Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Sunday, December 29, 2013



We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T. S. Elliot.

Asia: In February, we traveled to Hong Kong, Philippines and Japan. The 2nd Asia-America Theological Exchange Forum was held at Trinity University of Asia (TUA) in Quezon City, Philippines. Theologians from Japan, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Philippines and the United States presented theological papers relating to “Christ and Culture.” Faculty and seminarians from St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary (SATS), Aglipay Central Theological Seminary (ACTS) and clergy from the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) attended the event. I presented the “Theology of Kosuke Koyama and His Contribution to Asiamerica Contextualization.” The ATEF coincided with TUA’s golden Anniversary and I was one of the recipients of “Outstanding Alumni” but I was not able to attend the awarding ceremony as I had to proceed to Japan.  Thanks to Fr. Ray Bonoan who received the plaque on my behalf. The IFI gave us a wonderful hospitality. We also went up to Baguio where Andrew, the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) volunteer does missionary work with ECP in Tadian in the Mountain Province.

The ATEF is a joint project of Asiamerica Ministries Office and the Partnership Office for Asia and the Pacific of the Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church. Both Canon Peter Ng and I conceived of it as part of our “bridge-building.”Significant theological discourses are happening across the Pacific more than across the Atlantic and we would like to play a part in that exchange. Our first ATEF was held at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in 2008 which was attended by theologians from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and China.

In Japan, we visited Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church of Japan). Diocesan Bishop of Tokyo, Andrew Ohata invited me to preach at the installation of William Bulson as the new rector of St. Alban’s (I also preached at the Cathedral). William is a personal friend. As vicar of Holy Apostles in Minnesota, he welcomed and formed the first Hmong congregation in 2005 and initiated the translation of the Book of Common Prayer in Hmong. The Hmong were a nomadic tribe in the jungles of Laos who sided with the Americans during the Vietnam War. Fleeing possible genocide after the war, some 200,000 Hmong refugees were received in Minnesota. I was happy to have endorsed William, for St. Alban’s. Chikako Tsukada, former convener of the Japanese Convocation, served as my Japanese interpreter. Tokyo is awesome and the Japanese are an amazing people. We also had a chance to observe the work of Kapatiran, the ministry to the Filipino migrants. 

United States: A major change in my ministry. I was invited by Bishop Larry Provenzano of Long Island to help revive St. James, a historic church in Elmhurst, New York. Established in 1704, this church has seen political and demographic changes. Two of its early rectors, Samuel Seabury and Benjamin Moore, became the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the first president of Columbia University, respectively. Formerly a Dutch neighborhood, Elmhurst is now a pan-Asian, multiethnic city. In 2005 St. James departed from the mainstream Episcopal Church but in 2008, the Diocese recovered its building. A couple of priests tried to revive the remnants but the cost of ministry depleted its reserve to the point that the funds could no longer support a full-time priest. Having done revival work at St. Michael’s & All Angels in Seaford, Long Island I was challenged to do the job. As full-time missioner for the global Episcopal Church, I would only work part-time. Fr. Paul Lai, a young priest, would be appointed as full-time associate.

My acceptance of the challenge proved to be providential.  In order to free up building space for lease in the Church Center in Manhattan, management asked the missioners to work at home and telecommute. With permission from my supervisor, I moved Asiamerica Office to St. James, which is very close to our residence. Indeed, “where God guides, God also provides.”

I came to St. James in April 1m and saw its needs, its weaknesses and its lack. Worship attendance was low, offertory was small, there was turmoil in leadership, no stated vision and the parish showed no sense of mission. But I also saw its assets, its strengths, its potentials. In fact, someone who is not a church member, but a resident of Elmhurst, said, “St. James is a sleeping giant.” We have the best location in town and there are members eager for change.

I did not have to change the Bishop’s Committee. Many of them had resigned before I came and I reappointed them. I just needed to re-orient them with visions and dreams, with a sense of mission. They are greatly talented and gifted and I simply need to empower them; to ‘acknowledge, affirm and activate’ their gifts and bring out their potentials. The results are amazing: in just seven months, we have grown from a Sunday attendance of 25 to 135; an average offertory of $150/week to around $1,000/week. From no regular pledgers in the past few years to 40 pledging families for 2014. My dream is to see 310 members (celebrating our 310 years anniversary) with 150 pledging families and to restore St. James as a major center of religious life in Elmhurst. Check out: www.stjameselmhurstny.org and Facebook: “St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, Queens.”    
USA-EAM:  In June, we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry in San Francisco, California. Over 300 leaders from all over the country and abroad joined the Consultation held at Hyatt Regency Hotel.  Present were Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, House of Deputies President Gay Jennings, Archbishop Paul Kim, Obispo Maximo Ephraim Fajutagana, Bishop Andrew Ohata, Bishop Stacy Sauls, Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick, Bishop Barry Beisner. Bishop Prince Singh, Bishop Mark Andrus, Bishop Diane Bruce, Bishop Bart Espartero and other church dignitaries in the U.S. and abroad. At the Opening Eucharist, Bishop Mary Gray Reeves of El Camino Real was the celebrant. I gave a report on the State of EAM and my vision for the next forty years.

