Harlem Churches Experiencing Gospel Tourism

March 12th, 2012 by Black Gospel Choir
greater highway church ny

Photo by Susan H

In some churches, members are find themselves in a sea of unfamiliar faces, outnumbering the congregation itself. Signs have been posted, “No photography, no flip-flops, no exiting during the sermon”.

Tour companies are listing churches for foreign visitors to New York City so they can experience sermons from black preachers and hear black gospel choirs. Pastors see both a blessing and problems.

Struggling to preserve the sanctity of the service visitors are asked not to leave once the sermon has started or not to take pictures during worship, requests that are sometimes ignored. “I understand that you’re visiting and you want to have a memory of it,” said Carlos Smith-Ramsay, who has been a church member for years. “But when we ask you to stop and you continue to do so after the fact, that’s disrespectful.”


Gospel singers by Gloria Bell via Flickr ~ used under CC-BY license

Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has become an attraction for tourists from all over the world and is the oldest black church in New York state, membership that once included black leaders such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Paul Robeson. On a given Sunday almost 200 seat are filled with visitors and the collection basket with dollars.

In an interview with the Associated Press, The Rev. Gregory Robeson Smith, Mother AME Zion’s pastor, said he refuses to work with tour operators. He doesn’t even like to use the word “tourist,” preferring instead to call them part of his “international congregation.” And he won’t turn anyone away.

“I refuse to commercialize the church worship experience,” he said. “You don’t pay people to experience the Lord, to come and pray. I think that’s unconscionable.”

Near by Abyssinian Baptist Church, another house of worship popular with the tourists, often turns away visitors because the pews are too full.

Options are divided, some would say that people are just coming to see a show, like on TV or in the movies. Others would like to believe the tourists have come to listen to the word of God. Either way the tour guides will continue to lead new visitors to the steps of the church and each visitor will have their own reason for being there.

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Tribute to Rev. C. L. Franklin

March 11th, 2012 by Black Gospel Choir

January 22, 1915 – July 27, 1984

Rev C. L. Franklin

Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, often called Bishop C. L. Franklin was an American Baptist minister, a civil rights activist, and father of the legendary soul and gospel singer Aretha Franklin.
Born Clarence LaVaughn Walker in Sunflower County, Mississippi, to sharecroppers Willie Walker and Rachel Walker née Pittman. After returned from service in World War I in 1919, Willie Walker abandoned the family shortly thereafter (Clarence was only four years old), and the next year Rachel married Henry Franklin, whose surname the family adopted.

At age 16, he became a preacher, initially working the Black itinerant preaching circuit, before settling at New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, where he remained until May 1944. From there he moved to the pulpit of the Friendship Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York, where he served until June 1946 when he became pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan.

Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s his fame grew, and he preached throughout the country while maintaining his pulpit at New Bethel. Known as the man with the “Million Dollar Voice”, Franklin was one of the first ministers to place his sermons on records (which continued into the 1970s), and also to broadcast sermons via radio on Sundays. Among his most famous sermons were “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest” and “Dry Bones in the Valley.” In addition to his fame as a preacher, Franklin was known for his fine singing voice. He greatly encouraged his daughter Aretha Franklin in her musical endeavors, and during the 1950s took Aretha with him on speaking tours and musical engagements.

In addition to his ministry, in the 1950s and 1960s as he became involved in the civil rights movement, and worked to end discriminatory practices against black United Auto Workers members in Detroit.
C. L. Franklin was a close friend and supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr., who deeply admired Rev. Franklin, and was also known for his close relationships with Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, two of gospel music’s greatest voices. Mahalia and Clara greatly encouraged his daughter, Aretha, who credits their mentoring and frequent visits to the Franklin home as great influences.

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, June 10, 1979, Franklin was shot twice at point blank range during what was said to be an attempted robbery at his home on Detroit’s West Side. Rev Franklin was taken to Henry Ford Hospital. He remained in a coma for the next five years. The Franklin children moved him back to the house six months after the tragedy and installed a 24-hour nurse at the residence to monitor the minister. He remained at the home until the middle of 1984. He died on July 27, 1984, just one week after being placed in Detroit’s New Light Nursing Home. He was 69 years old.

Franklin was entombed at Detroit’s historic Woodlawn Cemetery on North Woodward Avenue, with his friend, Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., of the Salem Baptist Church of Atlanta, Georgia, giving the eulogy.
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The Florida A&M Univ. Gospel Choir

March 11th, 2012 by Black Gospel Choir

A collaboration project with the Florida A&M University Gospel Choir called Twinkie Clark-Terrell Presents the Florida A&M University Gospel Choir which also was a mainstay in the Billboard Gospel top 10 in late 1996.

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First Black to head Southern Baptists

March 1st, 2012 by admin

Rev. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, will be nominated to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention

Fred Luter[/caption]

Pastor Luter began his career as what he fondly refers to as a street preacher, spending his time preaching on different street corners in New Orleans “Lower Nine” area where he grew up. In 1986, the members of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church elected him pastor even though he had no pastoral experience. Under Pastor Luter’s leadership the church has grown from a membership of 65 members on roll to its current membership of 7000 plus worshipers.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 16 million members as of 2010. The SBC became a separate denomination in 1845 following a regional split with northern Baptists over the issues of slavery. After the American Civil War, another split occurred: most black Baptists in the South separated from white churches and set up their own congregations. Today the once all-white denomination of slaveholders and segregationists, has a membership of 16 million and are one of the most diverse denominations in the United States. Almost 20 percent of Southern Baptist churches are predominantly African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American or other minorities.
“Our election of Fred Luter as the first African American president of the SBC will send a great, hopeful, powerful message to our city, our culture, our convention and our country,” said current president David E. Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans.

The national convention is scheduled for June in New Orleans.

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