Scientology heads to Harlem: Religious group puts down roots in new areas to ‘attract members who don’t know its history’

The Church of Scientology and Community  Center of Harlem, New York is set to open in 2014

Welcome to Harlem: The Church of Scientology is set to open a center at 220 East 125th Street in Harlem, New York next year

Welcome to Harlem: The Church of Scientology is set to open a center at 220 East 125th Street in Harlem, New York next year

Scientology is heading for Harlem – with its  new home to be located in a towering, multimillion-dollar brownstone slap bang  in the middle of the neighborhood.

The Church of Scientology and Community  Center of Harlem, New York is part of an alleged mission to infiltrate new  areas, targeting potential members who may not have heard some less than savory  rumors about the organization.

The building at 220 East 125th St, Dr Martin  Luther King Jr Boulevard is set to open in the first half of 2014.

A Church of Scientology International  spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The Church of Scientology and our volunteers have  been extremely active in Harlem for decades.

‘And so it has been both the demand from  parishioners as well as the community that we increase our work in Harlem. This  brand new Church of Scientology and Community Center Harlem enables us to do  so.’

They did not reveal the cost for purchase of  the building or the renovation.

A spokesperson added that the center will be  an ‘Ideal Church of Scientology’ –  meaning provides full services of the religion.

At the Harlem center will be a chapel for 200  people, a public information center and a dozen classrooms.

There appears to be a move by the  organization to add to its plethora of glitzy centers in places such as Silicon  Valley, Orange County and Los Gatos, California with buildings in poorer,  crime-ridden  areas.

Critics suggest that the plan is to tap into  parts of society that may be less aware of the negative associations of  Scientology –  including reports of mind control and enforced manual labor  by the church.

Scientology has had a number of  troubles  recently. Last month, actress Leah Remini defected from the  church and stirred  controversy. The King Of Queens star  reported that the organization turned friends  against her and she filed a  quickly-dismissed missing persons report  about leader David Miscavige’s  wife.

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Black separatist church suing toymaker for making action figures in priest’s likeness ‘too light’

Hackensack resident Jermaine Grant, also known as the "Chief High Priest Tazadaqyah" of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ. (Courtesy of Emil Vicale Corp.)

Hackensack resident Jermaine Grant, also known as the “Chief High Priest Tazadaqyah” of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ. (Courtesy of Emil Vicale Corp.)

NEW YORK CITY — A controversial church led by a Hackensack man has filed a lawsuit against a Connecticut toymaker, claiming action figures the company produced in his likeness weren’t up to par.

According to the New York Daily News, the Harlem-based Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ is asking for the return of a $45,000 deposit and a $120,000 in damages from the Emil Vicale Corp. on the basis that it placed “pointed noses and faces” and lightened the skin of its leader, Jermaine Grant.

The Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ claims in a lawsuit that the doll pictured here is “light brown” not “dark brown”, as the church requested.
The Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ claims in a lawsuit that the doll pictured here is "light brown" not "dark brown", as the church requested.

The Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ claims in a lawsuit that the doll pictured here is “light brown” not “dark brown”, as the church requested.

The church preaches that blacks are among the lost tribes of Israel, and Grant — who also calls himself the “Chief High Priest Tazadaqyah” — has predicted that a black Jesus will kill or enslave all white people upon his return to Earth.

The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the church as a hate group. According to the SPLC’s website, it maintains chapters in various cites around the country, including Jersey City, Vineland, Asbury Park and Camden.

Vicale Corp., based in Oxford, Conn., regularly produces action figures that bear likeness to controversial celebrities, including Sarah Palin, Anthony Weiner and Patricia Krencil, the so-called “Tan Mom” from Nutley.

According to the Daily News, Grant lives in a Hackensack home he purchased for $700,000 in 2005.

By Dan Ivers/

Harlem resurrection

Rebirth of grand

They’ll be raising the roof in this Harlem holy house again.

A developer finalized a deal last week to buy the long-shuttered St. Thomas the Apostle Church, and he plans to save the historic façade while converting the interior into community space.

GLORIOUS PAST: Top left, St. Thomas Church in its heyday and, above, awaiting a $2 million rehab job.

GLORIOUS PAST: Top left, St. Thomas Church in its heyday and, above, awaiting a $2 million rehab job.

The West 118th Street parish was down to just 36 families when the Archdiocese of New York decided to close the hulking, deteriorating structure in 2003, stripping out the storied stained-glass windows, pipe organ and altar.

