Harlem Churches Struggle For Survival

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From the NY Times:

From the second to last pew at All Souls’ Episcopal Church in Harlem on a recent Sunday morning, Sylvia Lynch, 80, lifted a hand toward the rafters and sang praises through a haze of burnt incense.

Her voice was steady and strong, as was her grip on the cane she leaned on as she stood and sang and peered over the sparsely populated pews, peppered mostly with older women with fancy hats and hair as gray as her own.

“I came up through Sunday school, and I’m still here,” Ms. Lynch said, taking a step into an aisle at the 104-year-old church after the last hymn. “Back then, it was packed. You couldn’t get a seat.”

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All Souls’ Church, on St. Nicholas Avenue, and any number of the traditional neighborhood churches in Harlem that had for generations boasted strong memberships — built on and sustained by familial loyalty and neighborhood ties — are now struggling to hold on to their congregations.

The gentrification of Harlem has helped deplete their ranks, as younger residents, black and white, have arrived but not taken up places in their pews. Longtime Harlem families, either cashing in on the real estate boom over the past decade or simply opting to head south for their retirement, have left the neighborhood and its churches. Then there are the deaths, as year by year, whole age bands are chipped away.

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