English Ministry in the 19th Century

The challenge of establishing an effective English Ministry in Chinese churches is neither new nor unique.  I have frequently heard of similar issues faced by other ethnic churches, and I have suspected that these issues were present in the past as well.  I took a special interest in German speaking churches in the U.S. in part because some of my ancestors came from Germany and in part because Germans formed one of the largest immigrant groups in the early history of the U.S.

Through the Google Books project I have been able to access some of the earlier books on the German Lutherans in the U.S. and it has made interesting reading.  In A brief history of the Lutheran church in America by Juergen Ludwig Neve (1916) we read about heated debates in the early 19th century over the introduction of English language worship services.  Some of the immigrant generation saw English worship as essential to reaching the next generation while others feared it would lead to the abandonment of their German language and culture.  Neve’s section on “The Language Question” on p. 82 is worth reading.  In this case the English worship service proposal was voted down and the English speaking group left to form a new church.

Change a few of the details and it sounds like what has taken place in many other immigrant churches.  Although most Chinese churches now accept the importance of having an English worship service, I have been told that in the 1980’s there was considerable controversy over this issue.  It seems like there is something here that may apply to many different immigrant churches.

Most immigrants desire to hold on to their language and culture, and to gather with others from their homeland.  It is understandable that they also want to pass their heritage on to their children.  But it is also understandable that their children want to adapt to the culture of the new country so that they can fit in there.  When this tension inevitably shows up in the church it makes it challenging to reach the next generation.

It is usually encouraging to know that the challenges that you face are not new, and it is even better if you can learn from the experience of others.  Do you know of examples from other immigrant churches, either contemporary or in the past?  If so, I would be very interested in hearing about them.


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