Efforts to landmark the Thomas Poole-designed building, constructed in 1907, failed, and the church, which has been covered by scaffolding for years, has sat in limbo ever since.

It stayed that way until Ken Haron of Artimus Construction was able to purchase the church, rectory and another plot for $6 million.

Haron says about $2 million is needed to outfit the church for community use that could include a 200-seat performance space.

Haron said he hopes to turn the space over to the Mama Foundation, which specializes in the arts and musical performance.

After years of neglect, only about half of the now-deconsecrated church can be saved. The rear half will be razed for an outdoor yard.

The adjacent rectory, with its cast-iron fireplaces and stained-glass windows, will be turned into a condominium, said Haron, who built one of Harlem’s first new condo buildings across from the church a decade ago.

Haron will also create a 70-unit, 12-story, mixed-income residential building at the rear of the St. Thomas property. It could take up to four years to complete the project.

“We’re trying to . . . restore the façades of [the church and rectory] so the streetscape looks like it used to 100 years ago, more or less,” he said.

It will take “many millions” to repair the damage done to the building, said Haron, who declined to specify the costs of the repairs but plans to reuse much of the intricately carved ornamentation in the reconfigured building.

“If you had seen it before and you walked in now, your heart breaks,” Haron said of the once-pristine house of worship. “But if you hadn’t seen it before, and you walked in now, it’s still a wow.”

Haron’s plans met with approval from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, which has been eyeing the site since its closure.

“The community has loved this building and held it in high regard for years,” said conservancy president Peg Breen. “It’s not everything that the community asked for, but it’s a lot. It’s time that everybody work together and make sure there’s a viable tenant.”

A Rare Haven for Gay Men and Lesbians in Harlem

In a church nestled among a row of residential brownstones, parishioners clapped and danced as a woman began to testify.

While adhering to many traditions of black churches, Rivers at Rehoboth has made ministry to gay men and lesbians its mission.

While adhering to many traditions of black churches, Rivers at Rehoboth has made ministry to gay men and lesbians its mission.

“Aren’t you glad Jesus got up?” the woman, Twanna Gause, asked the predominantly black congregation, which responded with enthusiastic shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujah.”

“He got up so I can come out,” Ms. Gause said, as worshipers hopped out of their seats and cheered in agreement. “He got up so you can come out.”

For black Christians who are gay and lesbian, church can be a daunting experience, where on any given Sunday they are taught that homosexuality is not only a sin, but a one-way ticket to hell. That alienation has been a benefit for the Rivers at Rehoboth congregation, in Harlem, which has made ministry to gay men and lesbians, combined with the worship traditions of black churches, its mission.

The congregation was formed by the merger of two churches,  Rivers of Living Faith and Rehoboth Temple. The pastor of Rivers, Vanessa M. Brown, 41, is a lesbian, and the pastor of Rehoboth, Joseph Tolton, 45, is gay, and both were born and raised in Harlem. Their merged congregation rents space out of Grace Congregational Church on West 139th Street, where Mr. Tolton’s former church worshiped for four years.

Ms. Brown, the church’s senior pastor and Ms. Gause’s partner, preaches what she calls a “radically inclusive” message, while Mr. Tolton, the associate pastor, offers as a mantra the phrase “Gay by God.”

“God doesn’t make any junk,” Ms. Brown said. “He made us knowing who we were going to be before we were it.”

Only “small segments” of black church leaders openly welcome gay men and lesbians in their congregations, according to Lawrence H. Mamiya, a professor of religion at Vassar College who has researched black churches.

“There’s also a large majority that doesn’t,” Mr. Mamiya said.

As evidence, he said that many black churches supported a ballot measure barring same-sex marriage in California.

“That gives you some indication of how strong the opposition is,” he said.

But there have been some signs of change. This month, the board of the N.A.A.C.P. voted to express its support for same-sex marriage.

Rivers at Rehoboth is attended by an average of 200 members each Sunday. On Easter, ushers had to place folding chairs next to pews to accommodate visitors, some of whom had traveled from as far as Italy and Australia.

Both pastors speak openly about their own experiences struggling with sexuality as black Christians.

Mr. Tolton said that for over 20 years, he believed his sexual orientation was a spiritual demon from which he needed to be saved. As a young man, he asked clergy to pray for him to be straight.

Mr. Tolton said he left his church after a friend told him he could not be the best man at his wedding because he is gay.

