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Shared church facilities: a study of three Anglo-ethnic arrangements (1).

Imagine being the pastor of First Baptist Church, Beaverton, Oregon. You have agreed to house a Spanish-language Bible study group that meets on a weeknight.

You think you have communicated to the Spanish-language church planter that you will approach your church's missions committee bout sponsoring a mission church as the Bible study grows, and then you hear the same church planter announce at a public meeting that there IS a new Hispanic mission at your church. Nonetheless, all that exists so far is a Bible study.

Then one day, the minister of education of your church asks if you have met the new Hispanic family that has just arrived from Texas. You indicate that you have not. Your associate informs you: "He (the husband and father) introduced himself as the new pastor of our Hispanic mission." To which you reply, "Well, I guess I had better go meet them then." (2)

General Observations on Ethnic Work

English-speaking congregations develop relationships with language groups in many ways, usually with a little more planning than in this true story of how First Baptist of Beaverton began its relationship with Mision Hispana El Buen Pastor. Each story is unique; while some generalizations may be offered, they must be painted in broad strokes. Accurately describing the state of ethnic work among Baptists at any one time is difficult. Vince Inzerillo, language strategist for the Northwest Baptist Convention, observed about his semi-successful attempts to gather information from directors of missions in the Northwest on the ethnic work in their associations: "There are several inherent challenges among 'autonomous' bodies, especially when we choose to cooperate 'voluntarily.'" Among these challenges, he included convincing churches to report on their work, much less report on ethnic work. In the Northwest, at least, Southern Baptist and non-Southern Baptist churches and missions often share buildings, and either one of the two might be an English-speaking or language congregation-yet the work that these churches do is seldom officially reported. (3)

In the absence of comprehensive statistics, since only those groups receiving financial support from associational, state, or national sources are required to submit reports, telling the stories of specific congregations becomes more important as a way to get a glimpse of what is happening in ethnic congregations. This paper takes a brief look at three West Coast English-speaking Southern Baptist congregations and the different kinds of relationships they have with ethnic congregations with whom they are sharing their facilities. The commonalities among these stories include the origins of the English-language congregations in the 1940s, 1950s, and even 1960s, in church-planting efforts designed to reach transplanted southerners in major metropolitan areas, and the beginning of the ethnic works in the early 1990s, often due to requests made by the local Southern Baptist associations.

While one of the churches still receives significant transplant growth, many West Coast Southern Baptist churches that were started in the mid-twentieth century saw their growth stagnating by the 1980s. This decline resulted when second- and third-generation transplants left the Southern Baptist denomination for other denominations, rejecting Southern Baptist conflicts, and when the younger people simply dropped out of church altogether, joining many others in the region who are believers but were not connected to a church. (4) Churches unwilling or unable to shift their focus to reaching indigenous westerners faced the real danger of dying. One path for churches to "do missions," and to reach more responsive populations, was and is to begin ethnic or language work.

The Heart of the Valley Baptist Church, San Jose, California

The Heart of the Valley Baptist Church of San Jose, California, founded in 1945 and mother or grandmother to many of the Southern Baptist congregations in the Silicon Valley, has been at its present location since 1955. By the early 1990s, the church had just over 100 in attendance on Sundays. The congregation was composed largely of first-, second-, and third-generation southern transplants. Nevertheless, the congregation was multiethnic, including African American, Hispanic, and Asian members. Under the leadership of Chuck Clayton, the church made attempts to reach the English-speaking population of the area, including introducing a second worship service and offering contemporary music. These attempts to move beyond the traditions the early members had brought from the South met with a small degree of success and resulted in controversy within the church. One area of success was the church's participation in Operation Share, a brown-bag feeding program coordinated by the local association that put the congregation in regular touch with people in need in the community.

The church also was forced to deal with the changing demographics in the immediate neighborhood. What had once been a desirable upscale area near downtown San Jose was becoming home to more and more lower-income ethnic families. At the same time, a Hispanic congregation located even closer to the downtown core moved to the suburbs, in order to clear land for commercial development. Knowing the changes that were occurring and the need for a new outreach to Hispanics in the area, Heart of the Valley decided in 1992 to make a deliberate change by adding a Spanish-language congregation that would have the same status as the English-language congregation, but with its own pastor and activities. The church had a core group of Spanish-speakers, both native and American students of Spanish, who began the new congregation, which was led by Gabriel Almazon.

Heart of the Valley essentially became a church with two congregations functioning in two languages. Later a third, much smaller, Japanese-language congregation was added, led by a retired pastor from Japan, Mac Isomine. For several years, the church also housed an Arabic-language congregation. Each congregation had equal status and equal voice in decisions. Each congregation offered one Sunday morning service, using the sanctuary sequentially, the English service early, followed some of the time by a Japanese service, but always ending with the Spanish service. This situation lasted until 1999, when Pastor Almazon left. Six months later, Pastor Clayton left, and in 2002, the church called a new, bilingual pastor, Estuardo Torres. Under Torres, another shift in emphasis is currently being made to help each language group be more effective in ministry. (5)

First Baptist Church, Beaverton, Oregon

First Baptist Church, Beaverton Oregon, founded in 1955, and also mother and grandmother to a number of other congregations, came to its present location not long after it began. In its earliest period, the church building was located on the edge of town, but now it is situated in the middle of suburbs that continue unbroken into Portland. In the mid-1980s, the church was of a similar size to Heart of the Valley, but it has been able to continue growing under the leadership of Norm Langston. The reasons for its growth include the on-going transfer growth as southerners move to work in the Silicon Forest, less dependence on multi-generational transplant families, and more effective outreach to natives of the area, particularly through the support of a campus minister, Kelly Nelson, at Portland Community College. The church began a second, more contemporary Sunday morning worship service in the early 1990s. This congregation was also multi-ethnic in composition, again similar to Heart of the Valley.

