Congregation Finds New Life
In Diverse Language Ministries
By Elliott Wright
San Diego, CA, August 7, 2006—More than 90 children from the Vacation Bible School of John Wesley United Methodist Church stood before the congregation and sang with gusto as a group of visiting church development specialists looked on in pleased amazement.
The singers ranged in age from toddlers to middle school students. Sitting in the front pews were the VBS leaders, all of them high school and college students. At Wesley older youth serve as the Christian education mentors and models for the younger children. Both students and leaders are mostly Asian-Americans, predominantly Vietnamese.
John Wesley was one of the “teaching churches” visited on Sunday, August 6, by adults from the 2006 United Methodist School of Congregational Development, an annual event focused on church growth. It is a congregation to watch and to learn from.
Diverse Community and Congregation
The pastor, the Rev. Bau Dang, is a dynamic man who is assisted by a variety of lay pastors and retired clergy. He is also a scholar who is making a new translation of the Bible into Vietnamese; the New Testament has been published.
Rev. Dang said in a session with the visitors from the congregational development school that Wesley Church is very attentive to its community. It sponsors activities for young people and to the growing number of senior citizens, many of whom are Anglo, moving into retirement homes and apartments in the immediate vicinity. The very large Vacation Bible School will be followed up with a special emphasis on children at Christmas. “We want to keep the emphasis on children going,” the pastor said.
San Diego’s population today is 41 percent white, 25 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian American, eight percent African American, and one percent Native American. Mid City includes all these ethnicities, plus large numbers of people from the Middle East, East Africa, and other parts of the world. Thirty languages are spoken at one local school.
The traditional English language worship on Sunday morning draws an average of 20 to 25 people, much smaller than the Vietnamese service, but there is great attentiveness to the elderly members, who are seen as forbearers in faith and the original providers of the church structure. A Sunday afternoon service is designed for Asian young people who want to worship in English. The children of the Vacation Bible School also sang in English.
A group of Vietnamese Christians appeared one Sunday and continue to attend worship. This was the beginning of a planned transition toward a multi-cultural congregation. Rev. Dang came to the staff in 1988.
After his retirement from another appointment, the Rev. Dr. John Lurvey, Jr., the last Anglo pastor of John Wesley, returned as part-time minister of English language outreach. His wife, the Rev. Gwen Jones-Lurvey, also retired, is now the minister of visitation.
“God, Do Something”
All of the language ministries worship together on Thanksgiving, which is observed not only as a national holiday but as an occasion for the new language groups to thank those who came before them at John Wesley Church.
Rev. Dang has equipped the laity to do most of the work in evangelism. Along with his pastoral and scholarly pursuits, he also teaches at a Bible college in San Diego. He sees himself as an “equipper” for ministry.
The Chinese language ministry is a new initiative. A group of some 70 persons are currently meeting twice a month for worship in Chinese.
The School of Congregational Development is sponsored annually by the General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Discipleship. It moves around the country and was this year hosted by the California Pacific Annual Conference.
*Elliott Wright is the Information Officer of the General Board of Global Ministries
Date posted: Aug 07, 2006