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Harlem’s Most Powerful Congregation: The Abyssinian Baptist Church

By admin | August 2, 2011

Photo: trini-map

By: Dylan Rodgers

With its majestic brick towers and surrounding fire engine red doors, the Abyssinian Baptist Church is more than just a beautiful church to attend for Sunday service in Harlem. Considered New York’s most powerful church, the Abyssinian Baptist Church on 138th St. in Harlem, New York has a history of outreach that far exceeds its own congregation.  Instead of focusing inwardly and creating a bubble of safe, inclusive worship, the Abyssinian has focused its efforts on community support both locally in Harlem, NY and on a global scale.

Founded in 1808 by a few African-Americans that tired of the segregated worship of the First Baptist Church of New York City, the Abyssinian Baptist Church developed into a powerful activist institution.  By 2008 it had funded more than $500 million worth in new construction and renovations in Harlem.  The Abyssinian funded the construction of the first high school built in Harlem in 50 years; it brought in some of Harlem’s first retail chain stores, major supermarkets, and shopping centers; and it continues to actively develop and oversee more than 1,100 rental properties, most of which are for low income families.  The Abyssinian played a huge role in the community awareness and development of Harlem, NY, but their view extends far beyond northern Manhattan.

In 2010 the Abyssinian turned its philanthropic eye towards Ethiopia and its struggling co-op coffee farmers.  Improving the quality of the coffee produced raises the levels at which farmers can compete internationally.  The Abyssinian now funds specialized training and necessary equipment to tip the scales in favor of co-op famers, but that is not the end of it.  Part of the deal is that a portion of the income brought in by the Ethiopian coffee farmers must go to much needed development in Ethiopian infrastructure including schools, roads, and clinics.

The Abyssinian Baptist Church remains one of the most important institutions in the building of better lives in both the present and long into the future.  But we must not forget that the Abyssinian is not an institution held together by stone and mortar; it’s the active, generous individuals who make the church what it is.

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