Harlem has long been a spiritual patchwork of storefront churches, lofty Christian congregations, mosques, synagogues, Five-Percenter meeting halls, and more. But now New York’s legendary Black neighborhood is home to a new and controversial denomination: Scientology. Terrell Starr reports:
When you step inside, it feels more like a bookstore than a place of worship. The walls are lined with books written by church’s founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard. To the left side of the entrance, a poster-sized image of the late Isaac Hayes greets you.
Phyllis Mack, the Executive Director of the Harlem branch, serves as the presiding preacher-one of her many responsibilities. In one service, she focuses her sermon on being a better person. True to the cadence of her black church roots, Phyllis moves her body left and right when stressing a point she wants her small congregation to narrow in on. She has a penchant for invoking James Brown lyrics into her sermons.
“When life has you down, you just have to…get on’ up,” she says to the approval of nodding heads in attendance.
Phyllis doesn’t read from a Bible, as do traditional preachers. Instead she refers to a thick, encyclopedia-sized book of teachings of L. Ron Hubbard.