Spirituality in the Heart of Harlem New York

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Harlem New York church

I remember holding the big red hymnal as a child in church, trying to follow along with the somber song. I was horrible at singing and therefore mainly just murmured the words and followed along the best I could equivalent to shuffling my feet and letting my mother pull me along when I didn’t want to go to the Doctor. As a congregation, we’d stand, we’d sit. We’d repeat our ‘lines’ in the hymnals in a well-orchestrated mass. In fact, the word that best describes my memories of church is “follow” – Lutherans are good followers. Above, Legal double parking in Harlem – a special perk from God himself.

Have you ever been in church and had the urge to scream out, then I may have the place for you – Harlem. There seems to be a church on every corner in Harlem and on Sundays you are allowed to actually double park in the city due to the number of church services and lack of parking. I’m not sure what I’m more astonished about – the fact that God is calling the parking shots instead of NYC police or that people actually have cars in Manhattan.

The Holy Ghost is in the House

One of my favorite things about traveling the world is being introduced to new cultures that are different than my American upbringing. One thing I consistently notice is how outgoing and happy people are in other cultures, they often let it all hang out where Americans are sort of reserved. At least that’s what I thought before walking through the doors of Thessalonia Baptist Church. At Thessalonia no soul was reserved. In fact every soul was engaged and enthusiastically praising the Holy Ghost. People held hands, touched each other’s shoulders, they raised their hands skyward, and shook their heads in agreement as if someone was talking directly to them. And unlike my childhood church, there seemed to be no rules around sitting or standing – or time limits to gospel reading apparently. You simply let the Holy Spirit move you in whatever way you want. I loved this version of church. In fact, had I had this version of church when I was a kid I might still be attending services, driving a car, and legally double parking in Manhattan.

As part of this Harlem Gospel Tour, I walked into the service last December as they were singing a rousing rendition of Hark the Harold Angles Sing. Thessalonia gladly welcomed visitors, however the visitors seemed to immediately stand out because of their color – they were the only ones not wearing red in the congregation. Apparently the congregation wears red during the holiday season. In fact the fashion was the first thing I noticed, women dressed up in red dresses and elegant hats. Can I just say – we need more hats in our everyday lives…can I get an Amen for hats?

The gospel tour was more than just gospel, it covered all of Harlem showing off it’s many churches, history, music, and it even included a soul food brunch.  It was passionate, expressive, and a beautiful side of New York and religion to see – all right here on my home country’s soil double parked in Harlem.

More Info:
Harlem New York Gospel Tours via Viator – includes a tour of Harlem, church service, gospel music, and a soul food brunch.  Then spend the rest of the day walking around Harlem on your own!

Harlem New York gospel tour

The congregation dressed in red

Harlem gospel tour

In the shadow of the holy ghost. It seems like every blog in Harlem has a church.

Harlem tour

Strivers Row in Harlem at 138th St. Where many Harlem professionals got their start living in brown stones.

Harlem New York Tour

Store owner opens his shop on 125th St.

Harlem Gospel tour

Church on the corner

Harlem gospel tour

Thessalonia Baptist Church

Morris Jumel Mansion New York

Morris Jumel Mansion still stands in Harlem – architecture from eons ago in NYC.

Harlem Gospel tour

City University of New York Building in Harlem near Sugar Hill

Harlem friend chicken

Fried chicken for brunch. Served with collard greens, corn bread and rice – delish!

Harlem Tour

The Apollo theatre in Harlem

Harlem gospel tour

Harlem Church

Harlem gospel tour

The singing congregation

Harlem tour

An old cobblestone street with wooden row houses near Morris Jumel Mansion

Disclosure:  I was a guest of Viator Travel for this tour.  However all opinions expresses here are my own.

 

Sherry Ott
Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of Briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice.

Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at Ottsworld.com.com.
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One Response to Spirituality in the Heart of Harlem New York

  1. Fintan Corrigan February 23, 2015 at 12:26 am #

    Lovely post on the spiritual side of Harlem in NYC.

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