Asian-American Churches Face Some Big Challenges

Every Sunday at Christ Covenant Church in Koreatown, the pungent smell of kimchi--Korean fermented cabbage--clashes with the toasty fragrance of steamed rice. Kids run screaming with laughter down the corridor, ignoring the shushes of disapproving elders, as adults pile their plates high with kimchi and toasted seaweed.

Lunchtime is a neutral zone at many Asian immigrant churches in America. Some second and third-generation Asian-Americans leave to join or form another church, but other churches try to stay together. Here at Christ Covenant, a 12-year-old Korean immigrant church, senior pastor Min-Kyu Song preaches in his native language, while a Korean-American deacon stands beside him translating the words into English. 

After lunch, young adults move the tables, arrange the chairs into neat rows, and set up the audio system for the bass guitar that will play a prominent part in the English Ministry (EM) service. EM pastor Isaac Kim, 33, begins the sermon with a short video clip, and when it's time to read the week's Bible verse, iPhones, Androids, and iPads light up across the seats. Meanwhile, the sounds of traditional hymns and piano notes vibrate through the thin walls dividing EM from a Korean-language college service in the main auditorium.

Worship styles form only one of the many differences between worshippers in various languages. After the service, members of the EM group carpool to a nearby café to hang out and chat over iced lattes. They talk about everything from their personal struggles to the best scooter prices. Unlike some Korean pastors who exclude themselves from that kind of socializing, Kim joins in and meanders through the different conversations taking place.

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Sophia Lee
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