“It broke my heart,” Mr. Tolton said.

Ms. Brown said she, too, struggled with the church’s stance on homosexuality.

She said she married a man who was gay, to help him cover up his sexuality and protect his image in the church. But Ms. Brown divorced him after growing tired of living a lie, she said.

“I was ruining my own self,” she said. “I wasn’t happy.”

Many members of the Rivers at Rehoboth have their own stories.

Derrick Smith, 26, who found out that he had contracted H.I.V. shortly before joining Mr. Tolton’s church in 2007, said he had been asked to step down as the organist at his former church in the Bronx when he told people of his sexuality. He said he learned about Mr. Tolton’s church on a promotional postcard at a support clinic for gay black men in East Harlem. After a couple of visits, Mr. Smith joined the church and has been an active member since. He now serves as the church’s sound technician.

“I believe it helped save my life,” Mr. Smith said.

Julie Chisolm-May, who attends the church with her wife, Stacey, said before joining Rivers at Rehoboth, they attended separate churches for about eight years because of the glares they would get from people when they were together. Ms. Chisolm-May said if she and her wife had not found Rivers at Rehoboth, they would probably be worshiping from their bedroom, watching ministers preach on television.

“It’s the safest place to go without being condemned at the end of service,” she said.

Now, she said, her entire family attends the church, including her six adult children, and her 74-year-old mother, who changed her views on homosexuality when she joined the congregation.

The pastors say they are now looking for a larger space in which to expand.

“We want people to know that they are loved, there’s a safe space for them in the house of God,” Ms. Brown said, “where they can truly worship the Lord and be their authentic selves.”

 A version of this article appeared in print on May 28, 2012, on page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: A Rare Haven for Gay Men and Lesbians in Harlem.
Published: May 27, 2012

Portraits of Harlem’s Clergy

Ozier Muhammad has lived in Harlem for the last 22 years, exploring the area and hunting for stories during long walks in the neighborhood.

“It is an intriguing place that is a laboratory for artistic expression,” said Mr. Muhammad, a staff photographer for The Times. “A cultural cauldron for Latino and African-American expression and, of course, with all the historical benchmarks like the Harlem Renaissance.”

So the area was a natural choice for him when he was looking to do a personal project on religion. Faith is no small part of this legendary community, where religious leaders have wielded great influence over the years. From grand churches to upstart storefronts, serving longtime residents or newcomers, these churches have seen generations of transition. Many have also hewed closely to an activist tradition, whether it was civil rights in the 1950s or concerns over the police’s stop and frisk policies today.

The more he thought about it, the more he got excited. The resulting portraits, he said, are the start of what he hopes will be a long-term project that will follow how these institutions and their leaders adapt in the coming years. In addition to the photographs, he conducted audio interviews as well.

“What I really wanted to know was who are the people providing spiritual services to the Harlem community,” he said. “It’s looking at the lives of people evolving, and who has the responsibility of taking care of those needs.”

As a journalist and Harlem resident, he has also come to know many of its faith leaders, like the Rev. Calvin O. Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church and the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

In the case of Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, a mosque on 116th Street and Lenox Avenue, there was a deep personal connection. It first started as Temple #7 by the Nation of Islam — which was founded by Mr. Muhammad’s grandfather, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X preached there. And in the 1970s, the temple adopted Sunni Islam, guided in the transition by his uncle, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed.

“Masjid Malcolm Shabazz was the place where the most visible community of Muslims would gather in New York City,” Mr. Muhammad said. “Even today, it is perhaps the most important place where Muslims still worship in Harlem.”

Though he said he has “wavered on religion and wondered if it truly served the needs of the people,” he was surprised by what he found.

“I was inspired by many of the people I photographed,” he said. “The way they defined their mission and understand their congregation and its needs, and by extension linking up with the greater community.”

Excerpts from Mr. Muhammad’s conversations with each of his subjects, including audio clips. The conversations have been edited and condensed.

Harlem and the Dutch debate over slavery in New Amsterdam

The anti-slavery theologians often referred to slavery as “theft of humans” and a violation of the eighth of the Ten Commandments. But the slavocrats gained more elite supporters than did the theologians of freedom.

Debates over slavery in the Dutch parliament, the States-General, affected the lives of African slaves in New Harlem. Painting: Dirck van Delen, 1651, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

A Dutch debate over slavery engulfed the futures of the eleven African slaves in New Amsterdam that were purchased from pirates between 1625 and 1627. As the New Harlem area became farmland, the resolution of the debate in the Dutch Republic and New Amsterdam would also affect the slaves that came with the farmers.

