Happy 2nd anniversary to my column and I want to thank God and my readers for this culinary journey. During this holy time of the year I want to reflect on the pivotal role that the black church has played in establishing Harlem as the “Mecca” of black life in America. It is around the time when the black church began its “dual role” of nourishing the spiritual and physical souls of Harlem.
Spiritually speaking black churches started nourishing us in 1904 when blacks began migrating from the South to New York fueled by their desire to seek better jobs, education for their children, and to leave Jim Crow policies and lynching violence in the South behind.
Redevelopment forced blacks out of the original NYC neighborhoods we inhabited from the west 30s to the west 60s. At that time we couldn’t vote, and had no political clout to speak of so our religious leaders represented us.
They centralized their churches and members in Harlem. Immigrants from the West Indies began settling in Harlem as well.
Physically speaking black churches have always nourished those in need. Black churches distribute free food with no questions asked within their communities. In between worship services other congregations share free meals prepared by in house Culinary Ministry members. On Thanksgiving, dinners are served to those who don’t have anyone to share the day with, and meals are delivered to those who are home bound.
Take the congregation of St. Luke’s A.M. E. Church located at 1854 Amsterdam Avenue on the corner of 153rd Street in West Harlem. Under the current pastor, Rev. Melvin E. Wilson, the church has run a feeding program every Thursday from 12 Noon to 2 pm to serve appetizing, hot and healthy meals since 1997 to those in need. They serve around 250 in house and deliver another 30 meals each week. No funds are received from any government agencies; these Christians do so out of the kindness of their hearts, and they pay for the program from church tithes. Church members volunteer their time for the feeding program and each member is the holder of a Food Safety Certificate.
Lead by its pastor of 16 years the congregation at New Mount Zion Baptist Church, located at 171 West 140th Street in Central Harlem is taking positive steps to shape up to serve the Lord by eating healthier at church sanctioned events. The Rev. Dr. Carl L. Washington, Jr. shocked the congregation this past January when he proclaimed from the pulpit that we would not serve any fried foods for the next 3 years. God willing, it would be a treat to eat when we dedicate the two new floors that will be added on to the church by 2014. He instructed the members of our Culinary Ministry to cook healthier meals, and to develop a heart healthy recipe library for the ministry.
Some congregation members have complained to members of both churches’ Culinary Ministries when fried foods are not on the menu. At NMZ some even brought fried food to eat into the fellowship hall. The next Sunday Pastor Washington politely reiterated to the entire congregation that as our shepherd he decided no fried foods at our congregation sanctioned events, so please do not approach members of the ministry about what they are serving. If you choose to eat fried foods, then you should eat your food where you buy it at; no more outside food in the fellowship hall when we are serving food for free in between two services. He wants us fit to do the Lord’s work ministering within the community.
So here are two shining examples of pastors with visions for their flocks to eat well, and to serve healthy meals during church sanctioned events. What is your house of worship doing to fight hunger and/or obesity as well as promote healthier eating? We want to know and to help spread the word. Please input your comments at the end of the article on the web site or send them via e mail to email@example.com.