Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Tuesday, August 20, 2013





This pamphlet by The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of The Episcopal Church was written as an introductory material for newcomers to St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY 11373 August 25, 2013 where he also serves as Priest-in-Charge.

There are seven (7) sacraments in The Episcopal Church. Baptism and Holy Communion are the two major sacraments. They are expressly mandated in the Bible. The other five sacraments are traditional practices gained after generations of church life. These five other sacraments are: Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage (holy matrimony), Penance (reconciliation of the penitent) and Healing (or unction of the sick).

A sacrament is defined as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” The signs are seen by our naked eyes, the grace is discerned through our faith.

In Baptism, the outward and visible sign is Water administered to the person by the priest with the words, “(Name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The grace is the faith that we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection, adopted as children of God and receive new birth and life in the Holy Spirit.

In baptism, we become full members of the Body of Christ, the Church. All people baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, all major Protestant denominations and all Christian bodies who baptize in the Holy Trinity, are recognized as valid baptisms. The Episcopal Church does not “re-baptize.” There is only “one baptism” as we spoken in the creeds of the universal Church.

Baptism is therefore our entrance into full membership in the Church. In the past history of the Episcopal Church, you need to be confirmed by the bishop to take Holy Communion. But starting from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, all those who are baptized, when they are able and so desire, will not be denied to partake of the Holy Communion. The Holy Communion is the “Lord’s Table.” It is not the Priest or Bishop’s table and so everyone who is members of His Body, the Church can partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Can infants and children be baptized? In Book of Acts, when the Church first came to being, over 3,000 people were initially baptized in the name of Christ and become parts of the early Church. They included parents and children. In infant baptism, the promises in the Baptismal Covenant are spoken by parents and godparents and are considered to be a “deposit of faith.”  At a certain age, the child would “confirm” the Covenant in the Confirmation ceremony.

Can baptized children take Holy Communion? Yes, as they are accompanied by parents or godparents or as discerned by the priests administering the Holy Communion. The Holy Communion is also called The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist or Thanksgiving, and the Holy Mass all of which are a privilege of a person who has been baptized.

Are non-baptized people able to take Holy Communion? Ordinarily, the Episcopal Church gives communion only to those who are baptized. The church operates on the “honor system” and would not check your credentials if you come and open your hand to receive communion. However, if you are aware that you are not baptized, you may come to the altar, cross your hands over your breast and the priest will offer a special prayer for blessings. It would then be appropriate to ask for Baptism if you so desire to become full member of the Church.  

How to take Holy Communion:                                                          
In the sacrament Holy Communion, bread and wine are the outward and visible symbols; the Body and Blood of Christ taken in faith are the inward and spiritual grace. Therefore we come to receive Holy Communion in reverence and awe

During Communion Time (which follows after The Word of God, the Creed, Prayers of the People, the Offertory, Great Thanksgiving, etc.), join the procession of people to the Communion Rail, then kneel or stand before the minister:

1. Cup your hands out in front of you, palms up, right hand on top of left hand and wait for the priest or the Eucharistic minister to place a piece of bread on it.

2. Place the bread in your mouth and consume it, or when the wine chalice comes to you, you may sip from the chalice or dip the bread into the wine and then place it in your mouth. 

3. Return to your seat and wait for the post communion prayer and concluding parts of the liturgy.
For more information on the sacraments and other beliefs of The Episcopal Church, obtain a copy of “Being Episcopalian: Questions and Answers About The Episcopal Church” or read The Catechism (or Outline of Faith), pages 843-862 of the Book of Common Prayer (Church Hymnal Corporation, 1979).

 To obtain a copy of "Being Episcopalian," Email Ms. Angeline Cabanban of the Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017 at: acabanban@episcopalchurch.org.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


FAITH – Fred Vergara. St. James. 8.11.13
Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3. 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
The Church is a community of faith. As Christians we are called to live by faith. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” But what is faith?

Three ministers (a Roman Catholic, a Reformed and an Episcopalian) died and went to heaven.  That day Peter was on vacation so Lord Jesus himself found it convenient to meet them at the Pearly Gate. Upon seeing them Jesus decided to give them an entrance exam, to see if they have really learned the faith. If their answer is good, Jesus will press the green button and the pearly gate will open. If their answer is bad, Jesus will press the red button and they will fall down to earth until they learn more about faith.