Dutch opinion was sharply divided about the morality of slavery. At first some theologians convinced the West India Company to avoid the slave trade. However, the commercial and political leaders in Holland fretted over the theological restrictions. The issue was raised in the States-General, the Dutch parliament that had granted the West India Company its charter. Willem Usselincx (1567-1647), one of the founders of the West India Company and a merchant from Antwerp, dreamed of creating a new and better society in the New World that would include slavery. In Octroy ofte Privilege (1627), he advanced the classic pro-slavery argument as an alternate punishment to imprisonment or death. His morbid slogan seemed to be, better to enslave them than kill them. The administrator had the support of gossip coming from New Amsterdam against the slaves.

Wllem Usselincx argued that enslaving people rescued them from being killed.

The first pastor of the church in New Amsterdam was given to harsh, intemperate remarks on people who crossed him, including Director Minuit and African slaves. He called the colony’s leader “a slippery man” made up of “a compound of all iniquity and wickedness.” He lambasted Angolan slave women as “thieving, lazy and useless trash.”

By contrast, the anti-slavery Dutch Calvinists followed the founder of modern international law Hugo Grotius who in 1625 said, “Slavery is against nature. Mankind by nature is free.”

Dutch minister Jacobus Hondius (1629–1691) considered slavery a sin and itemized it as No. 810 in his book, Black Register of a Thousand Sins (1724). He wrote, “Church members who buy and sell slaves and trade in such miserable people commit a sin. For these are people of the same nature as them rather than mere animals. Even though such slave trade is conducted by not only Jews, Turks, and Pagans, but so-called Christians, indeed, Dutchmen, as well. Reformed members should not taint themselves with such uncompassionate trade. Rather, they should act fully in fear of the Lord, in order that the money they make will be a blessing rather than a curse.”

The anti-slavery theologians often referred to slavery as “theft of humans” and a violation of the eighth of the Ten Commandments (“thou shall not steal;” the following section is taken from a paper by Markus Vink). Festus Hommius (1576-1642) used the Reformed pedagogy of the Heidelberg Catechism to argue that slavery was a form of theft to be punished by the government. Citing Deuteronomy 24:7 and 1Timothy 1:10 he believed that enslaving a human being was “depriving them of their most precious possession, which is freedom.” Hommius was pretty severe against slavocrats. He said that God had ordained (Exodus 21:16) that “Whoever steals a man, whether he sells him or is found in possession of him, shall be put to death.”

"Slavery is against nature." Hugo Grotius. Painting by Michiel Janszoon van Miervelt.

Cornelis Poudroyen (d. 1662) denied parents the right to sell their children into slavery. Children of war captives could also not be kept as slaves, he argued, while impoverished people offering themselves for sale should be assisted through charity or compassion rather than enslavement. The argument that slave labor was necessary in tropical conditions was invalid, since free men could and should also perform heavy labor. Slaves were not to be given tasks deemed unfit for oneself and others, for “they are your equals and fellow human beings.” The overriding principle for Poudroyen was Christian compassion, concluding that:

“It is unbefitting for Christians to engage in this rough, insecure, confusing, dangerous, and unreasonable trade, adding to a person’s troubles and being an executor of his torments. Instead, if one desires to bring forth good from that evil, one should purchase him [the slave] in order to be manumitted and freed from such great servitude to cruel tyrants, and, if possible, instruct him in the Christian religion.”

Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), an orthodox Calvinist, emphasized the natural equality of humans and rejected the theft of humans, i.e., slavery, based on the Law given by Moses and other Biblical references (for instance, Matthew 6:26; 10:24-31; Luke 15; Deuteronomy 24:7; 1 Timothy 1:10; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:11).

Church leaders were also influenced by the emphasis on inward reformation that was preached by Pietists wrote tracts attacking slavery.

Although debates over slavery continued, the slavocrats gained more elite supporters than did the theologians of freedom. By 1635 the West India Company noted that it had hired an “overseer over the negroes belonging to the Company.”

