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Harlem Church is a Tourist Attraction

Before the sermon started during Sunday service at Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Harlem, NY, clusters of looming tourists looking to “experience” gospel music were given a stern warning to stand still or leave before the preaching began. When the sermon began, groups then decided to leave, with ushers and members clearly annoyed. Being the oldest Black church in New York State, Mother AME Zion has seen an increase over the past year of tourists— in this case French girls— coming in and out of the church during worship service.

Newsone reported about this the trend, talking to its Reverend Gregory Robeson Smith, its faithful members, and other Harlemites about the new presence. There were 200 tourists that day outnumbering the congregation 5 to 1. Smith, who refuses to work with tour operators, doesn’t turn away what he calls his “international congregation,” but is also against commercializing the worship experience. Many Harlemites are staunchly against the trend, “I understand that you’re visiting and you want to have a memory of it,” said Carlos Smith-Ramsay, who joined the church several years ago. “But when we ask you to stop and you continue to do so after the fact, that’s disrespectful.” On top of the disturbance, there’s also an unfair monetary gain tour handlers make, while the church suffers from financial woes.

Are there similar cases of this happening in other historical Black churches? Should the church profit from being exploited by tour groups?

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