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Anglo, Ethnic Congregations Coexist : Churches Open Doors to Immigrant Groups

January 23, 1986|ELIZABETH CAMPOS | Times Staff Writer

The growth of non-English-speaking ethnic groups has brought Sunday services in many languages to Glendale churches.

Glendale Presbyterian Church on East Harvard Street conducts services in English, Korean and Spanish, and an adult Sunday school in Portuguese. A couple of blocks away, at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, Masses are in English and Spanish. And, in La Canada Flintridge, there is a Methodist service in Gujarati, one of the languages of India.

Some long-established churches have welcomed immigrants by holding services in foreign languages and incorporating them into the main body of regular church members. More often, ethnic groups form separate congregations and rent space from existing churches during times when the churches are vacant.

"The number of churches in Glendale has doubled in the last five years as a result of the ethnic churches," said the Rev. Eugene Golay, former executive director of the Verdugo Hills Council of Churches, which includes Glendale.

Many From the Orient

Golay attributes that growth mainly to the increased number of Asians moving to Glendale. He said the Latino population also has been increasing, but that most of the Spanish-speakers are Roman Catholics who join Catholic churches in the area, rather than start their own.

"Ten years ago we didn't have very many Orientals in Glendale, but today, a significant part of the population is from the Orient. We have scores of people from Korea, the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, and China," he said. "Most of these people, because of language, start ethnic churches."

The Glendale area has had a handful of ethnic-oriented churches for many years. The Japanese Free Methodist Church was formed in 1938 and an Armenian Apostolic church was established in the early 1970s.

But, for the most part, bilingualism in mainstream Christian churches has developed over the past decade.

Holy Family Roman Catholic Church began holding two weekend Masses in Spanish 12 years ago and their popularity continues to increase, said Msgr. Arthur Lirette, the pastor. He estimates that 40% of the 9,800 registered members of the congregation are Latinos, contrasted with to 30% just 10 years ago. Many more Latinos attend Mass but do not register with the church because they are illegal aliens who fear having their names on lists, he said.

Census Information

According to the 1980 U. S. census, Asians made up 6% of Glendale's population, Latinos 17% and whites 75%, contrasted with the 1970 census when Asians made up 1%, Latinos 10.3% and whites 87.9%. Glendale continues to have an extremely small percentage of blacks, less than 1%.

The city planning office does not keep updated demographic studies, but the percentage of minorities is thought to have risen in the past six years.

The Glendale Unified School District conducts a yearly census. The most recent figures available, from 1984, show an ethnic breakdown among public school children of 13.5% Asian (including Pacific Islanders), 25.7% Latino, and 59.9% whites, an increase in ethnic groups since 1980, when 68% of the children were white, 9.4% Asian, and 22% Hispanic.

Most church officials agree that the effect of such changes will continue to grow. "The growth in the Methodist church is in minority groups," said the Rev. W. Murray Gibbons, pastor of North Glendale United Methodist Church, which has been renting its facilities to a Korean church for the past nine months. "Ultimately these churches will become a vital part of the United Methodist Conference."

On a recent Sunday at United Methodist, members of the Korean choir, dressed in their robes, filed into the Central Avenue church to begin practicing music for the next service. The English-speaking congregation had finished its service 20 minutes before. Some members were still socializing in the church hall.

As in most churches that have ethnically different congregations sharing the same facilities, there was little interaction between the two groups. Officials there and at other churches say language barriers prevent close association between ethnic groups, although there is no hostility.

"The problem with ethnic groupings is they tend to be very parochial. It is almost impossible to bring Spanish, English, Korean and Portuguese together," said the Rev. Jack Chisholm, pastor of Glendale Presbyterian Church, which sponsors church groups for all those cultures.

Chisholm said there has been little resistance from English-speaking members. "A more appropriate term would be nervousness on how to most appropriately relate to the ethnic communities," he said.

Children Study Together

Methodist pastor Gibbons said that, although the language barriers hinder interaction between adults, Korean and Anglo children attend Sunday school together. "The (Korean) children are bilingual and it works great. With kids, it's such a two-way experience," he said.

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