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

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