DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.



St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church




St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church was constructed in Bushwick by the wealth of German breweries and was named for the wife or daughter of the Church's largest sponsor, Leopold Epping. The beautiful, Spanish-baroque structure was built in 1910 and is located on Bleecker Street, between Bushwick and Central Avenues. (Alderman 2008). The demographics of this area of Bushwick indicate a predominance of Latinos from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Ecuador. (Nocera 2009). In the 2000 New York City Census Tract, the breakdown on race was African Americans at 21.8%, and the Hispanic population totaled 2,931. According to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau's data on the foreign born population of Brooklyn's Community District 4, the neighborhood of Bushwick has a Latino occupancy of 72.6%. (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). A 2000 socioeconomic profile of this Bushwick neighborhood indicated that the educational attainment was 49.7% high school graduates and 6.7% as college graduates. (Census FactFinder 2000). In conclusion, the neighborhood of St. Barbara's Catholic Church can be identified as largely Latino.


Courtesy of New York City Census FactFinder 2000


Prior to its Latino predominance, Bushwick had several European settlers. The first being the Dutch who were mainly tobacco farmers in the 17th century in then rural Bushwick, followed by the Scandanavians, French and English. By the late 18th century, Bushwick had become predominantly German due to the permanent residency of Hessian mercenaries who had once temporarily occupied the area for supplies during the Revolutionary War. Eventually, Bushwick became lost its ruralness to commercialism and industrialization. Several German breweries had been established making Bushwick the main site for American brewing. The success of the breweries helped finance the building of many mansions in Bushwick, along with spectacular churches; one of them being the local church of St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church. (NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development 2009).


Over the centuries, Bushwick experienced further demographic changes with the heavy inflow of Italians who shared occupancy with the Germans. However, during the mid-20th century, the Germans migrated, allowing Bushwick to become one of the borough's largest Italian-American neighborhoods. By the 1960s, this location had become home to Puerto Ricans and African Americans after the gradual departure of Italian-Americans. By 1965, Bushwick's overwhelming Latino occupancy had become incorporated in the local businesses and politics and local churches. Today, the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood indicated by the 2000 Census remains the same and can be immediately identified by a few homes and buildings that are in disrepair. Though the locale has several national businesses such as a wireless phone company and fast food chain restaurants, many of the establishments are mainly Latino in its restaurants, shoe and clothing stores, small bodegas.


Theology &Worship


St. Barbara's Church has a bilingual Mass, along with English and Spanish Masses. Although some of the younger parishioners spoke English, the main language spoken at St. Barbara's is Spanish. Its interior contained breathtaking frescoes in the high-domed ceilings resembling those at the Vatican Museum in Italy, exquisite carvings and beautiful stained-glass windows – both depicting Biblical scenes of Jesus. There were several European-inspired statues of saints depicting Biblical characters such as the Virgin Mary and St. Paul which are usually found in Catholic Churches, however, there was also an influence of the Church revitalization from Vatican II by the inclusion of Spanish-specific brown-colored statues such as the revered saint of hope, the Virgin of Guadalupe. This feature indicates an ethnic integration of the neighborhood.


 Courtesy of St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church




Courtesy of St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church


Courtesy of St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church


St. Barbara's bilingual Mass showed evidence of Church revisions from Vatican II. Firstly, there was a bilingual bulletin provided for non-Spanish parishioners. Also, the altar was close to the congregation, and the priest faced the congregation during the Mass. Before Vatican II, the altar was built into the wall of the church and the priest faced the altar as a sign of reverence to the tabernacle located in the middle of the altar. (Ring 2005). The Mass is considered the primary source of communion with God, therefore ritual involves participation in singing of hymns, recitation of Creeds that reiterate the Church's beliefs. At the beginning of the Mass, the cross was carried by the Church's youth; all of them being Latino, while the organist played the Entrance Hymn. The cross is an important sacramental in the Catholic Church, therefore, there were many of them were found at various locations both inside and outside of St. Barbara's. Following the Entrance Hymn was the bilingual greeting and blessing from the native Dominican priest. The traditional Catholic worship continued with the Penitential Rite in the solemn recitation of the Prayer of Confession. The Prayer of Confession is the parishioner's opportunity to confess, ask for God's mercy and be reconciled with Him. The Biblical readings and Responsorial Psalm were performed by Spanish-speaking lectors who were part of the laity.


