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North America's Oldest Asian Church

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

North America's Oldest Asian Church

Founded a century and a half ago, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown is the oldest Asian American Christian congregation in North America. Designated a "foreign mission" by the Presbyterian denomination, the church opened its doors on November 6, 1853 with four members under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. William Speer. It was not until 1925 that jurisdiction of the church was transferred from the Board of Foreign Missions to the Board of National Missions. After changing its name from the Presbyterian Chinese Mission Church, the congregation continued to be known as the Chinese Presbyterian Church until 1958, when the current name emphasizing the church's recognition of its social context and its commitment to the San Francisco Chinatown community was adopted by its members.

Rev. Dr. William Speer and Elizabeth Ewing

The Rev. Dr. William Speer (1822–1904) — shown here with his wife, Elizabeth Ewing — was the founding minister of the Presbyterian Chinese Mission Church. For five years a medical missionary to Canton, China, Speer arrived in San Francisco on November 6, 1852 with a working knowledge of Cantonese and a call from the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions to evangelize to the city's Chinese population. He remained in San Francisco until 1858 and, apart from organizing the church, opened a dispensary that was the forerunner of the Chinese Hospital; started what became the first public school for Chinese children and youth; published The Oriental, the country's first English-Chinese bilingual newspaper; and helped bring about the repeal of a California law that imposed a tax targeting Chinese miners.

Friends of Jesus

In 1955 Friends of Jesus was started as a fellowship group of the Cantonese ministry. Here, members of the group are seen gathered at a weekly meeting circa 1960, under the leadership of the Rev. Teng-Kiat Chiu (second row, second from the right).

Greeters at the English worship service

From the earliest days of the Presbyterian Chinese Mission Church when Lai Sam was elected its first elder, lay leadership has been a mainstay of congregational life. Here Deacon Richard Jann and Elder Linda Lee greet worshippers Lianne Leong and Ruth Wu (L to R) from the English worship service. (Photo: 2001.)

Church congregation in 1890

From November 19, 1882 until the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, the Presbyterian Chinese Mission Church met at 911 Stockton Street, in the building which had previously housed Old First Presbyterian Church. The congregation is seen here in front of that building in a photograph from 1890.

Alfred and Sharlene Hall

Between them, Alfred and Sharlene Hall have served the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown twenty-five years as elders. Examples of a generation that grew up in the church, Shar and Al attended PCC's Sunday School, then went on to participate in the college and young-adult fellowships, eventually marrying in the sanctuary in 1958, one of ten couples in the church to do so that summer. (Photo: 2001.)

Rev. Dr. David Pan

The Rev. Dr. David Pan joined the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown staff in 2003 as pastor to the Mandarin congregation. Originally from Indonesia, his ministerial experience bridges the Pacific, mirroring the bicultural heritage of many of the church's members. (Photo: 2003.)

Young people in the congregation in the early 1950s

College- and high-school-aged young people from the Chinese Presbyterian Church gathered in the chancel in a photograph from the early 1950s.

Leona and John Lee

Serving the church five years as an elder-including holding the office of Clerk of Session — and serving the Presbyterian mission organization Donaldina Cameron House for eighteen years as its de facto assistant director, Leona Lee was an example of many from the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown for whom service to the community was a lifelong vocation. Her husband John Lee, pictured here alongside her in the church's sanctuary, served the church for eight years as an elder and many more years as a deacon and as treasurer. (Photo: 2001.)

Cantonese ministry lunch after worship

The Cantonese ministry that began with the founding of the Presbyterian Chinese Mission Church in 1853 continues to the present. Pictured here are members of the current Cantonese congregation enjoying lunch together after worship. (Photo: 2001.)

Presbyterian Church's 100th anniversary in 1953

The Presbyterian Church in Chinatown — then the Chinese Presbyterian Church — celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1953.

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