A Tourist Goes to Church in Harlem
Travel Blog • Eva Holland • 09.27.10 | 2:50 PM ET
Slate writer Jeremy Stahl set aside his discomfort “at the prospect of joining other underdressed white gawkers observing how ‘locals’ pray” and headed north of 96th St. in Manhattan on a Sunday morning. The resulting dispatch is a thought-provoking read. Here’s Stahl setting the scene at Greater Highway Deliverance Temple:
When the music started, the usher who had greeted us began dancing up and down the aisle. The congregation stood up and started to clap and sway. One tourist pantomimed the drumming and imitated the dancing in what looked like an attempt to impress two female friends. The choir performed “I Came To Praise the Lord,” and the lyrics—“I don’t know what you came to do, I came to kneel and pray”—stung almost like a collective rebuke. At one point, a church leader declared the “visitor” count for the day’s service at 147, listed the represented countries, and told us “thank God for each and every one of you”—even, I suppose, the dozing Japanese woman to my left.
When we were back on the bus, our tour guide, Sheila, asked if anyone had any questions. There was just one: “They weren’t offended?”