Worshiping at Convent Avenue Baptist Church

One Sunday of my Religious Worlds of New York Summer Program took us to a black Harlem house of worship, Convent Avenue Baptist Church. Although a Christian venue, I actually felt more “out of my senses” at this church than at the mosque, Bronx Lourdes, or even the Hindu Temple. I think it’s because Catholicism actually has closer ritualistic roots with other religious tradition than with some strains of Protestant and/or Baptist roots. However, I always think it’s a great thing to put ourselves in “uncomfortable” settings – it’s the only way to experience new things!

So first off, we were told the service could last 2 hours…or more. This surprised me because I am used to “getting in and out” in an hour flat. I had no idea what we were going to do for 2 HOURS. But I was about to find out!



As we were walking in the choir and church members already started their singing, and boy can they sing! If you’ve seen Sister Act, you have an idea of the type of singing I encountered. It was incredibly lively and made you want to move your feet. As I understand, this is a standard in predominately black Harlem churches.

As the service was about to begin the choir members filed in and went to the second-story choir with the organ player (seen in the photo below). They remained an important part of the service for the next few hours.



This aspect was certainly different from what I was used to! There were multiple people preaching and their sermons were passionate to say the least. It’s easy to see how the audience could get wrapped up in the lively messages of the pastor and elders. Most of the sermons aligned with my personal Christian beliefs but there are two I want to point out:

  • During the pastor’s sermon he veered off into the realm of politics, specifically talking about Trump. I personally agreed with everything he said but it does bring up the question of how much (if at all) should religious houses bring politics in such an obvious way to their worship. A few of the parishioners, made their disapproval vocally known with some audible “Why’d you have to bring that man up here!?”
  • Then one of the elders stood up to proselytized about the reason for giving more money to the church. We all know houses of worships rely on donations to keep their doors open but her sermon felt really over the top and I certainly had disagreements with aspects of it. I specifically had issues with the part when she said “G-d always provides for your needs. Don’t worry about the financial aspects.” Now that just feels wrong to me but I understand where she was taking it.


Altar Call

Another part of the sermon that was new to me was the altar call in which the preacher made a passionate call for someone who wanted to convert to come up to “get saved by Jesus.” He kept calling, and calling and I was wondering what would happen if no one came up. And then of course 3 people did walk up to the altar and the whole congregation put their hands up to pray for their conversion. In my tradition, we are not so communal about conversion until someone makes the final step during the Easter Vigil. But maybe we should celebrate the decision to step up to start the journey!

Final Thoughts

I know Convent Avenue Baptist Church is one of hundreds (if not thousands) of Protestant Christian churches in America and it has made me want to research how different churches, both large and small, deal with issues of politics, donations, and conversions.


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org




Catholic Culture: Female Veiling

So crazy enough I have decided to try to start veiling for Mass. It feels silly and important to me at the same time. This has been something on my mind for YEARS but I always pushed the thought aside as something for über churchy women, which I was not, and still am not. But ironically enough, veiling for a mosque visit during my Religious Worlds of New York Summer Program and researching Judaism this past year has reignited by interest in veiling for mass.

Read more: Student Series! Women and Islam

I’m still doing research on veiling in different faith traditions and looking into the Catholic theology of it. Even though I have already ordered my veil, I’m still nervous about wearing it to Mass and people thinking I’m faking being holier-than-thou, which I am totally not even close to or desire to be! LOL Currently I only see two women at my church wear them and I really don’t like that I will only be the third…sound silly but I’m probably going to go to another church than my “home” church the first time I wear it to test it out among strangers. 🙂

196This photo was taken while visiting the Islamic Cultural Center of New York for a Jumma service

This Q&A was adapted from the website I bought my veil at: Veils by Lilly.

Why do Catholic women wear chapel veils at Mass?

The veil is an external sign of the humbleness one is supposed to feel before G-d, who is present in the Blessed Sacrament (aka Eucharist). In Catholic theology, woman are the symbol of the Church, also known as the Bride of Christ, and the veil recalls a woman’s role in this relationship (think of the wedding veil).

For most of the Catholic church’s 2,000 year history women have worn some kind of head covering while in church. It only went out of fashion after Vatican II when it was no longer a requirement, but at no point did the church say it was not a good idea. Rev.  Bugnini  said: “The rule has not been changed. It is a matter of general discipline.” Basically speaking, women can now choose if they want to veil in church or not.


