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Churches Open Doors to Cross-Cultural Worshipers

June 04, 1989|ROCHELLE WILKERSON | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — A number of established Protestant congregations in the area are opening their doors to Christians from other cultures who conduct their services in foreign languages.

The churches are reaching out to Korean, Latino and other immigrant groups looking for a place to worship.

There are three reasons immigrants want to share the facilities of established churches in Downey and other Southeast area communities, according Chan-Hie Kim, interim director of the Center of Asian American Ministries of the Claremont School of Theology.

"Most of these Korean immigrants are very uncomfortable with the English language. Language is the major problem, culture is the second thing," Kim said. "Plus, real estate is so expensive in California, the only option is just to rent."

John Scarr, pastor of Landmark Christian Center in Downey, said he received eight requests from non-English speaking groups to use his church. The church selected a Korean fellowship.

"They pay us rent and hold services on Sunday afternoon from 1 to 3:30 p.m. We're using the property in the morning. We're getting more use. It is happening in Southern California. Property is so high," Scarr said.

Neil Matranga, church administrator at Calvary Chapel of Downey, said benefits for a church that is bicultural and bilingual extend beyond the church. Calvary Chapel has three foreign-speaking congregations that meet each week at the 12-acre facility.

One of them is the 60-member Latino fellowship that is an extension of Calvary Chapel and has been meeting there for six years. Korean and Arabic congregations also meet at least once a week.

'A Helping Hand'

"The effect on our community is that we are able to offer a helping hand to the community," Matranga said, citing the occasional aid they render to the Downey Police Department as an example. Members from the Korean Church at Calvary Chapel have acted as interpreters for the department.

"Calvary Chapel has a whole raft of people that we can draw from," Police Chief Pete Stone said. "If there is a victim who is a Spanish speaker, we don't have a problem with that because there are some in the department who speak Spanish.

"But, if the victim is Korean or Vietnamese, we run into some real problems. They (church members) are helpful in that regard," Stone said.

The idea of a shared facility and mixed congregation was rejected at the Downey Memorial Christian Church. Pastor Steve Moody said the training he received in seminary made him "impassioned by the issue."

He brought the idea to his congregation on two occasions. "I would say things like, 'We are here to serve the community and not ourselves.' It was kind of one-liners repeated like a subliminal message."

The church administrative board denied a request by a South Pacific congregation from Tongato use the facilities.

Moody submitted his resignation effective July 1. He said his decision to quit was partly the result of the board's action and based partly on personal problems. The death of both of his parents and a recent divorce played a role in the decision, Moody said.

"The church must find the oneness of the people of God and not the separateness. It is a scandal for the church to be racially exclusive by intent or by neglect," he said.

Roland Kamerer said he considers himself to be a good friend of Moody, but as chairman of the church's administrative board, Kamerer has a different view.

"I thought it was something that needed more thought and investigation. We now have a committee that is setting up policies (on renting) hereafter," Kamerer said. The board and church accepted Moody's resignation "with regret," he said.

At Downey Church of the Nazarene there are no special services for minorities and no regrets about it. But, the pastor, Tom Ritchie, said he has found a way to help some Spanish speakers that have joined his community.

"A family who spoke only Spanish moved into the area. To meet their need, someone in the congregation sits with them and translates," Ritchie said.

Need Seen Increasing

Nevertheless, there appears to be an increasing need in the Downey area to provide places of worship for people who have only recently arrived in this country and who speak another language.

Membership in nearly a dozen immigrant churches varies from as few as five to as many as 100, and the numbers may be an indication of a growing ethnic minority population in Downey.

According to the 1980 Census report, the city was 77% Anglo, 16% Latino, 6% Asian and 1% black.

Schools, however, may offer a better indication of the increasing ethnic population and give a more up-to-date and accurate picture.

The fastest growing minority group in Downey is that of Latinos, who represent 35.7% of the students in the Downey Unified School District. Asians are next with 8% and blacks with 2.7%, according to the 1988-89 school year report on minority populations. The remaining 46.4% are Anglos.

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