Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Sunday, July 29, 2012


The Rev. James Kodera, Ph. D.

Note: The following is a response-reflection from The Rev. Dr.  James Kodera, professor at Wellesley College, Massachusetts and former president of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council to the Panel Discussion on Asian American Theologizing found somewhere in this blogsite. – Fred Vergara

Dear Colleagues,

                I have read a recent talk given at Columbia Theological Seminary by the Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara, Missioner for Asiamerica Ministry of the Episcopal Church. He was good enough to send the full text of the same talk. He invited the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry community to offer our own thoughts on the topic of discussion at Columbia Seminary. I would like to accept the invitation.  

                I offer my reflections in an itemized format in the hope that my contribution might elicit further responses from a variety of Asian and Asian American communities, especially those with Christian commitments. What I offer here is selective, and certainly not exhaustive, intended to move the discussion forward.

1. Christianity in Asia and Asian Christians:

                Christians of Asian heritage are often viewed in North America as "new comers," as products of the work of missionaries from Western Europe and North America. It is indeed true that so many Asian Christians were schooled in institutions of higher education founded, or inspired, by missionaries from the West. Directly inspired by the Protestant missionary movement, started by a handful students at Williams College, in the nineteenth century, many missionaries went to Asia to propagate Christianity in the second half of the nineteenth century. Common assumption then was the no one could be "civilized" without being Christian; "Christian" referring to certain Protestant traditions, later known as "Mainline Protestant" denominations. Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, American Baptist, and so a lesser extent Episcopal, were among them. They went to Hawaii, China, Japan, Korea and Thailand, where the leaders of these institutions of higher learning remain grateful today for the work of the missionaries. United Kingdom, Holland and Scandinavia also sent their missionaries during this period.

                And yet, we should also remember that, centuries before the Western European and North American missionaries, there were Christian communities in Asia. Put differently, we could say that both some of the oldest and the largest Christian churches are in Asia. Look at churches planted by Saint Thomas in Kerala, India. St. Mary's Syrian Orthodox Church in Alleppey, Kerala, India, was founded in 54 CE by Thomas. The church remains vital today. It is one of "seven and a half" Churches planted by Thomas before he was killed, martyred, in Chennai in 72 CE. The largest parish church in membership in the whole world today is Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul with upwards of 900,000 members. While many churches in South Korea were planted by American missionaries, especially by Horace Allen and Horace Underwood of the Presbyterian Church and Thomas Appenzeller of the Methodist Church, the strategies for mission and ministry have not been simply to copy what they learned from the missionaries. The founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church received no formal theological education, except for a brief study in Korea. He knew that the future of Christianity for the Korean had to affirm the native Korean traditions, especially the Confucian respect for learning and the vitality of Shamanism, especially Shamanesses, deeply rooted in the Korean folk tradition. Yoido Full Gospel Church is a product of the Korean Christians rejecting the Western missionary model, and infusing the native Korean traditions as part of a uniquely Korean Christian movement. Other Asian countries have not followed the same. Japan, for example, continued to propagate the missionary versions of the Christian Gospel, although there were some notable attempts at "indigenizing" Christianity. Among them are Uchimura Kanzo's "No Church Christianity" and Kitamori Kazo's "Pain of God Theology." Both appealed largely to a small group of intellectuals with strong Western leanings. More recently, Koyama Kosuke's unique theology, developed while teaching in Southeast Asia and at Union Seminary in New York, appealed to Westerners and North Americans, but not to the Japanese. In Japan, appealing to the pro-Western intellectuals did not result in planting the Christian Gospel among the masses.

2. Why is Asian American Studies important not only for Asian Americans but also for Asians:

                It was in the crucible of the late 1960's when the term "Asian American" was coined by the students in the Bay Area. The impetus that contributed to the coinage of “Asian Americans” in the late 1960’s in the Bay Area included not only their opposition to the US involvement in the civil war in Indochina, but their awareness of the rise of certain Asian countries in the world. Japan’s rise as a technological power and China’s rise as a political power under Mao were among the reasons. They found strong affinity with the opposition to the “Vietnam War” by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. To them, the war was not “Vietnam War,” but “American War,” for it was the US who was fighting their war against the Communists in Vietnam.

