Category Archives: Religions of Harlem Blog

A Christian Resort: The Salvation and Deliverance Church

What immediately attracted me to the Salvation and Deliverance Church was the name of the church. In class this week, Professor Hendricks spoke about his first hand experience with a deliverance service in Africa thus I thought it’d be interesting to learn more about this Salvation and Deliverance Church here in Harlem. Interestingly, this church is non-denomination, interracial, intercultural, and described as ‘The Church Built By The Young People.’ This church is a part of the Salvation and Deliverance Worldwide Ministry, which was established by apostle Williams Brown in Harlem in 1975. There are other Salvation and Deliverance Churches affiliated with this ministry in Long Island, Georgia, North Carolina, and many other places. According to the churches website, they have been involved with feeding the poor, building schools and homes for the orphanages, digging pure water wells, opening medical clinics and churches throughout Africa, India, Haiti, Jamaica, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, and the United States. This church like many of the other Black churches we have spoken about this semester takes on many roles in the surrounding communities. The church’s website mentioned that this is a church built by the young people. Through being a church built by young people, I’d imagine that this church has a goal of targeting young church members and one way to do this is through language. The church’s van has the following words decorated on it: “Miracle Mountain. A Christian Resort.” I found this comparison of a church to a resort quite unique and eye catching, especially to many people of younger generations. Often people compare the church to a refuge, describing it as a place where members are sheltered and protected from the evils and struggles of the outside world. A resort on the other hand is not necessarily a place where people go for help, however it is a place where people go to relax and for recreational purposes. Although there may have been other reasons for using the word resort over refuge or any other word, as a young adult, the phrase Christian Resort is much more attractive than Christian Refuge. For me personally using the word resort changes the image of the Black church being a place were people go when they are lost and desperate for help and instead helps me to envision the Black church as a place where people go because they want to because it’s a fun and enjoyable.

Although the Salvation and Deliverance Church in Harlem is also the headquarters of the entire ministry, this specific church did not have a website. However after speaking with a representative from the church on the phone I was able to learn more about their Prayer and Tarry Services and the Deliverance services. According to this person, at the Prayer and Tarry Services,  “you tarry for the Holy Spirit, you get filled with god’s holy sprit, and say prayers for those in need.” At the Friday and Sunday night deliverance services, “someone preaches, and if there is a person who has the demon in him or her they need to be delivered, it depends on who goes to the service.” Considering the fact that this church did not label itself as an African church, the presence of these deliverance services that were common in African churches gives a great example of how some churches today still follow certain practices and traditions found in traditional African churches despite their lack of a relationship to any specific African denominations. It is interesting to note the parallels that are seen between nondenominational churches and traditional African churches in Harlem today.

Below is a video clip from Youtube of a Deliverance Service at Salvation and Deliverance Church in Harlem by apostle Williams Brown.

Please note that all pictures from above with the exception of the first one were taken by me. Click here for source of the first picture.

Salvation and Deliverance Church

This week I went to Harlem to attend services at rapper, Mase’s old church:  Harlem’s Salvation and Deliverance Church, founded by Apostle William Brown in 1975.  The first thing I was told upon entering was that attendance soared once word spread that this was Mase’s home church. This made me think about questions surrounding hip hop’s impact on religion in general and this faith community of Harlem in particular.  The service was packed to the point where I couldn’t sit down.  There were even people outside jumping and enjoying the service. The members of the church were extremely welcoming and actually spoke to me first before I got up the courage to ask questions.  It was exciting to visit a religious institution and be amongst people who are young and positive, open and loving…and the music was also live and jumping.

I eventually walked around and asked several people about their experience within the church.  I found out that the church is the headquarter church for a worldwide ministry focused heavily on youth services.  To me it was shocking to see the youth so active within the church. They were actually the ones most involved. I can recall times when I’ve been in church and the kids would sing at events but not be nearly as active as they are in this church.  I had a great time, seemed like everyone had a great time.

Canaan Baptist Church

Visiting Canaan Baptist Church, what first caught my attention was the music, singing, and dancing while the service was going on.  This was striking for me as someone used to catholic churches where worship happens in an entirely different way.  Not only was the choir live, but the members of the church were just as live and loud, even the youngest members.  The two little children who were in front of me, probably age six and eight, were jumping around singing so free.  This Sunday everyone came together to sing the most heavenly gospel music, but it had a spin on it.  They added modern instruments, lush vocal arrangements and turned an old hymn into a modern day hit.  This contemporary sound pulled the younger crowd in, kept them interested and wanting more.

Canaan Baptist Church is one of most historic houses of worship in Harlem, with visitors from around the world filing in every Sunday.  Many come expecting a gospel music performance and forget the importance of the worship service for the congregation.  Who can blame them?  The atmosphere leaves you no choice but to lose yourself and indulge in the energizing combination of great people, uplifting music, and of course the word of God.  Everyone comes to church for a different reason–to pray, to see a friendly face, to share an intellectual conversation with someone–whatever it may be you can come to Canaan Baptist and receive it.  No one passes judgment; everyone who comes enters those doors as equals.

First Corinthian Baptist Church

Upon attending a Sunday service at  First Corinthian Baptist Church I felt like I was in a party. It seemed like a huge celebration and I honestly believe that this is the way church should be. I asked the lady next to me if it is like this every week and she said “yes but it was only just getting started”. The service was unbelievable and by far the best service I have ever been to.

