Church building shows changing York County

Vietnamese Alliance Church

1154 N. George St., North York

The situation

The story of this quiet wood frame church along the York-area’s busy north/south road is an indicator of change in York County. The noted Dempwolf architectural firm designed this building for St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran congregation circa 1892, filled with families from a strong German heritage. As time passed, the St. Peter’s congregation outgrew its 1154 N. George St. building and constructed a new red-brick church in 1930 a short distance to the south. But the story of this place, built for those with Pennsylvania Dutch roots, did not stop with the departure of St. Peter’s congregants. Today, the building hosts the York’s Vietnamese Alliance Church.

St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran congregation formed in 1892 and commissioned the York-based Dempwolf architectural firm to design its North York church. Dempwolf deployed a shingle-style design, constructed of wood siding and shingles. The front view, along North George Street, is at left, the rear view, center and a cross-section is at right.

The witness

Duong Huynh was an employee of the South Vietnamese government at the time of its fall in 1975. That role landed him in prison, away from his family, for eight years. His hardship led him to Christianity and the Vietnamese Alliance Church. “He is the man you see if you have questions,” a friend and parishioner at Huynh’s church said in 2010. In the 21st century, the county’s Vietnamese population is growing, something the county has seen for years. The county has hosted newcomers for generations, waves of people from many nations since the first settlers crossed the Susquehanna River in 1730. Coincidentally, the Vietnamese presence in the county came at a time in which a memorial to honor local men and women in the military who fought in Vietnam was commemorated. The fighting men and women and those they fought for – and often alongside – are gathering in York County.

The questions

At 9:30 a.m. on Sundays, locals attend North York’s Vietnamese Alliance Church for a service in English. One hour later, those speaking Vietnamese fill the pews. Many think of York County as primarily English speaking, but German was the language commonly spoken until about 1850. At that time, English-speaking congregations started as part of or separate from German-language churches. So York County has long hosted bilingual people. How does speaking two languages impact a person’s ability to see the world? Would you ever visit a non-English service? Do you think you could still capture the message without understanding the words?

Related links: Vietnamese in York County. Rebecca Morrish Cybularz’s master’s thesis: “A Survey of the Ecclesiastical Building of the J.A.
Dempwolf Architecture Firm, York, Pennsylvania.”
YDR photo, top. Architectural drawing, York County History Center.


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