                The Federal government of the United States adopted "Asian and Pacific Island American" as a new demographic category in the 1990 US Census. Less than 1 million in 1960, they increased to more than 7 million in 1990. "Asian American Americans, separated from the “Pacific Islander Americans” in the 2010 US Census, today are the fastest growing segment of the US population. While this was happening, Asians in Asia remain divided by language and history. Colonialism is a very big factor, contributing to the division. While many Asian countries were colonized by Europeans powers, including the British (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma), the Spanish (the Philippines), the French ("Indochina") and the Dutch (Indonesia), the most savage colonial oppression in many parts of Asia were by the Japanese. Japan first sought to occupy the Korean Peninsula in 1592. After Japan's victory over Imperial China in 1895 and over Imperial Russia a decade later, Japan was given by the international community (Portsmouth Conference of 1906) the Korean Peninsula as its colony. Asians’ struggles have not been just with European powers, but within Asia, especially with the Japanese. Unless peace and reconciliation is achieved among Asians, Asian Americans cannot come together as a “Pan Asian” community with a common history and aspirations.

3. The myths of Asian Americans as “Model Minority”:

                Since the publication of William Peterson’s article in the New York Times Magazine in 1966, in which he coined the term “model minority,” referring to East Asian Americans, not only the larger North American society but Asian Americans themselves have assumed that they have “made it,” especially in education and employment. Today, the median income of Asian Americans is higher than that of other Americans, including Euro Americans. Today, Indian Americans, who comprise 1% of the US population, are the wealthiest ethnic group in the US, surpassing Jewish Americans. This statistic compounded the stereotype of Asian Americans as well educated and wealthy. And yet, the poorest Americans are also Asian American, namely the Hmong Americans, most of whom came to the US as refugees in the aftermath of the “Vietnam War” that ended in 1975. They also have among the highest rate of domestic violence in the US. How can we group all Asian Americans, as if they were a homogeneous group?

4. Aspirations of Asian Americans, born of their forbearers’ struggles:

                We must be mindful of a number of anti-Asian legislations in US history. It started with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and was compounded by the Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklyn Roosevelt in 1942, ordering some 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans in the West Coast to “internment camps” for over three years. Asians working on plantations in Hawaii and coal mines in Wyoming, laundry and restaurant workers in San Francisco and gardeners in Southern California were ineligible for naturalization as US citizens until the passage of the Water McCarran Act of 1952, which effectively ended the Chinese Exclusion Act after 70 years. But it was with a quota, less than 3,000 per year. When we consider that Asians comprise roughly one half of the human race then as now, the quota was extremely small. It was not until 1964 when the New Immigration Act, envisioned by President John F. Kenney and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, that the racial quota was dropped. In the new immigration law, “refugees” were given a special consideration in their transition to the US. As Americans of Asian heritage come together in search of a common history and aspirations, it is essential that they know not only what happened to Asians in American, but why. The fear of Asians becoming American was real. The State of California passed an anti miscegenation laws against Asians in 1850. Furthermore, only able bodied Asian men were allowed entry into the United States through the Port of San Francisco. Women were barred, unless they were prostitutes. California’s antimiscegenation laws were not repealed until 1948.

                Given this history, evident are the Euro Americans sentiments against Asians. Equally noteworthy is Asians’ and Asian Americans’ complicity in the racial superiority of people of European heritage. Reluctance to “make waves” in Asian American communities is to keep them safe, given the history. But it is also an expression of Asians’ deference to, if not reverence for, people of European heritage. This is precisely the reason why Asian Americans as “model minority” is defined in European and Euro American terms. Asian Americans who have excelled in educational and vocational pursuits that are supposed to be European and Euro American in origin are considered “model minority.” Asian Americans who excel in piano and violin are “model minority.” Asian Americans who obtain PhD in Shakespeare are “model minority.” But Asian Americans who excel just as much in Asian art or Asian literature remain on the periphery of North American society. They are not “model minority.” In short, racism is not simply of Euro Americans against Asian Americans, but also among and by Asian Americans. Racism remains a social, cultural and political reality as Asian traits.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Editor's Note: The Rev. Dr. Winston Wyman Ching, first missioner for Asiamerica Ministries in the Episcopal Church died last July 3, 2012. Memorial services were held in Christ Church in Rockville, Maryland (by the Korean Convocation meeting) last July 14, 2012 and in St. John's Cathedral, Hong Kong on July 19, 2012. 

Similar services will be held in San Francisco on August 4, 2012 at St, John's the Evangelist Episcopal Church; Los Angeles on September 8, 2012 at St. Gabriel Episcopal Church. Services in New York and Honolulu will be announced.

