First woman installed as senior minister of Presbyterian congregation

Cedar Dang to lead California church

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service
additional reporting by Tom Dykhuizen, Presbytery of Los Ranchos

Wayne Wolfe offers greetings at the installation of Huong “Cedar” Dang as senior minister of the Vietnamese Presbyterian Church in Garden Grove, California. (Photo by Forrest Claassen)

LOUISVILLE – The Rev. Huong Dang, best known as “Cedar,” was installed this past Sunday as pastor of the Vietnamese Presbyterian Church (VPC) in Garden Grove, California. She is the first woman to be installed as senior minister of a Vietnamese-language congregation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The March 26 installation service, held in conjunction with the Presbytery of Los Ranchos in Southern California, was conducted in both English and Vietnamese. Forrest Claassen, presbytery co-executive for governance and congregational leadership, called Dang “selfless, humble, brave,” adding, “She is a beautiful example of God at work through a ‘clay jar’ open to his Spirit.”

“The choices you have made have helped hold this congregation together, even in some very difficult times,” he added.

Dang expressed her gratitude after the installation, saying, “I am not deserving to be loved and honored like this. But thanks be to God, I’m sincerely happy and grateful to be loved and honored through the miracles that God has done for me and his church.”

Dang’s path to become senior minister of the congregation has been a long one. She arrived at the church nearly 13 years ago while a student at Fuller Seminary and first became a member, then an assistant to the pastor and finally an associate pastor.

The Rev. Mei-Hui Lai, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) associate for Asian congregational support, has known Dang for six years and said she struggled to find acceptance within the Vietnamese church, which has yet to broadly embrace female pastoral leadership. “It’s hard for Vietnamese people to ask a woman to be their leader,” she said.

Thien Nguyen speaks during Huong “Cedar” Dang’s installation as senior minister of the Vietnamese Presbyterian Church in Garden Grove, California. (Photo by Forrest Claassen)

Over the past several years, the congregation interviewed many men for the role of senior pastor. Lai said one pastor, from the Baptist tradition, pledged to obtain Presbyterian pastoral credentials but instead attempted to wrest control of the church from the presbytery and disaffiliate from the PC(USA).

The Rev. Dr. Cuong Huu Nguyen, president of the National Vietnamese Presbyterian Council and former senior pastor of VPC — the largest Vietnamese-language congregation in the PC(USA) — said of this period, “Our church has gone through many changes and has been without the senior pastor for many years. The issue of the lack of a senior pastor has caused more than one-third reduction in the congregation size.”

Nevertheless, he believes God was present in the process. He said the difficult transition time gave Dang “the opportunity to learn to know the work, the people, and the needs of the church.”

The congregation ultimately noticed the talent and faithfulness of Dang, and called her to be senior pastor.

Dang attributes her successful transition to a senior position not only to the congregation but also to the support of the presbytery. “I cannot express enough my sincere gratitude and appreciation to the leadership team of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos for what you have done for me in my ministry,” she said.

Tom Cramer, presbytery co-executive for vision and mission, praised a performance at the installation by the children of the church, saying, “When the children sang and danced to ‘I’ve Got the Joy in My Heart,’ I sensed they were expressing how all of us were feeling throughout the day, just overflowing with joy for what God has done, and is doing, through your congregation.”

Lai joined many in offering well wishes to Dang, saying, in part, “[The] Rev. Cedar Huong Dang has served this congregation as member, assistant to pastor, an associate pastor for more than 12 years.

“God is now calling her to be the senior pastor with greater responsibilities in leading this congregation to glorify him. Congratulations to the members of Garden Grove Vietnamese Presbyterian Church.

“The installation today will certainly encourage more female Asian American leaders to devote themselves to serve God with all their gifts, strength and wisdom.

“May our Lord bless his church and his wonderful daughter and loyal servant,” she said.

Additional greetings were given by the Rev. Dr. Philip Khanh Trinh of the National Vietnamese Presbyterian Council; the Rev. Dr. Young Lee Hertig, executive director of Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity/Asian American Women on Leadership; the Rev. Dr. Bau Dang from the Vietnamese Ministerial Fellowship of Southern California; Dr. Kim Lien Ngo from Union University of California; elder Wayne Wolfe from First Presbyterian Church; and elder Nhi Huynh from the Vietnamese Presbyterian Church.

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Video highlights of the service include the affirming words of Dang’s colleagues in the presbytery and the participation of the children from the church.


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