Religion: Concrete Vineyard

Along the littered streets of Manhattan's East Harlem, past dingy doorways and under rusting fire escapes strolled a young Yaleman and a Boston University graduate student, wearing baggy old trousers and work shirt. As they passed, youngsters greeted them by name or tugged their arms. Lounging tenement dwellers nodded brusquely in their direction. In a neighborhood traditionally hostile to strangers, that signified acceptance. It was also a victory for what the students stood for: the church.

The boys were part of a radical Christian experiment: the East Harlem Protestant Parish. With 21 other...

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