EAM CROSS

EAM CROSS
Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Diocese of Long Island Resolution on Philippine Typhoon




RESOLUTION OF THE DIOCESE OF LONG ISLAND IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES:
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.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

“I AM A MISSIONARY:” Reflections from the Ethnic Missioners


“I AM A MISSIONARY:” Reflections from the Ethnic Missioners

In a special meeting last October 11, 2013, between Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer (COO); Sam McDonald, Director for Mission and Deputy Chief Operating Officer; and the Ethnic Missioners of the Episcopal Church ( Sarah Eagle Heart; Angela Ifill; Anthony Guillen and Fred Vergara); the discussion on “Mission” and “Missionary”  became very lively and enlightening. At the end, Sam asked the Missioners to pen their thoughts in an essay, “I am a missionary” and the following are the four reflections.  

ASIAMERICAN MISSIONER: The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred (Fred) Vergara


I am a missionary. Wherever I am; I plant a church, I build a church, I revive a church, I grow a church. I felt called to the priesthood, when as a young adult leader from the Philippines in 1975, I attended the 5th Assembly of the World Council of Churches and the corresponding  Youth Conference in Arusha, Tanzania. After theological studies and ordination from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente , I served in the Philippines for three years. I was known as a “healing and trouble-shooting priest” i.e., healing conflicted parishes and revitalizing stagnant congregations.

 In 1981, I went to Singapore, took up further studies, and served as missionary priest at St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, in-charge of its daughter-churches. One became a large parish with a school and another became an English-speaking congregation of a Chinese Church. The new diocesan bishop of Singapore, Rennis Ponniah (2012), is my former Senior Warden.

 In 1986, I came to the U.S. to complete a doctorate at San Francisco Theological Seminary and was appointed by the Presbytery of San Jose, California as Director of Filipino/Asian Ministry Probe in Silicon Valley. There were three startling revelations in my research. First, in 1990, the ratio of the population was 60% white and 40% non-white. Ten years later, the ratio reversed: 60% non-white and 40% white. The trend is that “there would no longer be any one racial majority.”

Second, I surveyed church goers vis-√†-vis the population and discovered that of its 2.5 million population in 1990, only 10% go to church. This led me to comment: “If Silicon Valley were in Africa or Asia or Latin America in the 1950’s, the American Church would declare it a mission field, send its missionaries, and pour its mission dollars to convert its millions of ‘unchurched’ peoples.”

Third, I surveyed 1,000 “unchurched” Filipinos which congregation they would prefer: Filipino Church; Filipinos and Asians; Filipinos and Latinos, Filipinos and White (there is no critical number in the Black population of San Jose). The answer was in this order: “Filipino Church; Filipinos and White; Filipinos and Latinos; and Filipinos and Asians.” Even though they are fluent in English, Filipinos felt that worship (prayer) is more potent when expressed as “a language of the heart.” Their “closeness” to White and Latino Americans are vestiges of Spanish and White American colonial influences on Filipino culture. Distance from other Asian immigrants was a result of their perception of inter-Asian competition (especially in government block grants to organizations).  As pan-Asian Missioner, I  therefore endeavored to develop coalition among all Asian Americans and other marginalized communities and became active in intercultural work and the ecumenical movement.

It was in the course of my research that I got introduced by Jerry Drino to the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real. I was appointed “Canon Missioner for Asian Cultures” by Bishop Shannon Mallory and Bishop Richard Shimpfky. I founded Holy Child Filipino Church, coordinated a Laotian congregation, and co-founded Holy Light Chinese Church.  In 2003, upon permission from then Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada, I planted Holy Child Church in Las Vegas. Then I planted another one in Sacramento, California and Woodside, New York. On May 2004, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold appointed me missioner for Asiamerica Ministries serving Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Southeast Asian and South Asian churches.  In 2005, we welcomed the first Hmong Church in St. Paul, Minnesota---among the many more new churches of Asian heritage in the Episcopal Church. 

