New York City, NY

Let’s Go Back to Church — 5 Churches to Visit in Harlem

James Garside

Let’s Go Back to Church — 5 Churches to Visit in Harlem
HarlemPhoto by Kaysha on Unsplash

Harlem, New York, NYC
253 W 125th St, New York City, NY 10027–4408

It is often said that there is a bar and a church on every corner of Harlem.

According to Harlem Heritage there are thought to be over 400 houses of worship in Harlem.

The wide range of religious denominations includes Baptist, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Black Muslims, Episcopalian, and Methodist.

Harlem used to have a reputation as a dangerous neighbourhood. As such it was often overlooked by tourists. But many of these beautiful buildings have become popular tourist attractions in their own right.

Gospel music is seen as the spirit of Harlem so it’s not suprising that tourists often seek out places where such music can be heard.

Here are some of the churches in Harlem that are welcoming to tourists.

Visitors are of course asked to be respectful of places of worship and to observe and follow their guidelines when they visit.

Call the church or check their website before you visit or make arrangements with an NYC tour company.

201 Lenox Avenue, New York, NY 10027
Mount Olivet Baptist ChurchWikimedia Commons

Built in 1907 as Temple Israel this used to be one of New York’s most distinguished and respected synagogues. Atop the four large Corinthian columns and in the stained glass windows you can still see the Stars of David. In 1925 Mount Olivet acquired the building. The well established black congregation has existed for over 100 years. Its history is bound up with the history of the struggle for human rights, social reform and racial justice in New York City.

230 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10027
St Martin’s Episcopal ChurchWikimedia Commons

All in-person worship services have been suspended until further notice due to COVID-19 but the church is still worth a visit. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission reported that St. Martin’s Episcopal Church was “undoubtedly the handsomest example” of the Romanesque Revival architectural style in Manhattan. Built in 1887 the church has become particularly popular with Japanese visitors as a venue for wedding ceremonies.

132 W 138th St, New York, NY 10030
Abyssinian Baptist ChurchWikimedia Commons

A Baptist megachurch founded in 1809. In the 1920s the Abyssinian Baptist Church became the largest Protestant congregation in the US. The congregation began in 1809 due to an incident where seamen from Abyssinia led a protest against segregated church seating. Prominent ministers of the church include Adam Clayton Powell Sr. and his son Adam Clayton Powell Jr. who became the first African-American US congressman from the State of New York.

1912 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, New York, NY 10026
First Corinthian Baptist ChurchWikimedia Commons

A queer-inclusive and LGBT friendly Baptist Church with a younger membership than most other Baptist Churches in New York. According to the congregation’s Purpose Statement: “We are an ever evolving community of Visionaries and Dreamers who have been Called by God to live the lives we were created to live; Commanded by God to love beyond the limits of our Prejudices and Commissioned by God to Serve. Our membership is now close to 6,000 and growing.” The church is known for its Gospel choir and for its progressive stance.

2081 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, New York, NY 10027
Greater Refuge TempleWikimedia Commons
The Greater Refuge Temple was founded by the late Bishop Robert C. Lawon in 1919. The church was previously located at 56 East 131st Street where it began as the Refuge Church of Christ. They relocated within eight months as they required larger premises. A short walk from the Apollo Theater the church is now based in a renovated former movie house. Gospel at the Pentecostal Greater Refuge Temple, with a 60-strong choir, brings out the crowds.

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NCTJ-qualified British independent journalist, author, and travel writer.


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