Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Thursday, September 20, 2012

WINSTON CHING: As Leader, as Episcopalian and As Asiamerican (By Fred Vergara)

Bulletin Cover of the Memorial Eucharist

At the reception following the Holy Eucharist. Bishop Catherine Roskam presided at the Eucharist; Fred Vergara gave the homily.

R-L: Jonathan Ching, Winston's brother; Angela Vergara; Joanne Ching and Fred Vergara.

Canon Peter Ng; Angela; Cecilee Longid and Jeremy Abeya, former Secretary of EAM Office.

WINSTON CHING:  As a Leader, An Episcopalian and as Asian American
(Homily delivered by the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, missioner for Asiamerica Ministries at the Memorial Service for the Rev. Dr. Winston Ching held at the Church of our Savior, 48 Henry Street, New York City, Sept. 18, 2012)

“Remember  your leaders, who spoke the word of God  to you. Consider the outcome of their lives and  imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

During the past couple of months after his death, there have been four memorial services, in various places, for the Rev. Dr. Winston Wyman Ching. The first memorial was held in Virginia, July 13; the second was in Hong Kong, July 19; the third was in San Francisco ,August 4; the fourth was in Los Angeles, September 8; and today, September 18, is the fifth of these remembrances.  For one who was not fond of drawing attention and who had wished to die quietly and far away, Winston is looking at us today with a sense of unbelief. He has touched so many lives more than he could ever imagined.

When the heart is full, the mouth speaks. And our hearts today are filled with praise and thanksgiving to God for giving us Winston, “to know and to love as a companion in our earthly pilgrimage” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 493). As the first missioner of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries, Winston has been described as a pioneer, a trail blazer, a mentor and teacher, a brother and a friend.  I would like to speak of Winston as a spiritual leader, a true Episcopalian and an authentic ‘Asiamerican.’

Winston as a Spiritual Leader:
One of my favorite Aesop’s fable was about the contest between the wind and the sun on who was more powerful.  The test was who can remove the coat from the man who was walking on the road. First it was the wind who tried to blow off the man’s coat. The wind blew and blew but was not able to remove it, because the harder it blew, the stronger the man held on to his coat. When it was the turn of the sun, it simply shone brighter and warmer, and the man voluntarily removed his coat off.

The leadership of Winston is like that of the sun: it is warm, it is bright, and it is confident. It does not operate on force. It is gentle and soft but it achieves the desired the result.

I first met Winston when I was a seminarian at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in the Philippines sometime in 1976. He was accompanying the then Presiding Bishop John Allin. Even as an Asian, Winston was taller and bigger than most of us (definitely taller and bigger than me), but I was struck by his humility. He seldom, if ever, drew attention to himself, even when he was introduced to be the first Asian American staff of the Presiding Bishop of the PECUSA (Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA). At that time, it was rare to see an Asian staff in the Episcopal Church Center.

When I got to know him, I learned that he was a good mentor because he teaches from example. So when I succeeded him as the second missioner of Asiamerica Ministries 28 years later, in 2004,  I have already imbibed the values, the vision and the ethos of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry (EAM) which pioneered. I recognized there was a need for change but mostly one of continued expansion. He had  already laid a good foundation, the infrastructure of what is now the Episcopal Asiamerica Network, Henri Nouwen, in his book “The Wounded Healer,” once described three qualities of spiritual leaders: “a personal concern, a deep-rooted faith, and an outgoing hope.” Winston had embodied those qualities.

Winston as a True Episcopalian:
I began my 'ecclesial travelogue' from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, where I was ordained; the Anglican Church of Singapore where I served as missionary-priest; and the Presbyterian Church, USA where I took my Doctor of Ministry degree. I officially became an Episcopalian in 1993 while serving as Canon Asian Missioner in the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real and church planter in San Jose, California. Winston and the EAM helped me in that journey.