I am indebted to the EAM Council: (Bayani Rico, Mimi Wu, Irene Tanabe, Inez Saley) and the various Ethnic conveners: Ada Nagata & Peter Wu; Malcolm Hee & Gayle Kawahara; Aidan Koh; Ray Bonoan & Leonard Oakes; Joseph Manuel and John Sewak Ray; Letha Wilson Barnard and Minh Hanh Nguyen. The closing Eucharist was held at the famous Grace Cathedral. It was a show window of EAM’s cultural and ethnic diversity. The sermon of the Presiding Bishop was exceptional. Main celebrant was Rev. Dr. Fran Toy, former president of EAM Council the first Asiamerican woman ordained priest in the Episcopal Church (USA).  Check out. www.episcopalchurch.org and google ENS news and videos on ‘eam@40.

USA-Diversity. I am fortunate to belong to the best team, the “Ethnic & Diversity Team” of the Missionary Society the Episcopal Church. Sarah Eagle Heart, Angela Ifill, Anthony Guillen and myself are now preparing for the second “New Community Clergy and Lay Conference” on March 13-16 in Kanuga, North Carolina.  Check out www.episcopalchurch.org and look for “2014 New Community Gathering.” My office will provide 50% scholarship for the travel of Asiamerican delegates.

We are also collaborating with our counterparts in the Lutheran Church (ELCA). I am happy to partner with the Rev. Dr. Pongsak on producing and publishing an Asiamerica songbook, “Rice & Sing.” In early December, the Ethnic Missioners also sponsored an ABCD-Asset Based Community Development training and are preparing for “Why Serve- A Discernment Conference for Young Adults of Color”(CDSP, Berkeley, June 5-8); the Episcopal Youth Event (Philadelphia, July 9-12) and other events. www.episcopalchurch.org  for upcoming events.

USA-Thanksgiving:  I am thankful (1) To the Constable Fund for the grant of $66,000 to EAM/EDS Doctor of Ministry project with Episcopal Divinity School. This will help provide scholarships for 12 clergy; (2) To the Mission Enterprise Zone (MEZ) for the grant of $100,000 to the “Southeast Asian Missioner,” the Rev. Toua Vang, the first priest from the Hmong community. Toua will work with Rev Letha Wilson Barnard and me in church planting among the Hmong and SEA in Minnesota and other dioceses; (3) To the Diocese of Long Island-Mission Vitality in partnership grant with Asiamerica in developing the Intercultural Virtual Classroom (IVC), based at St. James, Elmhurst. It will carry Asiamerica Theological Exchange and Chinese American Christian Education, among others. On January 7, we will launch an “Asiamerica Ministry Developers Monthly (AMDM),” a forum of church planters. (4) To the Diocesan Partnership Program (DPP) for appointing me Liaison to three dioceses under Province II. I was already warmly welcomed at the Diocesan Convention of Rochester and now awaiting to attend the conventions of Easton and Albany; (5) The election of Rev. Dr. Allen Shin, former associate staff in Asiamerica Ministries Office as Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of New York.

EUROPE: Vacation & Learning. My wife (Angela) and I had a wonderful tour of Spain and Portugal and visited places which have connections to Philippine history. Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese sailor employed by Spain, sailed to the Far East looking for the “Spice Islands.” Strong winds pushed them out of Malacca into what would later become “Las Islas Filipinas,” so named after Rey Felipe II de Espana. The Philippines became a colony of Spain from 1521-1898 and thereafter by the United States from 1900-1946. Many Filipino surnames are in Spanish. I was not surprised to see “Avenida de Vergara” near our hotel in Madrid. In Catalan, there is also a “Vergara Town.” We visited many cities and places from Madrid to Lisbon. Angie loves Fatima Church and I like the University of Salamanca. How I wish I can study Spanish there.

PHILIPPINE TRAGEDY: Last November 8, Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm in Asian history, hit the Western Philippines. Over 6,000 people died, a million lost their homes and 4.4 million were displaced. I helped coordinate response from the EAM Network and Vigils from the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON). Various dioceses of the Episcopal Church expressed solidarity and gave donations through the Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD). Our prayers for healing, redevelopment and hope continue. We are awed by the resiliency of the Filipino people.

