Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Saturday, August 25, 2012


(Caption: In 2008 while on a study tour of "Palestine of Jesus," I was invited to preside at a Holy Eucharist in the Church of the Primacy of Peter, by the lake of Galilee.The chapel is owned by the Roman Catholic Church, which explains the background of the amazing portrait of Pope John Paul II. The spot where the chapel is located, is the spot where Jesus asked Peter (three times) , "Do you love me more than these?" And Peter replied, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you" to which Jesus said, "feed my sheep." It was a great honor as well as a humbling experience for me to celebrate the Eucharist on the Holy Land.) 
(Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church,             2197 Jackson Ave,, Seaford, NY 11783.August .26,.2012)

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

In the early ‘60’s, there was a famous word introduced and popularized by a German-Jewish psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl . The word was  Logotherapy. It is a combination of the Greek word logos, which to Frankl means “meaning” and therapy meaning “cure.” In other words, logotherapy is the cure or healing through meaning.

In essence, logotherapy is founded upon the belief that it is “Man’s Search for Meaning” (the title of Frankl’s book originally published in 1959) that drives and motivates human beings to live and to survive even in the most difficult of circumstances.  Frankl drew from his own personal experiences and the experiences of his fellow Jews in the concentration camps during Nazi Germany (circa 1933-1945).

Frankl discovered that many like him who survived the Holocaust were people who had great meanings to their lives.  Either they dreamt of serving God and humanity whenever they come out alive; they wanted to write or tell their stories; they believed they have  friends or loved ones waiting for them outside the camps. Their deep commitment to that dream, their profound sense of mission, their confounded longings for love fulfillment, enabled them to survive forced labor, maltreatment, starvation, loneliness and the fear of death.

Applied to physical or mental sickness, Frankl concluded that the search for meaning, is a major factor in healing. Those who survived surgeries, those who survived terminal cancer, those who were healed of psychosis, were those who have meanings. They have a mission to accomplish, a project to fulfill, a relationship to mend or a dream to pursue.  

Meanings to our lives give us the reason and the will to live. We struggle to drink the bitter medicine in order to get well.  Patients miraculously wake up after a coma because their loved ones whispered they would be waiting at the recovery room.  Cancer patients brave the pain of surgery, the difficulty of chemotherapy or radiation because they want to live longer and fulfill their purpose.

But meanings to life also enable martyrdom . Prior to his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr.  spoke rather prophetically about his death, in a speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968, “And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.  The following day, he was killed from an assassin’s bullet.

The Philippine hero, Ninoy Aquino was teaching at Harvard University as an exile in the United States, and  recuperating from heart surgery but the call to liberate his country from the dictatorship of Marcos was so strong.  He prepared to return to his homeland, aware of the danger which he brushed aside, saying, “The Filipinos are worth dying for.”  On that fateful day of August 21, 1983 he was martyred  on the tarmac of Manila International Airport.

Life’s meaning is not confined only to living long or dying by martyrdom. Years ago while serving at a parish, I was visiting an elderly woman in the hospital.  For several weeks, I would visit to give her Holy Communion and to pray for her healing. One day, as I was about to pray, she held my hand and said, “Father, please don’t pray for my healing anymore.” Pardon me, Ma’am, what did you say? “Please don’t pray for my healing anymore. I am now alone, all my friends and family are gone, there is nothing else to my life. I think this cancer is God’s way for me to go. Please, I want to rest; I want to die; I want to be with the Lord. Give me a favor; pray that the Lord will take me soon.”

For a moment, I could not say anything. I wondered if I was being asked, like Dr. Jack Kevorkian (nicknamed 'Dr. Death')  to be a “priest of death.” All the while, I was hardwired to always pray for healing whenever I am with the sick. But this time, I believed in her sincerity. And that very moment, I prayed for God’s will. The following day, the nurses told me, she died peacefully. 

Life’s meanings have meanings. According to NYC City Health Records, there are an average  of 500 deaths by suicides in New York City alone, a good percentages of them, in the subways.  The rate of suicide in the United States of course ,pale in comparison to that of Japan, which reported suicide as the “leading cause of death” especially  for Japanese males from ages 28 to 44. The reasons of suicides in New York and Tokyo, are varied but many of them are due to the loss of jobs, loss or loved ones, depression---and the lack of life’s meanings. Without meaning, life is not worth the living. And money has no correlation in life’s meanings, as megarich celebrities who committed suicides, fatally illustrate.