What drew me to the Episcopal Church is its contextual adaptation of Anglicanism. Anglicanism has always been described as via media, having a sense of balance, a kind of comprehensiveness that accommodates prophetically and prophetically accommodates. Its theological circle is wide and able to contain the swings of the pendulum from either ends. Its fundamental position is not “either or” but “both and”--- both catholic and reforming, both conservative and liberal; both ancient and modern. It is both Sophia wisdom and mother-church. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie described the missionary character of Anglicanism as “passionate coolness.” There is freedom of dissent but in the context of “loyal opposition.” 

Together with its orderly-flowing liturgy, I love the Anglican ethos---and I love the Episcopal Church.

Winston, in his 30 years of being Episcopal Asiamerican missioner, was so fortunate to have served with four presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church who distinguished themselves as genuine Episcopalians in the sense that they navigated the Church in turbulent seas of contradictions, conflicts and controversies by keeping the sense of Anglican balance.

First, Winston served under Presiding Bishop John Hines (1910-1997), who was a leading advocate of the social gospel, civil rights movement and empowerment of racial ethnic minorities. In the turbulent era of the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s, Hines navigated the Episcopal Church to address the deep inequalities in American society and promoted the inclusion of African-Americans in the structure of the church. In all his social activism, Hines described himself as “theologically conservative but socially progressive.” Passionate coolness.

Second, Winston served under Presiding John Allin (1921-1997) whose talent for “compromise to promote reconciliation” was legendary.  Unity was the call of the times. Both the American Church and Society were rocked by divisions resulting from the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and Liberation Theology. Allin steadied the course of the Episcopal Church and maintained its harmony even as he struggled from internal divisions arising from the adoption of Women’s Ordination (1976) and the 1979 Prayer Book. Notwithstanding his conservative view on women’s ordination, Allin became the prime mover of the “Venture in Mission” which expanded congregational development and social justice programs of the church. It was during his term that the four ethnic ministries: Asian, Black, Latino and Native American had their full desks at “815,” the Episcopal Church Center in New York City. Passionate Coolness.

Third, Winston served under Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning (1929-    ), who upon his election on September 19, 1985 proclaimed his vision of inclusivity: “there will be no outcasts in the Church.” Like Hines and Allin, Browning navigated the Church through turbulent times, addressing the deepening rift of the church due to women’s ordination and the growing GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) movement. Browning’s liberal views earned him the admiration of the progressives and the criticism of the conservatives, but due to his charisma and gentle persuasion, he helped keep the unity in diversity. Passionate coolness.

Fourth and finally, Winston served under Presiding Bishop Frank Tracy Griswold III (1937 – ) who was also a paragon of Anglican balance. Despite his pro-gay and pro-choice views, Griswold was co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission from 1998 to 2003. He is monastic and yet ecumenical; broadly identifying himself as being in the Anglo-Catholic tradition yet deeply interested in interfaith dialogue. It was during his term as presiding bishop that the first openly-gay bishop, Gene Robinson was ordained; and it was his enabling leadership that helped pave the way for the first woman primate in the Anglican Communion, our current presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. Passionate coolness.

 It is amazing that Winston, being one of those who enjoyed a long tenure of employment in the Episcopal Church Center had adapted the “passionate coolness” of his presiding bishops. He had experienced the ever changing tides of modern church history. He had seen that in all the changes in leadership and in all the vicissitudes of life and ministry, the church remains. Winston had survived many staff changes, reorganizations and restructuring in the national church and learned to keep a balanced perspective. Indeed, leaders and styles of leadership come and go but the Church as the Body of Christ, remains.

I always prefer the analogy of Church .as the Body of Christ than the Bride of Christ. Brides may run away from the groom but the Body can not sever from the head. And for as long as Christ is the head, the Church will stand forever. I believe Winston believed that too. When he retired from the Episcopal Church, he moved to Hong Kong and served as instructor and chaplain at St. John's College and as one of the priests of St. John's Cathedral.