 “The heartbeat of the Church is mission, mission, mission,” said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori  in her message to the General Convention in Anaheim, California in 2009. It is therefore fitting that we be called “The Missionary Society” of The Episcopal Church.
 

The Ethnic Missioners engage in relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), one of the churches in full communion with The Episcopal Church. Recently an "Episcopal-Lutheran Ethnic-Multicultural ministries" dialogue and collaboration was held in New York.  Front row L-R: Ron Duty, Fred Vergara,Angela Ifill, Joseph Bocko, Angie Cabanban. Midrow L-R: Anthony Guillen, Sarah Eagle Heart, Kholoud Khoury, Sherman Hicks. Backrow L-R: Albert Starr, Pongsak Limthongvirat, Judith Roberts and Hector Carrasquillo. We agreed to collaborate on many issues such as church planting, theological education, communication, joint events, worship and leadership resources, partnership in mission, etc.. "They they maybe one so the world may believe."

BLACK MISSIONER: The Rev. Canon Angela Ifill

I am a Missionary and I feel blessed every day as I interact with people inside of the church and outside, meeting them where they are and sharing the word and love of God in diverse ways.   They are people from Africa, the Caribbean, America, Central and South America, people of every color and class.   The gift of this ministry connects me with being a missionary, going from one location to another meeting with communities of faith in dioceses, sharing faith stories, talking about who we are as ‘the church’ and our role as ‘church.’   Going deeper into spiritual learning and experiences of the Christian Faith as a lifelong journey and discerning God’s call to us as Christians into the world living the faith we promised in the Baptismal Covenant.  
 
Before we are even aware of it, God puts us in places and prepares us for work in the vineyard while we wonder what are we doing here and why?    This reflection takes me back to the year I spent in East Africa.    I was a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, when in a Church History class one day I asked about the lack of any mention of African Christianity as we learned about Euro-American Christianity.   The answer led me to Bishop Tucker Theological College, in Mukono Uganda, studying African Spirituality.   During those nine months I traveled to Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia meeting and talking with people, sharing their lives and experiences to write about the Revival of the Church in East Africa.    My time was also spent as a missionary from the Episcopal Church going from place to place into remote villages way up in the North with local church leaders to take the Good News of Christ to people who had never heard of his name. 
   
When we did attend a church here or there the people had one question for me, “are you saved?”  I learned that the question had to do with the early experiences and impact of missionaries from Britain who brought the message of Jesus the Christ clothed in raiments of superiority and all knowing, who taught that the local African names were pagan so names were changed to those from the bible.    Africans were dressed up in suits with shirts and ties as the way to obtain work, and gain a place as highly favored in the eyes of the “missionaries.”   One professor said that after the missionaries left, they still got dressed up but did not know what to do.   The far reaching and devastating result was that hearts were not changed, but people took on the trappings espoused as “Christian” to survive.   As the people began to read and discovered for themselves the message in the bible, they understood the Gospel of love that changed their hearts.   

One quote from the Afro-Anglicanism Conference held in 1985 in Barbados said, “Many of us owe our Anglican connections to the missionary initiatives taken by the British and North Americans in former years.   We thank God for these initiatives.  The missionaries brought the Gospel in their own cultural vessels.  The message has survived, but the vessels are being retired in the face of our own cultural traditions.”

We have since learned from the lessons taught by early missionaries, and it is this knowledge and experience that I bring to the ministry as a humble missionary.   This work is done with the understanding that as a missionary I do not lead, it is God who leads; that it is God who sends each of us with the gifts given us to faithfully join with others where they are to begin a journey together to win souls for Christ as we do our part in helping to build God’s Kingdom. 

"Why Serve" Discernment Conference for Young Adults of Color is one of the many collaborative mission trainings done by the Diversity and Ethnic Ministries. Other training includes: New Community Clergy & Lay Conference, Alternative Theological Education; Asset Based Community Development (ABCD); and International and Ethnic Seminarians Conference.

