Psalm 122:1 — “I was GLAD when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the House of the Lord.”
What kind of church would be so attractive that a visitor would be willing to take a 30-minute subway ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn, walk several blocks in the cold and rain and stand in a line wrapping around two city blocks a full 30 minutes before the service even begins? Did I mention the cold and rain? And, within another 10 minutes, the line snaked behind me for another block.
Last week, Steve and I were in New York City over a Sunday. Of course, that meant that we would make our way to the Brooklyn Tabernacle. We were not alone. Services are held at 9:00, 11:00 and 1:00 every Sunday. We chose the 11:00 service. When the doors opened signalling the end of the 9:00 service, there was a huge surge of people coming out the doors. After a few minutes, we were allowed in by very competent and courteous ushers and greeters. From where I was sitting, it appeared that every seat (even those in the balcony) were filled in a very short time. The assembled group was more than 50% African American, Some were dressed “in their Sunday best,” while others were very casually dressed. Some were old. Some were young. Some were families. Some came by themselves. But I sensed that everyone had come for the purpose of worshipping Jesus Christ.
The very famous Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, consisting of about 120 voices, sings at all three morning services. Jim Cymbala is the pastor. He’s been there for over 25 years and has written more than 20 books. His wife Carol directs the choir that has produced numerous CDs and even won a Grammy. She, however, doesn’t direct the congregational singing.
With the first note of the pre-service music, everyone stood and sang at the top of their voices. The first song was “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and it almost took the roof off. I’m telling you EVERY PERSON was singing, exuberantly!! The choir was swaying and clapping. That freed up the rest of us to do the same. We were “having CHURCH.” Wow. That was the only Christmas song during the service. The rest were moving praise songs with occasional hymns interwoven. The actual worship time started twenty minutes later. Believe me, we had been prepared to truly worship by that time. When time came for corporate prayer, everyone prayed out loud on their own. It was a heavenly sound and so reminded Steve and me of our time in South Korea back in the 90’s.
The choir sang a couple of anthems.
They took an offering.
The preacher preached about various people in the lineage of Jesus, particularly Rahab. She was a Gentile. We could all relate to that. The pastor said “God is no respecter of persons. He loves us equally. There is no black pride in heaven. Heaven’s worship will include every nation and tribe.” He said, “It’s sad that we can’t get along. Nobody is special, and EVERYBODY is special.” (It was very interesting to hear those words spoken by a white man in that setting,, but it was received completely. Lots of “Amens.”) Rahab was a woman. Half of us could relate to that. She was a prostitute. Pastor Cymbala reminded us that “When Jesus comes, He has the power to lift you up. He doesn’t throw people away. Remember, when everyone else ran away, Jesus TOUCHED the lepers.” It was a powerful message.
Many stood when he asked if there were those needing prayer. No one was embarrassed. They knew they had come to a place full of praying people.
When we filed out, there was another long line of people waiting to get in for the 1:00 service. I didn’t blame them. I was tempted to turn around and go back to hear it all again.
Why are people willing to make big efforts to get to that church? What draws them?
There were some aspects of the service that I hear complaints about often in our Bible Belt churches back in Alabama. It definitely lasted more than an hour. There was no organ. The music was loud, by most people’s definition. There was a praise team AND a choir. The choir did NOT have on robes. People clapped during and after the songs. A lot of “Amens” were said. People in the congregation had to sit practically shoulder to shoulder in the pews. Yet, it was powerful, and I sensed no complaints among my fellow worshippers that day.
Steve and I attended Brooklyn Tabernacle once before, back in the summer of 2000. What I felt then is the same thing I felt last week. The Holy Spirit was in that place. When I go, I get a tiny glimpse of how it will be when all of God’s people are gathered around His throne praising and worshipping HIm throughout eternity. All races. All genders. All focused on Him.
I urge you to make this a part of your New York Must-Do List. It will change you. It will move you. It will impact your life.
P.S. You can watch the whole service if you’re interested. Go to the BrooklynTabernacle.org website, click on media, then webcast and look for the one dated December 9. It was actually recorded on December 2. It will be an insightful way to spend an hour and a half.