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Hard times for Harlem churches

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Churches are the backbone of the African-American community in Harlem and around the country. But as the economy and real estate market change, so do the challenges they face.

The Arc choir conducts a biweekly hour of power for members and welcomes tour groups that pay per person to attend. It helps to fund the church and its rehabilitation programs. Other Harlem churches are also doing it to help meet rising costs at a time when the tithing membership is aging out or moving out because of rising rents, and the Harlem newcomers are not joining in.

But the historic Olivet Church on Lenox Avenue does not charge anyone to come inside. Rev. Dr. Charles Curtis says his doors are open equally to everyone.

While some in the congregation may find the presence of paying spectators uncomfortable, it's just one method to make ends meet.

Daniel Geiger of Crain's New York Business said there are other options. He pointed out that the Bethel Gospel Assembly Church sold unused land it owned and air rights to a developer to ensure its financial future.

Some long-established Harlem churches have struggled but are finding new ways to broaden their membership and still maintain their mission.

At Mt. Olivet, Princeton-educated pastor Curtis said the church has eliminated all debt and managed to raise the money for more than $1 million in major repairs over the last decade. He admitted it has been a challenge, but said the church is resilience and is adapting.

In this time of uncertainty, Pastor Curtis said one thing you can count on is the commitment these churches have to serving the community.

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