The following is the homily by the Revd. Jenny Nam at a Memorial Service for Winston Ching at St. John Cathedral in Hong Kong on July 19, 2012. The service was well attended by both students and members of the Anglican Province of HongKong Sheng Kung Hui. Similar services will be done in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Honolulu. Homily copy courtesy of Peter Ng.
-Fred Vergara

St. John’s Cathedral                                                                                                         19 July, 2012
In loving memory of a dear friend, the Rev. Dr. Winston Ching by the Rev. Jenny Nam+

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” Jesus asked his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled. This was because he knew that his followers would indeed let their hearts be troubled in times of loss, grief and death. The news of the sudden passing of the Rev. Dr. Winston Ching sent shock waves to Ming Hua Theological Seminary, St. John’s College, the Cathedral community as well as his friends and colleagues in HK, United States and many other countries where he had left his mark.

No matter whether you have known him for decades or just in the last few years, people of different backgrounds and persuasions can’t help but be touched by his gentleness, compassion, creativity, wisdom, humility, intuition, humor and profound spirituality...thus our hearts were deeply troubled when we heard of his death. Tonight, we have come together to commemorate, celebrate and give thanks for his life and ministry.

Many are still asking why, what, how, when but we should learn to accept that life is full of unanswered questions. Perhaps in hindsight, our intuitive Winston could see that it was coming. Days before he left, he reminded some clergy brothers here to make preparations for the last leg of their earthly journey. Six months ago, when I mistakenly thought that I had a life threatening condition, I invited him to take part in my memorial service. This was his reply.
"I am glad to know that your tests were negative for now. I find that an experience such as you have--- had provides perspective and helps me to keep focus on what is most important for me to do with the time I have left. I am touched that you would like for me to be involved in your memorial service. However, given our age difference and actuarial projections regarding longevity of women over men, I wonder if it should not be me who is asking you to be involved in my memorial service.”

And then, about a month ago, his cardiologist told Winston that he had a mild heart attack recently, which he was not aware of. He then forbade me to tell anyone else because he didn’t want others to be worried. So to borrow a few lines from the poet Mr. Tsui:  轻轻的我走了, 正如我轻轻的来; 我轻轻的招手, 作别西天的云彩。 Very quietly I take my leave .As quietly as I came here; Quietly I wave good-bye To the rosy clouds in the western sky.”

Although Winston had chosen to leave quietly, his legacy shall stay in the hearts of many for a long time and there’s a lot that we can learn from his life and ministry. I would only mention a few

A fifth generation American born Chinese who grew up in Hawaii, he went to California for training and ministry, before becoming a staff officer in the National Church. In the recently adjourned General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a resolution was passed in Winston’s honor.

Be it resolved that the House of Bishops acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of the Rev. Dr. Winston Ching as Pioneer and first Missioner of Asiamerica Ministry in the Episcopal Church who dies on the eve of the 77th General Convention.

The motion went on to explain that Winston “pioneered the establishment of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry in 1973 and served for thirty years in the Head Office spanning four Presiding Bishops of the United States. His ministry was legendary in the many networks he has created and in assisting dioceses to plant new congregation and strengthening existing ones. Uniting the Asian diversity, he helped organized six Asian ethnic convocations: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Southeast Asia and South Asian meeting annually for National consultations.” It was in this context that we met in New York some 30 years ago as he gave me a scholarship when I was only a new kid on the block.

Some may not be aware of Winston’s pioneering and influential ministry. Like John the Baptist, he was not keen to draw attention to himself but to Christ. As a herald and a trailblazer, he helped Asians churches in the States to come to terms with their own identity and to integrate into the once largely White Anglo Saxon (WASP) Episcopal Church without compromising their cultural diversity. When he gathered Asian leaders in the 70s, “it was the first time that Japanese Americans had a real conversation with Chinese Americans because of political reasons.” He established many groups, e.g. EAM Advocates which is an example at a time “when Asians in North America, for many historic reasons, were loathe to stand out, let alone speak out. Deep inside his heart was a yearning to heal.” When he sees something that needs to be done or ratified, he would quietly do so for the well being of the Church that Christ died for. He was God’s secret agent and a quiet revolutionary.

I will remember Winston as no ordinary trailblazer but who one was humble and brings people’s attention to Christ, rather than himself.

Besides being a trailblazer, he was also a legendary mentor. If you read the blog from the Episcopal Digital Network, you would get an idea of the numerous leaders that he had been instrumental in raising, whether lay, priests or bishops. He empowered people to develop their talents and passions. Winston reminds me of the Negotiator in Star Wars, Obi Kenobi who “kept a cool in the thick of combat… was never at a loss for quick word of wisdom or humor”. Recognizing the strengths and weakness of Skywalker, Kenobi guided him with patience and understanding as a mentor. In his short span here in Ming Hua and St. John’s College, Winston had taken many under his wings and guided them gently and lovingly. One of seminarians writes:” Fr. Winston was a generous man, and a great counselor, often offered us the best advice we need as seminarians. …From now, the Dan Ryan in Pacific Place will be missing their favorite regular customer  ... I will be thinking of him each time I order his favorite Caesar Salad and Dry White Wine. He is watching over us now from above, with his gentle smile and his light hearted jokes!”

