Reverend Yaw Asiedu, the minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana in New York (PCGNY), plays a great role in the Ghanaian community not just in Harlem but across New York City. Besides fulfilling his duties as the spiritual leader of his congregation in Harlem, Reverend Asiedu also lends a hand in the growing Bronx Ebenezer Presbyterian Church of Ghana which reached 250 members last year. The Presbyterian religious tradition within Ghana is steeped in practices that not only stem from the missionaries that settled there from Basel, Switzerland in 1828, but also the cultural practices that were absorbed over time. These traditions are so integral the the way in which Presbyterianism is practiced in Ghana that they have been maintain throughout immigration to America. Reverend Asiedu is very proud of his congregation and his church’s adherence to tradition, having said repeatedly that “nothing has changed.”
Neither the minister nor his congregation allow the lives they lead in America to interfere with their religion or culture, for indeed, as Moses Biney explains, they are the same thing in African immigrant communities. PCGNY does an impressive job of intertwining religion and culture by using the praise portion of their sunday services to express their musical conventions along with their native languages and spiritual beliefs in a traditional Ghanaian hymn. The growth of the Ghanaian community within New York, and likely the tri-state area only goes to suggest that the church is successful in maintaining cultural identities. People immigrating from Ghana would no doubt find Harlem appealing for the safe environment created by a church that caters specifically to familiar customs even outside of the sanctuary. Reverend Asiedu is thus happy to see the Presbyterian Church of Ghana expand to a second branch and even encourages fellowship with other Ghanaian churches, thus enlarging the community.
During my very first trip to Harlem this semester, I passed by the Presbyterian Church of Ghana on West 123rd Street. I remember very distinctly being intrigued by the sign, but not acting upon my curiosity other than to take a picture. After taking the picture, I kept walking down the street, the Church of Ghana leaving my mind entirely.
It was not until this weekend when I read the introduction to Biney’s article that the Presbyterian Church of Ghana re-entered my mind. In fact, had it not been for that reading and this week’s lecture topic I probably would never had stopped to consider this previously unknown church.
It was fascinating to read and learn about the Presbyterian Church of Ghana given my impassivity towards it during my first encounter. When I walked down 123rd Street in late January and passed this church, all it was to me was a building that was marked as a church, and thus fell under the category of religion and could be included in my blog. However, behind the doors to that church, as I recently learned, was a vibrant religious and ethnic community that celebrates a rich spiritual tradition and has a dynamic history. A fascinating group of individuals that I was willing to walk right past. I thought about the anecdote Biney recalls in his introduction about a man that travels from New Jersey to Harlem every week to go to this particular church. To this man, that same building I passed by without a thought meant enough to him to commute every week to go to it.
I have been thinking about why it is that I so nonchalantly passed by this church. One of the reasons, I believe, is because other than the word “Ghana” in the title of the church, there was nothing about the sign, or the church itself, that would have otherwise attracted me. It appeared just like any other storefront church in Harlem. This brought me back to the idea of sacred spaces, a theme that I have touched upon before. During his lecture on Tuesday, Biney discussed how the Presbyterian Church of Ghana throughout the country has transformed almost any establishment into a house of faith. One example he provided was of an abandoned auto repair shop that was bought by the church and repurposed into a church. The church in Harlem itself was a repurposed building as well.
It’s interesting to see how an urban setting causes religion to adapt to its surroundings. I am unsure of what Ghanian churches look like in Ghana, but I would imagine its vastly different from the edifice I saw. The theme of adaptation is one that we have seen over and over again throughout this course. It is necessary for religions to adapt and change according to its surroundings in order to survive, especially in a place as dynamic as New York City.