Located on the Upper West Side on the edge of the Morningside and Harlem neighborhoods, Riverside Church is modeled after the great thirteenth-century Gothic cathedral of Chartres. Funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and designed by the firm of Allen Pelton & Collens, it was built from 1926 to 1930. Its 392-foot tower conceals a 24-floor office building and is surmounted by the world’s largest carillon with 74 bells, including one 20-ton behemoth. Christ Chapel was patterned after the eleventh-century Romanesque nave of the fortress church of St. Nazaire at Carcassonne. The labyrinth on the floor of the chancel has been adapted from the maze at Chartres and is one of the few such medieval designs in existence.
The Riverside Church is ecumenical in every sense of that word, boasting an interdenominational and interracial congregation truly reflective of the global metropolis in which it resides.
Since its founding in 1960, the Theatre of Riverside Church has become well known for exposing audiences to arts from many cultures and supporting emerging artists of all disciplines. The Theatre of Riverside Church has long been recognized as a source of artistic innovation and cultural celebration. With many highly acclaimed artistic contributions in dance and drama, the theater extends and supports the church’s mission through dynamic dance, poetry, drama and visual arts programming.
Riverside is also a unique venue for productions by grassroots theater companies. The theater has hosted, among others, Opus Dance Theatre, Harlem School of the Arts, Harlem Gospel Singers, Omega Dance Company, Wellspring Project and many others. A major feature is its New York Summer Arts Festival, held in June and presenting music, dance, storytelling and puppetry from Native American, Brazilian, Dominican, Irish and African-American cultures.
Significant past programs have included: Transcending Race: A Human Exploration, exploring race through dance, drama, film and conversation; NuDance Now Festival, a showcase of innovative new choreographers; Riverside Youth Jazz Scholarship Project, supporting the next generation of jazz musicians through tributes to the jazz masters; and New York Family Arts Festival, a month-long celebration of dance, music, storytelling, arts and crafts and the cuisines of cultures around the globe. There is also an extensive music program that includes a summer organ series and a chamber music concerts. Major orchestral, choral, and hand bell festivals are held in the nave, and a brass ensemble enriches holiday traditions.
From 1964 to 1984, the world-renowned Riverside Dance Festival had a profound impact on the direction and development of modern dance in New York City. As a major presenter of dance, the theater played host to countless emerging dancers and dance companies who went on to become innovators in the modern dance world. During the 1981 season the Festival hosted 60 performance groups, from Alvin Ailey to DanceBrazil, serving approximately 30,000 people from the New York community. Theatre groups such as La Familia, created through our prison ministry, brought provocative works such as ShortEyes and others.
The pulpit of Riverside Church has welcomed speakers from far and wide, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached his famous anti-Vietnam-War sermon here, and Nelson Mandela, who addressed the nation during an interfaith celebration welcoming him to America.
The Theatre at Riverside Church has long been an important secular project of the Riverside Church. Founded on the belief that the arts can transform lives for the better, the theater has presented a diverse range of programming including original dance productions, film premieres, musicals, and plays.
Programs for Seniors
Tower League, a group for older adults, meets every Thursday at 2 pm from September-June for fellowship, educational and social activities, and ocassional trips to cultural events. Senior exercise classes meet on Mondays and Thursdays and cater to various levels of mobility. Contact Angela Haddock for more information; call (212) 870-6703 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For all ages, the Family Arts Festival celebrates music, storytelling, dance, crafts, arts and cooking from around the world.
The church also has a preschool facility called the Weekday School.
For grades six and higher, the church offers workshops on the discussion of morality, the bible, the arts and one’s identity.