Monday, May 24, 2010

Small Harlem Churches in Decline

Interesting article in the New York Times yesterday, which reports on the decline in some historic Harlem churches, including the Mount Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church, located at Mount Morris Park West and West 122nd Street.  Most interesting to me is the article's characterization that the decline is in large part the result of gentrification in the neighborhood (though in fairness, it does mention the aging congregations as a contributing factor).  However, as a relatively new resident of Harlem, the following really caught my eye:

The void in consistent leadership has cost the church in other ways — slowing efforts to recruit new congregants in a changing Harlem, a neighborhood ever more populated by young professionals.
Ministers from churches across Harlem said they had yet to penetrate the walls of the high-price condominiums and the million-dollar refurbished brownstones that now dominate the neighborhood. Some, in truth, expressed little desire to do so. Others said they saw the gentrification of Harlem as an opportunity, but one as yet unrealized.
It seems counterintuitive to realize that your congregation is shrinking, but not reach out to an influx of new residents and try to bring them in. I do hope that Mount Morris Presbyterian does not fall to the same fate as many other churches in the neighborhood and become somebody's development play - the history of the church is too great and the architecture of the building too unique.

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