Everadus Bogardus was an orphan like these boys reading the Bible before supper at an orphanage in Oudewaer, Holland in 1651. He was "born again" before becoming a minister & strong advocate on behalf of the slaves in Harlem and elsewhere. Painting by H. van Ommen. Photo Willem Frykoff

However, the second pastor of New Amsterdam’s church, Everadus Bogardus (1607-1647), continued to argue on behalf of the Africans. He seemed to have developed this sympathy while he was living in Guinea, West Africa before coming to New Amsterdam.

Bogardus routinely married African men and women and baptized their children. He also served as godparent for an African infant.

In 1636, he pleaded with the West India Company to provide a schoolmaster “to teach and train the youth of both Dutch and blacks in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” He threw open the church to Africans. He justified his policies to company headquarters in Amsterdam with the argument that “good hopes exist for the conversion of the Negroes.” His elders and deacons supported their pastor, writing that “the negroes living among the colonists come nearer” to the right knowledge of God than the Indians.

Although slavery was never legalized in the Dutch republic, the Dutch promoted the slave trade after they went looking to make up the revenues from losing their colony of Brazil. At the same time the Dutch conquest of areas in Africa with a slave trade seemed to offer them a solution. The result for the Netherlands and its colonies was grim.

In 1637 the West India Company decided to formally enter the slave trade. The market for slaves in New Amsterdam sometimes auctioned off hundreds of human beings at a time. Pretty soon, the population of the settlement was 20% enslaved and free Africans. Other Dutch colonies like Suriname instituted some of the harshest conditions for slaves in the Atlantic world. The Netherlands was one of the last European countries to abolish slavery in 1863. In the end, the Dutch transported about 550,000 enslaved Africans to the Americas, roughly 5 percent of the total transatlantic slave trade.

Political turmoil in Amsterdam helps African slaves on New Harlem farms

In the meantime New Amsterdam was being mismanaged by a schemer intent on enriching his own pockets. Willem Kieft, a new director of New Netherland, arrived in 1638. He arrived amidst a swarm of negative rumors. One said he had stolen the money raised to ransom Christians imprisoned by the Turks.

Kieft lived up to fears by his mismanagement of the colony. He created an overly aggressive policy to handle disputes with local Indians resulting in a unity of the tribes and all out war in 1643. Fiery religious leader Anne Hutchinson and some of her follower were killed in the backlash on the Hudson River. Settlers and slaves in north Manhattan also felt the full fury of the Indians. They fled back to the fortified town of New Amsterdam. From the pulpit the pastor friendly to the African slaves, Everardus Bogardus, launched withering criticisms of Kieft. In March 1643 some New Amsterdamers ploted to assassinate the director. The brutal war had left the settlers dazed with blood on their hands. The economic losses were enormous.

Kieft started creating buffers with the Indians by resettling farmers including freed slaves back into the areas of northern Manhattan and elsewhere. Kieft was forced to soften the pro-slavery policy of New Netherland. He also allowed English Presbyterians to hold church meetings during the period of 1644-1645.

On February 25, 1644 a New Netherland policy on slaves gave them a number of civil rights and granted them the ability to gain “half-freedom” which meant that they were legally free but had to pay an annual tribute and that their children remained slaves. Half-free Africans created “the Negroes’ Farms” on the outskirts of town. Some drifted up to the New Harlem area.

By 1647 the situation in New Amsterdam was almost a civil war. The church authorities summoned Bogardus back to Amsterdam to answer charges made against him by Director Kieft. Simultaneously, the West India Company summoned Kieft back to defend his disastrous policies and handling of finances. The two men sailed on the same ship, the Princess Amalia, and both perished in a shipwreck off the English coast.

With Bogardus’ death the Africans lost their strongest advocate.

Embarkation of Domine Everardus Bogardus, 17 August 1647. Uncertain title and authorship, between 1647-1687.

African American faith and freedom in pre-colonial Harlem

At the very beginning of Harlem’s life Africans were creating an African American identity rooted in faith and freedom.

At the very beginning of Harlem’s life Africans were creating an African American identity rooted in faith and freedom. The Africans were bought as slaves by Dutch settlers who justified their actions by appeals to a singular interpretation of Christianity. But the Africans also quickly moved toward Christianity, found allies in the church, and appealed for their freedom based upon the basic principles of their new found faith as well as the economic interests of their slave-masters. Faith and money got Africans into slavery, and faith and economics got them out.

The center of African American home life was usually on the northern edges of Dutch New Amsterdam. About 1637, some of the settlers established farms in the Harlem area and brought African slaves with them.

