It was 100 years ago that a small group of Dutch missionaries started a Sunday school in downtown Chicago for Asian factory workers.

After relocating to Oak Park, the Chinese Bible Church of Oak Park remains one of the oldest ethnic churches in the Chicago area, and a source of comfort and pride for its diverse congregation, says its pastor, Raj Christodoss.

Last Sunday the church, set on the corner of Ridgeland and Jackson, hosted a celebratory service to mark its centennial birthday. Reaching the century mark is a milestone in and of itself, but the Chinese church has more than history going for it. Its congregation serves a varied population, including Chinese-Americans, Filipino, Taiwanese, and native Chinese.

The church has three Sunday services: one in English and the others in Mandarin and Cantonese. Last Sunday’s service was the first time all three congregations gathered together. Having three congregations speaking three different languages is one of the unique aspects of the church, said Christodoss, who pastors the English-language service.

“You have different traditions with the services. The Cantonese service is a more traditional one with an older population,” he said. “Our English service is more contemporary. The average age for that congregation is around 28 years old. The Mandarin service also has mostly younger people.”

One difference is the use of musical instruments in the English-language service. Another difference is Pastor Raj’s use of Power Point presentations during his sermons. The Cantonese service, conducted by senior pastor Rev. Yoman Man, doesn’t use such technology. Christodoss noted the younger English and Mandarin congregations are more familiar with the technology.

“They need that type of visual aid to pay attention to the service,” he said.

In September, the church launched its Mandarin-language service, serving a congregation of about 40. That group is still growing.

Three in one: On Sunday, congregations of the Chinese Bible Church’s three services-one in English and the others in Mandarin and Cantonese-gathered together for the first time.

“This is a robust congregation,” said Christodoss. “That’s the good news. The bad news is we’re running out of space, but we’re considering how to expand that ministry.”

The Cantonese service is the church’s oldest. The original Sunday school, founded by members of the Dutch Brethren Church, served Cantonese-speaking Chinese laundry and factory workers in Chicago. It later expanded to a full-service church, remaining in downtown Chicago until it moved to Oak Park in the 1950s. The church relocated within Oak Park about 30 years ago. Its growing congregation by that time had reached to the suburbs.

The Cantonese service today is also the largest with close to 100 parishioners, mostly Baby Boomers. The English service is the second largest, made up of mostly Chinese-Americans, some third and fourth generation church members, and includes non-Asian parishioners who’ve adopted Asian children. All told, the church has about 250 parishioners.

Its mission is also that of a “commuter church,” said Christodoss. About a quarter of its parishioners are from Oak Park. The rest are from Chicago and surrounding suburbs, including many who grew up in the church, but have moved away from Oak Park. Small groups of parishioners meet during the week in surrounding communities to fellowship, Christodoss said. One group of students meets at Loyola University. Over the years, the congregation has seen an increase in young people, and for some Asian students attending school in the United States, the church is a source of comfort, Christodoss said.

“For them, they have no connection to family, but they do have a connection to the church. It takes the place of their family, so they feel at home.”

As for the future, Christodoss said the Chinese Bible Church plans to outreach with other churches and organizations to address issues.

“We want to become a force in the community. That’s one of the things the young people want-that we can partner with others to be a service of help in the community.”

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