Winston as an Authentic 'Asiamerican':
The marks of an Asian American are exactly what Winston has described in the word “Asiamerica” which he had coined. We are proud of our Asian heritage; we live in the context of America; and we are connected with the global village which is Asia-America. One of Winston words was, “I will never be one to burn bridges.” Indeed, Asiamerican Christians never burn bridges nor build walls. Instead, we are bridge-builders, reconcilers, harmonizers. Yin-Yang.  E pluribus onum. Even in our diversity, we are one. This is our character, our mission and our DNA. We are ambassadors for Christ, entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation, Christ making His appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Today, our bridge-building continues domestically and globally. In America, we are connected as one Episcopal Asiamerica Community of six Asian ethnic convocations: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, South Asian and Southeast Asian. Our bridge-building in the Anglican Global Communion and ecumenical seas continues. Both Peter Ng and I work so closely together making sure that the name "DFMS" (Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society), which is the official name of The Episcopal Church, remains operative in the bridges that we build and keep, through the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council and its ethnic convocations and the Partnership for Asia and the Pacific in both the Anglican Communion, the Concordat churches and ecumenical relations with Asian churches.

When I spent part of my sabbatical in Hong Kong in 2010, Winston accompanied me to the Buddhist monastery where I learned a few good things about Buddhism. Later, we took part in an Interfaith Prayer Rally organized by the Filipino Migrants Ministry, which was a partnership between the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the Anglican Church of Hong Kong. A true Asiamerican is one who engages issues in the adopted country of America but remains compassionate to the plight of the peoples of Asia. Such was Winston Ching.

The Coming 40th Anniversary of EAM
In its recent meeting, the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council planned to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the EAM in San Francisco on June 20-24, 2013.  We unanimously agreed on the theme “EAM@40: Remember, Celebrate & Re-Envision.” I emailed Winston about this saying we want him to attend and honor us with his presence and his words and vice-versa. A week before he died, he responded to me. His email is still in my file. He wrote: “Fred, you may still be busy with this coming General Convention (July 5-12) but thereafter, I will come to new York and will sit down together and surely, I will be there at the EAM Consultation and 40th Anniversary in San Francisco.”

He died on July 3, 2012 on the eve of the General Convention. We will miss his physical presence in New York as well as in San Francisco but I believe his spirit will be with us as we celebrate his life, his work and his legacy among us in New York, in San Francisco, in Hong Kong, in Honolulu and in the global world of Asia-America where he once roamed and left footprints on the sand. Amen.

Facebook: Fred Vergara (The Episcopal Church)

1 comment:

  1. Fr. Fred you captured the thoughts of a lot of us when you depicted the commendable life of Fr. Winston against the back ground of troubled Anglicanism. How he, in his soft winning ways commandeered as captain of the EAM ship which he built and helped four (4) Presiding Bishops of ECUSA navigate the Church through turbulent seas. Your homily has pointed out how he gleaned the strong qualities the weaknesses, and the diversities of each Presiding Bishop to build a stronger Church, to brighten the waning faith of some wondering, wandering souls. Your stressing the “passionate coolness” of Archbishop Runcie is another note in my clip board as a student in the University of Life where love and compassion rule over reason.
    With all these, on a personal note I am proud once more to be an Anglican/Episcopalian and talk about Anglicanism with facts I recently learned, not through the fire and brimstone of a preacher in a big cathedral, nor through the voice of a John the Baptist crying the wilderness, but through the life and by the passion, humility and love of persons (In Filipino terms mahal sa kapwa tao} like Fr. Winton. His untimely departure from this earthly life and his earlier retirement from the EAM and thus changing of the guard is buffered by the handing over the reins, to his student, you who has emulated his lifestyle. Fr. Fred your different cultural upbringing is contributing a lot to the richness and the diversity of the Anglican Communion which is more than Fr. Winston could have asked. Presiding Bishop Catherine Jefferts Schori and the Church are lucky to have the both of you and we celebrate the life and ministry of Fr. Winston W. Ching as we continue our earthly pilgrimage. Shalom! Cecilie