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Gospel Choirs and Harlem Tours

For the past decade, the popularity of gospel tours, conducted by bus, has surged, so if you're thinking of doing it, here are some tips. A bus tour is generally a speedy and not so authentic way to experience Harlem: some tours include only a 20-minute stop at a church to hear some of the sermon and the gospel music, then you're off to another sight or to a soul-food brunch. Prices may be as high as $99. One tour company based in the neighborhood that does get high marks for its gospel tours is Harlem Heritage Tours (212/280-7888 www.harlemheritage.com).

Tours garner mixed reactions from the community. Some see it as an opportunity to broaden horizons and encourage diversity. But others find tours disruptive and complain that tourists take seats away from regular parishioners (churches regularly fill to capacity). If you decide to go on one of these tours or to visit a church on your own, plan ahead. Most churches have services at 11, but you may need to arrive as much as two hours early to actually get in. Most important, remember that parishioners do not consider the service, or themselves, to be tourist attractions or entertainment. Dress nicely—no shorts, sneakers, or jeans. Harlem churchgoers take the term "Sunday best" to heart. Be as quiet as possible, and do not take photos or videos or use your cell phone.

The following are some of the uptown churches with gospel choirs:

Abyssinian Baptist Church is one of the few churches that does not allow tour groups. Services for visitors are at 11. Arrive at least two hours ahead of time for this service. Canaan Baptist Church of Christ has services at 8 and 11. Convent Avenue Baptist Church (420 W. 145th St., between Convent and St. Nicholas Aves., Harlem 212/234-6767 www.conventchurch.org) has services at 8, 11, and 5. First Corinthian Baptist Church has services at 8 and 11.

Greater Refuge Temple (2081 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., at 124th St., Harlem 212/866-1700 www.greaterrefugetemple.org) has services at 11, 4, and 7:30. Memorial Baptist Church (141 W. 115th St., between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X Blvds., Harlem 212/663-8830 www.mbcvisionharlem.org) has services at 8 and 11.

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