If you love traditional spirituals and gospel music, then you need to plan a trip to hear some of the world’s greatest gospel music in Harlem — and while you’re there, you’ll want to experience an authentic Harlem gospel mass. No matter what your religious beliefs are, you’re welcome to visit any of Harlem’s many churches where these unique services are celebrated every weekend.
Here’s a look at Harlem’s most popular churches where gospel masses are performed every Sunday.
First Corinthian Baptist Church (1912 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd)
For many tourists, the main attraction of the 10,000-member First Corinthian Baptist Church (1912 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd) is the professional-quality choir and stunning, high-energy music vibe (enhanced with a sound system that recently received a million-dollar upgrade).
Tip for Visitors: Because of its popularity, tourist seating can be limited, especially during peak vacation months.
Abyssinian Baptist Church (132 Odell Clark Place)
Founded in 1808, Abyssinian Baptist Church (132 Odell Clark Place) features a powerhouse choir that’s popular with gospel aficionados, and also offers gospel concerts that pay tribute to legendary performers such as Mahalia Jackson.
Tip for Visitors: Due to the church’s popularity and limited seating, tourists are only allowed at the 11 am mass.
Salem United Methodist
Since 1881, Salem United Methodist (2190 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd) has been a favorite for local artists and musicians (such as famed opera singer Marian Anderson). Today, it features several top-notch choirs (including a children’s choir), as well as a renowned vintage Möller Organ.
Bethel Gospel Assembly
Located in the heart of Harlem, Bethel Gospel Assembly (2-26 East 120th St) is popular with music lovers because of its superlative choir and authentic Harlem gospel vibe.
Tip for Visitors: Be sure to take a walk around Harlem and visit some of its smaller churches as well. Wherever you go, you’ll get a warm welcome and a fabulous musical experience; because after all, Harlem is one of New York’s prime music destinations, and home to some of the city’s best performers
Tips for Attending a Gospel Mass in Harlem
- Like any church, attendance is free; but it’s polite to leave a donation.
- Photos and videos are not allowed.
- For security reasons, backpacks are not allowed.
- While it might have the musical caliber of a Broadway show, a Harlem gospel mass is, first and foremost, a religious service; and as such, it’s taken very seriously by its participants.
- A gospel mass lasts longer than a typical church service, so expect to be there for around two-and-a-half hours.
- Most churches in Harlem have an 11 am mass, as well as at least one earlier mass which might or might not be open to tourists. Reservations are not required; but since mass times and tourist volume can change on a seasonal basis, consider calling ahead to find out about available seating.
One last tip — be sure to participate and join in, if the spirit moves you.
What to Wear to a Harlem Gospel Mass
Typically, Harlem churches don’t allow flip-flops, shorts, leggings, tank tops and off-the-shoulder (or strapless) tops/dresses or torn jeans. The best advice is to dress as you would for a church service at home.
Getting to Harlem
No matter where you are in New York City, you can easily plan your trip to Harlem via bus or subway. A quick visit to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) website will give you a complete schedule for mass transit. In addition, taxis and Ubers abound in the city.
If you’re compiling a list of best things to do in New York next month, and you’re planning to seek out gospel music in Harlem, then be sure to treat yourself to an authentic Harlem gospel mass. It’s a feast for the ears, a solace for the soul, and an energizing, electrifying musical experience that will linger in your memory for years to come.