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)