But men don’t have to wear veils?

1 Corinthians 11:7 “A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.”

Just like the idea of a woman wearing a veil goes back to the bridal imagery,  a man is seen as bridegroom in this senario. Since the Church is considered the “bride” of Christ, the women (as the “bride”) should cover her head as submission to the bridegroom, Christ, which is represented by men. The idea of submission makes any feminist cringe a little, me included.

Jewish side note: the yarmulke is a head covering worn by Jewish men at all times to show their humbleness towards G-d. I wonder why Christianity did away with that tradition but not female head coverings?

When to wear the veil?

You are supposed to wear the veil whenever you are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (aka Eucharist). So for most people, that would happen only at Mass. For example, I teach Catechism classes at my church but they take the Eucharist out for the class times so I don’t need to wear my veil then.

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This is the veil I bought, I figured it would blend in with my dark hair

Is the veil supposed to be a full head covering?

No. It can be a small little piece of fabric (no need for something like a Islamic hijab). The idea behind it is to be an external reminder of the religious nature of the Blessed Sacrament.

I asked Will to help me pick out a veil because I was really nervous of making this step. I wanted one that was dark in color but long enough that I didn’t have to worry about it falling off.




Student Series! Chartres Cathedral

This piece is all about the AP Art History cathedral of Chartres but funny enough it written by a Humanities student who never took Art History. I may or may not have gently guided my student in this direction. 🙂


Chartres Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, is a Gothic cathedral located in Chartres, France, about 80 kilometers southwest of Paris. This is also a Gothic church with pointed arches, naves, and most significantly, flying buttresses. The cathedral is also significant for its many stained-glass windows and sculptures. Because most of its 12th-and 13th-century stained glass and sculpture survived the fire. Chartres Cathedral is one of the most completely surviving medieval churches in history. Chartres cathedral was also one of the first sites to be included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. (See! I even get my students hooked on UNESCO lol)

Read more: Cologne: The city of the Rhine, the Cathedral, & the Three Kings


Chartres’ Architecture & Design

The oldest parts of the cathedral are its crypt and the west portal, also called the Royal Portal. Both are remnants of a Romanesque church that was mostly destroyed by the fire in 1194. The present cathedral was constructed on the foundations of that earlier church and consecrated in 1260.

In many ways, Chartres cathedral’s design resembles those of contemporary Gothic churches, especially Laon Cathedral, but it also displays significant innovations with its tall arches, narrow triforium, and huge clerestory. The flying buttresses enabled the builders to eliminate the tribune above the aisle.

Read more: Student Series! Stained Glass and Gargoyles


Stained Glass Windows 

By the beginning of the 13th century, the influence of the Gothic style on stained glass windows was increasing. The stained-glass windows transmit light through the glass rather than reflect it, so it transforms the natural life into a beautiful kaleidescope. Chartres nave is so dark because of the colored glass in the windows instead of clear glass. This would block some of the sun from entering the church giving the dark feel inside the church.

On September 5, 1194, a fire broke out in the church of Chartres. However, 152 out of the original 176 stained glass windows survived this fire. The best Chartres window that survived the fire was called the Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, also called Our Lady of the Beautiful Window. The central section with a red background depicts the Virgin Mary enthroned with baby Jesus in her lap. This glass window is over 12 feet high and full of color and intricate details.

Read more: Pilgrimage in Art History

TEMPLATE_ Student Series!

Religious Worlds of New York Site Visits

Through my amazing summer program, I got to go on a few great site visits to experience different houses of worship and participate in some beautiful events. The sites may fluctuate a bit year to year (if you are planning on attending in the future) but this is the general idea:

Bronx Lourdes Grotto

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photo by Kevin Childress of the Interfaith Center of New York

The garden around the church of St. Lucy is a replica of the countryside of Lourdes and even has its own grotto that looks like the one the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in 1858. Although it is not the site of a miracle itself, many people come there to pray and collect water for “religious” purposes.

