Having had the chance to attend a gospel mass in Harlem, this was truly one of the most memorable moments of my stay in New York City. Whether you are a believer or not, it is an amazing and very authentic experience. In this post, I will give you some tips to help you find the best place to attend a gospel mass in New York City 😊
Where to attend a gospel service in New York City?
In some parts of the city there are a large number of small churches where you can attend a mass and listen to gospel music. When choosing a church, it is important to remember that it is primarily a religious ceremony. Although the atmosphere can quickly become very lively, these ceremonies are not shows where you can walk in and out as you wish.
You can find beautiful gospel churches in all of New York City's boroughs, but I really recommend going to Harlem, which is the cradle of African-American culture and is still the place to go to hear this kind of music.
You can also find very large churches, which are in all the tourist guidebooks and are used to receiving tourists at every mass. But they are not, in my opinion, the best way to experience an authentic gospel service.
Another way of attending mass: guided tours of Harlem with a gospel service. These tours are usually divided into two parts. The first part is dedicated to discovering Harlem, New York City’s multicultural district. Afterwards, you will attend a gospel service in one of the churches in the neighbourhood. This guided tour takes about half a day.
The tour will give you an overview and help you learn more about the history of the neighbourhoods and gospel music 😄 For this half-day full of discoveries, count £62 per person 🙂
My experience of gospel services in Harlem
By going to one of Harlem's largest churches, the First Corinthian Baptist Church, I was able to attend a beautiful sound and light show, comfortably seated on the balcony among the tourists, while only the congregation was on the ground floor. The musicians were excellent, the sound system perfect – but the experience, although very pleasant, was still far from what I expected.
Other, sometimes lesser-known churches are often much better places to go if you really want to live a memorable experience. In the Greater Tabernacle Baptist Church, I had the chance to attend an unforgettable gospel service. I arrived early and was able to sit among the believers while the church was still far from being full. Gradually, everyone had arrived and a particularly friendly atmosphere formed.
When the pastor took his seat and the choir started to sing, people quickly stood up and started singing loudly to express their faith. With the joy and fervour contained in the singing, the atmosphere quickly became extremely warm, and I really felt that I was experiencing a very privileged moment in that church ⛪
My tips for attending a gospel service in Harlem
- Avoid churches that are too big: it is in smaller churches that you can really attend an authentic gospel mass.
- Avoid group visits: always try to have a maximum of 2 or 3 people only, so that you can fit in better with the congregation.
- I highly recommend attending the earliest service possible. On Sunday mornings, mass times vary and some churches have several services. By attending the first service, you will avoid mixing with too many tourists. Nothing wrong with tourists, of course, but too many makes the experience a lot less authentic and awe-inspiring.
- Arrive early, so that you are not among the last to enter the church.
- Do not take photos or videos and put your phone on airplane mode. Again, masses are not spectacles, so try to share the experience with the believers.
- If possible, plan to stay until the end of the mass. If your schedule does not allow it, sit in the back of the church near the door and try to warn the pastor or a regular that you will have to leave the church during the service.
- Many people dress very carefully to attend Mass: feel free to do the same 😉
Have you booked your activities in New York City? 🌃
Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. No matter what you wish to do, if you want to maximise your chances of accessing all the activities you want, I strongly recommend booking your activities in advance 😉 For the more far-sighted, you can even book a New York pass to enjoy as many of the city's attractions as possible.Attending a gospel service in New York City will definitely be one of the highlights of your stay in the Big Apple. But you will obviously do many other activities! For example, don't miss the
Which church to attend a gospel service in New York City?
First of all, if the mention of Harlem has made you hesitate, you should know that this New York neighbourood has changed a lot in recent years. If Harlem used to be a true ghetto where crime was omnipresent, this is absolutely no longer the case – not since the first half of the 2000s. Today, you can walk through the streets of Harlem without any worry and discover a lively and very pleasant neighbourhood 😊
If you want to live the most authentic experience possible, you can go to one of the many small churches in the area. You can attend a gospel service in Harlem with the congregation, who will be delighted to welcome you as long as you follow basic etiquette. During the service, clapping and singing along is a great way to soak up the atmosphere.
However, if you would rather not go alone and instead prefer to have a guide with you to tell you the secrets of Harlem and Gospel music, that's certainly possible with a guided tour.
The Abyssinian Baptist Church
The reason I mention this church, which is probably the most famous Baptist church in New York, is actually to advise you against it. This very touristy church building is perfect for a visit – but if you're looking for an authentic gospel service, this is definitely not the place to go.
On Sundays, the 9 am service is reserved for the faithful, so tourists flock to the 11 am service. If you want to attend, you should expect to queue for at least an hour. The best way to enjoy a more authentic mass in this church is probably to go on Wednesdays for the 7 pm service, which is usually much less crowded.
The Salem United Methodist Church
This small, relatively non-touristy Methodist church is certainly not the most beautiful in New York, but you can attend a service there every Sunday at 11 am, for a moment of sharing and music in a very friendly atmosphere. To see the church's website, you can follow this link.
The Greater Tabernacle Baptist Church
I have already told you about this charming little church, where you can attend a typical gospel service. In this Harlem church, which is far from being one of the most touristic places, 3 services are celebrated every Sunday: at 8 am, 11 am and 5 pm. Don't hesitate to arrive early, as you will then be able to listen to the choir preparing for the service 🎼
The Brooklyn Tabernacle
To see a gospel service in Harlem, you can go to the Brooklyn Tabernacle. In this evangelical church, which looks a bit like a theatre, you will be very welcomed. The choir is made up of more than 200 singers, and you will enjoy the incredible atmosphere and admire the great fervour of the faithful. Masses are held on Sundays at 9 am. To see the church's website, click here.
The Canaan Baptist Church of Christ
This church is another place where you can attend a gospel service in Harlem in a traditional setting. The services (every Sunday at 8 am and 11 am) last for 2 hours, with a lot of singing. The place is touristy and you'll probably be sitting on a balcony, but from the décor to the singers' costumes, everything about this church is full of authenticity, and you will have a memorable time 👍
Where does the tradition of gospel music come from?
The term gospel music comes from the expression goodspell, which became Gospel – the good news about Jesus in Christian religion.
The reason why the songs of this African-American musical culture are so emotionally powerful is that they have their roots in three centuries of slavery. For the black slaves who arrived in North America and worked in the cotton fields, singing was already part of their culture.
Their condition forced them to adapt, and new songs were created to enable them to communicate. Little by little, they discovered the Christian religion, and in the Bible, the story of the Hebrews held in Egypt and forced to work very much reminded them of their lives as slaves.
Without forgetting their original culture and traditions, the African-American slaves, who had obtained the right to attend Protestant masses, gradually began to improvise prayer songs, which were known at the time as Negro Spiritual. After the abolition of slavery in 1865, real choirs were formed. This musical tradition later evolved into Gospel music, which blended with Blues and Jazz and dealt with strong social issues such as segregation and poverty.
Moving in both sound and word, this musical style quickly became very popular. In the 20th century, it became widely used by pastors, who based their lyrics on the New Testament. By the 1960s, gospel music had already found its true identity, and in the churches these songs claimed faith in God and the hope that one day all inequalities could disappear.
That's it for this article on gospel mass in Harlem! I hope you enjoyed it and got inspired for your research on what to do in New York City 😊