The Catholic Mass is conducted first through prayers and Biblical readings used to edify the homily of the parish priest. The gospel is derived from Scripture and is presented to the congregation by the priest. Following the homily is the sermon which is a breakdown of the Scripture in vernacular. (Puddy, Roberts 2006). At St. Barbara's service, the bilingual homily with Scripture was presented by the priest with the sermon topic, “If This Were Your Last Day on Earth.” This sermon was given as a reminder of the importance of living a Christian life prior to the last day on earth. Presentation of the sermon was found extraordinary because of the priest's question-and-answer interaction with the many children in attendance at the service. Further evidence of Vatican II was when the priest left the pulpit to be closer to the congregation. Prior to Vatican II, there was spacial and communicative separation between clergy and the laity. The sermon was followed by the Nicene Creed. The theology of the Roman Catholic Church is based upon four core beliefs which are encapsulated in the Nicene Creed. The Creed is the declaration of the Christian faith in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” Church, and is recited at every Mass. Most of the service was conducted in both Spanish and English, however, the Offertory Hymn sung in Spanish. The priest's presentation and blessing of the Eucharist in the form of bread and wine was also spoken in Spanish and English. Of utmost import to the Mass in the universal Church is the intake of Holy Eucharist in the bread and wine. The Holy Eucharist is considered to be a transformation of the actual body and blood of Christ which was sacrificed for the sins of mankind through his death on the cross, and a serves as a reminder of Christ's presence during the Mass. Also, as the word “Eucharist” is defined as “thanksgiving,” Catholics view the ritual as a demonstration of gratitude for the enrichment through the body and blood of Christ. (Puddy, Roberts 2006). Before receiving the Eucharist, the parishioners at St. Barbara's rose to recite the Our Father before receiving an invitation to partake in the Eucharist.


Catholic theology also includes a belief in the Holy Trinity which is defined as God dwelling in three divine persons in God the Father, God the Son in the form of man through Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit who was sent to help Christians after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Fahey 1997). Observation and reverence to the Holy Trinity can be seen during every Catholic Mass through the congregation making the sign of the cross with their right hands. This act of respect to the Trinity was witnessed throughout the service at St. Barbara's.


Another Vatican II liturgical adjustment observed during this portion of the Mass was the congregant's choice of receiving the host in the hand instead of on the tongue, as opposed to Vatican I's instruction that the host be received on the tongue. At the end of the Mass, a final blessing was given by the priest and the Final Hymn was also sung in Spanish.


All hymns at St. Barbara's bilingual service were accompanied by an organist; there were no other instruments used in this service.


As parishioners left St. Barbara's, the priest availed himself to them as they left the Church. He greeted everyone with a blessing and would lay hands on the sick and pray for them. The Mass had elementals of Liberation Theology in the open communication between clergy and laity, and the incorporation of ethnicity. However, one aspect of traditional Catholicism that still remains at St. Barbara's was parishioners' veneration for the priest who seemed to be respected and revered as a representative of the infallible and supreme Holy See: the Pope. As indicated in the perceptions of Catholics and the church organizational structure, the Church still regards its religious leaders with unwavering respect despite the concept of collegiality established at Vatican II.


One of the many interesting conclusions made concerning the Mass at St. Barbara's was that in spite of the fact that the Bushwick neighborhood surrounding this German church had experienced an ethnic and cultural transformation, the church was able to reverently adhere to the Catholic Church's core beliefs in its theology and worship, while successfully integrating the ethnic and cultural needs of the community in its liturgy.



DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.