The first sign* that we have of African American religious life in Harlem are church records of marriages. The first register entry records that on September 28, 1642 in New Amsterdam “Andries van Angola, Neger, en Anna van Angola, wed van Francisco Van Capo Verde.” The copy of the Common Register of the Dutch Reformed Church in New York ( 1639 –c. 1700) indicates “Neger,” meaning the husband was of African origin, and for the wife “Angola” which probably means that she was from Angola in Central Africa. Her deceased husband Francisco was from Cape Verde.

Between 1639 and 1664 twenty-seven couples were married in the church. It would be a reasonable assumption that some of these families lived in Harlem. Over the same period, sixty-one African children were baptized (some historians say fifty-six; the actual number was probably much higher because the records are incomplete and baptisms at family chapels were not recorded). In those days Dutch Reformed Christians believed that baptism was a serious agreement, a commitment by the parents to raise their child as a Christian and a commitment by the church to care for the child.

New Amsterdam

African life in the farms in the New Harlem area was an appendage for its first thirty years to what happened in New Amsterdam and the home country of the Dutch Republic.

The Dutch West India Company established New Amsterdam, which served as the administrative center of New Netherlands colony, in 1626 with a religiously-tinged optimism. “O this is Eden,” exclaimed the Dutch poet Jacob Steenham. “Sweet and fresh,” wrote Jasper Danckerts who arrived in 1679 as a missionary of the “born again” Christianity of the Calvinst Labidist group.**

A popular Dutch idea was that the exploration of the New World would advance civilization and bring humanity closer to the Kingdom of God. The artist Jan Luyken, who was influenced by Jakob Boehm, made an engraving that captured this almost mystical hope, entitled “On the Other Side is the Blessed Country” (Aan d’overkant is ‘t zalig land) in 1689.

Presumably, the African slaves encountered America with different feelings. Making the best of a bad situation, we know that they took every opportunity to get freedom, family, and education. Notwithstanding some Dutch claims that the slaves were shiftless liars, the Africans worked very hard to better their situation when they got rewards for doing so. Many joined the Christian faith and evidence from church records and court proceedings indicate that they insisted upon their appropriate treatment as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The insistence of Calvinism that faith should be at the center of all of life also became a hallmark of African American Christianity. In the Dutch Republic the stricter Calvinists who drew upon the Catechism of Dordt prescribed a religious center to social and economic life. The West India Company that governed the settlement of New Amsterdam entrusted the colony’s spiritual affairs to the robustly Calvinist association of churches in Amsterdam, an association of churches. Board members included people like the merchant Johannes de Laet (1581–1649) who in 1621 fled north to the Dutch Republic to avoid religious persecution for his Calvinist faith. He became a religious leader in Leiden and participated in the Synod of Dordt, which established the tenets of the Dutch Reformed Church. After he turned his attention to the New World, he became a director of the West India Company.

From Harlem’s beginning religion and commerce were intertwined. African Christians appealed to Christian theologies of freedom that the Calvinists had themselves utilized against Spanish oppressors. The Protestant Dutch had already won their freedom to worship by defeating the attempts of Spain to impose Catholicism. The first Provisional Regulations (1624) prescribed freedom of conscience (though not freedom of public worship). However, unlike the Puritans, their motives for founding the colony New Netherland and its administrative center New Amsterdam, which became New York City, and New Harlem, which became Harlem, were commerce and politics. Still, their economic focus was framed by their religious beliefs, a Dutch “Protestant Ethic.”

The settling and commercializing of New Amsterdam coincided with the appointment of Bastiaen Jansz. Korl to a pastoral type role as the “comforter of the sick” and the founding of a congregation. The congregation met in homes and a loft above the first horse mill in Manhattan, a coincidence of religion and commerce that has been a mainstay for much of NYC’s history. (The colony informally allowed settlers who were not Dutch Reformed Calvinists to privately worship according to their own tenants.)

In 1626 the West India Company appointed Peter Minuit to be the director of the colony. The company’s plans included the construction of “a horse-mill, over which shall be constructed a spacious room sufficient accommodation of a larger congregation.” New Amsterdam’s first regular pastor was Dominie Johannes Michaelius.

The church was legally organized in July 1628 as The Reformed Low Dutch Church, built a wooden building in 1633—the year that the colony’s second pastor Everadus Bogardus arrived, and a stone church in 1642.