Before beginning the Spanish-language congregation mentioned in the opening vignette, First Baptist opened its facilities in 1992 to a Korean Bible church that began as a split from another Korean church. About 100 people followed the Korean pastor to start the new church. First Baptist offered facilities to the Korean church, including use of the sanctuary on Sunday afternoons, on a temporary basis, but the arrangement worked so well that the Korean group continues to lease use of the facility twelve years and two pastors later. While the Korean church is not Southern Baptist, the founding pastor graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the church gave designated missions money to the Cooperative Program for a number of years through First Baptist. The Korean church also helped support the beginning of the Mision Hispana.

In January 1995, a Bible study for Spanish speakers, organized by a Hispanic church planter for Interstate Baptist Association, began in an apartment in Beaverton. This Bible study soon moved to First Baptist and became Mision Hispana. Mauricio Zarate, the mission's pastor, was an inexperienced non-Baptist pastor who, with no support and a family of six, came on faith from Texas to lead the new church. The group grew quickly, and by 1997, it was meeting in First Baptist Church's sanctuary on Sunday evening. First Baptist allowed the Zarates to live in the church-owned parsonage. The mission had its ups and downs as Zarate gained skill in pastoring. He was ordained in 1999 and moved to pastor another church in 2002. Since that time, the mission has had a part-time interim pastor, Jorge Osorio, who also pastors several other groups, and an assistant pastor in training, Walter Castillo, who was part of the first Bible study group. The Castillos now live in the parsonage, in lieu of salary. (6)

Mountain View Baptist Church, Claremont, California

Mountain View Baptist Church of Claremont, California, was founded in 1964. It is the most land-locked of the congregations described in this paper. Mountain View moved to its present location early in its history. The congregation has never been large, but in the early 1990s, pastored by Ed Quisenberry as his first full-time church, it numbered 50-60 on Sunday morning, and it, too, was multi-ethnic. In 1993, the Calvary-Arrowhead Baptist Association approached the church about sponsoring a Mandarin-language congregation. The church agreed and offered use of its facilities.

When Pastor Abel Cheng arrived at Mountain View with his congregation, the group was small, but it quickly grew. Mountain View rescheduled its English-language service to meet before Sunday School. During the Sunday School hour, both congregations held classes, and at 10:45 a.m., the Mandarin congregation's worship began. Their service was followed by a noon meal, choir practice, and other activities.

Around the same period, Mountain View developed contacts with some Spanish-speaking families, and the church worked to build a core group for a Hispanic work. In 1998, that group had grown large enough to call Francisco Herrara as its bi-vocational pastor. This small, but growing, group now uses the church building on Saturday and Sunday evenings for worship and other activities. (7)

Comparisons of the Arrangements

In comparing the different arrangements, one telling statistic is the attendance of the different groups. For Heart of the Valley, the English-speaking group, now composed of a few elderly "Anglos" and Americanized Hispanics, numbers about 50, the Spanish-speaking group 40, and the Japanese group 12. (8) At First Baptist, Beaverton, Sunday School for the English-speaking congregation averages 230, the Spanish-speaking group 50, and the Koreans about 50. (9) Mountain View has about 40 in attendance at Sunday School, the Spanish-speaking congregation around 20, and the Mandarin Congregation 110. (10)

In part, these numbers reflect the differences and changes in the immediate communities, and also the distance from which the congregations draw. Heart of the Valley used to attract English-speakers from a wider region, but both the Americanized and immigrant Hispanics live nearer to the church. The Japanese ministry is primarily to short-term families sent from Japan to Silicon Valley to work. First Baptist, Beaverton, draws regionally for the English-language congregation, while the Spanish and Korean groups draw from the more immediate area. The English-speaking congregation at Mountain View comes from the immediate area, while the Mandarin congregation draws much more regionally, as does the Hispanic congregation to some extent. The two Spanish-speaking groups that have had pastoral leadership changes have faced unique cultural difficulties of being congregations without pastors.

