Gawking European tourists are paying to stand in long lines so they can enjoy a unique New York City experience — the legendary Gospel music of Harlem’s black churches.
Having to turn away crowds of international visitors are a number of evangelical neighborhood churches famous for their joyous choirs, sermons delivered in dramatic traditional cadence and unabashed congregations with an exuberant style of worshiping Jesus.
A poster aimed at NYC visitors from Spain and Latin America
“Experience the soul-stirring power of Gospel at a church worship service,” reads a tourist guide sales pitch offering half-day excursions for cruise ship passengers. “See the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club. Option to add lunch of Soul Food available.”
“Take a guided tour through Harlem’s charming tree-lined streets and historic districts,” reads another, “before attending a worship service in a local church, where you will experience the soul-stirring power of Gospel music.”
That’s right, foreign tourists in New York City are paying $55 and $65 to go to church.
Members and tourists pack the pews. (Photo by HS NYV Tours)
“Out of respect for congregants, we ask you not to wear shorts, tank tops and flip flops,” cautions one website, which offers tour packages in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. “Cameras and camcorders are not allowed inside the church.”
And the on-line reviews are glowing: The service was beautiful, very uplifting and “everything that you would expect a Gospel service to be,” wrote a British tourist who rated the experience the full five
stars, noting that her 16-year-old son even commented that if all churches were like that “more people would go.” Thinking her family would be bored, she said she was more than a little surprised when they joined the congregation in singing and clapping.
“This was, without a doubt, one of the BEST things, if not THE best thing, I have ever experienced in my life,” wrote Jasmine B. on the Viator visitors’ feedback site: “Whether you are religious or not, or even slightly interested in Gospel, this will just blow your mind. I was mesmerized!!! Can’t wait to go back to the States; I will be spending more time in Harlem. It was just awesome. Everyone must experience this; it’s a great moment.”