                     

INDIGENOUS/NATIVE AMERICAN MISSIONER: Ms. Sarah Eagle Heart

I am a missionary. Ironically, I am writing about being a missionary on Columbus Day. Yet this is the perfect day for me to write about being a missionary. I admit every fiber in my body shudders at the knowledge of the suffering indigenous peoples endured at the hands of missionaries 400 years ago. Manifest Destiny. Massacres. Rape. Assimilation. Because of this past, the word missionary has become synonymous with colonization. However this is not the work of The Episcopal Church today. While we cannot undo the past, we can reconcile our past. To reconcile does not mean sharing simple words of apology. To truly reconcile, we act by continuing to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. Today, I am proud to say we are doing this now with our work on the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. My work as a Missioner serves to reconcile the wrongs of the past with tribal communities, but this cannot be truly accomplished by one person alone. It is the work of the entire Church. 

To be an Episcopalian and an Oglala Lakota is to live every day with the tension of this past. The history of my ancestors is carried with me through stories. My defining story is that of my great-grandmother Emma Brave Hawk. She was a lay leader in the Episcopal Church and read her book of common prayer every day. She became an Episcopalian because she did not see a difference between Christianity and traditional Lakota spirituality. Old Grandma chose to honor Episcopalian traditions, even though non-native ancestors did not. The vision of Indigenous ancestors was to honor and respect others. They did this knowingly and many times even to their detriment. Some might call this foolish. Oglala Lakota’s called this true wisdom because they knew understood that following the Lakota way of life was the highest calling of the Great Spirit, Tunkasila. Today, Episcopalians would call it “loving your neighbor as yourself” as defined in our Baptismal Covenant. 

We must also remember the good deeds of missionaries. On December 16, 1862, Bishop Whipple who managed to advocate to President Abraham Lincoln to reduce the number from 303 to 38 Santee Dakotas at the largest mass hanging in United States history in Mankato, Minnesota. Historical accounts called it a result of a war induced by a starving and desperate people. We remember this deed in Hymnal 385, as those condemned to death sang a Dakota chant honoring the Creator and calling for eternal life, “Many and great, O God, are they works, maker of earth and sky; thy hands have set the heavens with stars; they fingers spread the mountains and plains. Lo, at they word the waters were formed; deep seas obey thy voice. Grant unto us communion with thee, though star abiding one; come unto us and dwell with us; with thee are found the gifts of life. Bless us with life that has no end, eternal life with thee.” 

Our past will always be there, but how do we ensure the direction of our work today responds accordingly? By being present. By witnessing. By responding. By continuing to pursue radical equality of the human family. A 1997 Anglican Communion news article of the signing of the Jamestown Covenant states, “The original Jamestown charter granted colonial status to what became the state of Virginia and commanded that the Church of England propagate Christianity among "the infidels and savages" who "live in darkness and miserable ignorance of true knowledge". In his sermon, Edmond Browning said re-reading the first charter was "painful ... it is not surprising that Christians who know this history are outraged by it. It certainly is an outrage."  Still, the royal ordinance "carried within its sinfulness the seeds of its redemption," Bishop Browning said. "James I and his advisers would never in a million years have guessed that their descendants would be led by the Gospel to pursue the radical equality of the human family," he said.  The ashes of injustice were many, and included "sins of both commission and omission," Bishop Charleston said of the church, which was "the chaplain to colonialism in the Western Hemisphere. Sometimes it was a good chaplain, at times standing with the oppressed. At other times, it aided and abetted the system of colonialism."

Today, the work of the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery continues our commitment to 1997 Jamestown Covenant by exposing the wrongs done “on behalf” of Native Americans through the brutal settlement and conquest of the Americas. It would be easier to forget missionaries of the past did not engage in the colonization of indigenous peoples, if it were not for the fact that indigenous peoples today are still suffering with the affects. The strength of Episcopalians is that we do not run from the tension of shame and guilt, we face it with Jesus at our side. Then we act through our Baptismal Covenant “to strive for peace and justice.” 

This weeks lectionary included the reading 2 Timothy 2:14-15, “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly by speaking the truth.”

