Harlem’s Historic Churches Face Hard Decisions as Attendance Dwindles

In a tower above Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem are more than 40 large bells fabricated in the Netherlands for St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.

The bells were last heard regularly in 2013 because the carillon was deemed structurally unsound. They’ve become a flash point in a dispute between St. Martin’s and the Episcopal Diocese of New York over how to repair the carillon and the church itself.

The bishop of the diocese has proposed selling one of three nearby brownstones owned by the church to fund repairs. A similar strategy is being considered at the nearby Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church, which is in such bad repair that services are no longer held in the sanctuary.

The struggles of the two congregations are emblematic of the troubles afflicting the once-thriving church community in Harlem. Attendance has dwindled as America has become less religious.

Minnesota has not been immune to the trend. Most of its churches have seen steady drops in attendance.

At Harlem’s Metropolitan Community, the Rev. Richard Hayes said the plan was to sell some of the church’s real estate and then build a new building on a nearby lot the church owns. The plan has angered those who don’t want to lose part of Harlem’s past.

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Source: Star Tribune