I know that Winston would approve my trying to include the comments of his student here, as he’s a very inclusive and accepting person. He would always find room for a younger person to take part. He did not think that just because he was the most experienced statesman or lecturer, then he should be the one having the final say. No, he always created opportunities for the young and inexperienced. And he would give suggestions and positive criticism afterwards. Unlike some Chinese Kung Fu masters, who keep the best for themselves, Winston was generous in sharing his time, his insights, his cooking and many resources with students, friends and colleagues. And he treated them all as his equal, never condescending.

I will remember this generous and legendary mentor.

In the three years that he’s been in HK, he fully immersed in the life of the province and he treasured each contact with clergy or lay. Once after a visit to a church, he wrote to commend the exciting ministry there. Although I personally did not think that he was into that kind of ministry, he was always affirming. Winston had not only depth but the breadth to affirm all types and forms of ministry, regardless of whether they were his cup of tea or not. Although we did not always share the same views, he would seldom insist that his way was the best way. He would always find room in his heart to include the views of others who differ, regardless of denominations and theological persuasions. He also had all kinds of friends. One minute he was sailing with his Buddhist friend in the Victoria Harbor, another minute he was talking to his god son in India about the latest mobile phone. Winston took each of the relationships seriously and he valued each encounter. Long time friend Rev. Bud Carroll writes: “Winston was a consummate gentleman, a lover of the IT world, but a strong supporter of the human spirit; gentle in speech with a ‘never-give-up’ attitude, and one who respected tradition but was always open to new ways.”

I will remember his breadth and his depth, and his openness to embrace those who have different theological views. He’s a trusted friend.  

No sharing of Winston is complete without a funny story. He reminded me of the clown in Henri Nouwen’s book Clowning in Rome. “Whenever the clowns appear we are reminded that what really counts is something other than the spectacular and the sensational. Clowns remind us of what happens between the scenes. The clowns show us by their ‘useless’ behavior not simply that many of our preoccupations, worries, tensions, and anxieties need a smile, but that we too have white on our faces and that we too are called to clown a little.” Here is a story that he told his Baptist friend some years ago. Winston was in Southwestern States, Navajo country for some business, and was sitting outside a “trading post’ on a reservation of the native Indians. He had on his cowboy hat and boots. Some tourists drove into the parking lot, saw Winston and asked him if they could take a picture with him. They had never met a “Live Indian” before. So Winston said “Sure, but it’ll cost you $20.” They paid him and took a picture.

Although we smile, inside we may still be in grief and pain.  Although we mourn, we give thanks to God for the gift of our dear friend and mentor. So, shall we let him go? Shall we let him go so that he can fully immerse himself in the many dwelling places that his loving heavenly Father had prepared for him? In the meantime, during our transit here on earth, whether it is to Guam, Hawaii or to Tsim Sha Tsui, let us go on loving, caring, clowning, as our way of celebrating this beautiful life. Amen.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Confluence 2012 Panel Discussion on Asian American Theologizing

Confluence 2012: Panel Discussion on Asian American Theologizing
(Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, USA 7/18/2012)

The following are the responses of the Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara (Episcopal) to the panel discussion sponsored by Confluence 2012 and moderated by Professor Timothy Son of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The other panelists are: Dr. Russell Moy (American Baptist Church); Rev. Charles Ryu (United Methodist Church); and Gerri Yoshida (Reformed Church of America. For more information on Confluence, visit http:theconfluencenetwork.org )

Q1:  Please introduce yourself and the nature of your ministry
I am Fred Vergara, missioner for Asiamerica Ministries in the Episcopal Church and moderator of the PAACCEM (Pacific Asian American Canadian Christian Education Ministries) under the National Council of Churches. Born and raised in the Philippines, I was ordained in the Philippine Independent Church in 1978 and served as parish priest in Dagupan City in Northern Luzon and Pasay City in Metro Manila, respectively. In 1980, I went to Singapore to complete a Master’s degree in Theology and served as priest at St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral and was in-charge of its extension centers. It is heartwarming to note that one of these extensions became a large parish with a school, Chapel of Christ the Redeemer. The other extension produced good leaders, including the new bishop of Singapore, the Rt. Rev. Rennis Ponniah.

