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Sydney Chinese Adventist

Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church (October 1, 1966 - present)
Bruce W. Lo, March 2016
Basic Demographic Information

Official Name: Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church

Church Administrative Unit: Greater Sydney Conference, South Pacific Division

Date Officially Formed: October 1, 1966

Founding Minister & Spouse: Pastor Edward H. Ho & Mrs. Mona Chan Ho

Church Website: 
 http://sydneychinese.adventist.org.au.

Current Address: 14A Jersey Road, Strathfield, NSW, Australia 2153

Date on which Current Sanctuary was Dedicated: November 16, 1974

Current Membership: 221 as at August 2016 when this page was updated. 

The Beginning

The idea of forming a Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sydney, Australia can be traced back to two different groups of Chinese Adventist believers in the 1960's that shared not only a common ethnic origin but also a common desire to spread the Adventist message among other Chinese speaking people in the local communities around the growing multicultural metropolis of Sydney.

The first group, sometimes called the ABCs (Australia Born Chinese), consisted mostly of second generation Chinese, whose parents immigrated to Australia in the early 1900's. Having attended the local Adventist churches for many years, they had well integrated into the Australian society and often spoke mostly English even in their own homes. 

The second group, sometime referred to as the CBCs (China Born Chinese), consisted mostly of students, young professionals, or trades-persons, who arrived Australia in more recent years during the 1950's and 1960's. This group, many of whom were students at the universities and technical colleges, are more likely to be bilingual speaking both English and Chinese. While some of them were permanent migrants to Australia, a sizable numbers were Chinese students who only had temporary residential status in Australia.

Among the ABCs were a husband and wife team, Denis and Maisie Fook (nee Hon), who were attending the local Oatley Seventh-day Adventist church at that time. Not contented to keep their faith just to themselves, this couple were often regarded as the first to come up with the idea of forming a separate "Chinese Church" to minister to the need of and to share the Advent message among the Chinese speaking people of Sydney. Maisie's brother, Eric Hon, though not able to speak Chinese himself, was the first Adventist "ethnic Chinese" pastor in Sydney. Both Maisie and Eric (and their siblings) had a special burden to introduce the gospel to the Chinese in Sydney.

Their eagerness to share their faith could be traced back to the influence of their mother, Cecelia Hon, who many believe was the first Chinese Adventist in Australia when she baptized in 1924. In 1948, she became the primary mover and a founding member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at Tenterfield, an inland farming community in northern New South Wales. Cecelia Hon herself became an Adventist herself a few years earlier through the witness of her housekeeper, Susannah Lockyer. Cecelia's passion for ministry resulted in many baptisms, among whom were the Long family (Norm, Eddie, Clem, and Marjorie) who have contributed much to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia homeland and the South Pacific mission field. Daughter Maisie Fook, besides being one of the pioneers of the Sydney Chinese Adventist Church, was also the founder of a significant international organization, Asian Aid, with offices in Australia and USA, which provides substantive support to needy children in many parts of Northern and Southern Asia.

Maisie Fook1 recalled when her husband, Denis, unexpectedly announced to her one morning in 1965, "Let's start a Chinese Church!", her immediate response was "Whatever for?" But as they thought through the concept, they were convinced that this was God leading. Denis Fook contacted Pastor Edward Ho to discuss the proposition with the Greater Sydney Conference president, who supported the idea. 

Asian Society of Adventists at Stanmore

In the late 1950's and early 1960's, many Adventist Asian and Chinese students came to attend universities and colleges in Sydney. Many of these belonged to the members of the second group, the CBCs mentioned above. A significant number attended the Stanmore Seventh-day Adventist Church. An Asian Society of Adventists was formed, initially to conduct social functions to cater for the interests of the young people who share a common cultural heritage. Soon their activities were expanded beyond mere social functions - conducting Chinese language Sabbath School classes, translating sermons into Chinese or English as appropriate, and participating in different aspects of worship and mission services of the church. At its highest point, the society membership swelled to approximately 100. 

