WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — With so much changing in the District’s Chinatown neighborhood over the years, one thing has withstood the test of time: The Chinese Community Church.
“Our church has been around the Chinatown area long before I came on board here as one of the pastors,” said Pastor Joshua Cho, who leads the English congregation. “It started back in 1935, so we’re almost 90 years old now. It’s really a remarkable story.”
The Protestant-Christian church is the oldest and only Chinese church in the District.
Cho believes it’s endured so long because of “the love of God.” There’s another reason, too.
“If it’s one word, it’s impact,” he explained. “Impact in the Asian American community that goes far beyond the District’s border.”
The church was established as a way to serve and connect the Chinese community. It first offered services in English and Cantonese, but later expanded to offer Mandarin, too. The three distinct congregations still exist today.
“It really has been a hub, especially when immigration was large from China,” explained Cho. “Many people coming to a place where they don’t know the language, the church became not just a place for faith and religion, but really for social life.”
The church offers English classes, help with immigration documents, job searches and so much more. It still serves as a lifeline for people who are starting over, helping to connect them through a common culture.
“Just seeing the immigrant community come to have a place to eat their ethnic food, who know the culture, speak the same language. It does help to kind of lower defenses and really feel like a home away from home,” said Cho.
The church has relocated three times during its history and finally settled in its current Eye Street location in 2006, which formerly served as a Jewish synagogue, Baptist church, and Protestant church.
Like the space itself, the Chinese Community Church has evolved over time.
“Our church has so much history, but we don’t want to become history,” said Cho, explaining that the church has adapted, especially as the English congregation has grown.
The church also diversified with more Hispanic and African American members joining.
“The people who are welcoming those who visit in our church are not thinking, ‘oh if you’re Chinese you’re welcome. If you’re not, hey sorry.’ I think it’s just people being genuine and being open,” said Cho, explaining how other ethnicities fit into the picture.
“I think the bigger hurdle is looking past the name, Chinese Community Church. I think it’s a very big reality that it’s not just Chinese people who are in the church. I’m not Chinese myself, I’m Korean American,” he said.
Still, the fundamentals remain the same. And, the church is still predominantly Asian.
“Our church has that Asian flavor,” said Cho. “So when (people from an Asian background) come, even though everything is in English there’s a commonality there, because hey, I can look around and see people that look like me too,” said Cho.
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