My wife, Angela, and I came to the United States in 1986. I completed a Doctor of Ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary and later served as Canon Missioner for Asian Cultures in the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real. As missioner, we planted the first Episcopal Filipino American congregation in San Jose, California and opened up branches in Las Vegas, Sacramento and Queens, New York. In 2004, I was appointed Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries in the Episcopal Church.

“Asiamerica” is the word coined by my predecessor, the late Dr. Winston Ching to refer to all Episcopalians of Asian descent. It also refers to three areas of our contextual ministry: Asians in America; Asian Americans; and our relationships to the churches in Asia. We have grouped our Asian congregations into six convocations: Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, South Asian and Southeast Asian. Annually, we gather in a national consultation, meet separately as convocations and gather as a pan-Asian assembly through the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council (EAMC), a 501c organization. Through the help of the Partnership Office for Asia and the Pacific, our EAM Consultation also serve as our link with our Anglican partners, Concordat and Ecumenical partners in Asia whose primates we invite to the Consultations.

Asiamerica Ministries Office, in which I am the Missioner, engages in partnership with other ethnic groups (Black, Latino and Indigenous) as well as Jubilee and Environmental offices into “Team DSE” (Diversity, Social and Environmental Ministries). AMO helps the development of diocesan Asian Commissions and how they can be effective agencies of their respective dioceses in planting new congregations and to strengthen existing ones. Diocesan EAMs also serves as support group for Asian clergy and lay leaders. AMO helps fund the EAM Ethnic Convocations to meet and develop strategies in evangelism, church growth and stewardship as well as to advocate for Asian involvement in the total life of the national Church. The EAM Korean Convocation for instance addresses itself in partnering with the Anglican Diocese of Seoul in missionary exchange. The EAM Filipino Convocation assists in providing connection to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente -US and Canada dioceses.

Last June 2012, AMO started a pilot project with the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a “Doctor of Ministry” with emphasis on Asiamerican Ministry. The goals is to develop a cadre of EAM clergy equipped as “working theologians” for the 21st century, both able to navigate the mainstream American culture as well as conversant with the cultures of Asia. The program is distributive learning with minimal residential seminary training (January and June) and the rest is by online and independent research and cohort work with other cultures. This enables the students to complete an advanced pastoral study without leaving their place of work. The curriculum is the normal D. Min. program with additional course on Asian American History, Culture and Theology. We have chosen EDS as the seminary to engage in this project because it is the only Episcopal seminary in the U.S. with four Asian faculty members who are excellent in their fields: Dr. Kwok Pui-lan, Dr. Gale Yee, Dr. Patrick Cheng and Professor Christopher Duraisingh. EAM scholarship is matched by EDS and we are happy that we have two EAM clergy: Rev. Ada Wong Nagata and Rev. Thomas Eoyang as our first D. Min. scholars.

Our Asiamerica theological education scholarship, managed by the national church, is spread out to seminarians taking M. Div. degree in various other U.S. seminaries. Our next hope in theological education is to develop partnership with another seminary on an Education for Lay Ministry. We feel that instead of reinventing the wheel (such as developing an Asian specific training institute) is to partner with existing seminaries and stylize our training to be sensitive to Asiamerican context.

Q2:  In what ways does the reality of “marginality” influence in ways of doing your Christian ministry?
In biblical times, prophets normally come, not from the center but from the margins of society. They come from the boondocks, dressing the lofty sycamore trees like Amos from Tekoa; eating locusts and wild honey like John the Baptist. They boldly barge into the mainstream announcing a new way, a new paradigm, a new message, which God had spoken in their hearts. Now when they do that, they get even more marginalized, rejected, stoned, and in some cases, crucified or their heads cut off. But to those who receive the message and the messenger, the reward is great. The promise is peace and joy in the Spirit, abundant life on earth and eternal life in the heavens, the shalom of God. 

I believe, Asiamerican Christians are still in the margins of the American Church and society, and so our task is prophetic. We are standing at the edge of mission in the 21st century but do we have enough courage to speak about our visions and dreams?  Our immigrant historical narratives include being rebuffed by the socio-political systems, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 directed against the Chinese who worked the railroad and mining industries, the anti-miscegenation laws leveled against the Filipino sacadas (farm workers) in the 1900’s and the Japanese Internment camps during the Second World War directed against Japanese Americans, many of them were U.S. citizens. On July 29, 2012 we will give due recognition to one of these internees, the late Rev. Hiram Kano, the Japanese American Episcopal priest from Nebraska. The Japanese Heritage celebration and his inclusion into the list of “Holy Women, Holy Men,” will be a vindication of his legacy and the legacy of his fellow internees.