So first came the Roman Catholic and Jesus asked him “Monsenor, who do you say that I am?” Now in the Roman Catholic Church, their authority on faith is tradition, which is embodied by the Pope. This is called in Latin as magisterium. When the Pope speaks ex cathedra (from the chair), he is supposed to be infallible.  So the monsenor said, “According to the Pope…” This did not please Jesus so before he finished speaking, Jesus pressed the red button and down fell the monsenor back to earth.

Next came the pastor of the Reformed Church and Jesus asked him the same question, “Pastor, who you say that I am?” Now the Reformed Church originated from Martin Luther, the German priest who nailed 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg Castle refuting the traditions and indulgences of the Roman Catholic Church. Their authority is the Bible. While the Roman Catholic says, “Sola Papa,” (the pope alone), the Reformed Church believes “Sola Biblia” (only the Bible).  So in answer to Jesus’ question, the Reformed pastor said, “According to the Bible…” This also did not please Jesus, so before he finished speaking, Jesus pressed the red button and down, fell the pastor back to earth.

Finally, it was the turn of the Episcopal priest.  By the way, I was born and grew up in the Roman Catholic Church; and I took my doctorate in a Reformed Seminary, but I chose to be an Episcopalian because it is a “balanced church.” The Episcopal Church is both Catholic and Reformed. It is a bridge church; its theology is called “via media” or the middle way. The authority on faith is called the "three legged stool" of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. That is why, the Episcopal Church prides itself of being a “thinking person’s religion.” So when Jesus asked him, “Reverend Doctor, who do you say that I am?” Immediately the Episcopal priest looked up and said, “I think you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

O Jesus was so pleased, he pressed the green button. The Pearly Gates opened and the angels sang the halleluiah chorus. But as he walked on the streets paved with gold, the Episcopalian turned back and said, ““On the other hand…” Jesus pressed the red button and the Episcopal priest fell down, just like the rest!

1.So this is the first meaning of faith: faith is beyond reason. Faith includes knowledge of Scripture, respect of tradition and use of reason but faith is more than that. It is a certainty of something which is yet to be. Hebrews 11 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The reason why I am standing up here to preach, and not down there, is that I am visualizing that the church is full and that I am preaching to 300 people. Three months ago, when I first came to this church, the average Sunday attendance was 25 people. I visualize that the number would double and I think that has been achieved, thanks to God.  I also learned that the averaged Sunday Offering was something like $150 a week and I visualize that it will double; and for the past weeks our Sunday offering has even tripled.

Now, I visualize that there will be 150 Pledging Members who will commit themselves to supporting the church by their generosity. I have written about how these 150 members will pledge and offer their gifts:

25 Pledgers of $200 + a month  ($50+ per week)  
50 Pledgers 100+ a month ($25+ per week)
75 Pledgers of $50+ a month ($12.50+ per week)   
(I left a blank for others like us who pledge a certain percentage of our incomes.)
300 Sunday attendance and 150 Pledging Units! From a 25-member congregation three months ago; with $150 averaged weekly offertory? One member said, “Father Fred, that is a very tall order!”  We’ve never done it that way before!

2. That is the second meaning of faith: faith operates through visions and dreams.  Visions and dreams are the language of the Holy Spirit. In these last days, God declares, “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh: the young shall see visions, the old shall dream dreams.”

In the Old Testament, God told Abraham that he will be a father to many children. Abraham was 90 years old and his wife,  Sarah was 80 years old, so he could hardly believe. So God took Abraham by the hand and in the middle of a dark night, told Abraham to look up. Looking up is the symbol of faith. When you look up, you look to God for help. The Book of psalm says, “I look up to the hills from whence my help comes, my help comes from the lord who made heaven and earth.” When you look up, you seek the things eternal.

So Abraham looked up and God said, “Can you count the stars, Abraham?” He said, “No, Lord, I can’t count the stars.” Then God said, “As countless as the stars in the sky, so shall your descendants be.” And Abraham believed. Faith comes from seeing what God sees and not being afraid to face the future.

3.  This is the third meaning of faith: faith is the ability to confront and overcome fear. The opposite of faith is not doubt but fear. The apostle Thomas doubted Jesus but his doubts unlocked so many mysteries of faith about His Master.  But Judas feared Jesus. He was afraid that Jesus would discover his true intention, the mask that he put on, the kiss of his betrayal.  The Bible says that fear is the beginning of wisdom but that kind of fear is different. The fear of God that the Bible says is “reverential awe.”The fear that faith overcomes is the negative, paralyzing and debilitating fear.

