Riverside Church is a Christian church in Morningside Heights, Upper Manhattan, New York City. Opened on October 5, 1930, it is located at 120th Street and 490 Riverside Drive, near Columbia University's Morningside Heights campus and across from Grant's Tomb. Although interdenominational, it is also associated with the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ.
Riverside Church is famous for its large size and elaborate Neo-Gothic architecture as well as its history of social justice. It was described by The New York Times in 2008 as "a stronghold of activism and political debate throughout its 75-year history ... influential on the nation's religious and political landscapes." It has been a focal point of global and national activism since its inception.
The church was conceived by industrialist, financier, and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. , and minister Harry Emerson Fosdick , as a large, interdenominational church in a neighborhood important to the city, open to all who profess faith in Christ. Its congregation includes more than forty ethnic groups. As of 2007, the church had a $14 million annual operating budget and a paid staff of 130. In 2012 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The tallest church in the United States, and 24th tallest in the world, Riverside was designed by the firm of Allen, Pelton and Collens. Henry C. Pelton and Charles Collens were commissioned by Rockefeller to travel across Spain and France to find inspiration for their project. They took for their model of the nave the 13th-century Gothic Chartres Cathedral, France. For the massive single bell tower that dwarfs the rest of the church, they modeled one of the towers at Laon, but here with a base 100 feet square, and built on a steel frame the equivalent of a 22-story building ). Inlaid on the floor is a labyrinth. The church was begun in 1927 and, following delays caused by a spectacular fire in the wooden scaffolding, held its first service at the main altar on October 5, 1930.
The exterior buttressing is purely decorative, for the structure is supported on its steel frame, and its weight would not be sufficient to counter the weight of the vault. The writers of the WPA Guide to New York City noted "Their smallness has the effect of making the building itself seem smaller than it is, so that its scale is scarcely impressive, even when seen at close range."
The west-facing main entrance, in the base of the tower, is based on the Porte Royale of Chartres, with the seated figure of Christ in the tympanum, flanked by the symbols of the Evangelists. The figures sculpted in the concentric arches of the doorway represent leading personalities of religion and philosophy, joined by great scientists. The nave has a seating capacity of 2,100.
The tower houses a carillon that John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated in memory of his mother, Laura Spelman Rockefeller. Its final complement of 74 bronze bells includes the 20-ton bourdon, the largest tuned bell in the world. It is still considered the largest carillon in the world based on weight of bells.
The church used to house a public observation deck on top of the carillon, closed since September 11, 2001.
The church was conceived as a complex social services center from the outset, with meeting rooms and classrooms, a daycare center, a kindergarten, library, auditorium and gym. It was designated a New York City Landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2000.
The original chancel and gallery organs for the Riverside Church were built by Hook and Hastings of Boston when the church was opened in 1930. A new five-manual Aeolian-Skinner chancel console was built in 1948, followed by that firm's new chancel organ in 1953–54, retaining some of the original pipework but replacing some gallery pipework.
In 1964, a new Aeolian-Skinner organ was installed in the second gallery, and all pipes were revoiced. During 1966–67, Anthony A. Bufano built a new five-manual console; at the same time, Gilbert F. Adams made major tonal revisions, including the addition of the Positiv, new pipework in the Bombarde, complete new principal choruses in the Great and Swell, chorus reeds in the Great, revoiced reeds in the Swell, Solo, and Choir, and other new flues. A rebuilt four-manual Austin console was installed in the gallery.
Bufano gave the Trompeta Majestatis, built by Möller and voiced by Adolph Zajic, in memory of his mother in 1978. The Grand Chorus division was added two years later , and a complete new principal chorus was installed in the chancel Pedal. In 1994, a Solid State Logic multi-level combination action was installed and the console was completely rewired. In summer 1995, the dry acoustics were improved when 10 coats of sealant were applied to the ceiling. During 1995–96, organ curator Robert Pearson supervised the complete cleaning, tuning, and revoicing of the organ to suit the new acoustical environment. The organ is the 14th largest in the world.
The Director of Music and organist is Christopher Johnson. Past organists at the Riverside Church include Virgil Fox , Frederick Swann , John Walker , and Timothy Smith . Several recordings of the organ and Riverside Choir have been released. The church offers a popular summer organ concert series on Tuesday nights in July and August.
In the Riverside Church hang three paintings by Heinrich Hofmann which were purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.: Christ in the Temple , Christ and the Young Rich Man , and Christ in Gethsemane . Stained glass for the apse was created by Harry Wright Goodhue.
The church contains statues of a number of science personalities including Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Darwin, Pasteur and Einstein.
Martin Luther King Jr. voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War at Riverside on April 4, 1967 in his Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, also known as the Riverside Church speech. The Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the eulogy at Jackie Robinson's funeral service in 1972. Bill Clinton spoke at Riverside Church on August 29, 2004.Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan spoke there after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Cesar Chavez, Desmond Tutu, Fidel Castro, Arundhati Roy and Nelson Mandela have all spoken at Riverside Church. Other past speakers include such theological superstars as Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German who was instrumental in the Christian resistance against the Third Reich, and Channing E. Phillips, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and the first African American to receive votes as a presidential nominee at a Democratic National Convention. Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy President of Interfaith Alliance of Washington, DC.
On January 15, 2012, a commemoration celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. took place at the Riverside Church, which included appearances by Patti Smith and Yoko Ono.
Riverside Church provides various social services, including a food bank, barber training, clothing distribution, a shower project, and confidential HIV tests and HIV counseling."
Riverside's HIV-AIDS ministry hosts a quarterly Spiritual HIV Support Forum and participates in on-site HIV Testing, Counseling and Referral programs. They collaborate with AIDS Service Center NYC Spiritual Outreach Services Program, Conscious Contact New York HIV Ministry Technical Assistance Program and United Church of Christ HIV/AIDS National HIV/AIDS Faith Partnership. The ministry is also involved in HIV-AIDS issues in Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Europe."
Other ministries at Riverside include an Anti-Death Penalty Task Force, which is in opposition to capital punishment in the United States, an 'Overcoming Violence' task force dedicated to fostering dialogue with the New York City Police Department, the Densford Fund for the education and appreciation of Native Americans in the United States, a South Africa Support Group, and a Support Group for Hispanic and Latino Americans."
Volunteers within Riverside's congregation support detained asylum seekers and those on parole from immigration detention by visiting immigration detainees who have no friends or family in the area. Asylum seekers sometimes spend months in detention centers before they win asylum or are deported. The Department of Homeland Security gives parole to asylum seekers who are not a security risk and have someone to take them in. Riverside assists asylum seekers with free housing, connection to food banks, and a survival-level cash stipend.