Sunday, March 14, 2010


By Noel Serrano

There is a beloved Church that is closest to my heart. It was the church of my childhood and the locale where I first realized and appreciated the awesome love of a powerful God. We all know the story of the beloved "Sinagoga' in 125th St. Its legend has grown with majestic splendor, through the fleeting years. She was (and still remains) a great beacon of hope, love and reverent worship through the turbulent 1960s, by the 1970s, the church was renowned throughout the New York City area as a beloved house of Pentecostal worship. this was no ordinary church. "La Sinagoga" had a powerful Orator and Leader that God used to enlarge the writ of the Spanish church. The late Rev. Abelardo Berrios pulled the church out of the Assemblies of God and formed his own council in the 1950s. the church had its own Bible Institute. The church grew in stature and the rest is history. There are many beloved memories of those grand and glorious Sunday nights when the services were held at 8:00 PM and they lasted till 11:00 PM When the Spirit moved, the services would extend longer. These were different times. The congregation was filled with many large families. Many lived nearby, others lived in the nearby boroughs of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Many renown families joined this congregation and began to sing their classic songs in this church. Notable Evangelical singers such as the Late Deborah Velasquez, Carmen V Sanabria, the Rivera Sisters and many more.

La Sinagoga on 125th St used to be an old theatre from the 1920s. It was meticulously refurbished, refitted and anointed to be a house of God in 1960. The Great chandeliers that now graced and illuminated the sanctuary actually came from the original church at 109th St and it was an actual Jewish Synagogue. I recall the great Man that spoke with a powerful voice that resounded and reverberated throughout the large sanctuary. His fist would pound the massive wooden podium as the congregation would respond with thunderous praise. This was the classic sound that made "La Sinagoga" famous. the instant response of the congregation was powerful and sincere. Let us go back and reflect on the earlier years when this same church once graced the original building. The original "Sinagoga" at 109th St in Manhattan, New York. It was a grand and eloquent Temple that nestled in the heart of Spanish Harlem. Large red brick Housing Projects encircled this Gothic synagogue. The Jewish families had long moved from this neighborhood and many families from Puerto Rico were moving into this area. This church was much smaller but it had great balcony's with sweeping views of the service. The familiar chandeliers glistened high above and served as silent witnesses of the many services that were held in this great hall . The original Sinagoga consisted of the great pioneering families such as the Berrios, the Maldonados, the Serranos, the Boschs ,the Gonzalez, the Burgos, the Santanas and many more. They loved the Lord with deep fervor and stable devotion. The services began with intense prayer. the early attendants would come to the front and kneel on the lower platform. Many would pray in adjoining rooms that nestled between the high altar. There were five large thrones in the high altar. The thrown in the center was visibly larger. a seat was placed behind the throne on the extreme left side. The Pastor would spend hours praying before he would silently emerge and reverently take his familiar place in the left throne. These were the early fifties. The families were close-knit. The men were reserved and strict. The woman would be breast-feeding their babes with draped diapers and it was done in such a reverent and respectful fashion. (my, how times have changed) Entering the hall, there was such a deep spirit of reverence and the Spirit of the Lord was intensely felt. My Late Aunt Nieves once told me that the men would come with their clean pressed white wool suits and groomed coifs and enter the prayer room before the service. She said that they would be moving in the spirit and they would be rolling all over the floor. Their hair would scatter down their face as they basked in the spirit. this was all before service, even began. There was such a manifestation of the Holy Spirit because these families took the time to seek the face of God. They all had the pressures of a daily life in a tough city, but they had faith and trust in the Almighty God. They were blessed with large families and they were able to plant the seeds to their children. the original Sinagoga at 109th St. was originally a Methodist church that wounded up to be a synagogue called Nachlath Svi. Most Harlem Synagogues wounded up to become churches but this church became a Synagogue. the Methodist Episcopal Church of the Saviour was founded in 1870 and worshipped at 65 E. 109th St. from 1881 until 1905. The earliest adumbration of the Jewish center movement date back to the turn of the century and to a group of Harlem synagogues expressedly constituted to serve the needs of American-born Jewish young adults. The first, Beth Ha-Knesset Ha-Gadol, was organized in December 1896 by fifty men, all of whom, according to newspaper reports, were thirty-seven or younger, who had been born in New York City and had recently migrated from the Lower East Side. They held their first meeting at the Harlem Lyceum (107th Street and Third Avenue), soon purchasing a church at the corner of 109th Street and Madison Avenue, which they converted to a synagogue.The congregation Nachlath Zvi was founded in 1909 and the Temple became a Jewish Synagogue. many people assumed that it was always a Synagogue, but City records reveal that it was originally an Episcopal Church. The Jewish congregation worshiped here for several decades. Former church Member,Olga Garcia Mikhail recalls:"My sister told me that the "Children's" section of the church was downstairs." "If you were older, like she was, you were able to attend the church upstairs. The boys and the girls were segregated, but thru hand signals, the boys and girls would meet up during the services. At times there were carnivals held outside the church across the street from the church. (I don't think they were connected to the church)." Olga also states "From my second eldest sister:
She remembers that sometimes when the preachers were preaching in the streets, they would sometimes walk around the neighborhood in the white robes, probably the ones used in the baptisms, with no shoes on, preaching the word of God" "My Mom taught us it was wrong to wear makeup, no pants were allowed, no movies , no dancing, no TV, no whistling among other things. But I must say, my Mom had 4 daughters each about 2 years apart, and we had to get on our knees to pray. The first prayer was Psalms 23. She taught us to fear the Lord and that kept us safe from all the drugs and violence that was all around the city in the 50's & 60's."

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