Through my amazing NEH Summer Institute, Religious Worlds of New York, 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
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 an absolutely joyful way 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