One of the highlights of attending the American Society of Church History (affiliated with the American Historical Association) is being able to join an afternoon tour of area religious sites. Yesterday we were able to visit three historic churches in Harlem. Stops included the Church of Notre Dame, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Mount Olivet Baptist Church. I think that probably most people are aware that Harlem is an example of racial and cultural change in America. For example, Harlem was predominantly White in the nineteenth-century. From 1900 to 1930 it went from 10% to 70% African American community as one of the largest–some even claim it was in fact the largest at the time–center of African Americans in the United States. This is especially interesting in that many churches closed, moved, or changed with racial patterns and migration(s).
Of special interest to me was the Mount Olivet Baptist Church because it was originally a Jewish temple, but I learned from our guides, David R. Bains (Samford University) and Daniel Sack (National Endowment for the Humanities) that in the 1920s it was a Seventh-day Adventist congregation before it became the historically Black Baptist congregation that has occupied the building since about 1930.
In doing some preliminary research through the online portal of the General Conference Archives I discovered that the Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized here by Carlyle B. Haynes in 1920. Within a short time a Seventh-day Adventist School, Harlem Academy, was formed. The predominantly White congregation relocated to the Bronx some time in the late 1920s.
Just down the street is a series of African American congregations that during this same time period were led by James K. Humphrey. In some of the reports I noticed Haynes’ admiration for Humphrey who described the First Harlem Seventh-day Adventist Church (a congregation of some 600 to 800 members) as one of the “best organized” in the denomination. Tragically, R. Clifford Jones has documented that tragic story of race relations that culminated with his departure from the denomination.
All the same, just down the street is the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 1924 the First Harlem Seventh-day Adventist Church (pastored by Humphrey) spawned a church plant called the Second Harlem Seventh-day Adventist Church. The original site, Carlton Hall (106 West 127th Street) is today a Mosque. In 1930 the congregation moved to its present site. Today the community continues to change as many of these churches that we saw are changed once again into new houses of worship, many of them Mosques. An interesting article about the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in The New York Times can be found here).