Miss Mary E. Banta
Miss Mary E. Banta unselfishly gave 55 years of her life to the service of the Lord in our community.
Her life has been one of complete obedience to the Lord’s command “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”.
Miss Banta began her missionary career in Liberia, Africa. Ill health however, forced her to return to the United States before her first year had ended. She was invited by Bishop Henderson of the Methodist Church to take charge of the Chinese Department of the work among foreign speaking people on the “East Side” at the Church of All Nations. This was May 19 1904. She continued in this position until 1935 and during these years her influence was far reaching as teacher, social worker and friend.
It was 1935 that Miss Banta and the Chinese group rented a loft on 173 Canal Street at the door of Chinatown and continued as an independent group. Miss Banta was attracted by the evangelical teachings of the Lutheran Church as proclaimed by Dr. Walther A. Maier, speaker of the radio program, “The Lutheran Hour”, and she requested instruction for membership. Dr. A.W. Meyer provided these instructions and on March 29, 1936, Miss Banta was confirmed and received into membership of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Miss Banta was honored at a testimonial banquet on May 10, 1959 for her 55 years of work among the Chinese in New York City.
She was called to her eternal rest on June 4, 1971. Having touched so many lives in Chinatown with God’s love, she will always be remembered with love.
History of True Light
In 1936, a group of Chinese people formerly of the Department of the Church of All Nations (Methodist Episcopal), was renting a third floor loft at 173 Canal Street, New York City, to conduct Sunday School sessions as an independent group.
Miss Marion Klaus, a registered nurse employed by the City of New York Department of Health and a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Newark, New Jersey, learned that the group needed a pastor. She contacted Dr. Louis Henze, Executive Secretary of the Atlantic District, and requested the services of a pastor for the group. Dr. A. W. Meyer of Yonkers, New York served them the following Sunday.
Several weeks later a delegation of Chinese leaders appeared before the Mission Committee of the Board of Directors to explain their situation and present their plea for service and guidance. The delegates included Miss Marion Klaus, Miss Mary E. Banta, Mr. Moy Gumm and Mr. Jean Wing.
As a result, Dr. Meyer was asked to take charge of the work. But after serving two weeks, he felt his physical strength would not allow him to do justice to it. On February 9, 1936, The Rev. Louis T. Buchheimer of Grace Church, Bronx New York, consented to replace Dr. Meyer and take charge of the work.
On April 1, 1936, the work among the Chinese was officially undertaken by the Atlantic District, and Miss Mary E. Banta was employed as a full time worker to assist Rev. Louis T. Buchheimer. Under the blessings of God and the consecrated leadership of Pastor Buchheimer and Miss Banta, so many people attended the little loft -now a Gospel Hall- that it became imperative to secure larger quarters. A large bright loft with almost double the amount of floor space was leased at 199 Canal Street on January 1, 1938.
After spending two years in these enlarged quarters the building was sold and the congregation was notified by the new landlord that the lease would not be renewed, that they should find other accommodations. What to do? Space was at a premium especially in Chinatown itself. Even if space was available, the treasury was practically empty. After months of searching, a dilapidated building at the corner of Worth and Mulberry streets was found, not more than three blocks away from the Canal Street location. To purchase the building and to accomplish the preliminary architectural plans would require an estimated $265,000.
Pastor Buchheimer approached the Atlantic District for financial support. It responded by underwriting the purchase price of $65,000 for the building. The contract was signed December 23, 1946. Mr. Max Kantrowitz was the real estate agent who notified True Light about this property. Upon taking the title, the former owner said, “Anything you do to the building will be an improvement.” He was so right.
Rain used to pour in through holes in the roof and blew in through broken windows. Floors were rotted and signs warned the observer of the danger. Bits of machinery remained from another era when the building was used as a factory by the leather industry. The New York City Department of Buildings would not permit anyone to occupy any floor above the second of five stories.
Before a brick could be moved, there was still the problem of funding the approximately $200,000 for renovation costs. The period was the late forties. The Chinese Communists had not yet overrun the mainland of China. It was a time when nearly all Chinese people residing in the United States sent a large portion of their meager income back to China to support their relatives who were suffering from the devastation of war. There was no hope that the congregation could raise the money by itself, nor could it be expected to repay any loan of such magnitude.
To meet the emergency, Pastor Buchheimer with the assistance of Rev. Dr. Louis H. J. Henze, Executive Secretary of the Atlantic District appeared before the Board of Home Missions in North America in November 1947 for a grant of $75,000. They had no funds available to grant any aid. But they passed a resolution recommending such a grant to the Board of Directors of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The Synod acted favorably upon the request, and the building program of True Light was launched.
The cornerstone laying took place on Sunday, December 22, 1948.
Long before our building was ready for occupancy, we received a notice from the City Marshall to force us to vacate from the premises at 199 Canal Street on or before Friday January 7, 1949.
The sacred communion vessels were removed and the group waitedfor the marshal. He granted the Church an extra week to vacate.
Equipment was stored in a basement on Bayard Street and temporary shelter was graciously offered in the basement of Mariner’s Temple at 3 Henry Street just east of Chatham Square.
There Sunday School and Church Services were held. The Scouts met in the Bowery Savings Bank at Grand Street.
It was very difficult to carry on under these conditions, so at the earliest opportunity the move was made to the new building. Although the building was not yet completed, on May 29, 1949 the congregation marched through Chinatown to the new Church. The Scout band played and members carried signs announcing the occasion:
“WE ARE MARCHING TO CHINATOWN’S TRUE LIGHT CHURCH”
Upon completion of the Church, a Service of Dedication was held on Sunday September 25, 1949.
