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Vietnamese church starting small in Pleasant Hills, dreaming big

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Thuy Le of South Park translates Mass from guest preacher Jeff Bergeson, a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Sunday, July 21, at the secondary Chapel of Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church during a Vietnamese Mass.
Gathering in prayer are (clockwise starting with Jeff Bergeson, a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), Giap Quang Le of Crafton, Thuy Le of South Park, Anna Vu of Crafton, Be Tichi of Pleasant Hills and Kim Willis of Baldwin Borough following a Vietnamese Mass on Sunday, July 21, at the secondary Chapel of Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church.
Parishioners and guests gather after a Vietnamese Mass in prayer Sunday, July 21, at the secondary Chapel of Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church. The Thánh Ca is a Vietnamese hymnbook.
A sign at the entrance of the secondary Chapel of Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church.

As hundreds of parishioners attend services at the Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church, members of the Pittsburgh Vietnamese Presbyterian Fellowship take part in their own service in a secondary chapel at the church.

The service on a recent Sunday began at 10 a.m., with 25 with members singing hymns alternating in Vietnamese and English. Readings and prayers lasted about 90 minutes.

Church elder George Tichi gave the children's sermon in English and spoke to a handful of teenagers about loving their neighbors, referring to the late TV icon Fred Rogers.

The Vietnamese fellowship, the only such congregation in the Pittsburgh area, currently is without a pastor.

Lam Nguyen from Akron, Ohio, and several other pastors have been taking turns traveling to the church to give Sunday sermons. “We have to fill these seats,” Nguyen said in Vietnamese.

Sermons can be listened to in English through a portable translator.

Tichi established the Vietnamese church in 2003 when he moved to Pittsburgh from California with his wife, Be Thi. The church lasted about two and a half years.

“When we got married, she had very little English. I just felt like I needed a place for her to worship,” Tichi said. “Just knowing all these people where Vietnamese is their primary language and their customs are different, it just seemed natural that we should have a congregation.”

About 2,500 residents of Allegheny County claim to be of some Vietnamese descent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Another effort to get the Vietnamese fellowship going was made in 2008.

The group received help from the Pittsburgh Presbytery's New Church Development program, which assists in creating new parishes in the area.

The parish gathered at Third Congregation Presbyterian Church in Shadyside for about 18 months, then moved to Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church on Old Clairton Road so members could worship on Sunday mornings instead of in the evenings, Tichi said.

“There was no Vietnamese church in Pittsburgh,” church treasurer Thuy Le said. “When they started the church, I (wanted) to go because I am Vietnamese.”

Community based, the parish hosts two Bible studies a week as well as dinners for major holidays, including the Vietnamese new year, Le said. The lunar holiday comes at the end of January and lasts 10 days.

The congregation has about 60 members, from 25 families in Green Tree, South Park, Crafton, Jefferson Hills and Brookline.

Unlike the days when people of the same culture lived in a certain neighborhood, there is no central Vietnamese community, Tichi said. “The Vietnamese are dispersed throughout” the region, he said. “There is no one place where there are more (Vietnamese) than somewhere else.”

Brittany Goncar is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or bgoncar@tribweb.com.

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