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Faith in Action

Historical Documentation Project Flyer in English Historical Documentation Project Flyer in Chinese

The Presbyterian Church in Chinatown had its origins in an immigrant community greatly marginalized by the broader American society and, from its very beginnings, defined itself through its response to profound social needs in the surrounding world. The Rev. Dr. William Speer, the church's founding minister, opened a dispensary and a school at the church; published The Oriental, the first English/Chinese bilingual newspaper in the United States; and fought for the repeal of an anti-Chinese mining tax. True to this original emphasis on prophetic faith at work in society, the church has established a long tradition of supporting social services, including education, low-income housing, health services, and youth programs. Its century-old partnership with Donaldina Cameron House (Christian social services and youth programs) and its quarter-century role as the sponsor of the Mei Lun Yuen housing project are only two of many examples of the type of social action at the center of the church's mission. 150 years after its founding, the church has committed to a major remodeling and expansion of its 96-year-old landmark building to increase its ability to partner with and minister to the local community.

Doreen Der-McLeod greeting well-wishers

In December 2000 Doreen Der-McLeod was installed as Executive Director of Donaldina Cameron House. In recognition of the longstanding relationship between the two institutions, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown held a special commissioning service for her on July 1, 2001. In this photograph, as she greets well-wishers after the service, Der-McLeod is flanked by the Rev. Virstan Choy, Co-Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of San Francisco, and the Rev. Willie Ng, President of Donaldina Cameron House's Board of Directors. (Photo: 2001.)

The Rev. Harry Chuck testifying

The Mei Lun Yuen housing project opened for occupancy in 1982 after a decade-long effort by a network of advocates for low-income housing in Chinatown. In 1972, the Rev. Harry Chuck, a staff-person at Donaldina Cameron House and a collegiate pastor at the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, was Co-Chairperson of the Chinatown Coalition for Better Housing (CCBH) and is seen here testifying before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to the need for increased low-income housing in Chinatown.

Cantonese Senior Center sign

The Cantonese congregation offers a weekly Senior Center at the church as part of its ministry to the community. (Photo: 2001.)

Mei Lun Yuen housing project groundbreaking

With the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown as the project's sponsor, ground was broken for the Mei Lun Yuen housing project in November 1979. Pictured here, from left to right are: San Francisco Supervisor John Molinari; Mayor of San Francisco, Diane Feinstein; Y.B. Leong, Chairman of the Chinatown Coalition for Better Housing (CCBH); Wilbur Hamilton, Director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency; and Cynthia Joe, Chairwoman of the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown's Housing Committee.

Occidental School in 1887

The Occidental School of the Presbyterian Chinese Mission was started in 1853 by the Rev. Dr. William Speer, the founding minister of what would become the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown. In 1859 the school began receiving public funds and became the first public school in the United States for Chinese students. Chinese students in San Francisco at the time were assigned specifically to the school and were not permitted to attend any other public school in the city. Also known in this period as the Chinese School, the Occidental School would eventually go through several name changes, becoming the Oriental School, then Commodore Stockton Elementary School, and since 1998, Gordon J. Lau Elementary School. By the time of this photograph, dated June 10, 1887, the school had moved out of the basement of the Presbyterian mission house at 800 Stockton Street and was located at 753 Clay Street.

David Lee explaining construction progress

In 2001 the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown began work on a thirty-year-old dream to remodel the church building in order to add much-needed space for its various ministries to the community. Here, Elder David Lee, the church's Project Manager for the remodeling, explains progress on the construction. (Photo: 2002.)

English ministry deacons

Pastors, elders, deacons, and committee members comprise the most visible "arms" of the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, embracing the congregation and reaching out beyond it to serve the surrounding community. Pictured here are deacons from the English ministry. (Photo: 2001.)

Offerings from the Cantonese congregation

The Presbyterian Church in Chinatown's faith is made real through action, and tithing and offerings — such as those collected here by Lai Wah Wong (née Young) of the Cantonese congregation — provide important resources for improving material conditions in an imperfect world. (Photo: 2001.)

Members marching against War in Iraq

Believing that, beyond nurturing its own members, the church is called always to witness to peace and justice in the world, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown actively engages social concerns. Here, members of the English ministry bring a religious witness to the February 16, 2003 San Francisco Peace March against war in Iraq. (Photo: 2003.)

Remodeled church exterior in 2003

The Presbyterian Church in Chinatown has been in its present building since 1907 after the San Francisco earthquake and fire. A major remodeling in 2001–2003 added a third floor to the original structure. (Photo: 2003.)

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