Word Made Global: Stories of African Christianity in New York City


A groundbreaking work of ethnography, urban studies, and theology, Mark Gornik's Word Made Global explores the recent development of African Christianity in New York City. Drawing especially on ten years of intensive research into three very different African immigrant churches, Gornik sheds light on the pastoral, spiritual, and missional dynamics of this exciting global, transnational Christian movement.
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A groundbreaking work of ethnography, urban studies, and theology, Mark Gornik's Word Made Global explores the recent development of African Christianity in New York City. Drawing especially on ten years of intensive research into three very different African immigrant churches, Gornik sheds light on the pastoral, spiritual, and missional dynamics of this exciting global, transnational Christian movement.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Mark Gornik's fascinating, in-depth look at African Christianity in New York City should be read by anyone concerned to understand the future of the new, global Christianity, and especially by those doing urban ministry. . . . This is the kind of analysis sorely needed today."
— Timothy Keller
Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City

"This unique and illuminating study, based on extensive religious ethnography, is indeed a vital contribution to our understanding of the dynamics, mission, and vitality of new African Christianity in New York City. It will be a significant reference point for future research in a relatively nascent field. . . . A must-read!"
— Afe Adogame
University of Edinburgh

"An ethnographically rich and theoretically astute account of the diversity, creativity, and vibrancy of African Christianities in New York. Beyond the vivid and compelling exploration of local congregations and practices, Gornik paints an insightful and prescient portrait of the emerging face of Christianity as it enters its third millennium. This Christianity operates simultaneously at the grass roots, addressing the embodied needs and desires of those at the margins of society, and at a global level, traveling with and through transnational immigrants and hypermodern electronic media."
— Manuel A. Vasquez
University of Florida

"By focusing on African immigrant churches in New York City, Gornik illumines the distinctive features of Christianity today: transnational, urban, embodied, and missionary. This exciting study both builds upon the most recent scholarship and moves our knowledge of world Christianity forward."
— Dana L. Robert
Boston University School of Theology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802864482
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 7/22/2011
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark R. Gornik is director of City Seminary of New York. He served previously as the founding pastor of New Song Community Church in Baltimore and is also the author of To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City.
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Word Made Global

Stories of African Christianity in New York City
By Mark R. Gornik

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 Mark R. Gornik
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6448-2

Chapter One

Born Again in the City: African Churches and Global New York

Faith at a Global Crossroads

Madison Square Garden is sometimes called the "World's Most Famous Arena." Located in the heart of midtown Manhattan, amidst squealing cabs, business deals, hot dog vendors, waves of pedestrians, and the massive Macy's department store, it regularly hosts a who's who of rock stars, sports figures, public life, even the circus. But in June 2005, the arena was filled not with crowds going to a concert or a basketball game, but with thousands of members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the largest Pentecostal church in Nigeria and one of the fastest growing churches in the world, meeting for their annual North American Convention, their most important event of the year. Whatever else this event conveyed, it crystallized in the most public of ways that Christianity from Africa had arrived in New York City, the United States, and the West. Part of public culture, high in visibility, and at the center of a global city, African Christianity was representing itself to the world.

In 1998, when I had just arrived in New York City from Baltimore to begin church and community development work in central Harlem, I noticed that the sidewalks surrounding the 125th Street subway station were crowded with groups of African women. Dressed in bright and colorful traditional clothing, they were trying to draw customers to the African hair braiding salons that had sprung up in the surrounding commercial corridor. Just south on 116th Street, the blocks were so filled with Senegalese that it is referred to as Little Dakar or Little Senegal, with shops displaying bright African garb, Youssou N'Dour compact discs, and telephone cards with bargain rates for Africa. Stereo speakers facing the street sent out praise music from West Africa to Harlem. Small businesses catered to the banking and travel needs of Africans. A local mosque frequented by West Africans drew large worshiping communities.

Such experiences of sidewalk life suggested, first, that there was a significant African presence in New York City, and, second, that Harlem was not an isolated inner city, but part of an interconnected global world. It was a community where the connections and changes of a global world revealed themselves. As Jane Jacobs, the urban theorist and activist emphasized, the sidewalks of New York are like a "ballet," a place where "something is always going on."

I knew there had been a religious transformation in Africa of historic character. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, in 1900 there were an estimated nine million Christians in Africa, or 9.2 percent of the population. In 1965, there were an estimated 75 million African Christians. By 2000, the number had grown to over 360 million Christians in Africa, 45.6 percent of the population. If Africa was experiencing historic Christian growth, would it not follow that at least some of the new African immigrants would be Christian? And if the answer was yes, in what churches were they worshiping?