Address: 833 Mace Avenue, Bronx

Zhikr Service at Dergah al-Farah


This is a small, store-front Sufi mosque in which we got to participate in an intimate Thursday-night service. There are not photos allowed inside so this is as good as it gets people! It was a whirlwind event with sights, sounds, and full of spirit! We ended the night at around 10:30 pm because they (thankfully) shortened the hours-long service for us.

Address: 245 West Broadway

Jumma Service at Islamic Cultural Center of New York


This Islamic service was night and day different from the Sufi Zhikr Service! A very traditional mosque in which there was a strict dress code and segregated gender roles. I was obviously upstairs in the women’s section so there isn’t much I could see but hearing the Qur’an recited in Arabic was moving. After the service, we had a 45-minute Q&A with the imam.

Address: 1711 3rd Avenue

Sunday Service at Convent Avenue Baptist Church


This was a 2-hour charismatic service with lots of hand clapping, singing, “amening,” and worship. The preacher had a fantastic sermon that quoted Hebrews 13:2 “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” And it was all about the fact that we cannot just love of neighbors, but we have to love strangers regardless of what G-d they worship, or what they look like. It was great for the work we are doing at the Interfaith Center.

Address: 420 W 145th Street

Hindu Temple Society of North America


This temple is one of the largest (if not the largest) Hindu Temple in North America. It contains 25 different deities to try to accommodate as many devotees as possible. This was a great experience for us to interact with a sacred site that is so incredibly different from so many of the others. In a Hindu temple it is much more individualistic and ritual-centered than the previous sites we visited last week.

Address: 45-57 Bowne Street, Flushing

Chogyesa Zen Temple of New York


This was about the opposite of what I was expecting when I heard we were going to a Korean Zen Temple. It was a converted townhouse with two prayer spaces, both overwhelmed by giant gold-leafed serene Buddhas and a lack of AC. We got a short tour and then participated in a small (5 minute) Zen meditation and Q&A session with the resident Buddhist monk.

Address: 42 W 96th Street #4

Kabbalat Shabbat Service at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun


Unfortunately, the main sanctuary was under major renovations at the time so our service was in the gym next door, ruined the vibe a little until the singing in Hebrew started, which swept all of us away! It was bewildering not knowing what was going on during the service until I accessed a translation and transliteration, but the communal praise and full-bodied singing was ab absolutely joyful was of welcoming the Sabbath.

Address: 257 West 88th Street

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine


We did not attend a service here, but was looking at the site through the lens of field research about the line between secular and religious. This was a perfect site for this type of work because, surprisingly, they had a lot of secular references and artwork displayed along with a summer camp and gift shop in the narthex. Fun fact: this is one of the largest churches in the world…totally didn’t feel like it though!

Address: 1047 Amsterdam Avenue


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org.

New York Religious Worlds

Visiting St. John the Divine

As part of my summer Religious Worlds of New York we visited the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Although not as famous as its Roman Catholic counterpart, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. John’s still provides the serene quiet in an elaborate Neo-Gothic style that is quiet rare in the hustle and bustle of the city.


The exterior is flanked by 32 cared figures of Old and New Testament figures culminating in two huge bronze doors, part of the church’s “Portal of Paradise” (very much like the Paradise doors of the Florentine baptistery). By the way you can probably tell from the first photo that this church is still unfinished…I think they like it that way.

This place is HUGE!!! In fact, it is considered the largest cathedral in the world and the 4th largest church. The nave is 124 feet high and 601 feet long! But it honestly didn’t feel this large in person. It was like an optical illusion as you kept walking closer and closer to the altar. Look at the gorgeous space interior below:


In addition to the cool and cavernous interior, the church grounds are also worth a stroll. The Green, aka the giant lawn flanking the cathedral, is home to three peacocks (a gift from the Philadelphia and Bronx Zoos…we didn’t see them) and the Biblical Garden out back is a lush landscape made to evoke the legendary Garden of Eden.


We spent the afternoon exploring St. John the Divine as part of our curriculum on the diversity of Christianity in America and I am struck by the similarities of this cathedral to the gorgeous churches of Europe, especially Cologne. But I didn’t feel the same sense of holiness here as I have in other Gothic churches, I think perhaps it was the secular art gallery going on at the same time. Nevertheless, it is worth a visit if you in the Harlem area.


