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Tourists pack the pews of Harlem's churches

“The service was beautiful and uplifting,” writes a British tourist rating the experience at five stars. Her 16-year-old son commented if all churches were like that, "more people would go." Maybe that explains the long lines around the block.

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A recent visitor to the church, Celeste Lejeune, 16, from Paris, didn’t know anything about the congregation’s history. Mother AME Church is the oldest black church in New York, was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and its congregants have included Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Mother AME Zion Church (Photo by HS NYV Tours)

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“I like to just hear voices of people who live in Harlem, and see the atmosphere,” she said. “We don’t have music like this in France.”

The church is “one of many Harlem churches that have become tourist attractions for visitors from all over the world who want to listen to soulful Gospel music at a black church service,” notes the Daily Mail.

But there is a down side: “With a record number of tourists descending upon New York City last year, the crowds of foreigners are becoming a

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source of irritation among faithful churchgoers. To preserve the sanctity of the service, pastors struggle to enforce strict rules of conduct. But the reality is that these visitors are often filling church pews that would otherwise remain empty.

The crowd is spellbound (Photo by Grupo Tom Brasil)

Congregation member Carlos Smith-Ramsey says he dislikes being filmed by gawking tourists. “I understand that you’re visiting and you want to have a memory of it,” he told the Daily Mail. “But when we ask you to stop and you continue to do so after the fact, that’s disrespectful.”

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