 Jesus did not teach that we fear God (in the negative sense) but rather that we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind and with all our strength---and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus came to give us life and to have it abundantly (John 10:10).

I believe that the greatest regret in one’s life is not being able to live life to the full. Some glory in their material treasures which are here today and gone tomorrow. Others get stuck in the bottomless pit of anger and resentment and worries.  They could not get out of their depression because they focused too much on themselves and their delicate egos. They save their lives to lose them rather than lose their lives to save them.

I also believe that the greatest sin is not pride or lust but fear.  You do not risk because you are afraid to fail; you do not give because you are afraid to lack; you do not love because you are afraid to get hurt.  You are afraid to be yourself, unable to express yourself for fear of being criticized, being embarrassed, being vulnerable. But this is the Good News: Jesus said, “Be not afraid.” As light overcomes darkness, faith overcomes fear.

Faith is an adventure to the road less traveled, an experience of unspeakable joy, an expression of amazing love and a celebration of life in all its fullness. So have no fear. Don’t just say, “take care.” Also say, “take risks” and live life to the full. Sing like nobody’s hearing; dance like nobody’s watching; smile like a new-born baby and live like this is the first day of the rest of your life!

Saturday, August 3, 2013


 (At a gathering of church and community leaders  in Elmhurst, New York, Aug. 3, 2013 )                     

“Always be ready to give an account of the hope that is in you…”1 Peter 3:15

In 1982, the Straits Times, the national newspaper of Singapore published an article about me with the title, “The Priest who Ran Away from Home.” In that article, they introduced me as the missionary priest who had a vision of a multicultural ministry.

 In that article, I shared about my birth and childhood in a small village in Philippines. I was born in one of those 7,107 Philippine islands. Growing up in that village was tough. Except for a few families who owned lands, almost every family was poor. We could hardly afford to go to school. But I was a pensive child, always thinking about my future. Our barrio was in-between a mountain and the Pacific Ocean. When I look up, I ask:” What’s on the other side of the mountain?” When I look to the horizon, I ask: ”What’s beyond the sea?”

So at age 14, I left my barrio and went to Manila as a “stow away” in a ship. There in the big city, I suffered hardship as a homeless boy until I was adopted by a priest of the Philippine Independent Church, who sent me to school. I finished High School and became a university scholar.

I completed Journalism and Political Science and worked as an activist journalist until martial law was declared. To keep me from being taken as a political prisoner, the Church took me as their Newspaper editor and sent me to seminary. There I learned that a meaningful change in society can happen when people are changed by God. I also learned that “where God guides, God provides.” I received Christ into my heart and promised to serve Him as Lord and Savior.

So I became a priest and served in Manila, Dagupan and Pasay Cities. In 1981, my wife Angela and I moved to Singapore and served the Anglican Church. Singapore is a small country, the size of Manhattan with only 3 million people. But it is a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious society. I came to interact with Chinese Buddhists, Indian Hindus, Malay Muslims, Amerasian Christians and Singaporean  free thinkers. It was as if the Lord was preparing me to come to the much bigger world.

So we came to the U.S. in 1986. I completed a doctorate in San Francisco and served as priest and church planter in Silicon Valley, San Jose, California and in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2004, we moved to New York to serve as program officer for Asian Americans in the Episcopal Church and director of its Ethnic Congregational Development. I learned to serve alongside whites and peoples of color, engaging Asians, Blacks, Latino and Native American leaders.

In 2009, my job was modified to being a Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries providing leadership to over 150 Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, South Asian and Southeast Asian churches throughout the country. In addition, I am given this part-time task of reviving St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst, Queens, New York. SJEC is a historic church established in 1704. Its earliest rectors included Rev. Dr. Samuel Seabury who became the first bishop and Presiding Bishop and Rev. Dr. Benjamin Moore, first president of Columbia University. Elmhurst used to be a Dutch neighborhood; now it is a bustling multicultural city.

In my first month of being the priest-in-charge, I was invited by the Chinese Community to attend their reception of State Senator Jose Peralta .In his speech, Senator Peralta said that “Elmhurst is the little United Nations of the world.” I believe he is right. We are a very diverse community: a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multiracial city. That is why I hope St. James will be a House of Prayer for all peoples. My vision is to see St. James as a healing, welcoming and serving Church in this “little United Nations of the world.” Thank you for being here and becoming part of this vision.

(Email Fr. Fred at wvergara@episcopalchurch.org)