Today, we do not omit the past. We stand in solidarity advocating for the oppressed and pray for the oppressors of 400 years ago. Today, the missionary work combines leadership with faith and dedication. We live in the tension of the unknown and turn our face to God with humility for guidance. That is the meaning of missionary today.

Our strength as Episcopalians is our acceptance of the unknown. We are a diverse group of believers who live in the tension of the unknown. Diversity can be a source of harmony and strength, rather than a source of conflict, as we find the parallels in our beliefs and goals. I am proud to work for The Episcopal Church because of our long legacy recognizing the sovereignty of tribal nations by creating the Executive Council on Indigenous Ministry to advise on policy. I also work with the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition as they seek advice to find a meaningful and appropriate response from responsible agencies and identify a strategy for collective healing from the historical trauma. I work with Bishops and Native American congregations to connect them with tribal leaders, encouraging them to work together on common goals. I know this is the work God called me to do. This is why I am a missionary today. A colleague once called my work peacemaking. By facing history and acting to reconcile the past… you are peacemakers too.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

Mission Society of the Episcopal Church DSE Staff with the COO and the Director of Mission: (L-R): Anthony Guillen, Bishop Stacy Sauls, Sam McDonald, Angela Ifill, Sarah Eagle Heart and Fred Vergara.



LATINO/HISPANIC MISSIONER: The Rev. Canon Anthony Guillén


I am a missionary. I’ve always been a missionary though what I thought God had called me to be was a parish priest. My first mission trip was in 1973. I was 20 years old when I joined the Church Army and was sent to Church of the Good Shepherd in Hartford Connecticut to minister to the people who lived in public housing around the church. I had no official training but I responded with the gifts that God had given me and in a short time realized that I had a knack for working with youth. I developed a junior high youth group from the projects and a high school youth group in the parish mostly from the suburbs and together we had fun, worshipped, served the community and raised leaders. At the end of 8 months I left a viable coffee house ministry that continued for several years.

This confirmed that God had called me to do mission work and so I applied and was accepted at the Church Army Training Program at General [GTS] in New York City in 1974. After graduation I was commissioned as a Church Army Evangelist by Bishop Roger Cilley at St Stephen’s Church in Houston, Texas which was my home parish and where I was first introduced to the Episcopal Church through a coffee house ministry.

Less than a decade later after many years of youth ministry as director of Happening in the Diocese of Texas I felt called and was sent as a missionary to the Diocese of Western Mexico. This was back when the church in Mexico was still a part of The Episcopal Church. I went to serve as the diocesan youth coordinator and to learn Spanish. Along the way I went to seminary, was ordained, founded two congregations – one of which is now the cathedral and directed an earthquake relief program. It was a rich experience and I discovered and learned that being a missionary was not so much about giving and teaching as it was about receiving and learning.

I spent 15 years in parish ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles and helped to strengthen an existing Latino ministry at my first parish and to develop and grow a viable bilingual, bicultural congregation at All Saints in Oxnard. Even though I was doing what I had always wanted to do – being a parish priest – I found that I was restless and that I was more alive when I was involved in diocesan and wider church activities like the Executive Council, the 20/20 Task Force and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. When I read the description for the Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries at the Church Center I knew without a doubt that this was what all of my years of experience and preparation was all about. When I began we were called staff officers but soon that name was changed to missioner and I was so glad because to me that name said more clearly what my work was all about – it was missionary work. And I had the gifts and experience to assist the church to grow by planting new Latino congregations and re-vitalizing existing small English speaking congregations by inviting their Latino neighbors.

As I travel across the church I am proud to say that I am the Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries which in Spanish translates as the Misionero which actually means “the Missionary”. My ministry is one of teaching, creating, networking  and empowering. One of the primary things that I do is in workshops and training events where I share the excitement about the ministry and invite dioceses and congregations to look at the possibilities all around them. I know that there is a lot of fear associated with this ministry around the issue of language and perceived differences. My job is to dispel the myths about Latinos and Latino Ministry and to motivate them to let go of the fear that has held them back.

