If you are looking to find the next Celine Dion amongst the female soloists, look somewhere else. Now, if what you want is to witness one of the most moving, authentic and amazing experiences in the Harlem gospel circuit, look no further.
As an experienced traveler to NYC, I've been to several other gospel services, but none came even close to the Greater Refuge Temple's. In short:
-Warm welcome by the security and ushers, will make you feel at home instantly. Just make sure you arrive at least one-half hour before service starts at 11 AM
-A high-energy choir that will rock you and make you clap and sing the name of Jesus even if you are an atheist like me.
-People (including some members of the choir) entering a religious trance, dancing, singing, stomping, shouting and raising their hands to receive the energy of the Lord.
-A deco building that just for its architectural value is worth the visit.
Don't miss it.
Now, a few useful tips and rules of etiquette:
a) This is not a musical. It's a religious service and as such, respect it by NOT using your cell phone to chat or shoot video. You will be asked to quit and it's embarrassing. Also, don't talk out loud or do anything that could be considered rude.
b) Although regulars wear their best clothes (some of the ladies' hats are spectacular), you don't need to wear a tie. However, be sensible and avoid shorts, flip-flops, sleeveless shirts, etc.
c) The service is rather long, about two hours. Although it's worth while sitting through all of it, you can leave earlier, just do it discreetly and not while the preacher is preaching. And don't leave before the alms and donation pan is handled around, that's cheap.
d) More on money: everyone donates money to the temple, and it is its main income source. Even the preacher, the members of the choir and the ushers do. So why wouldn't you? Don't embarrass yourself and give out some insignificant amount. I've seen tourists who would gladly spend 150 dollars per person on a Broadway show give nothing, or hand out a one-dollar bill to represent their whole family. Again, don't be cheap, it's disgusting to see and offensive to those who opened their doors for you to share this wonderful experience with them.
After service is finished, you can eat at the temple (I haven't so I could not comment), or go to one of the restaurants around to eat some soul food and complete your Harlem experience.
Note: my teenage sons, more terrenal than spiritual, flipped out and said it was one of the vacation's highlights.