Most of the congregation was made up of Taiwanese refugees.
The Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church has never had a home.
It started in 1994 in borrowed space in another church in its namesake city. It eventually moved to another borrowed space in a Tustin church before settling at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods in 2012.
On Sundays, the Taiwanese group worships at 10 a.m., while the Geneva group gathers separately at 10:30.
The 100 or so church members, most of whom are senior citizens, worship in their native language — not Mandarin but Taiwanese, a dialect that was once suppressed by the Kuomintang regime.
Though they never had their own building, they did have a longtime pastor, Billy Chang, who served for 21 years until leaving in 2020 to head a congregation in Taiwan.
On Sunday, Chang returned to the church in Laguna Woods for a luncheon in his honor.
A man in his 60s entered the room and began shooting, killing one person and wounding five others ages 66 to 92 before church members disarmed him and hogtied him with an electric cord.
It is not yet known whether the gunman had a connection to Chang or the church. He was described by law enforcement officials as Asian. The victims, four of whom were critically injured, were all Asian.
For church members, the peace they felt in their borrowed sanctuary, where they not only worshiped but learned how to use an iPad and enjoyed lectures on topics such as Taiwanese pop music and California abalone, was forever shattered.
“Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church is a family of love,” the current pastor, Albany Lee, said on the church’s website. “I hope that all brothers and sisters can become acquainted with each other on a deeper level.”
Tom Cramer, a leader at Los Ranchos Presbytery and a former pastor at Geneva Presbyterian, called the Taiwanese congregation “dear friends” and “sisters and brothers in Christ.”
“This is a shock to us that anything like this would happen,” he said after the shooting.
Peggy Huang, a Yorba Linda city councilwoman, said her parents are members of the church and have been weathering the pandemic in Taiwan. That choice may have saved their lives.
“Them being stuck in Taiwan turned out to be a blessing because they would have been there,” she said.
Huang exchanged text messages with members of the congregation all afternoon. They told her that they didn’t recognize the gunman and that he opened fire as people were posing for photos with Chang.
Chang picked up a chair and hit the gunman before other members of the congregation grabbed him, the witnesses told Huang.
Cynthia Conners, a Geneva church member and mayor pro tem of Laguna Woods, said about 150 people usually attend the Taiwanese Sunday service, often gathering afterward for lunch.
“We considered it really lucky that they came to us,” Conners said. “We have tried to be inclusive and share many activities.”