Information for this post comes from the program of Religious Worlds of New York & National Geographic’s Secret Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org.

guide to surviving a summer roadtrip

Visiting the Bronx Lourdes Grotto

As a practicing Catholic, I am familiar with the miracle at Lourdes, but I had no idea of this little American-version! Luckily one of our program readings, “Everyday Miracles: The Study of Lived Religion” by Robert Orsi, prepared us for the visit. The garden around the church of St. Lucy is a replica of the countryside of Lourdes and even has its own grotto that looks like the one the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in 1858.

Now that’s all fine and good, but the article goes on to talk about people who revere this water as “holy” (it’s city water by the way) and there’s criticism about the difference between superstition and symbolism with the ritual but I find it fascinating. Personally, if someone feels comforted when they drink the water or use it, then fine – doesn’t mean that I have to jump on their bandwagon.

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both photos by Kevin Childress of the Interfaith Center of New York
We were there for about an hour just walking around and talking about our understanding of the site; since this is a form of Catholicism that I am familiar with I ended up getting asked a lot of questions. It’s funny because no one that I talked to criticized the actions of the believers at the site when in our article reading, “Everyday Miracles: The Study of Lived Religion,” many of Robert Orsi’s students were appalled by the superstition. I think, as teachers, we are better prepared to be more accepting of actions that may contradict our own beliefs.



The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org.

bronx lourdes.png

Visiting Catholic Churches

In Europe, many of the world’s greatest artworks are still in their original locations: the church. And many of these ancient buildings still serve as houses of worship to this day. Even if you are not religious, entering into a church to cool off during the hot summers or peeking in to see some gorgeous artworks is a must. Although many tourists are not there as worshipers there are some things to keep in mind to be respectful when visiting Catholic churches while abroad.

Dress Code


Although your “Sunday best” isn’t necessarily required, how you dress when entering a church still matters. Some churches are very strict (like Assisi which almost didn’t let in my friend in because her shoulders were showing) to some that don’t seem to have any dress code at all. Unfortunately, you never know until you show up, so it’s better to play it safe. Here are things to keep in mind before walking out your hotel door:

  • Shoulders & upper thighs should be covered
  • No offensive t-shirt slogans
  • No midriffs
  • Take off hats/visors (men only)
  • Ladies, carry a scarf to serve as an impromptu covering

Use Your “Inside Voices”

interior, Cathedral, Siena with me

If there is no service going on, talking is ok as long as quiet voices and proper attention is used (aka how any self-respecting adult acts inside a building). If you are traveling with kids, just remind them to use their “inside voices” and all should be good. However, if Mass is in progress keep the talking to an absolute minimum.

FYI there are many churches that will not even allow tourists in if Mass is in progress. So you may have to wait until Mass is over (about an hour) to be let in.

Dollar Donation


Every church I have ever been to has had some kind of monetary collection avaliable. It is my personal habit to donate in every house of worship I go to, but I think it is a good rule of thumb to follow especially if you take photos; think of it as a photography “tax.” Out of all the churches in Europe I have seen, only the cathedral in Aachen specifically had a sign that asked for a euro donation if you took photos to help with renovations.

In addition to the “general” donation, many Catholic churches will also have candles. I personally always light a candle and say a prayer for my deceased family members. Anyone can light a candle (you don’t have to be Catholic or even believe in God) but please abide by the candle donation request before you light one. They do not magically appear in the churches for free, they pay for them!



All museums and churches in Italy now allow photography (yay!) so you can get some really gorgeous photos of some amazing locations. Just be aware of your surroundings and try not to block any altars from those worshiping or praying in front of them. And even though many churches are dark (thereby tempting you to use flash), it’s really not a good idea (if it is even allowed). Just be patient, and you will be rewarded with breathtaking photos.

Although taking photos of worshipers is not really “ok,” if done from a distance in a unobtrusive way, you can get away with it. Just remind yourself, you are not in a museum – this is a living house of worship.

Pay Attention to the Signs


Some parts of Catholic churches are roped off ONLY for worshipers, such as a small side chapel, or are entirely closed off to the public, like the high altar. Do NOT, I repeat do NOT violate these sacred spaces out of curiosity, it’s just completely rude. If the area is roped off for worship only and you would like to enter, put the camera away and enter with a religious mindset. If there is a big do not enter sign (or locked gate seen above), just stay on the other side!