Introduction to Chinese Churches in the US – Where to Find Chinese in Suburbia

AddingOil:

Outside the Chinatowns in main urban centers of the U.S., it can be difficult to find a Chinese immigrant or second generation Chinese community for newcomers. But, in fact, in more suburban areas there actually are Chinese communities – they’re just harder to find because they are more spread out.

Sanctuary of Trinity Church in lower Manhattan near Wall St. This is where, incidentally, Alexander Hamilton is buried.

As non-intuitive as it sounds, the most common and strongest of these communities is the Chinese church; they are the main civic and social community centers for recent immigrants and their children.

You don’t have to be Christian to go to one – in fact, like all Christian churches they have a strong sense of evangelism and want non-Christians to come. But if you only want community and never want to even hear/talk/ask questions about Christianity, it’ll eventually become uncomfortable for you.

 

JiaYou and I started going to a Chinese church in our rather suburban area of NYC, and here are some interesting observations I have regarding Chinese churches in general (and I’ve been to several):

  • Chinese language vs English language services/congregations. To accommodate recent immigrants and second generation/non-Chinese speaking people, Chinese churches usually have separate Chinese speaking and English speaking services and events. So for non-Chinese speakers like myself, no worries! And, depending on the population, there may be services for different dialects of Chinese – so separating Cantonese-speaking from the Mandarin-speaking, if there’s demand.
  • Even being remotely linked to Chinese ethnicity will make you welcomed. This does not mean that Chinese churches are hostile to non-Chinese, but the immediate identification and cultural affinity will be sought for in being Chinese in some way. You can be a PRC mainlander with the “er-hua” Beijing accent, a Cantonese/English-speaker from Hong Kong, someone of the Hokkien sub-ethnicity from Indonesia, or a Taiwanese who moved here decades ago, and you’ll be completely welcomed with open arms. And if you’re Asian but not ethnically Chinese, they will go out of their way to create the link somewhere in their minds.  I think everyone at the church we go to is in denial that I’m not ethnically Chinese because I’m Asian and can speak a bit of Mandarin. (I guess my being married to a PRC Chinese girl helps them assume.)
  • Age demographic differences can be extreme. Related somewhat to language, there are usually large age disparities in suburban Chinese churches. There are many explanations for this, but generally families with young children make up the bulk of Chinese immigrants moving to the suburbs. So there will be a large 45+ population of parents who are more comfortable speaking Chinese, and a large middle school/high school population of their children, and very little in between. But then, this is reflective of suburbia in general, as Chinese churches in urban centers would have a larger young adult/career crowd. One odd side-effect is that the English speaking congregation will consist mostly of the under 25 crowd… and by default will be treated like children (which may be subject matter for another post.)
  • Food is celebrated. One aspect of Chinese culture is that food, particularly from the various cuisines of China, is celebrated. Most suburban Chinese churches have large kitchens to cook lunch (Chinese American cuisine) for their congregations after service. This tends to be cafeteria style and therefore filling (but not exceptional in taste). The good stuff happens during the potluck events, such as Thanksgiving outreach and Bible study nights. Most of the mothers out there do an amazing job of cooking huge volumes of tasty stuff. So if you want a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner Chinese style, Chinese churches are where to go!

I’ve purposely not discussed the history and present day situation of Christian churches in PRC vs and those in the greater China area (i.e., HK, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese in SE Asia), but that’s a potential topic for another China Flashback post.

JiaYou:

我喜欢去教堂的几个原因:

一、 语言环境

来美国后我几乎都没怎么用母语跟别人聊天,由于认识的人没几个再加上认识的人都是有家庭和小孩的。平日里不想给别人添麻烦,所以空余的时间就在家看中国的电视剧,听到中文时感觉好亲切。后来老公带我到中文教堂,发现有很多人都说中文感觉好亲切好熟悉。教堂的人不但会说中文,而且英文也很好。

二、 人文关系

教堂的成员都真心诚意的欢迎新成员的到来,而且谁家如果有事,大家都会很热心的帮助。我第一次参加小组聚会的时候,他们听说我不会开车,教堂的成员很热心的说可以到我家接我去聚会的地方。聚会结束后,又有人把我送回家。第一次感觉到大家的关系可以这么亲密。

三、 组织的活动

教堂每年都组织大大小小的户外活动,大家都会踊跃的参加。周日教堂也有组织周日圣经学习,有成人的和小孩的。在这些课堂中让我们更加了解基督耶稣,对自己的信仰更加的坚定。

四、 供应午餐

在美国很多教堂都不会提供午餐,而我去的这个教堂每个周日都会提供不同的午餐,做饭的人员都是教堂的成员自发组织的。

五、 节日或聚会有各式美食

每到节日,教堂都会庆祝以及感恩上帝,大家都会带着美食去,做完礼拜后,就是聚餐时间。很久没有吃到家乡美食的我,在那天就可以吃到中国或其它国家的美食。

六、 小孩结交很多小伙伴

每个周日都可以看到很多的小孩,小孩到教堂后不但可以学习圣经而且还可以结交到很多朋友。

很多时候圣经教会我们尊师爱幼,感恩父母,关爱他人。上帝给予我们力量勇敢的去面对困难,战胜困难。

Let us know what you think and share your experiences!