In which a Bwog freelancer attempts to find spirituality in tourist purgatory.
At 2:00 AM last night, I set my alarm clock to wake me up at the obscene hour of 7:30 AM. The next morning, I was going to church. Specifically, I had two churches in mind. The first is the most famous church in Harlem, the Abyssinian Church on West 138th Street, and the second, Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, was the first black church in the area and is only one block down from the former.
Under the impression that services started at 10 AM, I left around 9 AM and got to 137th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd an hour later. There was a huge line outside of what seemed to be an abandoned building, which was ostensibly the line to get into the Abyssinian.
Mimicking an elderly woman I had just seen walk in, I tried entering one of the red front doors. But the man who was standing idly in front of the door was actually something of a church-bouncer. As I walked by, he cleared his throat loudly. I pretended not to notice and kept walking. Apparently I didn’t look like a regular. “Excuse me,” he interrupted. “You need to wait with all the others, down the block.
It was only 10 AM, and the line already seemed too long. Most of the people waiting looked like tourists or area-hipsters searching for soul.
Too lazy to stand in line and wanting something less touristy, I went to look for the Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Upon finding the church I was pleased to discover the house of worship sans line. God was on my side. But when I walked in, it was eerily silent. There was scaffolding up and down the main aisle, and ladders and paint buckets littered the lobby.
An old woman walked by, and I asked where the service was. We walk through the sanctuary together, and she tells me that it’s in the multi-purpose room in the basement due to the construction. “I have to go teach Sunday School now,” she told me. “But you can look at Harriet Tubman.” So I looked at Harriet Tubman.
Perhaps I was being too picky, but I didn’t want my first religious experience as a college student to be in a multi-purpose room. So, I ventured out into Harlem hoping to find a church that was just right. I walked west but ended up running into rows of brownstones and a church that was practically empty.
Then, I run into Calvary Methodist Church on Edgecombe Ave, near St. Nicholas Park. A man walking by asked me if I was looking for the Abyssinian.
“I guess I wasn’t meant to find my church this morning,” I thought, as I walked down Adam Clayton Powell, sulking. But I decided to suck it up and go to a church. Any church.
So I decided that the next church I saw would have to suffice. This church happened to be Shiloh Baptist Church. Upon entering, I was ecstatic to hear catchy choir music and a sing-a-long in progress. I tried singing, and of course, on my right, I was sitting next to the church’s diva, who had a range to rival Whitney Houston’s.
Unfortunately, my attempt at finding a religious haven turned into my spiritual tourist nightmare. But for those who genuinely want to have a religious experience, Harlem is full of historically significant churches. Righteous.