The first African church I learned of was an Ethiopian congregation on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. Venturing to the church on a Sunday morning in 2001, I encountered the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, a vibrant Pentecostal church that worshiped in two languages, had parishioners dancing in the aisles, and was making plans for expansion. From this church I learned the name of another African church in the city, and it wasn't long before my short list of African churches in New York City grew much longer. African Christianity—what Ogbu Kalu and others call an "African story"—is also a global story. I didn't need to get on a plane to encounter the richness and diversity of this global story; all I needed was a MetroCard, the local bus and subway fare card.

It turns out that the city is not as disenchanted as is its popular image. With their networks, sounds, prayers, garments, signage, and activities, African churches are helping to make New York a charismatic city, not a secular city. New York is not just a "transcendent" urban space, but has a unique energy, a charisma where religion is embodied.

"There is much to be said for concentration on one particular town in order to obtain a detailed and factual study," Geoffrey Parrinder remarks in the preface to his account of religion in Ibadan, Nigeria. To make such a case requires "grounded" or ethnographic accounts of the city; a "remapping" of the city emerges out of the experience and study of the city from the ground up. "Rather than viewing global cities as central expressions of the global accumulation of capital," Michael Peter Smith finds that "all cities can ... be viewed in the fullness of their particular linkages with the worlds outside their boundaries." Chantal Saint-Blancat clarifies the research task: "The challenge posed for any analysis of the new modalities of migration—and the cultural and religious consequences they entail—is methodological in nature: how to decode the complexity of relationships interwoven between the global level of the phenomenon and its involvement in the local." African churches become a way of deciphering such global linkages and processes.

Faith Across Borders

With no prior research available on African churches in New York, by necessity my survey depended on footwork and networks to connect with itineraries of faith. There is no overarching association or council of African churches in New York like, for example, those found in Europe, to provide the data. In New York City, African church associations are limited to a particular network, denomination, and on an informal basis country of origin. This is a result of at least four factors: (1) the geographical scale of the five boroughs, (2) the entrepreneurial rather than collaborative dynamic of New York City, (3) the relative newness of African churches in the city, and (4) the sheer diversity of churches. In the United States, census and other related public data do not include religion.

My research was greatly facilitated by the use of local African newspapers such as African Abroad USA, West African News, and Light of the World, which in addition to advertising money transfer services like Western Union and travel agencies, are filled with paid notices of African churches. A resource that grew considerably in importance over the course of my research was church websites, which have become more sophisticated, comprehensive, and informative. In and of themselves, websites are a new dimension in global representation and reach of African Christianity, especially among Pentecostal churches. At the same time, local church websites, while helpful for basic information such as street location, vary widely. While I made good strides in learning about many of the African church movements in New York City, incompleteness marks this effort. This must be the case, for the city has over 8 million residents, more than 700 miles of subway lines, and approximately 500 neighborhoods. But I found that at this time new churches are being started in every part of the city, especially in the boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Appendix 2 provides a list of African churches in New York City—incomplete, no doubt, but indicative of substantive development. In what follows, I provide a brief overview. But before doing so, some brief comments on terminology and types of churches are in order.

Types and Terms

At their best, typologies help organize large amounts of data and make useful generalizations. Within African Christian studies, there is a generally acceptable threefold typology of African churches: mainline/historical, independent, and Pentecostal/charismatic. While such traditional typologies retain salience (and I will describe each accordingly in what follows), especially on historical grounds, they frequently break down as new fluid and hybrid forms of church life emerge. Another weakness is that these typologies minimize the uniqueness of Catholic and Orthodox traditions, both present in New York. One group that might also deserve further consideration, but was not a factor during the period of my research, would be African congregations within the New York diocese of the Episcopal Church (along with the cross-border authority of African bishops in the city). Still, it is possible, I believe, to view churches as historically constructed while finding ways of organizing different ones together without reducing them to an "essence." What I do see is that the growth and diversity of African Christianity indicates ongoing development in ecclesiology.

Even more basic, the terminology of "African" churches in New York City is itself filled with difficulties. Of course there are problems with any facile understandings of "Africa." But the heart of the immediate difficulty is sharply observed in the following ethnographic analysis: "Although the research contains clear indications that many worshippers emphasize a community in Christ without an ethnic suffix, scholars persist in categorizing the worshippers by their ethnicity. The result is a contradictory narrative in which those studied speak of their community in Christ and 'their identity as primarily Christian,' whereas the researchers characterize the believers as African, Nigerian, Ghanaian, or Salvadorian." Personal interviews and conversations confirmed this. Self-descriptions almost always emphasized "Christian" or "Pentecostal" more than any other appellation.

