God’s Row

March 2, 2008


Source: The New York Times


AS noon approached on a recent Sunday, the mostly Jamaican congregation of New Life Tabernacle gathered in its small storefront on White Plains Road in the Wakefield section of the north Bronx. Women in elaborate, wide-brimmed hats and men in dark suits filled six rows of pews and two dozen wooden chairs. The pastor’s wife, Paulette Randall, wearing a violet dress and holding a microphone, stood before the congregation.

“Is your soul right with God?” she asked the crowd of about 60, her voice exploding into the microphone. “That is the question.”

As she spoke, the low hum of a bass guitar resonated through the walls. Inside a drab storefront next door, the three-piece Heavenly Sound Band of the Bible Fellowship Pentecostal Assembly was warming up. “Hallelujah be your name!” band members sang as they began the service. A score of West Indian worshipers, standing near their metal folding chairs with hands raised in the air, sang along.

At Maha Shiva Parvati Mandir, a storefront Hindu temple just down the block, a service dedicated to the Lord Ram had just concluded. “Let the birds and quadrupeds prosper,” the priest had uttered imploringly before a group of about 50 mostly Guyanese worshipers, one of whom pumped a harmonium while another tapped a tabla. “Let peace come from everywhere.”

As Hindu faithful in colorful saris and kurtas filed out the temple’s tinted glass doors, shouts of “Gloria a Dios!” drifted into the street from the whitewashed Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal next door.

If this were not enough spiritual fervor for one block, worship at three more storefront churches was also about to begin. As the afternoon wore on, the worshipers became increasingly ardent, cries of hallelujah turned to shrieks, and White Plains Road between 239th and 240th Streets, home to seven houses of worship in all, throbbed with the ardor of believers readying their souls to meet their maker.

The abundance of churches in Wakefield is not limited to this block, which sits opposite a desolate strip of auto body shops. Amid the retail stores on the two-mile stretch of White Plains Road that runs from 240th Street south to East Gun Hill Road, there are about 30 storefront churches.