Place of the Month
Christ Assembly Lutheran Church/African Immigrant Ministry
In honor of Black History Month and the cultural contributions of new immigrants to America, we are pleased to highlight Christ Assembly Lutheran Church -- Staten Island’s African Immigrant Ministry and a cultural anchor for the Liberian community—as February’s featured place.
On Staten Island, 8,000 Liberians are among the most well established African communities in the borough. Staten Island is also home to a diverse Sub-Saharan African population from Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Ghana. Reverend Phillip S. Saywrayne founded the Christ Assembly Lutheran Church/African Immigrant Ministry in 1996, and under his guidance, the community-based ministry provides local African communities with outreach in the areas of education, traditional art presentations, citizenship classes, and fellowship with others. Today, the ministry claims a growing five hundred-person membership, and averages three hundred congregants in worship attendance.
Saywrayne has been an advocate for the preservation of culture and traditional arts among Liberians in New York City. Through the church, he hopes to meet both the religious and social needs of his congregants. Saywrayne deliberately developed a congregation where Liberians and others from West Africa would be comfortable incorporating elements of their home styles of worship. Sayrwayne notes, "most West African denominations clap hands, they dance, they stand up. They make a joyful noise unto the Lord, as the Book of Sam said! And so, we encourage them to do that." At services, attendees often make testimonials and feel physically moved by a spiritual presence. Many women wear lappa suits -- colorful, patterned garments featuring a wrap-around skirt, which are typically worn in West Africa. "We try to keep some elements of home in there. And we make time to sit with them to remind them about their culture. We’re here, but we came from somewhere. The place we came from can never be forgotten."