As we move to the 21st century, we need to deal with the question of why Asiamericans tend to become invisible, not making waves nor lifting their voices. Other ‘minorities’ have learned that “the squeaky wheels get the grease.” In a fiercely competitive American setting, Asians suffer in silence. “Swallow your tears,” “don’t show your pains,” “the nail that stick out will be pounded down.” Non-assertiveness (stoicism?) is not only an “Asianic character;” it is also product of Western (English, European, American) colonialism and a psyche of immigrant peoples who suffered from being rebuffed in history. We need a liberation.

The core vision of Asiamerica Ministry, and mine too, is to see the American Church become hospitable to “strangers from different shores,” (Ronald Takaki’s book)  and eventually become like a “rainbow denominaton” or a "diamond with many facets." The theology of inclusion of the Episcopal Church and its avowed “no outcast in the church” speaks to this vision. I believe it will eventually enable the Episcopal Church to repopulate its declining membership albeit with different faces and colors.

While the struggle of Asiamericans and other ethnic Christians is to move from the margins to the mainstream, we must also understand that even in the context of marginality of the immigrant minorities, there is marginalization. According to Census 2010, Asians in America occupy the highest as well as the lowest places in the economic ladder, which means to say; it is incorrect to say that Asians are generally upwardly-mobile “model minority.” The economically highest -ranking Asians are the Asian Indians and the lowest are the Southeast Asians (Lao, Cambodian, Hmong and Burmese). In the recent General Convention, we advocated for the Hmong language in one of the daily liturgies as a way of “lifting up the lowly.” The Hmong are a nomadic tribe in the jungles of Laos, Vietnam and China. They do not have a country of their own. During the Vietnam War, they were conscripted as soldiers (used by the CIA) to work alongside the American soldiers. After the Vietnam War, they were targeted for genocide and the American government relocated many of them in the U.S. Today, there are around 200,000 Hmong Americans, many of them in the Twin cities: Minnesota-St.Paul.  Holy Apostles at St. Paul is the largest and probably the only Hmong congregation in the entire Anglican Communion. We recently have our first Hmong seminarian, Toua Vang ordained to the diaconate. He is graduating next year and hopefully will become our first Hmong Episcopal priest.

Q3:  What would be your concrete suggestion(s) to confluence between “marginality” (including those who are in the margins) and “centrality” (those who are at the center of influence) in your church?
In 2006, I wrote my book Mainstreaming Asian Americans in the Episcopal Church. It arose from a vision I saw at the retreat of the Ethnic Congregational Development staff. I saw two rivers, one large river, flowing steadily but as it flows, it becomes narrower and slower. The other is a small one but as it flows it gathers water from little streams along the way and hence it grows bigger and stronger. The two rivers were flowing separately and in parallel patterns but at a distant horizon, I saw a meeting point like a huge basin. They two rivers are destined to converge in the basin and probably continue to flow down, no longer separate but together.

From that vision, I came to understand the development of the “New Community,” which has lied dormant for many years and now in the process of being revived. My colleague, Rev. Anthony Guillen, the Latino Missioner aptly described the New Community as a better term than “New Majority,” even though it points to the direction of minorities combining together and increasing in number. The New Community is led by “people of color” who have found nobler reasons for solidarity. In the Episcopal Church, the Ethnic Missioners (Angela Ifill, Black; Sarah Eagle Heart, Indigenous; Anthony Guillen, Latino; and Fred Vergara, Asian) together with various allies in the Anglo American staff provide thinking and direction to New Community events. The Ethnic Missioners of the Episcopal Church have been sponsoring Discernment Conferences for young adults of color, seminarians of color conferences and last March 2012, sponsored the first “New Community Clergy and Lay Conference” in San Diego, California. Dr. Russell Yee from the American Baptist Church participated and Dr. Rodger Nishioka from Columbia Theological Seminary was one of our keynote speakers, thus being also ecumenical as multicultural.

Q4:  Reflecting on your ministry experience, tell us one thing that Asian American churches need to do in order to revitalize the life of both Asian American churches and non-AA churches in the United States?
One lesson I learned and continue to learn is that we can have a great and brilliant idea but without people who believe and commit themselves to advocate for it, it simply remains an idea. We need people both from the New Community as well as enlightened allies in the mainstream to buy into the idea, advocate for it and be committed to help make it a reality. From my perspective, the old river (the mainstream American Church) is fatigued and they need help from the new river (the New Community) and I hope that in the interaction, a greater mainstream can emerge.

