Columbia University IRCPL.org IRAAS
Mar 19 11

Mount Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church

Mount Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church is located at 16-20 Mount Morris Park West and West 122nd Street. What immediately caught my attention about this church was the big white Head Start sign towards the right of the building and then the name of the female pastor, Reverend Dr.  Suzan D. Johnson Cook. No one was inside of the church, no one ever answered the church’s phone, and the church does not have a website. Despite all of these dead ends I was able to find out a few interesting facts about the church.

First off, this church houses a Head Start Program. The Head Start Program is a program that receives funding from the government to provide education and health services to children from low-income neighborhoods. Although the church does provide space for this program, after speaking to a representative from the Head Start Program located here, I was told that the two were not affiliated and the person who I spoke with did not even know the name of the pastor. This made me wonder, what exactly was the purpose of this church providing space for the Head Start Program? Did the church receive any additional funding because of this? What is the role of the church in relation to governmental community services? Is the presence of government run services within Black churches common?

After doing some online research, I learned that many other community wide meetings take place at this church.  This was extremely reminiscent of the community wide meetings that Adam Clayton Powell Senior and Junior both hosted at their church. One meeting at this church was hosted by Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association (MMPCIA) to educate the East and Central Harlem communities about who the candidates running for office [1]. This discussion was moderated by Ted Shaw, former director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and current Columbia University Professor [1]. Political meetings like these are not the type of meetings that we normally associate with churches but the fact that these meetings were held here shed light on the multifaceted roles of the church in the Black community. This also left me wondering about the relationship between the Black church and political campaigning –is the Black church a regular stop on the journey of political campaigns –what other places in the community serve a role similar to that of the church where politicians to advertise?

After doing various research on the church I learned about Reverend Dr.  Suzan D. Johnson Cook also known as  Dr. Sujay. Dr Sujay is a very prominent religious figure. She was elected as the first Black woman to become the Senior Pastor in the 200-year history of American Baptist Churches of the USA in 1983 [2]. Furthermore she was  nominated to be the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom for the United States of America [2]. From February- April 2011, Dr. Sujay will be holding services at Mount Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church every Wednesday and Sunday at 11am [2].

Reverend Dr.  Suzan D. Johnson Cook appearance at this church was the icing on the cake that proved that despite Mount Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church lack of a website or a 24/7 operating service, it plays a phenomenal role in the surrounding community. All that I have leaned about this church and the history of religion in Harlem leaves me wanting to know more about the unspoken and undocumented roles of the churches in Harlem. Learning so much in a blog that started off as a ‘dead end’ has really caused me to appreciate the significance of our course, Religions of Harlem, even more.

Works Cited

Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook. Web. 19 Mar. 2011. <http://www.drsujay.com/relbio.php>. [2]

“Tomorrow — Harlem Candidate Discussion Forum at Mt. Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church.” AroundHarlem.com [beta] — The Voice of Urban America. Web. 19 Mar. 2011. <http://blog-aroundharlem.com/2010/09/08/tomorrow-harlem-candidate-discussion-forum-at-mt-morris-ascension-presbyterian-church/>. [1]

Tags: , , , ,