In the Stanmore Centennial Celebration publication, authors Raymond and Sperring2 acknowledged the contributions of the Chinese element in the Stanmore congregation. Two Chinese young couples took their marriage vows at Stanmore: Grace and Channing Ing in May 1959 and Betty and David Chung in March 1964. Family names represented among the Stanmore group during this period include: Chan, Chung, Chow, Ho, Ing, Law, Leung, Miao, Tsao, Tung and Wong. Many of them later became founding members of the Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Extensive discussions were held not only among the two groups of ABCs (represented by the Fook's) and CBCs (represented by the Stanmore Chinese folks), but also among interested parties in the Greater Sydney Conference. There were cross currents of opinion with both supporting and unfavorable opinion being articulated openly. Finally, after much prayers and consultation, members of the formation committee, convinced that it was God's will to start a Chinese Adventist church, decided to move ahead and began to look for a suitable meeting venue. 

The Birth of Chinese Church at Marrickville

When the Greater Sydney Conference offered the use of the Marrickville Church, which was about to close due to dwindling membership, members of the search committee convinced that this was providential. The deal was that the Chinese Church were to pay rent for the first year and if the venture was successful, the property would be transferred to the Chinese Church.

On October 1, 1966, the Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church was formally opened at the former Marrickville Adventist Church. Of the forty (40) founding members, ten were from the "old" Marrickville Church, twenty-seven were CBCs mainly from Stanmore and Oatley, while three were ABCs.

There were some Chinese Adventists decided to stay in their own churches but visited the new Chinese Church out of curiosity. Soon they too became regular attendees and decided to  join the newly formed church. There was a clear missionary spirit manifested among the members who were actively inviting "non-Adventist" visitors to attend their weekly meetings. They befriended these new attendees in a variety of ways by offering them help during the week and by inviting them to join in at the delicious "Chinese" fellowship lunch on Sabbath. In a little over two years, there were nine baptisms involving twenty-six new members. Including those who had transferred in and transferred out, a total of thirty-nine new members were added. By late 1968 early 1969, the membership of the Church reached eighty, but the weekly attendance was well over 100. There is no need to mention that the Marrickville church property was officially donated in 1967 to the Chinese congregation as promised. This generous gesture allow the Chinese Church to focus on future witnessing plan without having to be over burdened by financial worries.

As the attendance grew, seats were pushed closer together to allow for extra ones to moved in. The typical joke at the time was, "Chinese have short legs. We can accommodate more!". The members never lost sight of the original reason for forming the church - to share the gospel with Chinese speaking people in the Sydney region. As a result, shortly after the church was formed, plans were laid to look for a more central location to build a new church building to reach more easily to the Chinese communities of Sydney. Members, young and old were actively engaging in missionary outreach and fund raising activities for the "new" church. Worth mentioning was the $1,000 raise by the Church Choir, under the baton of Bryce Chan in one of their concerts.

Building A House of Worship at Strathfield

Eventually a piece of land at 14a Jersey Road, Strathfield was found. Strathfield is a central suburb of Sydney. It was a convenient location for a more permanent building to reach out to the Chinese communities in Sydney.

A new church building with attractive modern design and functional floor plan was prepared voluntarily by architect James O'Young of George Bettesworth, and Civil Engineer C.W. Ing, who were/are members of the church. A model of the build is shown in Figure 5. Many members, including tradesmen plumber Keith Go, and Electrician Jonathan Miao, and others, also donated their time voluntarily. The tireless efforts of the members had saved the church thousands of dollars in building costs, while at the same time, every members worked really hard to raise money for this new house of worship.

While by any measure, their fund raising campaign was very successful, but it was still a long way to the actual amount needed to complete the building. In answer to the prayers of the members, Dr. and Mrs. Chan Shun, owners of the biggest shirt and garment business in Hong Kong, came to their aid by donating $50,000 to their building fund. Dr.Chan, a well known Adventist philanthropist in Asia and having long desired to evangelized overseas Chinese communities around the world, had (or since) donated to many Adventist projects2 . To name a few, these include Hong Kong Adventist Hospital, Advondale College Auditorium, Los Angeles Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Andrews University Chan Shun Hall for the College of Business.

