I t’s more likely to sound like an accident,” says Tiffany Fan of her path toward church ministry. “My journey into ministry was not what I expected. I feel that it is a journey that, along the way, God has led. God is shaping me and directing me and kind of turning me in a certain direction.”
First came the call to seminary, which Fan wrestled with, especially as an Asian woman, she says. Though her church, Grace Christian Church in Bayside, New York, fully supports and encourages women in leadership and ministry, Fan struggled with her own questions.
“I had that struggle—can a woman preach and be a pastor? If the husband is the head of the household, and I’m the pastor of a church, how does that work?” she recalls. “If I’m going to be called to be a pastor of some kind or into leadership of some kind, I knew this would not be an easy role for me. I will have a lot of struggles, hindrance, and resistance.”
After a year of wrestling, Fan received “faith and a surrender.” On the day before the deadline, she applied to New Brunswick Theological Seminary. Two years running she has received the Reformed Church in America’s Beth Marcus Scholarship, which supports women in seminary. Fan will graduate with her M.Div. in May.
From a Bible study fellowship to a church plant
Twelve years prior to Fan’s call to seminary, Elder Jidong Shan, who attended Grace Christian Church (GCC) in Queens and worked at Einstein Medical College in the Bronx, noticed an influx of scholars from China. She invited Rev. John Chang, GCC’s senior pastor, to start a Bible study fellowship within the campus of Einstein Medical College.
For the next seven years, members of the fellowship faithfully attended GCC’s Sunday services in Queens, transported by a shuttle provided by the church. Through the fellowship and relationship with GCC, more than 70 believers were baptized, many of whom have returned to China or moved elsewhere with their new-found faith.
Before Tiffany and her husband, Felix, became involved, a church planting group from GCC was looking for a place in the Bronx where the Einstein Medical College fellowship could meet for worship, rather than enduring the lengthy commute to Queens every week. Rev. Chang discovered that the Reformed Church in America’s Classis of New York (a regional grouping of churches) had a church building superseded by the classis. The planting group applied to use the space and was granted use of the Williamsbridge Reformed building in 2016.
In 2017, the Fans and a coworker, Guiqin Chen, were sent to the Bronx to participate in the fellowship and the church planting group.
“I went to one of their outreach events and I felt that yes, this is a place that God is pushing me into,” says Fan. “We got involved and started praying with them.”
It soon became apparent that God was at work, reinforcing the call to seminary and now, the call to be part of a new church plant.
“My education and the church planting process go hand-in-hand to shape me,” says Fan. She noticed that situations from the church would tie into her seminary coursework. “It’s a very humbling and growing experience. I do definitely see God’s hand.”
The church plant, commonly known as GCC Bronx, intends to officially organize as part of the Reformed Church in America’s Classis of New York. The official name, United Reformed Church in Williamsbridge, comes from the church that formerly met in the building, though internally and among the four GCC sites and their eight congregations, the plant will likely still be referred to as “GCC Bronx.”
As she works through her final years of seminary, Fan has joined the GCC Bronx leadership team and has worked diligently to help develop the church plant. Along with her husband, Felix, and Elder Jidong Shan, she is also part of the regular preaching rotation.
The church plant has services in both English and Chinese, and most attendees are in the medical profession. Unlike most Chinese churches, the English-language service attendees are entirely people who live in the community—Filipino, Jewish, Scottish—rather than second-generation Chinese Americans. This congregation is currently about 15 to 20 people, ranging in age from 15 to 85 years old.
The Chinese congregation has grown from the original Bible study fellowship. About 20 to 30 people worship on Sunday afternoons. Pre-pandemic, these services included childcare, Sunday school, and a meal afterward.
On the second Sunday of each month, Bronx Church has a combined service in English, with Chinese translation provided. Typically, on these days, Rev. Chang comes to preach the Word and administer the sacrament of communion. Celebrating the sacrament together is a great opportunity for fellowship between the two congregations, says Fan.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the church plant has been meeting virtually via Zoom for all services. In late July, as some restrictions eased in New York, the English congregation was able to meet in person due to the smaller size of the group. Despite the face masks, six feet of distance, and inability to hug or shake hands, Fan says the experience was amazing; more than before, the congregation treasures the ability to be together in their building.
Multiple cultures and languages, but one church
Looking ahead, Fan and the leadership team hope the English and Chinese congregations will continue to partner together.
“We are one church,” says Fan. “We preach in English, and we preach in Chinese. It’s important for both congregations to come together at least once a month.”
Yet, a combined service is not the solution for every Sunday. Fan explains that preparing a sermon in one language then translating into another compromises the quality, due to the logic of each language. Separate services allow both congregations to receive the full message.
The element of language also provides GCC Bronx with opportunity for outreach, particularly through the Chinese language school that the church plant started a few years ago. One day per week, Chinese language classes for elementary-aged kids have been held in the same building in which the church gathers.
The current principal of the school, Jie Zhao, has a heart both for Chinese language education and for evangelism. Fan says that the kids at the school—about 30 this year—primarily come from families of non-believers.
“Whenever we have Easter, Christmas, or Chinese New Year celebrations, the parents and families come join,” she says. “That’s our opportunity to get to know them and spread the gospel.”
The kids from the school and in the Bronx community have also been introduced to the gospel through vacation Bible school, which GCC Bayside’s English ministry has helped with for the past few years.
“We hope for further outreach opportunities as Bronx Church grows,” Fan says.
And though the sign outside the church building is in Chinese and English, Fan emphasizes that all are welcome.
“It’s not just a Chinese church,” Fan adds. “I believe that God called me and this team for a multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual ministry. … Our hope is to have this church grow healthy and strong and be multicultural—that everyone will learn to love one another, not only across families but across cultures as well, that different ethnicities can mingle in this church and learn to love one another, learn to be understanding, and together grow in God’s truth.
“I know that eventually God will lead, because throughout my journey, I see how God is leading—with my inner pull, the opportunities coming up, and people’s needs arising,” she says. “I am confident that God will lead, and he knows what he’s doing.”
This article was also published in RCA Today, the Reformed Church in America’s denominational magazine. This online version has been updated for accuracy.
To support young church plants like GCC Bronx, visit www.rca.org/give/multiply. Your gift helps provide the training, support, and resources that help church planters like Tiffany Fan share the gospel and make more disciples.
Becky Getz is a writer and editor for the Reformed Church in America's communication team. You can contact Becky at firstname.lastname@example.org.