Word of God comes in many languages, with services in everything from Vietnamese to Russian

Churches serve those from nearly every continent
Posted at 7:00 AM, Jul 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-01 07:18:16-04

CINCINNATI -- No matter where people live, when it comes to worshipping God, it seems that they prefer to do it in their native language -- or at least with others who speak it.

That's certainly true in the Tri-State, where church services in most of the world's most popular languages can easily be found. There are churches for immigrants from countries on nearly every continent:

  • From North America and South America, there are many services for Spanish speakers, especially for Roman Catholics. There are dozens of Spanish-language Masses at churches in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and there's a Spanish-language parish in the Diocese of Covington, Cristo Rey in Florence.
  • From Africa, there's the Dominion Center, a Pentecostal church that meets in a former schoolhouse in Fairfield. About 150 immigrants from Nigeria worship there weekly, along with several from South Africa, Togo, Cameroon and Haiti, pastor Emmanuel Elendu said.
  • From Europe, there's Old St. Mary's Church in Over-the-Rhine, which celebrates Mass in German at 11 a.m. Sundays, as well as English and traditional Latin Masses at other times. It's the only parish in the United States where Mass is celebrated in German weekly, said the Rev. Jon-Paul Bevak.

    The church, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this month, was founded by German immigrants. In the 1970s, when members were leaving for the suburbs, the pastor at the time tried to make it an international church, and Mass was said in Spanish, French and Hungarian as well, Bevak said.

    About 110 people attend the German mass weekly. They include some immigrants who have lived here many years, Bevak said, as well as newer immigrants in the country on work visas.

  • From Asia, there's Our Lady of LaVang, a Roman Catholic church in Elmwood Place, where Mass is celebrated in Vietnamese. Between 350 and 400 people attend the 11 a.m. service on Sundays, said the Rev. Chau Tham.

    He said attendance has grown by about 250 families since he became pastor seven years ago.

Other local churches that cater to immigrants are growing, too.

For example, St. James Antiochian Orthodox Church in Loveland, where the congregation reads from a liturgy book with one page printed in English and the other in Arabic, and where the Rev. Nabil Fino preaches his homily in both languages.

About 90 percent of the congregation is from Jordan, which lies just east of the nation of Israel. But there are also natives of Syria, Egypt and some Palestinians.

Fino preaches in Arabic for the first-generation immigrants, he said, and in English for their children.

"What we do here is like the day of Pentecost every day," he said, referring to the Biblical feast when disciples of Jesus were able to speak in languages they didn't know.

About 150 attend the Sunday service, but the church has hired an architect to expand the sanctuary to seat more than 400 people. The expansion will cost about $2 million to build, Fino said.

Another example of a growing immigrant church is the Cincinnati Chinese Church, which has sanctuaries in Mason and Mount Healthy.

The church began in 1968 as a Bible study group with about 20 college students from Taiwan, Hong Kong and other South Asian countries, said the Rev. David Wu. About 200 adults and 100 children now attend services, he said, most of them from China but a sizable minority from Taiwan and some from Malaysia.

The church attracts professionals who came here for college and stayed to work, Wu said, but also restaurant workers and restaurateurs. There are close to 200 Chinese restaurants in the region, Wu said.

There are two Sunday services, one in English for second-generation immigrants and one in Chinese. At the Chinese service, headphones are provided for those who want to hear a translation into Cantonese, which is spoken in Hong Kong, Macau and parts of China.

The church plans to soon begin an expansion of its Mason campus by adding a gym and about 13 classrooms. Wu expects that to be complete in May 2018.

Other local foreign-language churches are just getting started. The Cincinnati Tamil Church, which meets at First Baptist Church in Mason on Sunday evenings, has just six families. The Rev. Ezhilarasan King started it about a year ago for speakers of Tamil, a regional language of southern India.

In 2009, he started a Tamil church in Columbus that now serves 20 families. King, who lives in Columbus, is also looking to start Tamil churches in Cleveland and Dayton.

Tom Bevers, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Batavia, leads a Bible study for Russian speakers that meets in members' homes Tuesday nights at 7. Before he became pastor 10 years ago, he spent several years as a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention, including several years in Moscow.

The study attracts about 20 people a week, he said, most of them from former Soviet republics such as Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. He hopes to one day create a small church out of the study and said several local Baptist churches have offered to let the congregation use their buildings for free.

His biggest problem has been finding Russian speakers, whom he believes number about 10,000 in the region but are widely dispersed. He said he most often encounters them working at Kings Island, where many Russian-speaking teens seek summer jobs.