However, he appreciates the visitors often filling pews as well as the collection plates.
“Our building is in need of repair,” church member Paul Henderson said after the service. “We need assistance. They’re helping to sustain us.”
Tourists “want to see what they’ve seen on television,” says Larcelia Kebe, president of Harlem Your Way! Tours Unlimited. “They want to see what they’ve seen in the movies.”
The gawking tourists can be intimidating (Photo by Fotografartifici)
“The Gospel tour industry has exploded since it was born in the early 1980s,” reports the Daily Mail. “On a busy summer Sunday, Harlem Spirituals, one of the oldest and largest tour operators, might run 15 full buses, said Erika Elisabeth, a company vice president.”
And the glowing reviews continue to pour in: “This fantastic event was the highlight of our New York holiday,” writes Craig N. from Australia. “I am not a religious person, but I could have been easily
influenced to join the faith after this experience. We were very welcomed by the church community and they delivered a service that was so inspiring that it almost bought me to tears. Congratulations on a well planned & delivered event.”
“Had a wonderful time on the Harlem Spirituals tour, when my folks came over from Italy in August,” writes another. “My parents didn’t know what to expect, and neither did my kids, since I typically would have taken them all to other places. But I’m glad we went. Great and moving service, great singers, great tour guide. My parents are still talking about it!!! ”
Tourists line up outside of a Harlem church (Photo by Camera on Autopilot)
The Abyssinian Baptist Church is perhaps the most popular tourist magnet. There visitors are often turned away because the pews are too full. It has a two-page “Tourist Policy,” which explains that gawkers are banned from the 9 a.m. service, as well as the 11 a.m. service on certain special days — and are required to wait outside a designated “Tourist Entry Point,” unless they have made group reservations allowed for school groups, church groups, and family reunions.
Sad that the crowds have necessitated such rules, longtime congregation member Dabney Montgomery, 88, a Tuskegee Airman during World War II and a civil rights activist, told the Daily Mail that he believes tourists walk away richer for the experience.
“In listening to the Gospel, they get something out that they didn’t expect,” he said. “The word of God.”