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"I am Chinese!"

Anyone looking 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. Edwar 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.

Asian American Ministries

An Asian-American Church

The Oriental Provisional and Japanese Provisional Conferences were merged into the mainline Methodist Conference structure in 1952 and 1964, respectively.  Churches were now divided geographically rather than by 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 had the unintended consequences.  The ethnic churches would now have decreased 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 Asian American churches increasingly saw see the benefit and need for common identity and collective empowerment.  Within a short time, the Chinese 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].

With 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 voice. 
The Western 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 week.

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.

Day Camp 1995-web
Click to Enlarge
Day Camp 1995

Parallel Ministries, One Church

Although the church shared God's love by serving the community, this presence did not automatically 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 church.

In early 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 revitalize its Chinese-speaking 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 each 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

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Chinese Community United Methodist Church - 321 8th Street Oakland, CA 94607 - (510) 452-1020   [ directions & map ]