Only 20 percent of the population were church members, which was a lower percentage than in the Dutch Republic. However, many local residents, who did not want to submit to the sometimes heavy-handed church control over their lives or to identify with Dutch Reformed theology, still attended services. The congregation included Africans, French Huguenots and German Lutherans. Later church records mention the dissatisfaction of some congregants with the lack of French and German language services. Women were in the majority among the members of churches in the colony of New Netherland.

The early decades in the colony were marked by conflicts between ministers and magistrates over whether the church or the government was to be the highest source of moral authority. The leaders also differed on how to treat the slaves. Relations between ministers and magistrates were more stable later on, when Peter Stuyvesant lent a willing ear to the New Amsterdam ministers. The stability however also accommodated a sharp increase in the number of slaves and a decrease in their access to church life.

The peoples of New Amsterdam and New Harlem

Very early in the colony’s history, between 1625 and 1627, the first boat of eleven enslaved Africans captured by Dutch pirates arrived. Among the slaves were those with names that told of their ancestry: Paulo d’Angola and Simon Congo. In 1628 the company imported three African women slaves from the Congo. Starting in 1637, a few slaves probably resided on farms in the Harlem area. By 1639 there may have been a slave quarters on the East River in the mid-Manhattan area. Some of the slaves may also have been Indians and Portuguese.

A persistent problem of the colony was attracting enough settlers. New Amsterdam grew slowly, and the New Harlem area was mainly settled by farmers. Since the Dutch had obtained their own religious freedom and were economically flourishing, most of them were satisfied to stay at home in Europe. New Amsterdam grew mainly by attracting a mix of dreamers, missionaries and businessmen, many from non-Dutch countries. There was one mulatto, perhaps a Muslim, called “The Turk,” Anthony Jansen van Salce, of mixed Dutch and Moroccan ancestry.

The Walloons, French-speaking Protestant refugees from Spanish persecution in the southern Netherlands, were offered freedom of conscience if they moved to New Netherland. Consequently, they formed the substantial portion of the colony. The Director General Peter Stuyvesant, who was himself a Walloon, called his constituency “a motley collection…of various countries.” In 1646 the Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues observed, “On the island of Manhate, and in its environs, there may well be four or five hundred men of different sects and nations; the Director General told me that there were men of eighteen different languages.” (At Fordham University’s Rose Hill Campus in the Bronx, New York, a freshman dormitory—Martyrs’ Court—has a section named for Isaac Jogues, who was killed by the Mohawk Indians for practicing bad magic in 1646.)

Local leaders periodically turned to Africans to make up for the low immigration from Europe. At first, partly motivated by religious scruples, they tried freeing African slaves so that they could do skilled labor. Christian advocates and opponents of slavery faced off against each other. Later, with the importation of a larger number of slaves, New Amsterdam’s leaders opted for a sterner regime for the slaves.

A mosque outgrows its Harlem home

On a recent moonlit night on Frederick Douglass Boulevard just south of 116th Street, in the shadows of a spiffy new condo building called the Livmor, the crowd for a Ramadan prayer at Aqsa mosque spilled out onto the sidewalk. Two dozen West African women in bright-colored head wraps knelt on a blue tarp, listening as the imam’s prayer filtered through an open door, his voice competing with the staccato bounce of a basketball on the pavement and a group of young boys rapping. The mosque is literally bursting at the seams.

Three years ago, two West African mosques facing escalating rents consolidated into one congregation and building. The joint effort, Aqsa mosque, now faces the same problem. Imam Souleimane Konate believes that Homeside Development Corp., which bought the Aqsa building for $3.7 million in 2008, wants to build on the site or sell to another developer.

“The economy is not that great,”says Joseph Rabizadeh, the new landlord, refusing to elaborate on his plans for the property. But Massey Knakal Managing Director Shimon Shkury, who sold it to him, believes it will eventually be developed. “At some point, you’ll definitely see a high-rise of mixed-use buildings going up there,” he says. “It has tremendous opportunity.”

The loss of the mosque would deal a heavy blow to Harlem’s West African community, which has played a pivotal role in central Harlem since the mid-1980s, when Senegalese immigrants started to arrive in large numbers. Many set up shop along 116th Street in a market built by the city and Malcolm Shabazz mosque. A vibrant network of restaurants, African grocery stores and fabric shops arose around the market. Other African immigrants soon joined them in creating an “oasis in a desert,” according to State Sen. Bill Perkins, who represents the district.