The Gospel this morning is about meaning to life. Jesus said, ”I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you would have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Some of his listeners thought that he was crazy and left. Jesus turned to Peter and the twelve disciples, “are you going away also?” And Peter replied, “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” 

Had those listeners waited for a while, they would have known the real meaning to life, as the Apostle Peter and the other apostles had known.

The Holy Eucharist which we celebrate today is about meanings to life. As children of God, we are engaged in a ritual filled with symbols and meanings. The Church is the Body of Christ where Christ is the head and we are members of that one Body.  That is why we have a Body exercise:  we stand to praise God, we kneel to pray, and we sit to listen.  But more than the physical calisthenics, is the very meaning of the Eucharist. At the Altar of the Lord, we proclaim: “Christ, has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” The altar of the Lord is also the Altar of the world, where Christ had been offered for human sin in all its protean forms.

The Eucharist is therefore the alpha and omega, the beginning and ending of Christian mission that gives meaning to our lives. On Sundays, we come to the Table to be nourished by the Bread of Life and the Wine of Salvation.  Then we depart to serve “like bread broken and given to the world. “ We are to serve as 'light of the world' and 'salt of the earth' in the works we do and the relationships we make. Then we return to the Table every Sunday or so to repeat the Dance of life. 

From the Altar of the Lord, we are sent into the world to witness to Christ’s message of love, peace and reconciliation.  The message of Christ that we bring is clear:

John 10:10 - I come that you may have life in all its fullness. 

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 16:33 “In the world you have tribulations but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Revelations 3:20  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”   

(Paraphrase of Today's Gospel by a hymn) “I am the Bread of Life; they who come to me shall not hunger; they who believe in me shall not thirst. No one can come to me, unless the Father draws near. And I will raise them up on the last day.”

Today, as we gather in this Holy Eucharist, we come as heirs of God’s promise in Christ. The joy of the Christians is two-fold: we have the gift of eternal life and we are called to be bringers of this gift to others. As we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ in this Holy Communion, may we gain meanings of His Word, knowledge of his will, and bearers of His salvation.  Amen.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


General Convention, Indianapolis 2012: A View from Asiamerica
By The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries
The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (July 5-12, 2012) was by far, the most significant convention to me. For the first time, the Hmong language was included in one of the morning liturgies and six Asian American young adults participated in the Convention. There was a Hmong delegation from Holy Apostles in St. Paul, Minnesota. Our note on why we chose Hmong as alternate language in the liturgy was written in the Worship Bulletin. It was a proactive advocacy of one of the most marginalized communities in the United States as well as one of the ethnic congregations that stands at the edge of mission in the 21st century.  

On the eve of our Convention, we were shocked by the news that our first Asiamerica Missioner, the Rev. Dr. Winston Wyman Ching died in Guam while en route from Hong Kong to Honolulu. We were interviewed by the Episcopal News Service and took part in the planning of memorial services. A resolution recognizing his role as pioneer of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry was adopted by the House of Bishops.

Our Asiamerican deputies, particularly Warren Wong and David Ota showed great leadership, as Chair of Nominations Committee and Section Chair of Program Budget and Finance, respectively.  Bayani Rico, Mimi Wu and Irene Tanabe of the EAM Executive Council were also present along with other EAM volunteers in the DSE (Diversity Social & Environmental Ministries) Booth. Lelanda Lee, Hisako Beasley, Keith Yamamoto, Sunil Chandy, Winnie Varghese and Ryan Kosumoto, among others, were also notable as deputies from their dioceses.

I was particularly amazed at the conduct of the Convention. As Mission staff, I was assigned as liaison that week to the Standing Committee on “Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music.” Some resolutions it tackled were the hot button issues such as the rite of blessing of same sex relationships. I followed the legislative process from committee meetings, public hearings and presentations at the Houses and was impressed by the high level of discourse. There were disagreements but the debates were civil and respectful of each other’s dignity, which made me proud of being Episcopalian.

The hallmarks of democracy include “the majority decides;” “the minority have rights.” The final decision on same sex liturgy provided a “conscience clause,” to respect the feelings of others. The Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, explained that the use of this rite (PB Letter of Aug. 3, 2012), which will start on Advent 2012, is not compulsory but optional. “Like private confession…the principle is: ‘all may, some should, none must,’” the PB wrote. 