Bethel Gospel Tabernacle




One of many predominantly black Pentecostals churches in the New York area is Bethel Gospel Tabernacle. The Church is located in the southern section of Jamaica, Queens, near Linden and Merrick Boulevards. According to the 2000 New York City Census FactFinder, the surrounding neighborhood of the church has a population of 88.4% African Americans. The Census also reveals that 67.5% of the residents are high school graduates and 8.4% have attained a college degree. As of 2000, the median family income of residents within the community of the church was $48,258. In terms of housing, the rental vacancy rate in 1999 was 4.9% in the neighborhood of this Pentecostal church. The median housing value was listed as $159,077. (Census Factfinder 2000).


Courtesy of New York City Census FactFinder 2000


Prior to its current demographic profile, the mostly rural, open terrain of 19th century Jamaica, Queens was used for horse racing, and was occupied by Irish and German immigrants. During the latter part of the century, there was a transformation in the terrain through urbanization which brought an expansion in residential communities, parks and rapid transit. Queens experienced a continued growth of urbanization into the late 20th century which led to an ethnic transition of immigrants from South America, Asia and the Caribbean. (Seyfried 2004). One New York Times article discusses the influx of African American families to South Jamaica after returning white World War II soldiers emigrated from the area. This exodus allowed African Americans to occupy housing in South Jamaica. New York Times article also mentions that during the 1980s and 1990s, there was a heavy inflow of West Indian families to South Jamaica. According to the Census 2000 Foreign-born Population in Queens, 62.2% of the residents surrounding Bethel Gospel Tabernacle are from the Caribbean. (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). These new immigrants were said to be in pursuit the American dream of an education and a higher earning capacity. (Roberts 2006). This aspect of immigrant goals relates to the National Congregations Study on how modern congregations are fitting into the social economic structure. The neighborhood is inundated with Caribbean-owned establishments that provide ethnic and cultural needs from Caribbean foods to immigrant legal advice. The integration of Caribbean people and culture into the community has had an impact not only with businesses, schools and facilities, also but on Bethel Gospel Tabernacle, which was originally an African American church.



Theology & Worship

Bethel Gospel Tabernacle is a modestly built church that was constructed in 1947. Before entering the Church, there was an obvious representation of the neighborhood's Caribbean constituents in national flags of Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana and Haiti that were hung outside of the Church. Bethel Gospel has a membership of 2000 and conducts services at 7:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.


Observances of one of the services revealed that Bethel Gospel Tabernacle maintains its foundational Pentecostal theology in its focus and reliance on the inerrancy of the Bible, and acknowledgement of the supremacy of God over creation. Although the death and resurrection of Jesus is central to the Pentecostal theology, there was only one large, stained-glass cross embedded into the wall of the Church's pulpit. There were also no statues or icons depicting Biblical characters.


Bethel Gospel began its service with an audible and unstructured praise and worship to God with words of acknowledgement, adoration and glorification. Based on the roots of the Holiness Movement and the black church, this type of praise and worship is considered a means of manifesting the presence of the Holy Spirit in the service. (Towns 2009). The early black Pentecostal Church worship did not utilize instruments, choir or hymnbooks, but instead relied on testimony, foot-stomping, hand-clapping and the repetitious singing of traditional hymns and spirituals taken from the slave experience. However, the 20th century black Pentecostal Church began introducing choirs and musical instruments such as the piano, drums, trumpet and guitar. Worship at the 20th century black Pentecostal Church now consists of a worship team of musicians, a choir and a worship leader whose important sum roles are to assist in bringing the congregation into communion with God. (Booker 1988). The Pentecostal Church's worship leader encourages the congregation to engage in enthusiastic praise, thanksgiving and exaltation of the name of the Lord. Having a Holy Spirit-filled service is of utmost importance to the Pentecostal ritual, particularly in the black church. Bethel Gospel's service included a trio, a worship leader and a band. The instruments used were a organ, synthesizer, electric guitar and drums. Traditional hymns and contemporary gospel songs were performed during service, however, the Church's Caribbean influence was exhibited in the band's use of traditional Caribbean worship songs such as “Let It Be Jesus” and “Lift Jesus Higher, Higher,” all performed with a distinctive Caribbean rhythm.