The members of this faithful group of believers, both Chinese and Australians, were jubilant as their dreams of many years were fulfilled on November 16, 1974, when the new Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church building was formally dedicated. The principal speaker of the dedication service was, Robert R. Frame, the president of the Australasian Division at that time, and the unveiling of the plague was conducted by Stuart M. Uttley, president of the Trans-Commonwealth Union Conference, who was the Greater Sydney Conference president when the Chinese congregation was first formed at Marrickville3.

The new church building contains a number of  interesting and notable features that reflect not only the ethnic and cultural background of its members but also the central tenant of the Adventist faith. At the front above the rostrum is a timber-lined circular opening that opens up to the natural light from the sky above (Figures 7 & 11). The symbolic meaning of this architectural feature is obvious: "light comes from heaven above". Immediately below that circular opening are  six vertical columns of ten wooden blocks arranged neatly in front of the wall right above the rostrum chairs. On each block was inscribed the Chinese characters that represented the names of the 66 books of the Bible (Figure 11). At the back of the church near the entrance to the sanctuary, a partition was built using timbers from the former Marrickville Church. On this timber partition, was inscribed the Chinese characters calling all entering the sanctuary to be reverent and keep silence. The old timber (Figure 11) used was an acknowledgement to the generosity of former members of the Marrickville Church, who donated their place of worship to the newly form Chinese congregation in 1966.

Consolidation, Growth, and Transformation

Pastor Edward Ho was the founding minister of the Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist congregation in 1966 at Marrickville and later at Strathfield. Subsequent to that many had contributed to the growth and consolidation of the Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist congregation. The table below lists the names of individuals and their spouses (where information is available) who had served as minister of that church. The names are listed in chronological order of the year at which they first served the church:

 Name of Minister Begin and End Years  Length of Service
Edward & Mona HoOct 1966 to Dec 1974 8.5 years
 John & Yvonne ChanJan 1975 to Jan 1978
Jan 2005 to Jan 2006
 3 years
 1 year
 Desmond & Shirley MowdayMat 1978 to Jan 1979
Jan 1983 to Dec 1984
 1 year
 2 years
 Jerome Chiu Feb 1979 to Dec 1980 2 years
 Trevor & Browyn Rowe Jan 1981 to Dec 1982 2 years
 Gerald Norman Jan 1985 to Jun 1986 1.5 years
 Ken LoweJul 1986 to Dec 1987
Oct 1994 to Aug 1995
 1.5 years
10 months
 Joshua & Christina Mok Jan 1988 to Oct 1994 7 years
 Isaac & Ellen Foo Aug 1995 to Nov 2002 7 years
 Nick Brightman Jan 2003 to Dec 2004 2 years
 Victor & Lizca  Lee Jan 2004 to Dec 2005 2 years
 Daniel & Josephine Chong  Jul 2006 to present 10+ years

Although the name of the church is "Sydney CHINESE Seventy-day Adventist Church" and the original goal of its formation was to share the Adventist message with Chinese speaking folks in the City of Sydney, over the years, the church membership had been and continues to become more multicultural in composition. In addition to ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong and Mainland China there are many who are European Australians, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Timorese, Malaysians, and Singaporeans. The Lord has truly blessed this congregation that continues to open its doors to anyone who accept the Gospel of Christ regardless of their ethnic identities.