I believe that a new reformation can happen that is ecumenical, multicultural and global. This Confluence Conference which is widely ecumenical (Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist, UCC and Reformed Churches) is a step in this direction for the coalition of Asian American Christians. In these times of economic and spiritual crises, the need is not to retreat into our narrow denominational self-branding but in moving forward to greater ecumenical sharing of resources. I believe revolutionary change begins not from the church as an institution but from a group of Christians committed to working together to transform unjust structures. The amazing solidarity of the LGBT Christian Community for instance, began not from the center of the church hierarchy but from a group of gays and lesbians (clergy and lay) who shared common experiences of pain and common visions of hope. In their suffering and hope, authentic leaders arose that successfully lead to advocacy and change.

Q5:  Reflecting upon the concept of “liminality,” in what ways do you find the concept helpful and how do you apply it to your role as a “transitional leader”?
Wikipedia defines liminality as “the quality of ambiguity,” standing at the threshold of being in-between, never fully leaving the old and never fully adopting the new. Sang Hyun Lee in an article “Marginality as Coerced Liminality: Towards an Understanding of Asian American Theology” (Fumitaka & Fernandez, Realizing the America of our Hearts. St. Louis, MS: Chalice Press, c. 2003), wrote that Asian Americans are “in-between and in-betwixt Asia and America” and never fully in either or. He wrote that they are in this liminal space not because of their own choosing but that “they were pushed there and coerced to remain there” by the racist barriers set up by the dominant culture, meaning the white Americans. He laments the stereotype of Asian Americans as “forever foreigner” or “honorary whites”---never fully accepted and never fully assimilated.

I do not look at liminality in the negative sense but in a potentially positive sense. As a child, I was a “stow away.” I ran away from home but home never ran away from me. I carried the values, the experiences, the love and warmth of home, even though I explored new worlds. As a pastor I have been to very conservative (charismatic) churches as well as to ultra liberal ones. As a working theologian, I see myself as a pilgrim with one foot on earth and one foot on heaven, never fully settled in one. We all are, both spirit and matter; we all are, tourists and pilgrims on the journey, until Kingdom come. The liminality provides a malleable, flexible space to go back and forth. I believe we must hold on to essential Christian values like love and hospitality but must guard against fundamentalism and the pharisaic tendency to be closed minded and judgmental over non-essentials. The Church often shoots itself on the foot because it spends inordinate amount of time in non essential parts of mission.

Yes, I am one of the leaders in transition. Like many of my colleagues in the Episcopal Church and in PAACCEM, I belong to the “baby boomer” generation and the noble goal for us is to begin preparing the next generation of leaders. I plan to devote the following years of ministry to developing youth and young adults for greater leadership roles and providing them such opportunities. Being “both and” (both Asian and American; both foreign and domestic; both spiritual and religious) make us better serve as transitional leaders.

One of the qualities that Asian American Episcopalians possess is the tradition of respect to our elders. For instance, I look to my predecessor, The Rev. Dr. Winston Ching with great respect and feel like standing on top of his shoulders. Winston served as the first EAM Missioner for almost 30 years, serving under four Presiding Bishops (John Hines, John Allen, Edmond Browning and Frank Griswold). He has laid the foundation of building networks both domestic and foreign, meaning in the U.S. and Asia, a liminal space. It is in this space that EAM continues to exist. At one point, he said that “I am not one to burn the bridges” and so connection with Asia while serving in the United States is still the ethos of the EAM. When I assumed the position as the second EAM Missioner, I made it a point that while he was still alive, continuity and expansion, rather than change in direction will be my goals. Now as a mentor to younger Asian Episcopalians, the model of bridge-building, not bridge-burning is what I would recommend to my mentees. I do not intend to stay in this position for thirty years like my predecessor and that is why I intend to devote my time and energy to help prepare the next generation of Asiamerican leaders. The “liminal space” will help enable me to accomplish it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Indianapolis: July 7, 2013
Welcome to the Lunchtime Conversation
July 7, 2013 at 12:45 P.M. –PF Chang China Bistro, 49 W. Maryland St. #226, Indianapolis