Mr. Konate hopes West Africans will continue to be part of a prosperous Harlem. Members of the mosque are trying to raise more than $2 million to buy the former site of the Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church, just a block away, which was gutted by a fire in 2000.

“The community is here,” Mr. Konate says. “If you leave this place and go somewhere in the Bronx, there will be no African community left in Harlem.”

Harlem’s Oldest Church Turns 350

The oldest church in Harlem celebrated its 350th anniversary amid a battle for its original cemetery, buried beneath an MTA bus stop on First Avenue between 126th and 127th Streets.

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, New York State Assembly candidate Robert Rodriguez, City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and Sen. Bill Perkins attended the celebratory service on Sunday Oct. 24, congratulating the Church on its anniversary. A proclamation from the mayor’s office stated that Oct.24 will be known hereafter as Elmendorf Reformed Church Day.

Perkins, who in March held the Senate hearing which kick-started the Church’s campaign to protect its cemetery against further MTA construction work, told The Uptowner that the slaves who built the first road to Harlem left a legacy preserved by Elmendorf.

“It is astonishing that a descendant would go back 350 years to reclaim the history of those bodies, those souls, who actually built the place,” said Perkins of Elmendorf’s current pastor, the Rev. Patricia A. Singletary

“This is more than about the church,” Singletary said of the Harlem milestone. “This is about celebrating the village.”

Robed in white at the Sunday service, standing under a big yellow cross, Singletary, who has led the battle to reclaim the 17th century cemetery, honored members of the African Burial Ground Task Force with certificates for their work.

The Elmendorf cemetery closed for use in the mid-19th century, at which point the white bodies buried there were moved to another location, leaving only African-American remains. The site was built over by the Third Avenue Railway in 1947 before the MTA bus depot arrived, said Hilary Ring, MTA government affairs director in March. The burial ground came to public attention when the MTA announced plans to rebuild the depot on the site for 2015 .

“We would like them to remove it and never build it again,” said task force member Christine Campbell, who wrote “Sweet Spirit,” a play about the burial ground.

This is not the first time that an African burial ground has been discovered in New York City. Workers at Ted Weiss Federal Building at 290 Broadway discovered the remains of 400 people during construction. In 2006, the site was memorialized with a sculpture and now also includes a visitors center.

Surveys and archives, some held locally at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, show the existence of the burial ground on First Avenue, between 126th and 127th Streets. The records list the names and the ethnicity of those buried.

Local parish registers also show that the Elmendorf burial ground was shared by at least three Harlem congregations, said historian and Landmarks Preservation Committee member Christopher Moore, who worked for the preservation of the African-American cemetery downtown.

Several colonial maps leave the size of the burial ground in dispute. The last known written property record from the 19th century logs a burial ground of one-fourth acre underneath the bus depot, said Moore, but he believes that the area it occupied is much larger than the MTA recognizes because of the cemetery’s long duration. It was used for an estimated 200 years.

The MTA declined an interview, but MTA spokeswoman Deirdre Parker said in email that “the precise dimensions of the burial ground are difficult to establish, but historical accounts and early maps indicate that it covered about one-quarter of an acre.”

An MTA investigation will look into the site’s possible archaeological value and the likelihood that remains “have survived the disturbances created by subsequent building on the site, including the construction of the current depot,” wrote Parker.

If there are untouched human bones under the bus depot, they would be buried 25 feet deep after years of burials and landfills, said Moore.

Singletary emphasized that the task force is currently communicating with the MTA in “a collaborative manner to honor the burial ground.”

“We are working to set a date with the task force co-chair for a working session,” wrote Parker, “to share our findings and review the research from the task force and the Elmendorf Church.  Once that is done, the findings will be presented to the State Historical Preservation Office and the Landmark Preservation Committee.”

Church archives have allowed the task force to determine the family lines and some biographical details of people buried between 126th and 127th Streets.  The Nichols family, for instance,  belonged to St. Mary’s Church, lost a baby on Sept. 8, 1854 and buried her at Elmendorf’s cemetery.

The Elmendorf Reformed Church was originally known as the Reformed Low Dutch Church of Haarlem. Its first building, at First Avenue and 127th Street, was connected directly to the burial ground, first used around 1664. In 1658 Governor Peter Stuyvesant planned for a second village in Manhattan, ordering slaves to build a road from Greenwich Village. The Church was organized in August 1660 under a Royal Charter, when Haarlem received its village charter.

“Who is the original MTA?” asked Moore. “The slaves.”