back when I was Catholic. Glide is multiracial, so you won't stick out like a sore anthropologist, and they welcome absolutely everyone. Services are very uplifting.
posted by smirkette at 11:28 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

"arrive" iPhone? Really? *service* ugh.
posted by smirkette at 11:29 AM on June 28, 2011

I would strongly advise that you call the pastor in advance. There are a lot of churches in Bedford Stuyvesant (Brooklyn) that fit your description -- every block has at least two or three rollicking churches on it, and most boast hat-clad ladies and dapper suit-wearing gentlemen. But as others have said, they are their own communities and they are not always excited to have outsiders waltz in off the streets.

So, please, call the church office/pastor in advance. This will probably result in you being invited in and really fully welcomed, as opposed to if you just show up and look lost. The pastor can advise you on all sorts of things, from what to wear to where to sit. And you just may find yourself invited to Sunday dinner, too.

If you want to attend a church in Bed Stuy, feel free to MeFiMail me, and I'll send you a list of some of the larger congregations.
posted by brina at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

This might not be quite what you're looking for, but assuming you are white, you could visit an Assembly of God (my family's denomination growing up) or Church of Christ and experience a rollicking sermon without drawing much attention to yourself.

FYI, you're not looking for a "Southern Baptist" church. Southern Baptist services are a much more low-key and sober affair.
posted by the jam at 6:37 PM on June 28, 2011

Response by poster: I went to Abyssinian Baptist. It was wonderful.

A tip - come dressed well (I was in suit and tie), it really helps!
posted by demagogue at 12:07 PM on August 18, 2011

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