ALBANY TO: PIONEER, VISIONARY,
(Sermon delivered by the Rt. Rev. Allen Shin, Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York at the Memorial Service for the late Rev. Albany To, founding rector of the Episcopal Church of our Savior, 48 Henry Street, New York (Chinatown), last June 17, 2015.)
|The Rev. Albany To,founding rector of the Episcopal Church of our Savior, New York City Chinatown|
|At the memorial service, Left to right: The Rev. Noel Bordador, priest-in-charge of Church of our Savior; the Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche, diocesan bishop of New York and the Rt. Rev. Allen Shin, suffragan bishop of New York.|
Texts: Isaiah 61:1-3, Psalm 31:1-5, Romans 14:7-9, Matthew 5:1-12
I am truly honored and deeply humbled to be the preacher at this memorial Eucharist for Fr. Albany To. I first met Fr. To in 1992 when I attended the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries national convocation for the first time. Then, he retired in 1993. So, I really didn’t get to know him well personally. But, I certainly continued to hear his name especially in connection with the Chinese ministries. He was a living legend in this diocese and in the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries community nationwide. He is kind of like the godfather of the Chinese ministries in the Episcopal Church.
To the Israelites who have returned to their homeland from their exile in Babylon, the prophet Isaiah proclaims the prophecy of hope and mission of rebuilding a new nation in today’s scripture reading:
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners.”
Indeed, the spirit of the Lord God was upon Fr. Albany To and anointed him to build a new mission and a new congregation in Chinatown. I was talking with Peter Ng about him and Peter immediately described him as an entrepreneur. Still other people have described him as a pioneer and visionary. With his entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit and visionary creativity and his passion and zeal for Jesus, the story of the ministry of Fr. Albany and of how the Church of Our Savior began is a story of resurrection and rebirth, anointed and led by the Holy Spirit.
When Trinity Church closed St. Christopher’s Chapel in Chinatown on May 2, 1971, what was risen from its remains was the first Chinese mission in the Diocese of NY. The small group of Chinese immigrants, who had begun worshipping at St. Christopher’s Chapel since February 1971, continued their worship at Trinity Church. Under Bishop Paul Moore’s Mission ’72 vision, Fr. Paul Tong was called from the Diocese of Hong Kong to provide pastoral care to the Chinese members and to begin a new mission in Chinatown. The Chinatown Health Clinic and the Chinatown Manpower Project were the two mission projects begun at the site of St. Christopher’s Chapel.
When Fr. Tong was called back to Hong Kong, Fr. Albany To was appointed by Bishop Moore as the Bishop’s Vicar of Chinese Affairs in1973. No one can stop the work of the Holy Spirit and there was no stopping the rebirth of the Episcopal mission in Chinatown under the leadership of Fr. Albany To. Building upon the groundwork laid by Fr. Tong, Fr. To immediately set out to develop and new mission in Chinatown by bringing together the Maryknoll missionaries and the members of the Episcopal Religious. The Maryknoll Transfiguration Kindergarten, the first full day preschool in New York was opened in the building across from 48 Henry Street. The old St. Christopher’s Chapel was renamed and reopened as the Chapel of Our Savior where Fr. To began holding Sunday services in Cantonese.
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus pronounces a number of blessings, the Beatitudes, which are deeply connected to the mission to which he is called all his followers. Solidarity with the poor, compassion for the mournful, mercy for the weak, and the hungry, justice and peace for the oppressed—they all have always been important and urgent mission of the church. Fr. To faithfully lived into this call and led the new Chinatown congregation to the blessing presence in the Chinatown community. In 1975, Fr. To started the Chinatown Mission, Inc., which became the missionary and outreach organization of the Chapel of Our Savior. For the ensuing years, Fr. To and the Chapel of Our Savior continued to grow by serving the poor, the mournful, the meek and the hungry and by witnessing to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ in the community through many mission projects.
In the early 1980s, under the lay leadership of Mr. Leon Hong and Peter Ng, the Chapel of Our Savior became the Church of Our Savior and in 1983 the Church of Our Savior was officially admitted to the Diocese as its mission congregation and in 1987 and Fr. Albany To was officially called as the first rector. For the next six years, Fr. To worked tirelessly to grow the Church of Our Savior until his retirement in 1993.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
I said earlier that the story of Fr. To’s ministry and the Church of Our Savior is a resurrection story. When St. Christopher’s Chapel was closed, what was resurrected from its death was the new Chinese mission congregation and then out of which was risen the Church of Our Savior. Out of the Chinatown Health Clinic and the Chinatown Manpower came the new Chinatown Mission, Inc. And out of the Chinatown Mission, Inc. came the Chinatown Jubilee Community Center which continued to widen its mission to the community.
As we remember Fr. To today, we are challenged to search for the new life of resurrection in our mission to Chinatown. Discerning what shape and form this resurrection will take calls for the entrepreneurial, pioneering and visionary spirit of Fr. To and our passion and zeal for Jesus Christ and his mission. Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. The life we live is not ours but Christ’s and the mission we are called to carry out is not ours but Christ’s. It’ll require the unstoppable grace of the Holy Spirit who is living and working in the midst of this congregation today and in Chinatown community today.
We commit Fr. Albany To’s spirit into hand of our faithful God, who has redeemed him in his loving arms. And with Fr. To, we, too, commit our spirit to God’s mission before us that we may continue to be the faithful blessing to the people of Chinatown.
May the Lord bless Fr. To and keep him,
May the Lord shine his countenance upon him and be gracious unto him,
May the Lord lift his face upon him and give him peace.
May our brother Albany rest in peace
and let light perpetual shine upon him. Amen.