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Religion at the very center of New York City

Right around Wyckoff Hts Medical Center are several bell weather religious sites. And everywhere on the streets are tell-tell signs of Bushwick’s faith. HINGE series

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A beautiful worship style pioneered by the indigenous West Africans at Celestial Church of Christ, 1380 Jefferson Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Pauline Dolle/A Journey through NYC religions


The Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn is located at almost the exact geographic center of New York City. What happens here in faith and public partnerships is a forecast of the future role of religion in New York City.

Right around the hospital are several bell weather religious sites. And everywhere on the streets are tell-tell signs of Bushwick’s faith. Let’s back up to the west end of Wyckoff Avenue and walk toward the hospital.

Starting at Flushing Avenue, you can spot the relatively new Chabad house, a new headquarters for local Hassidic Jews. Their presence is emblematic of the fast growth of Orthodox Jews in the city. They are or will shortly be the majority of Jews in New York City. In Bushwick itself, there are still relatively few Jews. There is a small number of Jews with Reform, spiritual, and secular beliefs. The arrival of Chabad is in line with its outreach to young, creative professionals that it has pioneered at its second floor center on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. The rabbi and the proprietor of Gnostic Tattoo often look after each other's place during lunch breaks and errands. In Bushwick, you will find all sorts of everyday cooperation among the faiths.


Flushing Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions


One interesting development of Muslim-Jewish cooperation is the use of elderly Orthodox Jews of a transportation service with Muslim drivers to take them to medical appointments and the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. We ran into this phenomenon by interviewing the drivers who had stopped for prayers at a mosque about two blocks out of Bushwick itself.

Heading East, you will pass by the art mural area, which sometimes have faith elements. There are more and more religious people going into the arts and other creative sectors.

Buddha in the tree, Black Jew playing along with his djembe drum. Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions


One source of street art are the Hispanic Catholic believers. On the left, you will see that on the second floor of Los Hermanos tortilla factory and restaurant, a large striking portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There Is a smaller portrait behind the counter inside. The art crowd can be found chowing down under the blessings of Our Lady.


At the corner of Wyckoff and Starr Avenues, Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions


Going to the next block there is a tattoo parlor on the right that does a lot with religious symbols. Evangelical groups like Hillsong feature tattooed preachers. The style works for Hillsong because they have gone full-in as music performers. In other words, the tattoos seem authentic to who they are.

Coming up, you come to Heaven Scent laundry, which is not an accidental name for its literal and connoted meanings. However, you should not go in there asking for the Holy Water wash. They might wash your mouth out.

Across the street from the hospital, Journey sat down for coffee with Sheikh T.A. Bashir who remembers the days when the Nuwabbian Nation, a Black Muslim-like spinoff, established a commune in Bushwick. Currently, he specializes in counseling abuse victims and has plans for a new imam training program.  There are only two mosques in the general area, but they are just outside of Bushwick’s boundaries south of Broadway.  In light of the fast growth of new mosques, it appears this trend has room to expand in Bushwick.


Sheikh T.A. Bashir specializes in reducing the abuse in relationships. He runs a Muslim certificate program at New York Theological Seminary. On Stockholm Street across from Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions


Going past the hospital, one walks by Stanhope Avenue on which sits a Pentecostal church, Living Waters Fellowship, about two blocks away (265 Stanhope Street,, 718-443-3567). Ron and Anna Mandile came here from Minnesota. Right now, they have pre-school programs for kids and a lively Friday night youth gathering. During the summer, you will see groups of kids going to their summer youth programs.


Rev Ron Mandile, Living Water Fellowship, Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions


Although Mandile doesn’t recall the hospital ever attempting to reach out to his church, he says that he would welcome the hospital to do their outreach at one of their summer block party BBQs that attract a lot of people.

A little further down Wyckoff Avenue, there is a Hispanic Alchoholics Anonymous. Another Our Lady of Guadalupe adorns the wall up ahead just off the street. The mural sits uneasily right next to the unsightly “Cheap Divorce” sign.


Tambourines, colorful pompoms, and dance at Iglesia Pentecostal Monte de Horeb located in the art district of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions


Turning left to go north one block to walk a circle back to the hospital, you come to Ridgewood Pentecostal Church and construction on the former site of a Portuguese church. The construction company is name St. Nicholas Co., the name of the cross street and of a local Catholic Church.

Bushwick’s Catholic churches represent the promise of the Hispanic surge to move along revitalization and modernization of the church. Hennessey says that the hospital center has pushed to make sixty percent of its frontline staff to be bi-lingual in English and Spanish and has recruited Spanish-speaking physicians.


St. Barbara's Church, 138 Bleecker Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions


However, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center outreach officer allows that none of the local Catholic churches have responded to invitations by phone, email, or mail to come to the medical center’s community huddles.  So, it is a work in progress.

As you walk toward the hospital, you will pass Bushwick Abbey and the Iglesia de la Santa Cruz, which are experiments of the Episcopal church. Mainline churches are hoping that the dissatisfaction with Trump and Baby Boomer style evangelical churches will move younger crowds back into the mainline churches who trend culturally liberal. Matt Buccheri, a young Italian-American pastor, grew up in Bushwick, acquired a dislike of the traditionalistic Italian Catholicism, added some tattoos, and converted to evangelical Protestantism. He went through Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s well-known church planting program only to opt out instead to leading church growth strategy for the Episcopal church.


Bushwick attracted attention at one time for having the largest Sunday school program in the United States. Photo illustration: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions


Further afield in Bushwick, we will have the opportunity to examine a branch of two influential churches, a branch of Christ Tabernacle and Pilgrim Baptist Cathedral. Christ Tabernacle has a highly successful music service orientated toward millennials and a packed out Spanish language service in Bushwick. A branch of the C3 church movement meets in "1896"  at 215 Ingraham.


Christ Tabernacle features great Hispanic language music in a ballroom setting in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Pauline Dolle/A Journey through NYC religions


You may also be surprised at the number of African American churches in Bushwick, which range from the mega-church Pilgrim Baptist lead by Bishop Roy Brown to storefront churches that bring the dead to life. At Mt. Paran Baptist Church, one woman told our reporter, “Girl, you can’t go to church with that dead stuff cause if you dead, you in the grave!”


In the Bushwick art area at Evergreen Gospel Chapel/Assemblea Evangelica Evergreen, the pastor stands ready in its gym for young basketball players. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

What is the future of the storefront churches in light of the skyrocketing rental rates? And will the era of African American mega-churches subside as their constituency moves out of the city?

A new source of members for the African American churches is the new immigration from Africa. We have filmed extensively at one church, a Celestial Church, to get a sense of this development.

We are going to search out more of the new religious trends in the city by a street by street exploration of three communities:

Bushwick, Brooklyn – a growing gentry in a Hispanic neighborhood;

                Flushing, Queens – an Asian American powerhouse; and

Morris Park, Bronx – a working and lower-middle class neighborhood mix of Whites, Latinos, Caribbeans, and South Asian and Middle East Muslims.

Come join us! We are right in the middle of the journey through Flushing and Bushwick. We will be intensifying our coverage of those two communities and starting on Morris Park, The Bronx.


On Broadway, Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

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