A grateful congregation numbering about 600 people sang praises to God in the special morning service.
This was a milestone in the history of the Church and the Chinatown community. New and adequate facilities were now available for Christian worship, Christian education, Christian fellowship and recreation.
The charity of thousands of friends throughout the country made this project possible. Among the organizations which gave generous support were the International Walther League and the Lutheran Women Missionary League. It stands today as a tribute to the efforts, the vision and the faith of Rev. Louis T. Buchheimer and his associates, and the support and cooperation of the Atlantic District.
Always striving to reach as many people as possible with the message of Christ, Pastor Buchheimer had long felt the need of a Chinese speaking Lutheran pastor to assist him in the work in Chinatown. From the beginning of True Light, the scripture readings, sermon and prayers were carefully translated by members of the congregation at Cantonese services. This method, however adequate, was unsatisfactory. Communication with the mass of Chinese speaking non Christians required a full time assistant conversant in the language.
This problem caused an unconventional situation. In 1953, a Chinese Lutheran minister in Hong Kong, Rev. Paul Chang, who had never been in the United States, was called to assist Pastor Buchheimer in New York. Now the Chinese speaking members could hear the entire service, in addition to receiving comfort and guidance of the Gospel in their own language. He departed in 1959 to continue his studies at Concordia Seminary at St. Louis, Missouri.
In July of 1959, Pastor Buchheimer announced that he had received a call from the Armed Services Commission of the Lutheran Church to go to the Far East as a member of the staff of Lutheran Service Commission. His immediate assignment was to a large naval base and military establishment on the Philippine Islands. Pastor Buchheimer has been a spiritual counselor and familiar figure in Chinatown for 23 years.
After completing his training for the ministry, his first assignment was as True Light’s assistant pastor from 1940 to 1950.
A dedicated and experienced pastor was needed and Rev. Ernest J. Kunsch was called from Albany, and installed on December 13, 1959 as pastor of True Light. Rev. Kunsch was an old friend of True Light.
Rev. Philip Yang, who had been serving as a vicar since September 1963, took his colloquy program at Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield Illinois. He was officially ordained as Pastor 10, 1965.
In April 1966, Rev. Ernest J. Kunsch left True Light to accept a call from Trinity Lutheran Church in Hawthorne, New York. Pastor Yang then assumed the responsibilities of Vacancy Pastor. In April 1967, he was installed as Pastor.
Rev. Henry C. Lubben, Associate Pastor, arrived at True Light in April 1967 and left in April 1968 to accept a call from Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in Greenville Michigan.
Since September 11, 2001, there have been major changes in demographics in lower Manhattan. The Financial District is evolving into residential neighborhoods. Moving forward into the 21st century, we will be expanding our neighborhood church for Lutherans in lower Manhattan.
Pastors Who Have Served At True Light
- Rev. Louis T. Buchheimer (1936-1959)
- Rev. Ernest J. Kunsch (1940-1950, 1959-1966)
- Rev. Donald F. Tober (1951-1953)
- Rev. Paul Chang (1953-1959)
- Rev. Philip Yang (1967-1995)
- Rev. Henry Lubben (1967-1968)
- Rev. Tich Luu (1995-2000)
- Rev. Lenny Szeto (2001-2003)
- Rev. Raymond Wong (2005-2008)
- Rev. Leong Wa Chu (2009- )
- Rev. Matthew Staneck (2013- )
Vicars Who Have Served at True Light
- Clement W. K. Lee ( 1960-62 )
- Wally Schmidt ( 1963-64 )
- Luther Hasz ( 1964-65 )
- Robert Hartfield ( 1965-66 )
- Robert Blaney ( 1967-68 )
- John Peterson ( 1970-71 )
- Gordon Rakow ( 1971-72 )
- Luther Esala ( 1972-73 )
- Dennis Walker ( 1973-75 )
- John Imme ( 1975-76 )
- David Bush (1976-77 )
- Stephen Brighton (1977-78 )
- Bryan Haubein (1978-79 )
- Charles Fox ( 1979-80 )
- James Eckert ( 1980-81 )
- Michael Petri ( 1981-82 )
- James Barrand ( 1981-82 )
- Chris Nilges ( 1983-84 )
- William Lehmann ( 1984-85 )
- Stephen Googins ( 1985-86 )
- Terrence Chan ( 1986-87 )
- David Lewis ( 1992-94 )
- Matthew Staneck ( 2011-12 )
Sons and Daughters of True Light
- Rev. and Mrs. David and Eleanor (Kee) Fletcher
- Rev. and Mrs. Paul and Fern (Lee) Hagedorn
- Rev. and Mrs. Robert L. and Lilly (Soo Hoo) Hartfield
- Rev. Barry Hong
- Rev. Canon Clement W.K. Lee
- Rev. and Mrs. William H. and Jean (Louie) Lehman III
- Rev. and Mrs. David and Karen (Chin) Lewis
- Rev. Dr. James Y. K. Moy
- Rev. Dwight Ong
- Rev. and Mrs. Gordon W. and Jacqueline (Lee) Rakow
- Rev. David K. Y. Szeto
- Rev. Paul and Deaconess May Jean (Louie) Wilgruber
- Rev. Henry B. Wong
- Rev. and Mrs. Joseph and Ruth (Quan) Wong
- Rev. Andrew J. Yee
- Rev. Travis J. Yee
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