Here is a brief account of how the church membership composition had changed over the past decades since its formation. As mentioned above, the founding members of the church were mainly ABC's or CBC's with a few local Australians mixed in. In the late 1970's and the early 1980's, large number Vietnamese immigrants migrated to Australia and chose to settle in Sydney. Among them were several Vietnamese-Chinese Adventist families who decided to join the Sydney Chinese Church. Some of them were baptized Seventh-day Adventists before they came to Australia while others, particular the younger generation were baptized after they attended the Strathfield Church. The local congregation often jokingly referred the 1980-1985 period as the Vietnamese era of their church. Then came the crisis associated with the independence of East Timor. From 1985 to 1990 several Timorese Chinese families joined the Strathfield Church, and this period is remembered affectionately as the Timorese era. In the late 1980's, several Indonesian Chinese families also joined the church. So this same period may also be identified as the Indonesian era. Up to this point, and continue into the early 2000's, under the pastoralship of Pastors Joshua Mok and Issac Foo, the majority of the members were from Hong Kong, and the main language used during worship was English with Cantonese translation. Throughout these years the church membership continued to increase and the church became one of the larger churches in the Greater Sydney Conference (Figure 16).

In the late 1990's, mainland Chinese started to migrate to Australia. From 2004 onward, increasing number of the congregation came from China mainland. Consequently putonghua (mandarin) gradually became the preferred language spoken among the church members, rather than Cantonese. During church services putonghua was adopted as the main language of translation. When a preacher preached in English, the sermon would be translated into putonghua, and when the preaching was in Chinese, it would be translated into English. This dual language practice in worship is being maintained till today at the time of writing of this article.

Branching Out - Church Begets Churches

The Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church is a good example of how "Church begets Churches". As early as 1995-2002, during the ministry of Pastor Isaac Foo, the members were discussing about "church planting", or how to grow new congregations. At the same time, the increasing diversified backgrounds of ethnic Chinese who were attending this church also created a challenge both culturally and linguistically. For example, the ethnic Chinese that came from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Timor, Cambodia, and Indonesia though share a common Chinese heritage, do have slightly different preferences in cultural practices. Adding to this were an increasing number of second generation young members who were born in English speaking Australia, and who had never live in Asia. The linguistic preference among the members became rather diverse. The idea of creating a new separate congregation became an increasing attractive option to not only promote church planting but to address the linguistic and cultural  challenges that the church faced. What could otherwise be the source of a disruptive conflict, under the guidance of the Lord and the good will of the parties involved, what happened to this church congregation in the next few decades became a classical example of positive growth by branching out and  church planting.

The first group of new congregation to come out of the Chinese congregation were about 30 members including four elders, who moved to the Epping Seventh-day Adventist Church on the north side of Sydney in February 2003. At that time the original Epping Church was in rapid decline to the point that the Conference was contemplating closing it down. So this move actually resulted in several positive developments. Today the Epping congregation is again a thriving church due to this "injection" of new members from the Chinese Church.

The second group, consisting mainly of English speaking younger members, who had a special burden to reach out to inner city residents and university students, formed the 3AM (Three Angles' Message) congregation started holding services at the ground of University of New South Wales on the east side of downtown Sydney.

At around 2004 to 2006, the competing language preference (Chinese speaking versus English speaking church service) became a rather challenging issue for the church. A group of English speaking members together with two elders decided to move in early 2006 to the suburb of Hurstville, where many of the new Chinese migrants had settled since the early 2000's. Their joining of the Hurstville Seventh-day Adventist Church had given a need injection of life to that church. Today the Hurtsville Church has become the center of outreach to Chinese migrants to the southern side of Sydney.

At about the same time, many of the Strathfield members who lived around the Lane Gove area of Sydney north side, started a meeting group at MacQuarie University. This group has been growing steadily, and in 2008 it was formally organized as an independent Seventh-day Adventist Company by the Greater Sydney Conference.

Seizing this momentum, Pastor Daniel Chong held a Visioning Seminar with members of the Sydney Chinese Church(es) in 2010. He challenged them to "Continue to engage in church planting?", to which the members responded positively.

In 2011 a group of Indonesian and Indonesian Chinese started a worship group called BISA (Branch Indonesian Sabbath School Group) at the Stanmore Church, where the very first group of Chinese students gathered in the early 1960's. With the help of the Global Mission funding, they were able to employ an Indonesian minister, Pastor Andreas Ginting to care for the group in 2013. Unfortunately  Pastor Ginting had to return to Indonesia. In 2015, the group formally became a Company with the Greater Sydney Conference, and relocated from Stanmore to the Auburn Seventh-day Adventist School.