One of the things I loved about the church was how active the youth were. The youth seemed to be so involved in what was going on within the church and the community. As soon as I walked out they handed me a paper with Manning Marbles name on it. I was so excited to see that the people within this religious institution where so invested in African American Culture and the influential people with in it.

Another interesting thing I loved was after church young children where learning about God. Not the traditional Sunday school but a Sunday school that mirrored the actual seriousness I saw earlier. Sunday school was taught by young adults to elementary school that seem to serve students in Kindergarten through 5th grade. After talking to one of the student teachers I learned that they have been adding one grade annually since its opening.

The Sunday schools main focus is not just “the good word,” they also focus on learning about African American culture.  Learning about ones culture is very important.  There is nothing worse then not knowing where you come from.  As an African American it’s essential to me that I know my roots, and what many African American’s before me have contributed to the world today.  Watching the kids during their class I saw the intensity and the desire to learn and it reminded me of myself at that age.

Bakh Yaye Store: West African Religious Services as Commercial Film in Harlem

It was late into the evening, and as I walked back to campus from Harlem on 116th street I could barely make out the figures ahead of me in the darkness. I could, however, hear the reverberation of African music playing from the store fronts of Little Senegal as I passed, and the sounds brought with them a sense of calmness and peace. One store in particular made me stop, as images flashed from a small television screen in the window. The images were of African women and men dressed in traditional, formal clothing and head scarves; they were seated underneath a white tent and passing around a microphone. The screen seemed to be depicting a type of religious service, and the quality and way it was filmed gave the impression of a home made video rather than a feature  film. I was interested to know why this video was playing, without sound, in the window of the store and made my way inside. I stood near the entrance of the door for several minutes. Inside were a group of older men, wearing boubou’s and kufi’s and a few, wearing jeans and t-shirts. The men did not pay any attention to me as I stood and glanced around the store; they made their way past me as though I was invisible as the store clerk motioned and lead them towards a group of  CDs that they seemed to be searching for. I continued to stand unsure of that I was doing, the store was cramped and small – until  a young clerk entered the store and asked if I needed assistance. I asked him about the video playing in the front of the window to which he explained “It is a wedding ceremony.” I ask him if it was a movie, and he laughed and explained that it was a video of an actual ceremony and that they sold many DVDs similar to it in the store. I was intrigued as to why two-hour-long, home videos, of religious ceremonies in West Africa would be made into commercialized products within the continent and here in Harlem. The clerk could not explain the significance either, only that people bought them and enjoyed watching them perhaps to emulate the services here, abroad. He further explained the process of how he is shipped a CD or DVD from Africa, and then duplicates them on the computer in the back and prepares them in cases to be sold. He gave me DVDs to take home and watch, along with a copy of his favorite CD, in hopes that I might gain some insight on the culture.

Jesus in Jewelry

Along 125th street proper are numerous jewelry shops that cater to the Harlem communities and the thousands of tourists that past through Harlem each year in search of “authentic” Harlem souvenirs.  The stores carry a variety of products ranging from gold to diamonds, chains to rings, and inexpensive to the costly.

One category that is displayed in many of these stores is that of religious iconography.  In nearly every jewelry shop, chains with crosses and Jesus’ face can be seen hanging in display cases next to other secular symbols like money signs, English letters, and the like.  According to one store manager, theses religious images are some of the best-selling products in the jewelry stores throughout Harlem’s shopping district.  He explained, however, that the crosses and chains were the most popular not for their relevance to Christian doctrine; rather, its because it is most popular in the hip-hop community at the present time.  As the store employee explained, “when [rapper] Lil’ Wayne[‘s albums] are selling, the crosses are selling.”  This phenomenon suggests that jewelry that is religious in appearance is purchased for its association with popular culture.

Old Broadway Synagogue

In many minds, Harlem is a romantic site of Black cultural innovation and a symbol of the African American community of the past, present, and future.  Many pieces of Harlem stands as a living memorial to the various people and events that helped shape Black culture in America.  Tucked away behind the historical sites, the churches, and the other institutions that constitute an idealized Black Harlem exist remnants of another Harlem that was once occupied mainly people of Eastern European Jewish decent.  Old Broadway Synagogue, named for its location on Old Broadway Ave and 125th Street, represents the once thriving Jewish population of the early twentieth century and still functions as the only remaining mainstream synagogue in Harlem.  As a traditional Orthodox synagogue in a predominantly Black neighborhood, Old Broadway embodies Harlem’s past as a Jewish neighborhood, as well as its present – a multi-racial space that is complicated by its perception as a “Black” neighborhood.

The services I attended at Old Broadway Synagogue revealed much about the presence of Judaism in Harlem and its relation to Harlem as a racially and economically diverse space.   On one hand, the service resembled a typical, Ashkenazi Orthodox afternoon service that could be found in any synagogue of that same tradition.  This is important for understanding Old Broadway Synagogue as a relic of Harlem’s Jewish past and its ability to preserve a nearly forgotten tradition in Harlem.  In contrast, the fact that nearly a quarter of the attendees were of African American descent suggests that Old Broadway Synagogue has undergone a tremendous shift from a congregation made up of Jews of mainly Eastern European descent, to its present status as a multi-racial synagogue (Old Broadway Synagogue Website).   The synagogue boasts not only white Jewish congregants from the Upper West Side and Harlem, but also Black congregants that formerly attended the Commandment Keepers Synagogue and congregants of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.  In this sense, Old Broadway Synagogue fits the theoretical framework that treats Harlem as a place of diversity, rather than a strictly “Black” neighborhood.