During the infant years of Pentecostalism, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit was displayed through prophecy, glossolalia, spontaneous and vociferous prayer, shouting, running around the sanctuary, and Spirit-filled dancing. (Booker 1988). This religious zeal in worship was exercised in both black and white Pentecostal denominations in the early 20th century. The enthusiasm highlighted a personal religious experience that was unhindered by authoritarian leadership, as in the Catholic Church, and is still practiced today in the black Pentecostal church. Some of these acts of exuberance were observed at Bethel Gospel Tabernacle's worship session in the singing, hand-clapping, holy dancing and, most importantly, speaking in tongues.


In comparing the music at Bethel Gospel and at St. Barbara's, it was concluded that St. Barbara's Mass adhered to the Vatican II's instructions on liturgical music. According to an article on sacred music of the Universal Church, Vatican II has defined that, “The musical tradition of the universal church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.… Therefore, sacred music is to be considered the more holy, the more closely connected it is with the liturgical action, whether making prayer more pleasing, prompting unity of minds, or conferring greater solemnity on the sacred rites.” (Perrignon 2008). The solemnity in the music at St. Barbara's was, according to Vatican II, meant to engage the congregation in reflection. Hence, the Church's use of only an organ during its liturgy.


Another important aspect of the Pentecostal Holiness worship was the format of the sermon. In early Pentecostalism, the black church conducted sermon with relative informality and spontaneity. There was no topic sermon but mainly the use of testimonies and spirituals. However, there was the use of a method called the call-and-response, where the preacher would offer verses describing the character of God, and the congregation would respond in agreement. One example of call-and-response would be the preacher's pronouncement that,“God is a good God!” and the congregation would respond in, “Yes, He Is!.” (Booker 1988). The pastor's sermon at Bethel Gospel did contain a few call-and-responses which was used as a way of reminding the congregation of the efficacy of God. Bethel Gospel has two pastors in a husband and wife team. The husband is African American but the wife and co-pastor is Jamaican-born. The co-pastor also rejuvenated the congregants utilizing call-and-response, sometimes using a colloquial Jamaican dialect. By the lively responses of “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” to the co-pastor's use of dialect with the Caribbean congregants, it was apparent that the use of the colloquialism establishes a bond between the Church and its Caribbean members where there is sense of comfort and unfamiliarity, and no need to seek spiritual fulfillment outside of the community.

While St. Barbara's priest did not implement a call-and-response format during his sermon, he was interactive with the congregation by asking questions and accepting responses. His questioning the laity was not rhetorical and was perceived as the incorporation of Vatican II's collegiality. By using these formats, both churches are attempting to encourage and foster a fruitful, experiential relationship between worshipers and God.


Social Services


According to author, Sandra Barnes, the black Pentecostal church culture not only involves prayer, worship, preaching and scripture, but also includes the bridging of these practices with action in addressing social issues. Barnes also states that, historically, the combination of the commonly held beliefs and confidence in a just God, and the use of Biblical examples of triumph over unconquerable issues have been essential weapons of social change in the Black Church. (Barnes 2005). This theology is also reminiscent of the Liberation Theology of the Catholic Church that speaks to the needs of the community through outreach programs. In keeping with this tradition, Bethel Gospel Tabernacle, serves its African American and Caribbean community on several levels. On an economical level, Bethel Gospel has provided millions of dollars of loans over the years to its members through their FDIC insured Credit Union. On a ministerial level, the Church has several outreach programs with foreign missions serving in many countries, including Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad. The community's familiarity with these countries encourages continuous and active member involvement in missions work at Bethel Gospel. In July 2009, the Church's youth ministry held a trip to Jamaica under the theme, Jamaica, Jamaica: Hello Freedom, Hello Hope! The main goal of the trip was to not only provide clothing and food supplies, but to also impact the lives of the Jamaican youth through spiritual upliftment and motivation to succeed. (Caesar 2009).


As a further reflection of the neighborhood's cultural makeup and cultural familiarity, Bethel Gospel also has a theater and arts department. In November 2009, the department produced a play with a few of the characters having various Caribbean accents.


Although Bethel Gospel Tabernacle was originally an African American house of worship, it has managed to successfully remain an important and meaningful spiritual anchor in a community that has experienced significant ethnic and cultural transformation.


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.