By Diana Gee
My journey with the Church has, in some ways, gone in reverse. I came to faith as a youth in an immigrant Chinese Canadian church, one of the largest in the city at the time. When I was introduced to it in the 90’s, it was a community of about 450 people (rough estimate) with three congregations partitioned by language. We had a building but it never felt large enough. Sunday morning was like driving on a busy highway in India. As part of the English-speaking congregation, we were given the late-morning slot for the main sanctuary. I remember many mornings when we had to wait for the Cantonese service to finish before we could weave through oncoming traffic to set up the instruments for worship.
Negotiating space and time was a regular practice in that church. Like siblings in a family, we had to share, to compromise, and to submit to one another. Yet the reality of the situation was that as the “youngest” of the three congregations, the English Ministry consistently had to concede to the larger, more funded, more parental, Cantonese Ministry.
I have yet to encounter a Chinese Canadian Church where the power imbalance between the generations did not occur. Our cultural inclination to defer to elders out of respect generated cohesion but at the cost of infantilizing second-generation ministries. Children cannot become adults if they can’t make their own beds. The lack of shared power was one of the reasons why I left the Chinese Mother Church, one among many.
Now I find myself pastoring a second-generation church that has flown from the nest and has established its own household. We are small. We rent space in a community center. On a summer Sunday we get about 50 people, filling a medium-size room that’s used for aerobic classes mid-week. We don’t have to negotiate our existence with others, though sometimes our existence feels tenuous. Far from bursting at the seams, our growing pains are felt more at the subcutaneous level.
Between the lead pastor and I, we know everyone’s story. We have the privilege of walking with people through dark valleys and bright mountaintops. We try to foster authenticity and healthy spiritual living by asking honest questions and guiding people to converse with God and with each other. Like dancing, we risk stepping on each other’s toes, but that’s only when we agree to the invitation and join hands. True intimacy involves being vulnerable and admitting brokenness. For some, that vulnerability cuts too close and too deep. It’s safer to complain about the music or sweaty palms; easier not to dance at all.
So why do we do this? Call it a crazy vision of becoming a community of believers who are so comfortable with themselves that it doesn’t feel the need to fit into Sunday-best clothing nor require it of others to join in. We’re learning to grow into the body of Christ with all the angst of encountering differences, judgment, and rejection. Stay with us long enough and you’ll outgrow the need for societal approval because you’ll never get it. And you will begin to see a God who’s more invested in redemption rather than real estate.
Diana Gee is the Associate Pastor of Faith Community Christian Church in Vancouver, Canada. Diana is a second-generation, Chinese Canadian, born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is trained as a structural engineer (B.Sc. in Civil Engineering, University of Alberta) and has worked in consulting for six years. She completed her master’s degree at Regent College (M.Div.) in 2011.