In the last eight years I have seen a tremendous growth in this ministry – not only in the number of new members and congregations – but also in the number of organizations, agencies and seminaries across the church that are directing resources to better serve this growing segment of our church; re-thinking about how to better respond to the needs and creating new partnerships and models for the future.

What a joy it is to serve Christ and this wonderful Church of ours as a Missionary and to be a part of the Missionary Society.
(Left to right): Fred and Angela Vergara; Guadalupe and Anthony Guillen.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

TOWARDS A MISSION-DRIVEN CHURCH: An All Saints-All Souls-Dia delos Muertos Sermon


TOWARDS A MISSION-DRIVEN CHURCH:  
 An All Saints-All Souls-Dia delos Muertos Sermon                                                                                                        (The Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara, St. James Church in Elmhurst, New York, November 3, 2013)

 “I live through this world only once, so whatever I good I can do I must do it now, for I may not have a chance to do it again.”

  
“We are all pilgrims on a journey; we are all brothers and sisters on the road. We are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load.”

These and many other sayings remind us of our mortal and transitory life here on earth. That is why we should live with a mission. Our life should be a mission-driven life. 

The mission of St. James Church is the one written in the Book of Common Prayer which says, “the mission of the Church is to restore (or reconcile) all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” This is derived from 2nd Corinthians 5:19 which says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself…and has given us this wonderful ministry of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ.”

In our leaders’ meeting last Saturday, we began with the question, “Why am I a missionary” and it was amazing how all of us understand that we are missionaries because we are called and sent by God, starting on the day of our baptism. At baptism, we sign into a covenant to reject evil, accept Christ, proclaim the Good News and respect the dignity of every human being. Each one of us has a calling and a mission and we simply need to articulate and embody them in the life we live and in the relationships we create.

Being missionary in today’s world no longer means crossing the ocean to convert the pagans of Asia or Latin America or Africa. Being a missionary today is simply opening the door of our hearts and flinging open the doors of our churches to welcome and embrace the people whom God has placed upon us. The mission field is right where we are: our neighborhood, our work place, our schools, our playground, our shopping mall, our hair salon, our grocery store. We are sent as ambassadors of Christ by loving our neighbor and being kind to every person we meet. 

When Christians proclaim the Good News in what they say or do, then the Lord will be glorified and the Church would grow. And if every church would be healed from discrimination and prejudice, then it will truly become a house of prayer for all peoples.

Some eight years ago, just about a year when I became missioner for Asiamerica Ministries in the Episcopal Church, I was invited to St. Paul, Minnesota to preach at Holy Apostles Parish. This church was about to be closed because of its declining membership. It was once a vibrant Caucasian Church but the shift in demographics had rendered it untenable. Its former members had migrated to other places, retired in the suburbs, or died. Fr. Bill Bulson was sent to help prepare the congregation for closure. Just like a body, when the church is dying, it is best that we prepare for its funeral. But by God’s grace, the scheduled funeral service did not happen. For out of the blue, Fr. Bulson was introduced to some Hmong residents looking for a home---and the home is where you are accepted.
The Hmong are once a nomadic tribe in the jungles of Laos, Cambodia and China. During the Vietnam War, they sided with the United States. When the Vietnam War was over, many Hmong were targeted for genocide and so the United States repatriated them as refugees, many of them in Minnesota.

So the Hmong in the Twin Cities of St. Paul/Minneapolis were looking for a spiritual community to belong to, and Fr. Bill Bulson and the remnants of Holy Apostles Parish welcomed them with open arms. The result was tremendous: some 750 Hmong joined the Episcopal Church! I was there to welcome them on Pentecost Sunday of 2005. In the subsequent months, they were baptized and prepared for confirmation. Sister Angie and I went back to Minnesota; I preached at the Minneapolis Cathedral were we had hundreds of Hmong being confirmed. Bishop Jilenik, Bishop Swanson and Bishop Chang had their hands full, laying on hands on the Hmong Episcopalians!

