Taiwanese American congregations connecting between the U.S. and Taiwan
October 11, 2022
One of the churches I visit every few years is Grace Taiwanese American Presbyterian Church outside of Trenton, New Jersey. I was briefly its youth director during seminary, and it was part of my call to ministry in Taiwan.
The last time I was there, one of the guiding elders of the congregation talked to me about how the church was doing. “We were around 30 members when we chartered 20 years ago, and we’re around 30 members now,” he said. The church has often relied on part-time and interim pastors, and its feel can change if a few people join or leave. It is a small church, especially compared to the larger Chinese American churches in central New Jersey.
There was some wistfulness to the elder’s voice, and I could tell that he often wished that the church had continued to grow. At the same time, visiting every few years as we do, I’ve always been impressed by the vitality of this church. I’ve seen several members during their sojourns back to Taipei, youth I knew from 20 years ago have married and started their own families, and several former youth leaders went on to ministries involving cross-cultural work. It’s a church for which I’m deeply grateful, connecting people back and forth between the U.S. and Taiwan.
The PC(USA) has about 50 Taiwanese American congregations. Because I grew up in the Midwest and South, I tend to see churches in these regions most often. I was surprised to find a tiny Taiwanese American church in Cincinnati. Recently, the Rev. Ho-tek Tan, the pastor of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Taiwanese American church, also introduced me to a small, satellite congregation in Detroit. Visiting Louisville, I’ve watched the congregation that meets at Calvin Presbyterian Church shift several times over the past 10 years.
I also was surprised on a church visit to the Albany, New York, area to First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford to discover that there is a monthly Taiwanese Presbyterian fellowship led by long-term members of that church. Getting to know these churches is often a surprise to me. Like other PC(USA) congregations, they vary widely. In some cases, the Taiwanese American churches have revitalized their sister churches, or helped congregations be able to stay in ministry. Almost every congregation I’ve mentioned shares its space with another Presbyterian congregation.
These congregations are also multigenerational. Taiwanese American congregations face many of the “worship war” questions other U.S. churches face around music style and liturgy, but this is also compounded by language, as the older generation tends to speak Taiwanese, English and Japanese, and the younger generation grew up more in Mandarin but also began studying English earlier. Taiwanese Americans have also faced a long range of experiences in the U.S. Many Taiwanese began coming to the U.S. more than 50 years ago on student visas. Taiwanese Presbyterians of that era faced a hostile, authoritarian government in Taiwan, and relocating to the U.S. often meant escape from a hostile situation.
Taiwan is an island country floating between empires to its east and west, and its modern history is one of dislocation and lament, but also of hope and vibrancy. Like many people, I came to know the Taiwanese church via its larger neighbor. I had lived in China as an undergrad and then in Singapore and had never been to Taiwan. However, my seminary neighbors were a Taiwanese American couple with a young daughter. Through them, I began working at Grace Taiwanese American Presbyterian Church. First, I worked with the next-door neighbor, Shang-Jen Chen, and then with the Rev. Ralph Su, who is now the PC(USA)’s Associate for Asian Intercultural Congregational Support.
It’s been fascinating to watch how Taiwanese American churches also influence Taiwanese congregations. A classmate of mine from seminary, Peter Chen, took an English ministry at Shuanglian Presbyterian Church in Taipei, but now has returned to the U.S. Friends like Chi Yi Chen, who was an organist at Princeton Seminary, helped bring Taiwanese hymns into the recent PC(USA) hymnal, Glory to God; around the same time, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan updated its hymnal, also pulling in many newer hymns from the U.S. and other churches.
Jonathan Seitz, Mission Co-Worker in Taiwan
Today’s Focus: Taiwanese American congregations
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Denise Hampton, Director/Controller, Finance & Accounting, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Jieun Kim Han and Martin Han, Mission co-workers serving in South Korea, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Lord of abundance, help us to open our hearts so that we may pour out and receive blessings for you to multiply through your steadfast love. Amen.