Celebration of a century

First Chinese Presbyterian carries on mission of outreach to new immigrants

June 25, 2010

A group of children and adults, gathered together with coloring supplies and a large paper.

New York’s First Chinese Presbyterian Church hosted a street fair for 500 neighborhood children as part of its yearlong 100th anniversary celebration. —Photo courtesy FCPC

STATESVILLE, N.C.

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of stories about congregations engaged in significant outreach and evangelism ministries, reflecting the General Assembly’s commitment to "Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide." ― Jerry L. Van Marter

Much can change over 100 years. Much can also stay the same. First Chinese Presbyterian Church in New York City's Chinatown knows both experiences. 

FCPC, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary throughout 2010, has never lost sight of its original mission of reaching out to new immigrants, a tradition members are proud to carry on today.

FCPC was founded in 1910 by the Rev. Huie Kin, an immigrant who came to America in the mid-1800s as a boy in search of gold. What he found here was quite different but no less rewarding.

Huie found both faith and education, and as a result was sent to New York in the 1880s to do mission work among the Chinese community of the city. In 1885, he started a Sunday school with 12 students. Huie was ordained in 1895 while the Chinese mission continued to grow. In 1910, the group was officially incorporated into First Chinese Presbyterian Church of New York City, with Huie installed as the first pastor. 

"We have only had five pastors over 100 years," said Lap Lee, church member and chair of the FCPC 100th anniversary planning committee. "That works out to roughly 20 years of service per pastor."

Huie served until failing health forced him to retire in 1925. Of his time at FCPC, Huie wrote, "I came to America for gold, but I have found riches that never rust and a fortune that cannot be stolen."

Huie also notes that much of his time was spent helping people sort out personal troubles such as illness, lawsuits or financial difficulties — things that can be very challenging for new immigrants unfamiliar with a new country. What he didn’t know was that he was starting a tradition of helping new immigrants that would continue far into the future.

Those initial immigrants were mostly married men who had come to America but weren’t able to bring their wives and families because of tight immigration restrictions. In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy relaxed the restrictions, which finally allowed entire families to come to America together.

The members of FCPC were there to help newly arrived families with everything from filling out the initial paperwork to learning about daily life in America. As a result, the congregation blossomed to about 700 members with 400-500 at worship on Sundays. 

The church was originally located on 31st Street but moved to its current location on Henry Street — a landmark church building originally built by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1819, making it the second oldest church building in New York City — in 1951. The move helped accommodate the expanding congregation and situated the church closer to the Chinatown neighborhood it serves.

"Outreach has always been important to us," Lee said. 

The church sponsors a home attendance and housekeeping program that sends workers out to care for homes not just in Chinatown but in all five boroughs of the city. It serves more than 1,000 clients a day and is recognized by the city as one of the best programs of its type.

The church also does an annual summer program for neighborhood children — usually 65-75 children attend. For adults, it offers Sunday classes in citizenship and basic English, although there has been some decline in these because other community organizations offer the same type of classes. 

"Our church served the need when the community needed it," Lee said.

Lee and his committee have a number of activities planned through the year to celebrate FCPC's 100th anniversary.

In February the church hosted a music workshop focusing on how to expand and enhance music in worship. 

In April, the church hosted a street carnival for neighborhood children.  Lee estimated that about 500 children attended. He was pleased with how well it turned out, although he said the church might need to get more face painters — the most popular attraction — at future events.

"The funny thing is that it was an absolutely beautiful spring day," Lee said. "The weekend before and the weekend after were terrible weather but our weekend, which we selected months in advance, turned out beautiful. God was looking out for us there."

This weekend is the centerpiece of the yearlong celebration as the church celebrates Anniversary Weekend June 26-27.

On June 26th it will hold two workshops, one in Cantonese and Mandarin and the other in English. The congregation is made up primarily of Cantonese and English speakers, but the new immigrants in the neighborhood speak mostly Mandarin, so including the language is another way to reach out to these newer arrivals. The workshops will be followed by a worship service.

On June 27, FCPC will have a special thanksgiving worship service followed by a concert. All members and friends of FCPC are welcome to attend these events. The church will also host a special anniversary dinner for 500 that evening. The church also has assembled a 100th anniversary souvenir publication that will be distributed starting this week. 

"Rev. Huie founded our church and he was followed by Rev. Yeung (who served as pastor for 30 years) and this weekend their descendants will be coming to attend our anniversary celebration," Lee said.

The anniversary celebration will continue in September, when the church plans to hold evangelical meetings to spread the gospel to the neighborhood. To close out the year, a 100th anniversary souvenir DVD will be distributed at Christmas.    

Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she is also secretary at First Presbyterian Church.

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