Where to hear a real Gospel Mass in New York?
A question that often I am asked – above all when I am asked for tips to plan a New Yorker itinerary, for an authentic and local experience to do in the city – and to which I hardly answered until some time ago, because of the raising number of churches in Harlem: they increasingly often upon payment (I think this is the saddest thing) are degenerating organizing celebrations ad hoc for tourists.
Then relying on the experience I had some years ago in Tennessee, nearby Nashville, where I had the chance to hear as the only “white guest” an authentic, incredible Black Gospel Mass, I was afraid it would be difficult to be able to find something as exciting and heartfelt as that one.
I was wrong, for a good part.
During my latest tour to the city, after a dear friend of mine who lives in New York recommended it to me, I had the chance to discover the little and wonderful community of the Friendly Church. But also to spend a special Sunday enjoying the most genuine emotions, good gospel music, an enthralling participation and a lot, really a lot of rhythm.
The Friendly Church is a warm and comfortable Baptist missionary Church, near the Yankee Stadium, supported by a warm and sunny community: it made kindness, welcome and sharing the God’s word its primary aim.
The service usually starts on Sunday at 11am and goes on almost three hours, alternated with the sermon of the reverend lasting 40 minutes about.
I can assure you that before and after, between the congregation and the chorus a downright prayer and joy competition with music and dances, sometimes uncontrolled, runs wild.
The ideal thing is to arrive there towards 10:40am (at the end of the kids’ catechism) and have a seat in the central benches.
You will be welcomed with really lots of affection and kindness and it would happen, like it happened to me, that the revered himself and other people near to him say hello to you and show you the free seats with a smile and a sounding “Bless You”.
The presence of the few foreign visitors doesn’t influence at all the course of the service. On the contrary, the naturalness and the genuine (sometimes even too much) feeling expressed through music and dance tend to not consider it at all. However they are believers coming there to hear and take part into – by their own way – the Sunday Mass.
The initial chants and the introduction of the chorus that in procession by slow steps reaches its own position, follow a progressive raise of rhythm as far as become unrestrained and almost uncontrolled in their apex.
I confess I had to shoot the videos more than once since, due to the enthralling rhythm, I wasn’t able to move and so to keep the Smartphone steady.
If you don’t want to remain for the whole service (which lasts really much for our standards) it’s better to leave the church, always by good manners, avoiding to disturb, short before the reverend’s sermon, after an hour about from the beginning of the service.
You can take photos and shoot videos but avoid to laugh or talk to each other in case some behaviour could seem strange or excessive: however odd could be it is a part of their creed and you have to respect it.
Remember that you are guest here: the community is genuinely Friendly in name and in fact, so you, too, be like that.
The Friendly Church is in Bronx at 962, Ogden Ave: the Sunday service starts at 11am. If you prefer there’s another one, quickest, at 8am.
It’s not so easy to reach the church alone. You have to get off at the Yankee Stadium subway stop – the 161st Street, green line 4 and orange line B/D – and then keep going on foot for about 20/30 minutes along a stretch of Jerome Ave. Then take the beginning of Ogden Ave and go up the hill as far as the church.