2014: Revelation 21:5 “Behold, I make all things new.” In Chinese Lunar Calendar, 2013 was the Year of the Water Snake and 2014, the “Year of the Wooden Horse.” In Christian Calendar, every year is a Year of the Lord. So as we say” Goodbye 2013,” we “Welcome 2014” with anticipation of greater blessings. We thank God for the "cup that runneth over" (Psalm 23) and sing the hymn “O God, our Help in Ages past, our Hope for years to come. Our Shelter from the story blast and our Eternal Home.”

With my wife Angela and all our friends, family and church community, we wish you HAPPY NEW YEAR! May peace, prosperity and abundant life (John 10:10) be with us all, evermore. Amen.
Faithfully in Christ
Fred Vergara+
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Missioner for Asiamerica of the Missionary Society                                                                          (The Episcopal Church)  AND                                                                                                                   Priest-in-Charge, St James Church, Elmhurst, New York

Saturday, December 21, 2013


WHAT’S IN THE NAME OF JESUS? (Matthew 1:18-25; Isaiah 7:9;6; 10-16)
By the Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY 11373. December 22, 2013)

What is your name? Why are you called by that name? What is the meaning of your name?

There are two schools of thought with regards to names.  One school of thought is that names do not matter.  They are simply artificial and meaningless conventions. William Shakespeare, in the play, Romeo and Juliet, wrote: “What is in a name? That which we call a rose; By any other name would smell as sweet.”

The other school of thought, which many societies adhere to, is that names do matter. Names have meanings and they matter a lot. That is why we keep our passports, our identity cards, our social security cards with our names on it. We try to safeguard our names because they convey our history, our nationality, our heritage and even our character.

A few years ago, a couple in New Jersey named their son “Adolph Hitler” and their daughter “Aryan Nation” and the court not only convicted them of child abuse, but also took their children and put them in foster homes.  Hitler was a mass murderer in Germany whose ideology of the Aryan Nation as the superior race caused him and the Nazis to incarcerate  the Jews in concentration camps and put them in gas chambers. One wonders what spirit has gotten to this New Jersey parents to name their children in memory of this darkest period in world history.

When I was in Grade School, I had a classmate, a girl, whose name is O. Yes, letter O. And she was always the butt of jokes from the bullies because she was a poor speller and whenever she misspells words, my classmates would yell “O, Zero!” I kept thinking why her parents named her O, and it might be that they were poor spellers themselves? But I really felt bad for her.

I was born December 25 and ordinarily children born on this date are named Jesus. And one time I asked my Mom why they named me Winifredo instead of “Jesus” and they said there was a man in their barrio named “Hesus” who turned out to be crazy, lunatic, insane. She told me they loved me so much they did not like me to be associated with Hesus , the village fool. Instead they named me after a saint “Winifred” who, I learned later in life was actually a woman from Wales who was a healer. Now, I know why a major part of my ministry is healing ministry, maybe because I was named after a healer? 

When my wife and I were serving as missionary priest in the Anglican Church in Singapore, one of our neighbors, a Confucian scholar whom we fondly called “Uncle”, gave me the Mandarin transliteration of Winifred and it turned out to be “Wei Hong Tao” which means “to glorify the Way.” My parents would not have thought of it, but the child they named Winifred whose childish ambition was simply to become a “bus driver” would turn out to be a “healing priest,” whose mission is to “glorify the Way of Jesus.”

THE JESUS NAME                                                                                                                         
So names do matter---and that is why Jesus was named Jesus! Because the word Jesus comes from the Hebrew word Yeshua or Joshua which means “God is salvation.” His name is called Jesus because he came to save us from sin and death. Nothing could be as clear as this than in John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. For Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

As a matter of fact, the name Jesus was specifically instructed by an angel who appeared to Joseph, the husband of Mary. When he was considering to divorce Mary because she was found to be pregnant with a child whom he knew was not his, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived of her, is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

So the meaning of His name is clear from the purpose for which Jesus came, and that purpose is to carry out the plan of salvation on the cross of Calvary, to triumph against death and to seal His mission with the promise of the glorious resurrection.

HOW JESUS SAVES                                                                                                                             
The prophet Isaiah tells us many names that Jesus will have and looking at each one tells us a great deal about Jesus' ministry and work. Isaiah 9:6 says“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulders and His name shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace.”

In Isaiah 7:14, he clarified how this mission of salvation would be accomplished: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him “Immanuel” ( “God-with-us.”) Not only that God will save from a distance or appoint prophets to do the job but he himself will do it. In the Old Testament, God used Moses to liberate his people from their slavery in Egypt. In the New Testament God Himself will be with His people, he will answer their deepest needs, he will mend their broken hearts, he will wipe the tears from their eyes--- because He is “Emmanuel”-God-with-us. 

