After talking to the Rev. Dr. Darrell Haley, I’ve decided that the South Pasadena Christian Church is an example of a concept which has been a traditional hallmark of the United States.
E Pluribus Unum. You know, like on the Great Seal of the United States: Out of Many, One.
I say that because Haley, the senior pastor at the church, points to the fact that although there has been a huge surge in the past six years of Mandarin-speaking Chinese, Latino Anglo and Filipino congregants, all have gathered together in one unified service.
Some churches I’ve visited have separate services for Mandarin-speaking members, and perhaps a service for their Latino congregants.
Haley said that the South Pasadena Christian Church, located at 1316 Lyndon St., has become a multi-cultural congregation, with the needs of various groups being brought to the table.
“It’s been our experience that to reach communities, we have to serve that community,” Haley said. “We created a fellowship of the spirit. The Holy Spirit bridges differences.”
What makes this possible is a translation device where the congregant can follow along and understand the service, without having to strain to understand in English what is going on around him or her. The devices are ear buds that receive a Wi-Fi signal from the translator who sits in the balcony. Most Sundays, the church has between 12-15 devices being used.
Congregants can sing songs in time with those around them, and listen to Haley’s message for the week in their own language.
“People get to listen in real time,” Haley said.
Nearly all of the Latino congregants understand English and do not need a translator. The Chinese congregation is the fastest-growing group, with 35-40% of the members now being Chinese.
“Many of our Chinese brothers and sisters who settle in South Pasadena and surrounding communities are hungry for Christianity,” he said.
When Haley arrived six years ago, there were 35 members. By the time the pandemic hit last year, there were 140 members listed at the church and the facilities are close to maxing out its facilities.
Another thing that keeps congregants coming back is a fellowship lunch following the service. Most members stay for the lunch in the fellowship hall, adjacent to the sanctuary, and often people who are bilingual translate for their fellow congregants.
“There are a lot of walls being broken down,” Haley said. “There is genuine fellowship.
“The system is a win-win for all of us.”
I thought a clever way to patch together some fellowship during these difficult times is that during the church’s 115th anniversary, each family could put together a small video saying hello to each other and they were combined into a whole presentation.
“It’s kind of a way to fill in the gaps,” Haley said. “Nothing can replace being together, but we have to make the best of what we have.”
Bible study classes online have been a good way for people to share their stories and strengthen each other’s faith. It’s also proven to have an advantage in some cases over pre-pandemic times because it is more convenient. The faith stories are also shared during the service and have been a way for the congregants to bond even more during the pandemic.
“What it lacks is the fellowship of an in-person group where people get to know each other and share their stories,” Haley said.
“We can no longer hug each other, but there are silver linings,” he added. “All churches have had to scramble to reach their congregations online. A strong online [presence] has become a vital part of the way we’ll do things going forward. We hope to have all our folks come back to service, but we now have viewers in other towns and other states. We’re hoping that some of those viewers will continue to join us online.”
Prayer is only one of the ministries that congregants can join and commit their service to the community. The other ministries include prison, the sick and shut-in, and the women’s ministry to help the homeless.
“We believe that God has called us to full service,” Haley said. “We also have discovered that young people have an interest in social action and making a difference. We are also attracting families interested in making social change.”
South Pasadena Christian Church — like other churches around it — has placed extra emphasis on feeding and clothing those in need during the pandemic. The women’s ministry, as well as other congregants, has gone out in the community to deliver food, tents, toiletries and socks. Haley noted he has some items in his office ready to be given out to those who need help.
But while they are doing good in the present, congregants — like all of us — are looking toward a brighter future.
“People are anxious to get back together and we hope to do that — maybe in the late spring or early summer,” Haley said. “We’ve had to go through three of our holiest days — Christmas, Palm Sunday and Easter, and now we are coming up again on another Palm Sunday and Easter — and people have to stay home.
“The temptation to get together is great,” Haley continued, “but we’ve got to stay in small groups.”
While congregants worship online, there are still lots going on at the physical church, where the parking lot is being improved and the entrance on Lyndon is being given a face lift. The church also hopes to put a mural on the Fremont Street side. The church kitchen is being remodeled and the fellowship hall is being redone.
All this is being done as the church — which is part of the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in the United States and Canada — celebrated its 115th anniversary Feb. 21.
“It’s got a rich history,” Haley said. “There has always been a church on that corner, or at least a place of worship.”
And that church on the corner has become a magnet for ministering what Haley calls “ministering multi-culturally.”
“The vision we have for our ministry is one in which the body of Christ is unified over every culture, language, people group and nationality,” Haley said.