A church new to Novato is using its origins in the Asian-American community as a way to build an inclusive space for all people of faith. The shift is captured in the church’s brand-new name, “The Community Church.”
In 1980 a group of Chinese independent Baptists from San Francisco formalized as the Marin Chinese Christian Church. In 2002, with its new denomination as evangelical covenant, the church was renamed the Marin Asian Community Church.
With a new location in Novato opened in 2021, it was time to evolve again. Although the group had deep roots in Asian community, the church leadership was looking for more in their name.
When the church was first established, said church Pastor Tim Seo, “there wasn’t anything for Asians in the Marin area in terms of a faith community,” so the deep roots of the congregation in Asian identity helped to provide a safe space for churchgoers.
Over time, that community has grown beyond its Asian core. “We have people that are not Asian that come, that want to be part of the church and the community,” Seo said. “So even though [our church] was initially founded with Chinese families from [San Francisco], now we are realizing that there is a greater community we are a part of, and we want the name to be more open, more inclusive.”
He added, “We have that core identity we started from [our Asian] history and our identity,” pointing out that there is significance to a white person being a member in an Asian space. That core identity can be a source of strength to share with others who might be just opening up to broader experiences of inclusion.
Services are provided in English, and while the majority of parishioners are Asian, many come to the fold looking for a church with diverse backgrounds. “We wanted people to feel comfortable regardless of what background they had,” said Seo, who is Korean, though born in Canada. “Anybody who comes that is not Asian will feel right at home. [W]e’re not just focusing on Asian connections … we want people to feel diverse connections.”
In this way, having a church with Asian roots provides unique benefits to the broader community. Seo said it raised a question of the church’s mission: “With our minority background and our diverse culture, can we bless the community around us?”
Coming from a minority background in America alerts one to the challenges that the vulnerable in our communities can face. The Community Church wants to take the strength of character that comes from such experiences and use it as force for good in Novato.
Seo’s desire to connect diverse communities was influenced by his six years as a Navy chaplain.
Navy chaplains serve “many different backgrounds from all parts of the country, with very different needs,” said Seo, who is ordained in the Presbyterian church. “There are people who have different faiths in the armed services.”
The experience reaffirmed Seo’s intention to care for all people. “It is a privilege and an honor to walk with someone, whatever they are going through,” he said.
So, when the church looked into a new name to go with their new location, they explored all kinds of name options—trendy, geographic, ethnic—but went with the name that felt most open to all, The Community Church.
The new mission?“To be a community, in the community, for the community,” Seo said. Or, as he put it to his partners in the naming process, “Why don’t we simply be the Community Church?”