Tapestry LA lead pastor speaks on challenges, transitions and opportunities
March 9, 2023
Charles Choe is lead pastor at Tapestry LA, a downtown Los Angeles church serving a mainly Korean and Chinese American congregation. He was the guest during “Challenges, Transitions and Opportunities in the Second Generation Asian American Church,” a recent 90-minute webinar offered by the Center for Asian American Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary. About 70 people joined online with an additional crowd listening in person at the seminary. The Center’s director, Dr. David Chao, hosted the webinar and led a question-and-answer session following Choe’s talk.
Tapestry LA was planted eight years ago near the intersection of U.S. Interstates 110 and 10. It’s walking distance from Crypto.com Arena, the home of the Los Angeles Lakers. Those who attend worship there are mostly Millennial and Gen Z age, Choe said. About 65% are Korean American and about 30% Chinese American, with “others” comprising the remaining 5%. The University of Southern California is 10 minutes away, and students from UCLA and Pepperdine also attend. “They come, connect, get married and have their first kids,” Choe said. “I feel like I’m at a wedding almost every weekend.”
Tapestry LA is part of Acts Ministries International, a second-generation Asian American network of churches. For its mission statement, Tapestry LA — following considerable thinking and praying — adopted this: “Inviting broken people to be restored by Jesus in the whole of life.”
Choe laid out challenges and transitions that second-generation Asian American churches are facing. Among the challenges he’s identified is the sheer number of pastors who attended seminary along with Choe who have since found other things to do, including selling real estate and insurance. Choe himself was a bi-vocational pastor for many years, working as an educator in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Other challenges include the feeling that Choe used to have, a “sense of being treated like a worker, not as a family. … It’s a struggle many of us had, finding our identity and our satisfaction in ministry, having success and making a livelihood to support a family.”
During his own time of transition, Choe took a year off from ministry to focus on teaching. “I didn’t know if I wanted to get back into ministry, but a handful of people kept insisting I lead them in a Bible study, and I thought, why not?” he said. “We met for Bible study and prayer, and at some point, someone asked about becoming a church. I had never even Googled ‘church planting.’” He and about 15 others attended a church-planting conference in Florida “where all the people looked ordinary like we did,” he said. “I felt for the first time I could plant a church.”
“We didn’t have a blueprint,” he said of those early days, “but we felt determined.”
But after about two years, “I realized the church wasn’t working. I was sick and tired of looking over my shoulder wondering why more people weren’t coming,” he said. “These were my friends, the people who had left a bigger church for this opportunity. But we weren’t growing, and we were fighting a lot. It wasn’t what I had in mind.”
He talked to his wife, and they decided “to take a season to pray and fast.” At about the same time, a friend told him he wouldn’t make it as a church planter “because you’re an island. Whether you live or die as a church, no one’s going to know.”
“I realized I needed to be better connected,” Choe said. The friend arranged a talk between Choe and the man who would become his mentor.
That’s where Choe’s presentation turned to opportunities. “We relaunched the church, and that’s how Tapestry LA was born,” he said. From the beginning, “we tried to create opportunities and excitement to encourage people to come to church.”
If you want diversity on staff, you have to hire for diversity, he said. At Tapestry LA, one of the first hires was a counselor who has assembled a team trained to provide help for people struggling with their mental health. “We are constantly taking in people. We get people with high-grade and low-grade problems,” Choe said. “That’s a big part of our culture here.”
Learn more about the Center for Asian American Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary here.
Mike Ferguson, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Princeton Seminary’s Center for Asian American Christianity
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Shawnda Styles, Client Services Specialists, Presbyterian Foundation
Ralph Su, Associate, Asian Intercultural Congregational Support, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Gracious God, you lavish on your people a profusion of gifts for mission and ministry, evangelism and outreach. Continue to inspire and guide us as we strive to be more responsive to the needs of our churches. Energize and equip us for those kingdom tasks to which we are called as Christ’s followers in a hurting world. Amen.