The stern warning issued from the pulpit was directed at the tourists – most of whom had arrived late – a sea of white faces with guidebooks in hand. They outnumbered the congregation itself: a handful of elderly black men and women wearing suits and dresses and old-fashioned pillbox hats.
"We're hoping that you will remain in place during the preaching of
the Gospel," a church member said over the microphone at this Harlem
church on a recent Sunday morning. "But if you have to go, go now. Go
before the preacher stands to preach."
No one left then. But halfway through the sermon, a group of
French girls made their way toward the velvet ropes that blocked the
exit. An usher shook his head firmly, but they ignored him and walked
The clash between tourists and congregants plays out every Sunday at
Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the oldest black church
in New York state. It's 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. With a record
number of tourists descending upon New York City last year, the crowds
of foreigners are becoming a source of irritation among faithful
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