After three long days strutting the NYC pavement, there’s one experience that sticks in both of our minds as a highlight of our time here so we figured it deserves it’s own post. One evening, tired a weary, we headed back to our Airbnb pad for a quick shower, shave and slap of lipstick (lipstick for Sarah only, don’t get any funny ideas) then boarded the subway bound for Harlem looking for some religious education as only Harlem can teach.
After quite a bit of online research we opted to head to the Abyssinian Baptist Church on W 138th Street between Powell and Malcolm X for the Wednesday 7pm sermon. Wednesday evening is much quieter than Sunday and as a tourist you’re more likely to get a seat (locals will always get precedence). Arriving slightly after 7pm we weren’t sure they’d even let us in (and we’d even put our good clothes on!) but lucky for us we were quickly ushered to a pew surrounded by locals. Glancing around the small yet striking church, it was easy to see we’d got lucky as the entire left quarter was crammed with tourists, who weren’t as warm and welcoming when Pastor Calvin Butts asked us all to look around at all the other miracles in the room and reach out and ask somebody what God did for them today. This actually turned out to just be a great chance for the locals to all mingle, shake hands, say hi to their friends, welcome strangers (us) and generally just make the whole atmosphere of the place completely open and comfortable. Not so the tourists on the left, who all seemed slightly out of their comfort zone reaching out to the people sitting next to them, let alone three aisles down.
Abyssinian Baptist Church, NYC. Photo courtesy of http://www.greatpix.com/tobey/edit/body_abyssinian.html
The next hour and a half was filled standing up, clapping along and shaking your tail feather to some amazing gospel hymns and sermons. Even a couple of atheists like us could appreciate that this place, with it’s warmth and the way it lets everybody take part and express their faith however they felt like it that day can’t be a bad thing for anybody. After many embraces and conversations with the locals we skipped back out into the night to find our place of worship – the pub.
If you’re lucky enough to make it to one of these evenings, remember this is not technically free and it’s not a tourist attraction. The people who regularly attend these services are here for reason’s of faith, and whilst they’re warm and welcoming to tourists, you should remember where you are and act like you’ve been welcomed into somebody’s home. You should also back on throwing in a contribution when the plate comes around as the performance given by the choir and the entire congregation rightly justifies it. Anybody bringing backpacks note you can’t bring them into the church but we noted upon leaving that the corner store will take them off your hands for a small fee!
WWII American propaganda poster at NYC library exhibition.
Back on the infamous NYC subway for the long trip home, we experienced some of the finest subway entertainment NYC has to offer, when our carriage was presented with an adult female slightly-less-fat version of the kids purple favourite Barney, complete with Barney’s baby. As she strutted up and down the carriage, in full Barney costume, asking people to ‘Hold my baby!’ she had everybody laughing, though unfortunately not enough to make more than $1.
Futher enterainment ensued when we overhead a conversation that could have (and at some point probably has) been us…
Mother: We’re going all the way down there for a pair of sunglasses?
Son: Why not?
Mother: How many pairs of sunglasses do you own?
Son: Got anything better to do?
MATT: You can NEVER own too many sunnies,EVER!!!!