| "I am
Asian was suspect in
the eyes of mainstream America in the wake of the
attack on Pearl Harbor. On the train back home one
evening, a passenger shouted, "There are Japs on this train!"
Fearful of being targetted, Rev. Edwar Lee and others proclaimed, "I am
Chinese!" They had saved themselves, but it was a dark time in
history as Japanese-Americans were forced from their
homes into Internment Camps.
By the end of that decade however, World War II was history. Rev.
Lee, Superintendent of the Oriental Provisional Conference, and Rev.
Taro Goto, Superintendent of the Japanese Provisional
Conference, would work closely to create a place for Asian
Americans at the Methodist
table. Through God's healing grace, reconciliation
and forgiveness overcame fear and discrimination to become One Body.
Provisional and Japanese Provisional Conferences were merged
into the mainline Methodist Conference structure in 1952 and 1964,
respectively. Churches were now divided geographically rather
ethnicity. At the cutting edge of the Civil Rights movement, this
represented a step forward for Asian American churches to no longer be
viewed as a missional church with little brother status amongst
mainline Euro-American Methodists.
But the reorganization also
unintended consequences. The ethnic churches would now have
autonomy, decreased funding, and most of all fragmention at a time when
their collective struggles and growth were forming their identity as an
Asian American ethnic church. As time passed, the leaders of the
American churches increasingly saw see the benefit and need for common
identity and collective empowerment. Within a short time, the
American Methodists, led by as Edwar Lee, and Japanese American
Methodists, led by Taro Goto began rethinking the need for organizing
as ethnic groups, and by 1968, the Japanese American Methodists formed
their own ethnic caucus [link to Faithful Generations-Google].
the support of the General Board of Global Ministries, Asian American
churches from around the country gathered in 1971 at our Oakland
church to begin a formal conversation on the importance of a common
Jurisdiction Asian Americans were formed in 1972, and
Rev. Wilbur Choy was elected as the first Asian American to the
epsicopacy. The Natioinal Federation of Asian American United
Methodists would subsequently be organized at a national level as an
umbrella organization for coordination of Asian sub-ethnic caucuses.
With the doors of
opportunity opened by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the 1970s
were marked by immigrants making a foothold in society and rising
economically. Like other immigrant families, church members began
moving out of Chinatown and into the suburbs. Yet their deep
family and religious roots brought them back to Oakland Chinatown each
The 1980s and 1990s saw
the height of the church's ministry in Oakland Chinatown. Church
programs like Summer Day Camp, English as a Second Language, Saturday
Children's program, Nursery School, and Welfare Reform engaged
congregation members of all generations to meet the needs of the local
community. The first generation immigrants in chinatown had needs
for its youth and traditional language classes, and these programs were
burgeoned with students and community members.
Ministries, One Church
Although the church
shared God's love by serving the community, this presence did not
translate into making disciples of Christ in the community. The
trend of immigrant families escaping to the suburbs continued, but few
the church rapidly lost its membership roots in the community.
Attrition took its toll on the aging Chinese-speaking congregation,
while the English-speaking next generation became the mainstay of the
1990s, the church made a bold effort to return to roots in
Chinatown by initiating the Outreach Project-18 (for 18 months which
was eventually extended to 24 and then 36 months) ministry to
congregation. Through God's blessing and intentional outreach to
the community, the church began to see growth in the Chinese-speaking
congregation. Prayer groups, youth and young adult fellowships,
and senior bible study groups to support Chinatown's new first
generation immigrants were reborn.
To meet the unique needs of
language ministry, separate language-specific worship services were
conducted and a new structure was adopted whereby each language
congregation had its own leadership. These parallel ministries
were encouraged to develop their
own unique directions while maintaining church unity through the
administrative bodies of the church and intentional joint activities.
Joint Chinese- and English-speaking
Worship Service - 120th Anniversary 2007