I gave a joke that because of the radical hospitality of the Episcopal Church,   “the African Americans are among us, the Native Americans are among us, the Latino Americans are among us, the Filipinos are among us, the Chinese are among us, the Koreans are among us, the Cambodians are among us---and pardon the pun, the Hmong are among us.” And regardless of color, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. God has accepted us: let us accept all that God accepts.

Here at St. James in Elmhurst, we are surrounded by people from various ethnicities and cultures. Within a 3-mile radius, there are some 210 languages being spoken. Queens in New York is probably the most ethnically diverse region in the universe. The mission of St. James is to be a “healing, welcoming and serving church.” How can we be empowered for mission so that we can indeed and do the will of God in this place? 

I am greatly encouraged by the apparent revival of this parish. When I first came here six months ago, there were only around twenty five people. Today, we have reach over a hundred. Is there a secret to revival besides the work of the Holy Spirit?

I always believe that congregational development is divine-human cooperation. We must do our part by being faithful, diligent and welcoming. Mahatma Mahatma Gandhi once said that when your rose garden is so attractive, people will even climb the fence in order to smell the flowers. We must be a “healing, welcoming and serving church” and we will see this church grow in the richness of human diversity. Jesus came into the world “to save the world and not to condemn it.”

As ambassadors, Christ makes His appeal through us. Be reconciled to God and with one another. That is why I am fascinated by Hmong tradition of funerals: they would not bury the body until all the ruptured relationships in the family are healed. Let us heal all broken relationships as we are able by God’s grace.

God works in mysterious ways and God continues to be at work in the world if we are open to his leading. A friend of mine, Philip Getchell, former missionary to Brazil and retired dean of Trinity Cathedral in San Jose, California shared with me on how he became a Christian. While studying medicine at Stanford University, he read a feature story in San Francisco Chronicle about two young people on the beach close to the Golden Gate. The boy was swimming and a shark grabbed him. The girlfriend ran down the beach, plunged into the water and pulled him to shore. As he was bleeding to death, she asked him, “I know you believe in God, do you want me to baptize you?” He said, “Yes.” Right on the spot, she scooped ocean water and baptized her boyfriend. (By the way, it is called conditional baptism. When there is an emergency such as this, any Christian can baptize.) The boyfriend died in peace.

The story created an impact on Phil. He thought at the time. “What in the hell was that? A Christian girl rushing off to the ocean to retrieve her boyfriend from the shark? Was that courage under pressure? Was that presence of mind that he could not comprehend? Or was that faith in Christ embodied in that girl?” Phil said he quit pre-med and shifted to theology and later made his way into the priesthood.
In an email to me, he attached a photo of one of his first acts as a priest: baptizing three nieces in the ocean where that incident happened years ago and just recently also baptized his grandchildren by the sea---to remind him how God called him to the ministry.

Baptism and funeral are closely intertwined for when we are are baptized, we are baptized into the death of Christ, that we may rise into a newness of life. From then on, eternity has been written into our hearts. 

Today, we celebrate All Souls Day-All Saints Day-Pista ng Patay (Filipino) or Dia Delos Muertos (Mexicans). Traditionally, All Souls Day and All Saints Day are two separate occasions. All Saints Day (Nov. 1) is when we honor the saints of the church and summon the congregation to emulate their good examples; All Souls Day (Nov. 2) is when we pray for all the souls departed in faith. Today, we combine the two and added a dimension of our people’s cultures. Whether it is filial piety among the Chinese, the Undas or Pista ng Patay (festival of the dead) for Filipinos and Dia Delos Muertos among the Latinos, we are connected with those who have gone before. 

It is significant that we have a cemetery at the back of the church building. We shall hold part of our service in the cemetery so that we may be reminded that we are all pilgrims on a journey. Yes, we are all immigrants on this planet earth, and our ultimate citizenship is in heaven throughout eternity. This perspective will help us to embrace our mission as a pilgrim people, a people with a mission. Indeed, life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love, be ready to forgive, be willing to reconcile and be swift to be kind---and the blessing of God will be with you. Amen.