Winston Ching, 1st EAM Missioner, Remembered
The Asiamerica Community mourn the loss of The Rev. Dr. Winston Ching, first missioner (Staff Officer) and pioneer of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry who died in Guam while en route from Hong Kong to Honolulu last July 3, 2012. He will be remembered as one who defined the scope of the ministry to include: Asian immigrants in the U.S.; Asian Americans and Episcopal Church relations with churches in Asia. Dr. Ching served for 30 years under four Presiding Bishops: +John Hines, +John Allin, +Edmund Browning and +Frank Griswold. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Hmong Language in the Convention
For the first time in the history of the Episcopal Church, the Hmong language was used in the General Convention liturgy as a way of lifting up one of the most marginalized communities in the U.S. The Hmong (in Laos and Vietnam) were targeted for genocide in 1975 for having sided with the Americans during the Vietnam War and were relocated to the U.S. as refugees. Holy Apostles Church in Minnesota is the largest and probably the only Hmong church in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Asiamerica Ministry sponsored the first Hmong seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary. He was ordained deacon in Minnesota last June 28, 2012. We hope the Rev. Deacon Toua Vang will be the first Hmong Episcopal priest.

Young Adults Voices
Voices of the Episcopal Youth and Young Adults were heard in the Convention at the interview with Episcopal Web Radio, July 6. Longkee, Hmong youth organizer said the experience was “overwhelming.” Lorena Buni, who represented the youth of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (concordat partner of TEC) said the fellowship and spirituality were “great learning experience”; while Jamie who is Korean-American said that he can share with those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” that the Episcopal Church is one of the most hospitable churches in the world. Longkee Vang, Lorena Buni, Kapya Ilay, Brian Chin and Jamie Osborne represented the Asiamerica Ministries in the Young Adults Festival.

Asian Leader Honored in Stewardship Event
The Rev. Dr. Charles C.T. Chen, priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan was honored last night at the ceremony sponsored by TENS (The Episcopal Network for Stewardship) and the Stewardship Office of the Episcopal Church. As rector of St. James Church in Taichung, Fr. Chen has led and inspired his congregation to fund the construction of 12 church buildings in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines, raising $30,000 per church. For his life of generosity, Fr. Chen was “apostle in transformational stewardship.”

Asiamerica Ministries Process
Asiamerica Ministry is often described as a “Pentecost Ministry” due to its diversity and plurality. The over 150 Episcopal congregations that self-identify themselves as “Asian American” are grouped into ethnic convocations: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Southeast Asian (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Hmong, Burmese, Thai) and South Asian (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangla Desh). Annually, we gather in a national Consultation that allows us to meet as pan-Asian community. This process enables the communities to preserve their ethic and cultural integrity and uniqueness but also equips them to interact in a wider community. In 2012, the EAM participated fully in the New Community, a gathering of peoples of color in the Episcopal Church. To accommodate this, EAM will meet as a national Consultation every three years, with the other two years, collaborating with the “New Community” and the mainstream church.

2nd Asia America Theological Exchange Forum Planned February 2013
In 2007, the AMOTEC, POAP, and EAMC organized the 1st Asia-America Theological Exchange Forum held at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in Berkeley, California in cooperation with the Center for Anglican Learning and Leadership (CALL). On February 7-11, 2013 we plan to hold the 2nd A-ATEF in Manila, Philippines in consultation with the Episcopal Church of the Philippines (ECP)/St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), Ming Wah Theological Seminary and other seminaries and churches in Asia. The goal is to invite theologians and scholars from Asia and America to share contextual theology, collect and publish then into an “Asia-America Journal of Theology” and develop continuing dialogue in theology, mission and ministry. ATEF also hopes to “identify key questions and challenges where future collaborations might resource the developing understanding of Anglican identity in Asia-America.”

EAM 40th Anniversary & Churchwide Consultation 2013
Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry will celebrate its 40th Anniversary and Churchwide Consultation on June 20-24, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Tentative venue is Hyatt Hotel, San Francisco Airport (Burlingame). Theme of the Consultation is EAM@40: Remember, Celebrate & Re-Envision.  The event will feature a 1st EAM Invitational Golf Tournament as a fund-raising for the EAM Council (EAMC), a 501-C organization in partnership with the Asiamerica Ministry Office of The Episcopal Church (AMOTEC); and the Partnership Office for Asia and the Pacific (POAP). Speakers will include clergy and lay leaders who will emphasize the memory of those who pioneered EAM, celebrate the Mission Today. The Youth and Young Adults will lead in the topic of “re-envisioning the future thrust of Asiamerican Ministry.” The Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori will preach at the highlight Eucharist on June 23 at 3:00 P.M. to be held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Please save the dates.

For more information:
The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries Office

Mr. Peter Ng, Partnership Officer for Asia and the Pacific
Email: png@episcopalchurch.org     www. Episcopalchurch.org

The Rev. Bayani D. Rico, EAM Council President
Email: rector_ascension@hotmail.com