Emmanuel is the incarnational meaning of Jesus, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). How Jesus saved the world is by becoming one of us, feeling our pains, suffering our sorrows, dreaming our dreams, hoping our hopes. There is a song by Joan Osborne, once popular among the youth and it says, “What if God was one of us? Like a stranger on a bus trying to go home?”

Yes, Jesus is one of us. He lived among us. Every Sunday, we say this in our Eucharistic prayer A: “Holy and gracious Father, in your infinite love you made us for yourself; and when we have fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.”

St. Paul had a beautiful phrase in the Book of Philippians to describe how the name of Jesus accomplished the plan of salvation. 

By the way, the Philippian Christians or Christians from Philippi are some of the favorites of St. Paul. I remember in 1975 when I represented the Philippine Independent Church as youth delegate to the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to the general assembly, we had a Youth Conference in Arusha, Tanzania and we were asked to introduce our names and which country we came from. So I introduced my name as "Winifredo Vergara from the Philippines," and one of the delegates asked, “Where is Philippines?” I happened to be in a joking mood, so I replied, “Philippines is where St. Paul addressed his letter to the Philippians.” And it brought the house down, with the biblically-adept Africans! So when there was a worship time, one delegate from Nigeria reminded us of the joke by reading from this verse and saying, “A reading from the letter of Paul to the Filipinos!” 

So here is the verse: (Philippians 2:6-11.ESV):
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So I am thankful that my parents did not name me Jesus because I am not sent to save the world BUT to proclaim this Jesus who came to save the world. I am thankful that my parents did not name me Emmanuel because I am not “God-with-us” BUT a servant of Emmanuel, God-with-us, who also is the Chief Servant among us. 

Now what is your name? Why are you called your name? What is the meaning of your name? What is the purpose of your name? I leave this thought to you, as we await the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Emmanuel, God with us. Let us pray:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Diocese of Long Island Resolution on Philippine Typhoon

Resolved that the 147th Convention of the Diocese of Long Island (New York) express its solidarity with the people of the Philippines and support the efforts of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the National Council of Churches towards the relief, recovery and rehabilitation of the country following the devastation wrought by super typhoon Haiyan.

Resolved further that the parishes and missions of the Diocese of Long Island be encouraged to pray for the eternal repose of those who died, the protection of those who survived, and the people’s continuing faith and hope in God who is full of compassion and mercy.

Authored by: Rev. Cn. Dr. Fred Vergara, Missioner for  Asiamerica Ministry of the Missionary Society and Priest-in-Charge of St. James, Elmhurst; and Rev. Dario Palasi, Rector of St. John’s, Flushing

Vergara’s Explanation:
The Philippines is a beautiful country in Asia gifted with some 7,102 islands. These islands are grouped into three sections: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. It was the Visayan Islands that were hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan last November 8, 2013.

Typhoon Haiyan (Typhoon Yolanda in Philippines) is the most powerful storm in the world in the past decades and the strongest in Philippine history. It was declared Disaster Level 3 by the United Nations. Those of us in the United States who experienced the Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy understand the trauma and suffering wrought by these calamities. Super storm Haiyan, many newscasters described, is "Katrina and Sandy combined—and even more." One estimate says 10,000 people died (it would likely be around 4,000), millions homeless and entire villages, town and cities devastated. The magnitude of the damage and destruction is more than a nation can afford handle and so the United States and the whole international community stand in solidarity with the Philippines.

In the Episcopal Church, our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, has expressed our collective prayer for the Philippines and pledged support to our provincial and concordat partners. The Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church  is working through the Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) in sending the financial and logistical support.  Many Episcopal dioceses and parishes have given generous donations towards this cause.

The National Council of Churches, through Secretary General Rex Reyes, an Episcopalian, has called upon the ecumenical churches to support the common efforts. The Episcopal Relief and Development noted that “our partner, the ECP, has done excellent work in the area of disaster risk reduction, but when calamities come one on top of the other, and in this magnitude, the challenges are compounded.” The Obispo Maximo, The Most Rev. Ephraim Fajutagana of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente reported that two of their priests are still missing. He further wrote, “We have declared all our parishes in affected areas to be evacuation centers but unfortunately the roofs of many of our churches were blown off by the winds and were not able to serve their purpose.”

The Prime Bishop of the Episcopal church in the Philippines, The Most Rev. Edward Malecdan also wrote:”To our partners, we acknowledge our gratitude for your thoughts, prayers and support. Indeed, we are strengthened by your companionship and we appeal for your continuing solidarity as we all join hands in rising up after this unimaginable death and calamity that have visited our land.”

On a personal note, I came from one of those islands affected. I therefore move for the adoption of this resolution.

Note: The Resolution was approved unanimously last November 16, 2013. Diocese of Long Island. The entire Offertory Collection during the Convention was also sent to the Episcopal Relief and Development earmarked to help the relief efforts in the Philippines.