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Weekend celebration at Chinese Christian Church

October 2, 2014

by Vanessa Langdon

Author Seng Bi Chen, a Chinese author who writes about Christianity in China, will be a featured presenter during a weekend of events at the Chinese Christian Church of Greater Albany. The church serves about 90 to 100 parishioners  at its 901 Madison Ave. site.

The sign outside the Chinese Christian Church of Greater Albany. (Vanessa Langdon)

The sign outside the Chinese Christian Church of Greater Albany. (Vanessa Langdon)

The church at the intersection at Partridge Street  offers services both in Mandarin and English – a mandarin service at 9:30 Sunday morning and then an English service at 11:15 a.m. allowing both Mandarin and English speakers to participate, according to Sophia Hsia, whose father – Joshua Hsia – is pastor.

“When the Chinese service is going on the English Sunday school is going on and then they switch,” said Hsia.

“In the Chinese classes we have a big group for the nonbelievers because China does not really teach about religion, usually they are brought up atheist,” said Hsia. “Religious freedom is very limited in China. The government still has a lot of control over religion.”

A discussion takes place Friday at 7:30 p.m. and two sessions are planned for Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. , when dinner will be served.  All the events are free and open to the public.

Passersby might be confused by the outside sign at the church which still features the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, while also detailing the services of its current occupant.

The building, owned by the Baptist church, was built in 1950, and is assessed at $1.1 million according to the 2014 Albany tax rolls. The property was listed as not-for-profit and therefore, tax exempt, in 1993, according to Keith McDonald, commissioner in the city’s tax assessment offices.

The Chinese Church once rented the building from the Baptist church, according to former parishioner Keh-Minn Chang. He was one of the founding members of the Chinese Christian Church and has since moved on to open another church in Niskayuna.  “In 1989 we started to form the church over there, Chinese Christian Church of Greater Albany. Primarily there was five families working together to start a church,” said Chang.

According to Hsia the property was turned over to the Chinese Christian Church from the Baptist Church because of an aging congregation and decreased attendance.

In addition to Sunday services the church uses the space to hold its Sunday school classes.

The class topics include classes for non-Christians, getting people ready for baptism, marriage and children. On average there are 10 to 12 people in a class though some classes may have 20.

The church tries to provide community outreach, including the parishioners who sing at nursing homes and help translate at hospitals if there is a language barrier.

The Chinese Christian Church of Greater Albany located on Madison Avenue. (Vanessa Langdon)

The Chinese Christian Church of Greater Albany located on Madison Avenue. (Vanessa Langdon)

“Some of the fellowship focuses on new students and helping them settle in,” Hsia said, and the church also hosts families when they first arrive in America she said. They teach and help with marriages, she said.

The Youth pastor, Phil Woodrow, was hired by the church part time in 2001, “that’s when they were seeking to develop a youth/English program in order to minister to their youth who are all going to American schools and many of them they were fairly new over here so they didn’t know the language quite so well, so they wanted to have someone who spoke the English language to show the American view of Christianity.”

Woodrow, who shares preaching duties with Pastor Hsia, is in charge of the English services and began a Praise Team at the Albany church to bring music into the ministry. The praise team leads the congregation in song throughout the services.

The Praise Team meets on Saturday afternoon at the church to practice, “with five or six young people there so it’s special, it’s a very precious time,” said Woodrow. The team includes vocalists, percussionists, guitarists and Hsia is the pianist.

Hsia earned degree in music from the state University of New York at Potsdam and currently works as a teacher at Tech Valley High School.

She takes on many roles at the church and time is the biggest challenge in juggling both her commitment to God and her job, “the challenging thing is time of course because teaching does take up a lot of time and to really focus on ministry it takes a lot of time too” said Hsia. The combination of the two roles allows Hsia to have an outlet outside of   teaching.

The church also caters to students of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the state University at Albany. The church offers a group aimed at the college students. The first group started in 2003 and is now meeting again under the leadership of two young women.

The emphasis on the youth in the community is an integral part of what the Chinese Church is aiming to do – the Church “helps them understand the Chinese culture. Relationships between parents and their children are sometimes uncomfortable because the parents don’t understand the children and the children don’t understand where the parents are from. It’s the cultural issues that we need to pay attention to,” said Woodrow.

A former college students, Ivan Yu, who attended services at the church, is now studying to become a pastor himself at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Schenectady.

“It’s kind of perfect that there’s a good school that’s local. They offered me an internship so I’m working with Phil Woodrow, I have an experience to get a taste to see what it’s like to be in the pastor ministry. I have opportunities to preach on Sundays and be involved on a deeper level.”

Yu hopes to work at the church after completing seminary studies.

The property on Madison Ave is the home to community events and acts as home for its parishioners. Woodrow explained it’s not the building that makes 901 Madison Avenue special but the people within it,

“I can sense the spirit of God moving within the people,” Hsia. “The church of God is not the building but is Jesus Christ and those who belong to him who are the body of Christ, that’s the church.” -30-

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