Annual Reports of Methodist Churches in China
Edwar Lee Comes to Oakland Church
A Chinese-American Church
In the early days of the Chinese Missions, Euro-American missionaries relied on Chinese local lay preachers to offer Chinese language support to the ministry. But establishing a self-sustaining Chinese American ministry meant finding trained Chinese-speaking pastors. Meanwhile, the Chinese pastors in the United States continued the Methodist itinerant tradition by circulating between the established Chinese churches in California and the Pacific Northwest.
There were also pastoral and financial needs for churches in China. Annual Conference journals from the Methodist Churches in China offer accounts of pastors being sent back and forth between the China and the United States. The Oakland mission joined with other missions to create the Chinese Native Missionary Society in 1923 to raise funds and recruit men to organize churches back in China. Four churches were established as a result: in Canton City, Honam, Toysan, and Heungshan (now Chungshan).
As the 1930s approached, the Chinese churches in the United States faced a new problem. The next generation of Chinese were born in the United States or were well assimulated, and a need arose for English-speaking pastors who could minister to the Chinese.
A new hope for the Chinese Methodist churches, and more specifically the Oakland church, came in the presence of Edwar Lee. Edwar Lee became the first American-born Chinese Methodist pastor. As a native-English speaker, he could readily connect with the next generation of Chinese Americans. Under the mentorship of Chan Lok Shang, Edwar Lee would eventually take over as senior pastor for the Oakland church.
One unique quality of Edwar Lee was his vision of unity for Chinese churches inside and outside of the Methodist church. Influenced by early experiences at the Lake Tahoe Chinese Christian Youth Conference - a national retreat for Chinese Christian youth - Edwar Lee would become an advocate for Chinese Methodist churches working together within the denomination as well as a bridge for Chinese pastors and congregations across denominational lines. He would eventually become Superintendent of the California Oriental Provisional Conference. This vision encouraged the Chinese Methodist churches to strive to be incorporated as equals in the mainline Methodist denomination as well as developing interdenominational connections with other Chinese churches.
The 1930s were a marked by successful outreach to the youth. In 1934, the Oakland church had an exciting youth Sunday School basketball team, keeping the church on its toes in inter-church league play [NEWS-1934A/B/C/D/E]. The arrival of Edwar Lee and his close friend Lum David Lee further emphasized outreach to the American-born Chinese. In 1939, the Oakland church established its Epworth League for youth. Bertha (Chan) Tong was its first President [JPCAOM-1939].
As the 1930's progressed, Japan flexed its muscles and inserted itself on the Asian mainland. China and Chinese-Americans would become embroiled in two sequential wars. The Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1941 would find China fending off the invasion of Japan. From 1941 to 1945, the war would be escalated to a World War. Like other local Chinese churches in the United States, the Oakland church supported their brethren by promoting the purchase of Chinese war bonds.
The war years were challenging for the Oakland church. Many members of the church left to serve their country in the war, including its Assistant Pastor Lim P. Lee [JPCAOM-1943]. Further challenging the church was the fact that Edwar Lee had been selected to be Superintendent of the newly formed California Oriental Mission in 1939. This assignment was a great honor, but it also meant that he would often be on leave for official duties throughout the year [JPCAOM-1944]. The congregation struggled and its size remained small, but it was resilient. With soldiers returning at the end of the war in 1945, the congregation slowly began making progress again [JPCAOM-1945].
After eight years of war, China was devastated and its people suffered from starvation, dislocation, and the death of 10-20 million military personnel and civillians. The Oakland church and others in Chinatown organized drives to collect clothes, food, materials and monetary contributions to aid in the relief and recovery effort in China. [See article NEWS-1946]