HARLEM, N.Y. — When the Harlem Branch in the New York New York Stake was formed in 1997, the handful of members met in the famed Sylvia's Restaurant, a favorite for soul food among locals and tourists. Now, six years later, the steady and sustained growth of the branch will lead to the first independently constructed LDS meetinghouse in Harlem.
"This is a landmark event for us as a stake and a Church," said President Brent J. Belnap of the New York stake during groundbreaking services Sept. 7. "We have broken ground in Harlem where the community is very strong. This new building is a blessing for our members who live in the area and demonstrates our commitment to Harlem."
Plans call for a five-story building that will house a chapel with an overflow seating area, as well as classrooms, a small library and a family research facility. The building's facade will have three-story arched windows and will be topped with a steeple.
More than 150 members and political dignitaries attended the groundbreaking service, including the president of the Manhattan Borough, Virginia C. Fields.
"This building is a wonderful addition to the community," she said. "It shows what we can do when people come together from diverse places to worship."
"Now is an exciting time to be part of the Church in Harlem," said President Daniel Hiatt of the Harlem Branch. "I wish I could take credit for what's happening, but we have great members and missionaries and, quite frankly, the gospel offers something people really need."
Among the spectators was the Cecil and Julia Baldwin family with their five children who were recently baptized. "My wife met the missionaries on the street and when I heard them talk about the Book of Mormon, I knew that [joining the Church] was the right thing to do," said Brother Baldwin. "We attended all of our meetings and studied and prayed to make sure we were doing the right thing."
When the congregation grew beyond the capacity of Sylvia's Restaurant in 1997, the Church purchased a former Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall several blocks away where the branch currently meets.
When completed in 2004, the new meetinghouse will accommodate more than 250 members.