In each situation, the formal relationships are different. Heart of the Valley is a single church with three congregations, all of whom share in the financial and other resources of the church, although the English-speaking congregation still provides the majority of the income. Joint activities include Operation Share, an annual missions meal and fair, and joint services on Thanksgiving Eve and Christmas Eve. (11) First Baptist, Beaverton, has a close mother-daughter arrangement with the Spanish-speaking mission, providing significant financial and other kinds of support, including the sharing of several bilingual couples who participate in both congregations. First Baptist continues to be more than just a landlord for the Korean Bible church. These two congregations have held joint activities, the biggest being a Vacation Bible School in which the two groups along with the Spanish congregations participated. (12) Mountain View, while technically the mother church, is dwarfed by the Mandarin group. The English-speaking group at Mountain View continues to be somewhat larger than the Hispanic group. Both ethnic groups contribute to the budget and help to cover operating costs, particularly for worker's compensation and the water bill. These groups have joint services and fellowship meals, regular meetings of the pastors, and hold annual joint choir cantatas at Christmas or Easter, which are performed bi- or trilingually. (13)

Anytime two groups with differing expectations, culture, and language come together, even if they all serve the same Lord, tensions as well as benefits will result. The different arrangements between the congregations create different kinds of tensions.

For Heart of the Valley, bringing in a new language and culture group and making them equal to long-time members created a number of clashes. Initially, the arrangements were made more difficult because neither the English- nor the Spanish-speaking pastor was bilingual. One issue that required great diplomacy and compromise was the refurbishing of the worship space. For the Hispanics who were immigrants, especially if they had Catholic backgrounds, the idea of doing anything other than worshipping in a worship space was culturally unacceptable. Thus, eating in the area was forbidden, but the pews were replaced with chairs, so the space could be used more flexibly. (14) Torres observed that each congregation has its own character, and each needs different kinds of activities to be effective; he is working on leading the church to make changes toward that end. (15)

Mountain View reported that good fellowship exists between its congregations, although some in the English-speaking congregation from time to time express resentment that the Mandarin-speaking group has the "prime time" (traditional hour) for worship. (16)

First Baptist, Beaverton, has had difficulties with differing expectations with regard to the supervision of children within the different ethnic groups, resulting in conflict over children running around the building outside of organized class times. Scheduling activities when three active congregations share the building has also proved to be challenging. First Baptist, Beaverton, in the 1990s established a goal of having 500 in worship by 2000. But in 2000, the church did not have 500 in the English-language services. However, counting those attending worship in the Spanish and Korean congregations, there were, in fact, about 500 people worshiping God in the building on any Sunday. (17) Given that this attendance occurred before work began on the newest portion of the building, every bit of space was being utilized at almost every hour from early Sunday morning until late Sunday evening, which sometimes created conflicts when an extra room was needed for any reason. Nevertheless, all three groups rose to the challenge and met it.


What conclusions might be drawn from these three examples of arrangements between English-speaking and language congregations? Without claiming these situations to be definitive or exhaustive of the possibilities, they at least suggest that churches should seriously consider embracing opportunities for sharing facilities with those who speak other languages. Doing so changes the outlook and understanding of all involved. Certainly any church considering such an arrangement needs to be fully informed when beginning such an endeavor; not all congregations are ready to deal with the changes they will be called to make. Nevertheless, the children of all the groups involved in these arrangements are together creating the newest version of American culture, and children benefit from seeing the church have a role in that creation.

As a consequence of sharing facilities, peoples of different cultural and language groups also have the opportunity to learn from each other, to help each other, and to provoke each other to be better followers of Christ. There can be no paternalism: a relationship of equals under Christ is the ideal. The closer the sharing of facilities and activities is, the more difficult relationships can be, but also the greater the opportunity to model Christian love.

Sharing facilities can and should be a positive experience in the long run, bringing together people who might otherwise stay in their language or cultural "ghettos." Churches that share facilities can be places where people from different cultures learn how to live and worship together. These arrangements put us one step closer to that day when Revelation tells us we will worship the Lamb with people of every language and culture, forever.

(1.) "Anglo" here refers to English-speaking congregations, regardless of ethnic composition. "Ethnic" refers to congregations using languages other than English.

(2.) Norm Langston, interview by author, May 4, 2004.

(3.) Vince Inzerillo, e-mail to the author, May 24, 2004.

(4.) Nancy Haught, "'Unchurched' but not really unfaithful: Book reveals surprises on NW believers," The Oregonian, May 27, 2004, E1, E3. Though this article describes findings in relation to the Pacific Northwest, similar patterns hold true in California.

(5.) Chuck Clayton, interview by author, May 14, 2004; Gary Moore, interviews by author, January 15, 2004, and May 26, 2004; Estuardo Torres, interview by author, May 26, 2004; and "These Things We Remember, 'A Church History,' Heart of the Valley Baptist Church" [cited May 26, 2004], available at

(6.) Langston, interview; and Walter and Jilena Castillo, interview by author, May 20, 2004.

(7.) Ed Quisenberry, interview by author, May 24, 2004; and Abel Cheng, interview by author, May 26, 2004.

(8.) Torres, interview.

(9.) Langston, interview; and Castillo, interview.

(10.) Quisenberry, interview, and Cheng, interview.

(11.) Clayton, interview.

(12.) Langston, interview.

(13.) Quisenberry, interview.

(14.) Clayton, interview.

(15.) Torres, interview.

(16.) Quisenherry, interview.

(17.) Langston, interview.

Martha Jean Mugg Bailey is a doctoral candidate in philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California.
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Author:Bailey, Martha Jean Mugg
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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