The “Asiamerica Lunchtime Conversation” sponsored by the Asiamerica Office, Partnership for Asia and the Pacific, and EAM Council brought together Asian deputies, primates and guests from Asia and a number of Episcopal bishops. We shared with them about the proposed Asia-America Theological Exchange in Manila on February 2013 and the EAM National Consultation on June 20-24, 2013 in San Francisco, California. We invited the primates and the bishops to be part of the EAM 40th Anniversary Thanksgiving Eucharist on June 23, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. at Grace Cathedral. We shared with them about the diverse programs of Asiamerica Ministries and particularly the partnership with Episcopal Divinity School in the Doctor of Ministry Program on Asian American Studies and the partnership with the Anglican Church of Korea in U.S. missionary church planting, among others.

We also shared our continuing collaboration with other ethnic offices and ministries. The Indigenous Ministry and the Black Ministry are proactive in the socio-economic issues and people’s advocacies while the Latino/Hispanic Ministry continues to be evangelistic. The Jubilee and Environmental Ministries make inroads in domestic poverty and stewardship of the earth. I am glad to be part of the team.

The budget approved for the next triennium (2012-2015) was based on the five marks of mission, namely:
~ To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
~ To teach, baptize and nurture new believers 
~ To respond to human need by loving service 
~ To seek to transform unjust structures of society 
~ To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

 These 5 Marks of Mission, developed by the Anglican Consultative Council between 1984 and 1990, have won wide acceptance among Anglicans. It should provide us all with an easy to remember "checklist" for how we should design our program and mission activities. I will be willing to serve as Resource when your parishes re-envision your ministries. This will certainly be one of the topics at our EAM Consultation 2013.

The call for structural change also dominated the debates in the GC 2012. The need for change in church structure is imperative. As we experience revolutionary changes in the world, Christian institutions must either “change or die.”  A special committee will be formed to study and propose change in Structure and we hope there will be representation from Asian and other ethnic groups.

The triennial budget (2013-2015) of the Church is affected by the drop of revenues, decline in membership and the continuing economic recession. In the Church Center, we saw some staff lay-offs, though not as dramatic as the day following the 2009 General Convention. 

A slightly reduced budget will affect but not alter our scheduled plans for 2013. We will have our EAM Consultation in San Francisco but we call upon everyone to be creative and resourceful and aspire to become better stewards of God’s generosity. After my lecture on “Ethnic Stewardship” at the New Community Gathering in San Diego last March 2012, I received requests for similar seminars from our EAM constituencies and dioceses. The Stewardship Officer, Laurel Johnston, maintains a website in the Episcopal Church Center which provides resources for study. The Episcopal Network on Stewardship (TENS) awarded the Rev. Charles Chen from the Diocese of Taiwan, as an “Apostle of Transformation” for inspiring his parish to become good stewards and to build twelve mission churches in the Philippines. Asian churches have missionary legacies from missionaries Henry Venn and Roland Allen who popularized the “three-self movement” (self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating) of ministries. We hope that our Asiamerica churches will also be models of the three-self and beyond.

In times like these, we need to lift up some heroes of our past and learn from them. I just returned from North Platte, Nebraska where the Presiding Bishop led in the celebration of the legacy of Hiram Hisanori Kano. Kano distinguished himself as an immigrant rights advocate, Japanese American internee and Episcopal priest. In the context of economic depression in the 1930’s, he was an agriculturist; in the unjust internment camps in World War II, he was a prisoner-teacher-evangelist; as an Episcopalian priest, he was a lover of God’s Word and disciple of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. 

We also remember the life and work of Winston Ching, the pioneer and first missioner for Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries. Like Kano, he was also a bridge builder, establishing networks of relationship and persistently working for the Kingdom of God.  His life, just like Kano’s will serve as one of our sources of inspiration and strength as we go about doing God’s work in our own generation. 

At the time of this writing, we heard that news that Peter Ng, President Emeritus of the EAM Council and Partnership Officer for Asia and the Pacific has been conferred honorary canon by the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. He was cited as being instrumental for the close relationship between TEC and ECP. ECP is formerly a missionary district of TEC but became an autonomous province in the Anglican Communion a few years ago. In the same week, our Hmong youth leader, Longkee Vang has organized an EAM Youth Camp in Minnesota. Named YE@H (Young Episcopalians at Horizon), this grassroots movement promises to be a fresh renewal of our Asian American youth and young adult ministry.

I am indeed glad in the new developments in our church and the way the Asiamerica Ministries do its part in the building of the Reign of God. May the risen Lord, who continually works wonders, inspire us to do His mission in the context where we find ourselves.

 (Note: This report will appear in the EAM Network and the Chinese Convocation E-Newsletter. Fred Vergara, 8/7/2012)