Gerrie ter Haar underscores similar concerns but with an added emphasis on the international character of African churches. If they are reduced to the "Other," ter Haar believes that Africans will be more easily marginalized in the political sphere. Along these lines, ter Haar identifies a new type of African church—African International Churches: "To refer to them this way takes account of their African origin while at the same time recognising the continuity of these churches with the universal Christian tradition." Another description of the most basic kind is perhaps also called for: New York City churches. Working from this perspective, "diaspora" is not automatically descriptive. But in line with the argument I have been proposing concerning the global and local contexts of the churches, the term "global New York churches" is also fitting.

Another challenge is that identifications used in the West to situate Christianity do not always work in the same way within the African context. A key term that is often misused here is "evangelical." Bearers of "good news," African churches are "evangelical" in the root meaning of the word, but they are not American or British evangelical Christianity. It was a mission initiative to Sierra Leone by former slaves who had been relocated to Nova Scotia by the British that played an influential role in bringing a message of new birth to Africa, a witness that still today resonates deeply in the experience of so many believers. But "evangelicalism" represents a very specific set of institutions and beliefs located primarily in British and American figures and orbits. David Bebbington's four characteristics of evangelicalism—conversionism, activism, Biblicism, and crucicentrism—do not describe the driving concerns of African churches. For example, there is nothing in Bebbington's definition on the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, or power, central pastoral and theological emphases for African believers. Even as we identify past interactions with the West through the missionary movement and current connections through globalization, African churches have their own histories, emphases, visions, leaders, and institutions independent of the West. So while African Christianity may hold the evangel high, assimilating it as part of the "evangelical" movement is misleading, and ultimately serves to maintain a Western Protestant orientation to Christianity. As James Cox alerts, such a typology may tell more about the West than Africa.

In what now follows, I offer a typology of the African churches as found in New York. There are other ways to organize, such as, for example, by types of music or building. While I will argue for nuance and diversity among all the churches, at the end I will also argue for a unity.

Out of Ethiopia

Christianity has been part of Africa for nearly two thousand years. The Coptic Church of Alexandria tells its story by recounting the journey of the Holy Family as refugees, uprooted from Bethlehem and given shelter in Egypt. There is a tradition of St. Mark's role in the founding of the church in Alexandria. Ethiopia's place in the story of Christianity begins with what Andrew Walls calls a "hint" found in the Acts of the Apostles, with the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, considered by most scholars to be Meroe in modern Sudan. The church of Ethiopia, then the church of Aksum, holds a singular place in the Christian story, both in its continuous history and theological memory.

This tradition is extended to New York City, where a number of Ethiopian Orthodox churches have been established. Since 1984, Ethiopians have been gathering at Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church of Our Savior, worshiping in a chapel tucked away within the famous Riverside Church in Manhattan. There is also an important Orthodox church in the Bronx.

Just as Pentecostal churches are a growing presence in Ethiopia, so also in New York City. The first Ethiopian Pentecostal church in New York is the Emmanuel Worship Center International, originally known as the Ethiopian Evangelical Church. Founded by Pastor Mulugeta Abate in 1989, the church meets in a former nightclub located in the Bronx. Historically, the church leadership has a link with the Mennonites.

Catholic Communities

Statistically, the Catholic Church maintains the largest number of adherents in Africa of any church body, and African Catholics are a thriving part of the Catholic Church in New York City. Because of the Catholic Church's ecclesiology and global organization, they should be considered distinct from Protestant missionary churches. It is also important to tell their story while being attentive to a much longer past that stretches to Augustine and other North African church leaders, the 1995 document Ecclesia in Africa, a growth in African vocations, the rise of international priests, and initiatives of both evangelization and inculturation.

Responding to the voices and needs of Catholic African immigrants, New York City's two Roman Catholic dioceses—the Archdiocese of New York that covers the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and the Diocese of Brooklyn that incorporates Queens—operate a vibrant network of congregations, communities, or apostolates that serve African Catholics in their language and culture. They are more like congregations within local parishes, defined less by a geographic paradigm than by religious needs. Since the 1990s, a number of Catholic communities have been formed to serve African Catholics throughout the boroughs. In the Bronx, there is the Ghanaian Catholic Community of Christ the King founded in 1995. To celebrate their tenth anniversary, Peter Cardinal Kodwo Appiah Turkson, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, joined the congregation, along with representatives of the New York Archdiocese. Christ the King parish serves a Latino community, but the Ghanaian Catholic Community also has a home with them to hold services on Sunday.