On June 18, 2014, a Mandarin (putonghua)-speaking Chinese Church was officially formed in Eastwood north side of Sydney, with an initial membership of 12, consisting of ethnic Chinese from mainland China and from Malaysia. In its second year of operation, the membership increased from 12 to 22. And at the time of writing the membership stands at 27.

According to Pastor Chong, their plan is to start another Chinese Church at Chatswood, which is a hub north of Sydney, where many new Chinese migrants in recent years have made their homes. That community will provide a fruitful ground for outreach to the Chinese people in Sydney.

To recap what was said at the beginning of this section, the Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church, under God's leading, had grew from a single church at Strathfield to a systems of churches in this largest city of Australia. In fact there are now six locations of worship in the metropolis of Sydney, with a seventh one on its way:
  1. Strathfield, west central of Sydney (the mother church).
  2. Epping Church, north west side of Sydney
  3. University Company, initially at the University of New South Wales, and then at MacQuarie University.
  4. Hurstville Church, southern part of Sydney
  5. BISA Indonesian Company at Auburn Seventh-day Adventist School
  6. Eastwood Chinese Church, north west side of Sydney.
  7. The Chatwood Chinese Church that is being planned- north central of Sydney
It is interesting to observe that, over the past few decades, the mother church at Strathfeild on several occasions, grew to a membership of about 200 and it would hold it there at a steady state. When a subgroup decided to move out to form another church elsewhere in Sydney, the membership of the mother church would took a steep dive. But within a few short years, it grew back to the 200 level. So in this instance, the 200 membership mark seems to be a meta-stable state for this church. This phenomenon will make an interesting case study for Adventist church growth.
Figure 1: Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church at Strathfield, NSW, Australia

Figure 2: Denis and Maisie (nee Hon) Fook, a first-generation Australia born Chinese couple, who are often regarded as the initiators of the idea of a Chinese Church in Sydney, to minister to the Chinese-speaking people of Sydney.

Figure 3: The Stanmore Church in Sydney, where a large group Adventist Chinese students worshiped in the early 1960's. It was in this church that the Asian Society of Adventists was formed.

Figure 4: David and Betty Chung, one of the two young Chinese couples who took their marriage vows at the Stanmore Church.

Figure 5: Preparing the old Marrickville church building for the opening of the Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church in October 1,1966. 

Figure 6: Members of the Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church at the Marrickville in 1968
 
Figure 7: A model of the new Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist church building at Strathfield

Figure 8: Church Architect, James O'young, with wife and daughter Enid.

Figure 9: Building Committee members: Denis Fook, Keith Go, Edward Ho, Channing Ing, and Jeffrey Wu, inspecting building progress.

Figure 10: The stone plaque commemorating the dedication of church on November 17, 1974.

Figure 11: Two special building features of the Sanctuary: LEFT: The names of the 66 books of the Bible inscribed in Chinese characters on the rostrum with a circular opening towards the sky; RIGHT: The Chinese characters "Reverence and Silence" engraved on the timber from the former Marrickville Church, decorate the entracne to the Sanctuary.


Figure 12: Dedication Service of the Sydney Chinese SDA Church at Strathfield on November 16, 1974. Special musical item by Men's Quartet.

Figure 13: LEFT: Dr. and Mrs. Chan Shun, major donors to the Strathfield Church building; RIGHT: Pastor Edward Ho, foundation pastor of the Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church, and his successor, Pastor John Chan.

Figure 14: The Sydney Chinese Adventist Church Choir.

Figure 15: Pastor Eric Hon preaching at the Sydney Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Figure 16: 20th Anniversary of the Sydney Chinese Church, 1986

Figure 17: 45th Anniversary celebration of the formation of the Sydney Chinese Church, 2012.


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