In 1915, an embattled Europe raged against one another as America had yet to join the Great War.
However, on the home front, America was in the throngs of political and social unrest.
President Woodrow Wilson presided over an America that supported a segregated Jim Crow South. Seeking racial equality, African Americans looked to Chicago as a central hub for The Great Migration.
Furthermore, the women’s suffrage movement arose to combat discrimination denying women the right to vote.
Jane Addams, founder of Chicago’s Hull House, wrote her seminal essay, “Why Women Should Vote” as women pushed for equal rights. Addams simultaneously advocated for immigrant rights as the influx of European immigration swelled historically for a second time.
It is within this political and social environment that the remarkable development of the first interdenominational Chinese Protestant church and service in Chicago was established on Sunday October 10th.
Prior to its establishment, the foundation of the church began with the cooperation of the First Baptist Church, the Second Baptist Church, the Emmanuel Baptist Church, and the Woodlawn Baptist Church.
These churches came together in the 1890s to form a cooperative that created a Chinese Sunday School to help non-native English speakers with studying the Bible.
Additionally, Chinese congregants had been meeting in the downtown Y.M.C.A. and later, a Baptist mission on Clark Street.
However, due to growing attendance, it was decided that formally establishing a church would be necessary. Reverend Frank Gum-Lun Lee was selected by the congregation to preside as the church’s first minister. Members selected Chinese Evangelical Church as the official name because of the various denominational backgrounds. A spacious location was selected on the second floor of 223-225 West Cermak Road at the cost of $25 per month.
In 1921, under the direction of Reverend Luk-Sang Chang, a dream for a larger meeting place was born. The church moved two blocks away to 2131 South Archer Avenue. The first floor served as the meeting space, while the second floor was used as the pastor’s residence.
Home is Established
In 1926, the church needed more room and under the direction of Reverend Bing-Yee Leong, acquired its current location, 2301 S. Wentworth Avenue for the price of $33,000.
In 1927 members changed the church’s name to the “Chinese Church of Christ of Chicago” as it represented the union of churches of all denominations under one banner. The first service was held on January 16, 1927 and was attended by over 300 people.
By 1932, the church developed a regular attendance of 150-200 people. A music ministry and choir were in place. There was also an expanded Sunday School.
However, in 1932, due to the sudden death of Reverend Hing-Fun Cham in his church quarters, attendance dwindled and the church found itself in a financial quandary.
It was during this time that the Chicago Baptist Association stepped in to assume the mortgage and church operation. The Baptist Young People’s Club and its members would join the church. A new name for the church was adopted to reflect this merger--the Chinese Christian Union Church. The Baptist influence in our church practices is explained by this new alliance.
By 1940, the church established the Chinese Young People’s Society which was the first youth group. The meetings were held on Sunday nights and invited various speakers from Moody Bible Institute and surrounding churches.
In 1943, the church made important decisions that would change the course of its history. Church members voted to become a self-governing, self-supporting church choosing to remove itself from the jurisdiction of the Baptist Association.
By 1945, an All Members Assembly meeting concluded that CCUC would be a self-supported organization, but would continue to maintain its relationship with the Baptist Association.
With new-found independence, the church endeavored upon a building renovation that would rebuild and modernize the crumbling mission building. The project broke ground on November 30, 1947. The building project would include the pastor’s apartment, a new basement, kitchen, and sanctuary.
Because of complications with funding and construction issues, the new building was not fully completed until October 28, 1951. Along with the new building, the Poy Tuck Chinese Language School was opened as an after school program for the children in Chinatown.
By 1953, the James Tower, named after a generous donor, Walter C. James, was added at the corner of the church, supplying the final detail that completed the building project.
The 1950s continued to mark major growth as the church continued to expand its Christian education programs. Youth programs such as the Christian Seebees, a program for boys between 11-14 years old, and the Christian Echoes Girls Club, were established.
By the late 1950s into the early 1960s, CCUC began to feel growing pains. Members desired a new educational building, which would include a larger dining hall, gymnasium, a second floor addition of classrooms, and an expansion of the pastor’s quarters. Construction began in 1961 and was completed in May, 1962. Due to the growing needs of the church, further renovations were made to the church kitchen and basement later that year.
By 1964, the church began to hold two church services due to a growing membership. Up to this point, church services had been conducted in Chinese, with English interpretation of the sermon.
However, a younger generation who spoke and understood little Chinese wished for a service that would be exclusively in English. English service began at 11:00 AM with a bi-lingual service following at 2:00 PM.
The final building purchase occurred in 1971, when the Saint Therese Mission structure next to the new building was purchased and became what is known today as the new sanctuary. Construction finished in 1974, with a seating capacity of 800 worshipers.
In 1980, the church marked the new decade by sending its first missionary couple, Paul and Carolina Cheng to Panama. Additionally, Mandarin services began in 1982.
The church continued to expand by adding a South-Side Gospel Center in 1984 and CCUC-North in 1986. In 1988, an old factory building was purchased on 3000 S Wallace, and was later renovated to become CCUC-South.
In the 1990s, Deacon Chair Stephen Yeh Sr. suggested the purchase of the On Leong building. The space would be used for current church activities and other possible service programs such as English classes for adults, tutoring programs for youth, and nursery school/day care for children. Under the clear leading of the Lord, the building was purchased in the fall of 1992 and renovations completed in 1995.
The name was changed to the Pui Tak Center which in Chinese means “to cultivate and enhance” values. Along with community services, the building also hosts its own bookstore.
In 2005, the pre-school program evolved into the Pui Tak Christian School with an enrollment of 110 students. Additionally, CCUC purchased the building on its north side which was formerly a trading company. Renamed The Impact Center, renovation was completed in 2006 with a dedication service taking place on March 19.
The last expansion of the church 1st century occurred in 2007, when CCUC-West was planted in the western suburbs of Chicago.
Much has happened in these first 100 years. By the grace of God, much more awaits as CCUC moves forward from generation to generation.