Times Square Church

Times Square Church: A Spiritual Haven

Times Square Church
Times Square Church

Discovering Faith and Community at Times Square Church

As a solo traveler visiting the sensory overload that is New York City’s Times Square, I didn’t expect that I would find myself sitting in a pew worshipping on a Sunday morning. But when a friend who lives in New York invited me to join her for a service at 237 West 51st Street, New York City, New York 10019. I was intrigued.

Times Square Church

Arriving at a Historic Theater Turned Vibrant Church

Stepping inside the doors of the converted Mark Hellinger Theater, I was greeted by friendly church volunteers handing out programs and radiating warmth. I could hear the energetic sounds of the worship band warming up on stage, playing uplifting Christian rock music. As we made our way into the modern, stadium-style sanctuary, I was surprised by the incredible diversity of the congregation.

  • People of all ages were represented – from young families bouncing babies on their laps to elderly couples standing arm in arm singing along to the music.
  • There were people of various races and ethnicities – White, Black, Asian, Hispanic – worshipping together.
  • Visitors and tourists mingled with regular churchgoers and local community members.

Times Square Church welcomes everyone with open arms.

After finding our seats, I eagerly took in the interior of this historic theater turned vibrant church. The Mark Hellinger Theatre was built in 1930 and originally staged elaborate Broadway musicals and productions. In 1989, Times Square Church took over the lease and converted the space into a non-denominational Christian sanctuary. They have breathed new life into this legendary theater.

Accenting the original Baroque-style architecture are large screens, modern lighting, and a high-tech sound system tailored for energizing worship services. The seating rises up in a graduated slope so that even in the back rows, you get a clear view of the stage. With a capacity of about 2,000 people, this church definitely qualifies as a “megachurch”!

Joyful Praise Music Sets the Mood

In the morning, the worship service began with almost a full hour of inspirational praise music. The passion and enthusiasm of the musicians and singers was infectious! Everyone around me was standing, singing, clapping, dancing, and raising their hands in joyful devotion. The pure jubilation on people’s faces was a sight to behold. I couldn’t help but smile and tap my feet.

The music spanned genres like gospel, pop, rock, and soul but shared an upbeat and contemporary vibe. As a once cynic whose faith has wavered at times, being immersed in the energy of this place lifted my spirits higher than they’d been in ages. This church had a palpable aura of community, love, and spiritual purpose.

Pastor Carter Conlon Preaches a Moving Sermon

After praise and worship, there was a communal reciting of the Lord’s Prayer and a few ministry announcements. Then Pastor Carter Conlon took the stage to deliver the sermon.

Carter Conlon became the senior pastor of Times Square Church in 1987 after David Wilkerson retired. He served as senior pastor until 2020 when he stepped down and became the church’s general overseer. Tim Dilena is the current senior pastor of Times Square Church.

Wilkerson had founded Times Square Church back in 1987 with a vision of building a racially diverse and welcoming congregation in the heart of chaotic, sinful Times Square. At the time, New York City was racked by crime, drugs, and economic depression. Wilkerson believed bringing faith to such an unlikely place could plant seeds of hope and change lives, and indeed it did.

After taking over, Pastor Conlon carried on and expanded that mission over the two decades. He is known for his Bible-based sermons touching on topics like grace, prayer, suffering, and redemption. This Sunday, his message focused on a passage from 1 Corinthians about unity in Christ. I found his sermon incredibly moving as Conlon stressed themes of:

  • Setting aside differences and coming together in God’s love
  • Jesus setting the example of compassion we should follow
  • Living through faith in Christ to inspire change in others

Pastor Conlon’s passionate storytelling and touches of humor made this sermon truly fascinating. I was raised attending very traditional and stoic churches, so Times Square’s contemporary Christian atmosphere and welcoming spirit felt beautifully refreshing.

Carter Conlon senior pastor of Times Square Church

The Service Closes with More Uplifting Music

After the sermon concluded with a prayer, the worship band returned to lead some more music as the service drew to a close. As uplifting songs soared over the clapping crowd, I felt spiritually energized in a way I hadn’t for years.

When the last song faded out, churchgoers began chatting and hugging each other as they made their way to the exits. My friend and I lingered a bit, soaking up the warm atmosphere. As people streamed out into the bustling city, volunteers handed out information on the church’s community initiatives and outreach programs.

From Town Hall to Broadway: The History of Times Square Church

Stepping into Times Square Church, I gained an appreciation for its remarkable history as an iconic New York City theater brought back to life by a visionary pastor.

The Mark Hellinger Theatre was originally built by Warner Bros. in 1930 as a lavish movie palace called the Warner Hollywood Theatre during the golden age of cinemas. It was converted into a Broadway performance venue in the 1950s and staged major musicals like My Fair Lady, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Coco starring Katherine Hepburn.

By the 1970s and 80s though, Times Square had become crime-ridden and seedy, full of peep shows, prostitution, and drug dealing. It was against this gritty backdrop in 1987 that Pastor David Wilkerson founded Times Square Church with a mission to create a diverse evangelical congregation right in the heart of this sinful area.

Wilkerson believed bringing faith and community to such a place could plant seeds of hope and change lives. The church briefly held services at the Town Hall and Nederlander Theatre before leasing and later purchasing the Mark Hellinger in 1989. This historic theater was converted into a sanctified space filled with music, prayer and preaching.

Pastor Wilkerson led Times Square Church until 2001, when Pastor Carter Conlon took over leadership. Conlon continued the church’s emphasis on racial diversity, lively worship, and social outreach. From 2007-2009, the church organized large “Prayer in the Square” rallies in Times Square itself.

Today, Times Square looks very different from those dubious days of the 70s and 80s. It has been largely redeveloped into a relatively safe, tourist-friendly hub of Broadway theaters, restaurants and flashy billboards.

But Times Square Church remains in its original vibrant home, continuing to spread compassion and faith from the heart of this iconic neighborhood. Stepping inside this “theater turned temple”, you can still feel the passion of Pastor Wilkerson’s original vision to uplift the lost souls of the city. It is a special place with an incredible history.

Serving the Needy: Times Square Church Outreach Ministries

Times Square Church runs a robust series of ministries aimed at serving the poor, addicted, homeless, and otherwise vulnerable or marginalized groups throughout New York City:

  • They operate food pantries and hot meal distribution centers feeding hundreds per week.
  • There are donation drives for clothing, baby items, school supplies, toys, and other necessities for struggling families and individuals.
  • Counseling, job training, ESL classes, and other support resources are offered.
  • Outreach programs are tailored for at-risk youth, single mothers, the elderly, incarcerated individuals, those with HIV/AIDS, and more.
  • Support groups touch on addictions, depression, grief, trauma, and any major life challenge.

It was inspiring to learn how Times Square Church tries to tangibly embody God’s love. Before this visit, I’ll admit my perception of megachurches was tainted by those embroiled in scandal or preaching the “prosperity gospel”. But Times Square Church aims to help, not exploit, the vulnerable.

Finding Unexpected Faith in Times Square

Stepping back out into the overwhelming crowds and flashing billboards of Times Square, I felt a lasting sense of peace and renewal. In the midst of one of the busiest, noisiest neighborhoods in New York City, Times Square Church provided a sanctuary – a welcoming community where faith and compassion beautifully thrive.

There are still four more services held at Times Square Church every Sunday. So on my next visit to New York, I will be sure to return for more of the inspiration and joy found here. The lessons of unity, service, and redemption will stay with me wherever I travel.

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