Protestant Churches

Protestant churches were generally established in Africa in the late eighteenth century and into the second half of the nineteenth century at the impetus of Western churches and mission societies. "Missionary," "mission founded," or "historical" is the terminology used to describe such churches from this period, and it suggests implication in the Western colonial enterprise. However, there has also been interplay between missionary imposition and local agency, with selected appropriation and even resistance. Entering the post-colonial period, it was generally presumed that the historic churches would decline, but instead of fading away in the post-independence period, so-called historical churches grew substantially. Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran churches not only held their own, they often expanded.


Excerpted from Word Made Global by Mark R. Gornik Copyright © 2011 by Mark R. Gornik. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Andrew F. Walls xii

Map xiv

I Prologue

Introduction 3

Not with Paper 3

A Changing and Moving Church 5

Looking Ahead 12

1 Born Again in the City: African Churches and Global New York 18

Faith at a Global Crossroads 18

Faith Across Borders 21

Types and Terms 22

Out of Ethiopia 24

Catholic Communities 26

Protestant Churches 27

African Independent Churches 28

Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches 31

Francophone Churches 35

Liberian Churches on Staten Island 36

Headquarter Operations 37

The One and the Many 38

Global Faith, Global City 40

Conclusion: Born Again in New York City 48

II Formations

2 Pastors at Work: Building Community across Borders 51

Introduction: Job Description 51

Religious Biography and Formation 53

Rev. Yaw Asiedu 54

Mother Marie Cooper 56

Pastor Nimi Wariboko 61

Routes to Ministry 64

Imagining Salvation 65

Domains of Pastoral Practice 70

Spiritual Directors 71

Agents of Healing 74

Institution Builders 80

Cultural Intermediaries 81

The Workers Are Many 83

Conclusion: Building Visions 86

3 Liturgy and Life: Three Churches in Two Worlds 87

Introduction: A Church for Life 87

Membership Has Its Privileges: The Presbyterian Church of Ghana 89

A House of Prayer: The Church of the Lord (Aladura) 99

Do Something New in My Life: The Redeemed Christian Church of God International Chapel, Brooklyn 108

Globalizing Faith 117

Globalization Is Multi-Faceted 117

Globalization Is Networks 118

Globalization Is Organizational 120

Conclusion 122

III Engagements

4 Praying Bodies: God and Everyday Life 127

Introduction: Learning to Pray 127

Praying Communities 129

Strong and Spiritual Prayers 129

Sermons with God 132

Prayer without Ceasing 133

Prayer Through the Night 136

Tarry 137

Night Vigil 139

All-Night Revival 142

Praying in the Spirit 143

Prayer with Fasting 146

Prayer and the Material 150

Conclusion: Power in the City 159

5 Reading in Motion: Scripture and the Performance of Faith 160

Introduction: The Subway Test 160

Living in the World Imagined by Scripture 165

Reading in Community 168

Biblical Texts and Identity 171

Preaching for Life 176

Words with Power 178

Conclusion: The Word Abides 180

6 Witnesses in the City: Dynamics of a New Missionary Movement 181

Introduction: New Patterns 181

A Global Vision 183

Three Mission Strategies 191

Mission as Member Care 191

Mission as Intercession 194

Mission as Church Planting 195

Mission and the Charismatic Powers of Life 201

Mission as a Way of Life 206

Mission Back to Africa 210

Conclusion: Mission in the Way of Christ 213

IV Directions

7 Moveable Pilgrimages: Relocating Sacred Geographies 219

Introduction 219

"Let Somebody Shout Hallelujah" 222

"Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord" 232

"We are on Mount Tabborrar" 235

Conclusion: Moving Expectation 242

8 Handing off: Faith in the Second Generation 243

Introduction 243

It Takes a Church 245

Children of the Lord 250

Sons and Daughters of Pentecost 251

Conclusion: Conversion and Community 256

Conclusion: Giving and Receiving 257

Crossing Over 257

Living Faith 259

Catholicity in the City 264

Gifts and Challenges 268

The Word Made Global 277

Epilogue: The Word Keeps Moving 279

Afterword Emmanuel Katongole 285

Appendix 1 Where the Spirit of God Is: Notes on Ethnography and Theology 289

Appendix 2 Survey Data on African Churches in New York City 303

Sources 307

Interviews 307

Focus Groups 310

Books and Articles 311

Personal Communication 338

Printed Church Materials 338

Newspapers 339

Church Web Sites 339

Acknowledgments 341

Index 347

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