Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Thursday, August 13, 2015



In history, The Episcopal Church is the first Anglican Province outside of the British Isles. The Church of England which the early English settlers established in the original colonies would be  drawn into the American Revolution of 1776. As the American Independence was achieved, the U.S. Anglicans assembled in Philadelphia in 1789 and unified all American Anglicans into a single national Church, the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA (PECUSA). They adopted a Constitution and revised the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer by removing the prayer for the English monarch.

Samuel Seabury was subsequently ordained in Scotland as the first American Bishop of the independent American Church in an independent American Nation. The Episcopal Church was born and nurtured in the cradle of American Independence.

The Episcopal Church in Asia

As a part of the young and emergent superpower which is the USA, The Episcopal Church would thereafter become involved in the American missionary enterprises in Asia. Particularly in the Philippines, Korea, Okinawa, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, American Protestant missions came alongside American political and military imperialism. Motivated by “manifest destiny” and “the white man’s burden,” American missionaries would go along with military and political agents to evangelize in Asian countries, establish missionary outposts, and build missionary dioceses, hospitals, seminaries, and colleges.
The Episcopal Church made particular missionary successes in Philippines, Taiwan and Micronesia. The Episcopal missionary district which began at the advent of American neo-colonization in Philippines would eventually grow and developed into an independent province, the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP). The Episcopalians in Taiwan on the other hand, would become a significant diocese in Province VIII of the Episcopal Church. The Church in Micronesia (Guam and Saipan) would become part of the Diocese of Hawaii.

Today, the Episcopal Church is present in over seventeen countries all over the world. It has become a global church.

The Episcopal Church also made ecumenical alliances with Asian indigenous churches such as the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in the Philippines and the Mar Thoma Church in India. Charles Henry Brent, the first Episcopal missionary bishop in the Philippines was one of the pioneers of the World Council of Churches in general and the Philippine ecumenical movement in particular. The Church of South India and the Church of North India were “uniting churches” of former Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian denominations and products of ecumenical ventures in unity.

How did Asians navigate into the Episcopal Church? As Filipino and Taiwanese Episcopalians and Concordat partners immigrated to the United States, they would seek the familiarity of the Episcopal Church that they knew back home. And because the Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Anglicans from such countries as Japan, Korea, China, India, Hong Kong and Singapore would also look for The Episcopal Church, as the equivalent of the Anglican Church back home.

The Beginning of Asian Ministry in North America

In the North American context, the earliest recorded Asiamerican Episcopal Church dates back to 1870, when a Chinese railroad worker named Ah Foo was converted by the American Tract Society. Although he was baptized in the Presbyterian Church, for some reason, he decided to serve as a lay missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada.

Fired up with zeal for the gospel, Ah Foo (Ah For) evangelized to his friends working in the transcontinental railroads in Nevada. In 1870, he organized the Good Shepherd Chinese Church in Carson City. In 1874, he founded another mission in Virginia City. With funds collected from his fellow railroad workers and a grant from a Caucasian sympathizer from New York, Ah Foo constructed the House of Prayer Chapel. He translated the Episcopal liturgy into Chinese, led Bible Study and provided pastoral care among the Chinese workers.

Ah Foo grew the Chinese congregation to about 150 members. Unfortunately, the chapel was destroyed in the great fire in Virginia City in 1875. The loss of the chapel, the lack of moral support from the mainstream Anglo diocese and the emerging hostility of the nativists against the Chinese immigrants greatly discouraged Ah Foo. Finally as the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was implemented, Ah Foo disbanded the congregation and left the area. The fledgling Chinese Episcopal mission came to an abrupt end.

The Revival of Asian Ministry by the Japanese

After 1882, there was no recorded Asian presence in the Episcopal Church. But in 1895, the Rev. Masaichi Tai, the first Japanese priest ordained in the Nippon Sei Ko Kai in Japan, was sent to California by the Rt. Rev. John McCain, missionary Bishop of Kwanto Province in Japan.

The Rev. Tai started his ministry among Japanese laborers, meeting them at his living quarters in 421 Powell Street, San Francisco. Overcome by homesickness, Tai returned to Japan in 1896 and was replaced by the Rev. Kumazo Mikami. Mikami served at Advent Episcopal Church and succeeded in evangelizing and presenting at least five candidates for confirmation in the Diocese of California. He resigned in 1899 and was replaced by the Rev. Daijiro Yoshimura, who became the first canonically resident Japanese priest in the Diocese of California and the United States.

With the assistance of Miss Mary Patterson, a former missionary in Nagano Prefecture, the Rev. Yoshimura was able to convince the diocese to provide for a new worship space in 1001 Pine Street, San Francisco. Because of her familiarity with Japanese language and culture, Miss Patterson was able to effectively advocate for the Japanese mission and to serve as a bridge between Japanese clergy and the diocese. The fledgling Japanese congregation was officially recognized as an Episcopal mission in 1902. In 1915, under the administration of Deacon Paul Murakami, the first Japanese graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP), the mission became Christ Church Sei Ko Kai, registering a membership of 25 adults and 20 children, with a budget of around $500.

Christ Church in San Francisco is the acknowledged mother church of other Japanese churches, such as St. Mary’s Mission, Los Angeles, in 1907; St. Peter’s Mission, Seattle, in 1912; Epiphany Mission, Portland, Oregon, in 1935; and St. George’s Mission, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, in 1938.

Most of these Japanese Episcopal churches flourished for many years. In 1941, the U.S. joined the Pacific War, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese-Episcopal churches were abandoned as many Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps in remote places of the country. After the war, returnees from the internment camps revived their churches, but their vitality was adversely affected by the negative experiences of American war hysteria. One of those who figured as heroes among the internees was the Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano, the Japanese Episcopal priest who ministered to his fellow Japanese in their internment camp as well as to German prisoners of war. Kano’s legacy was celebrated in the Diocese of Nebraska where he served and his name is being considered in the “Holy Women, Holy Women” liturgical calendar.

Chinese Missions in 1900

After the untimely demise of the first Chinese mission in Nevada City in 1874, a new Chinese mission was started in San Francisco in 1905. Organized by Emma Drant, a deaconess from Hawaii who was tutored in Cantonese, this mission grew into a sizable congregation.

In 1906, the great earthquake of San Francisco left 4,000 residents dead, over 300,000 homeless, and 80% of the city destroyed. The Chinese congregation evacuated to Oakland as the city underwent redevelopment. When the city’s restoration was over, only half of the original congregation returned to San Francisco, while the other half remained in Oakland. The congregation that returned to San Francisco was named True Sunshine Church, and the one that remained in Oakland was named Our Saviour’s Church.

From San Francisco and Oakland, Chinese congregational development moved to Los Angeles (St. Gabriel’s Church); Seattle (Holy Apostles Church); Manhattan, New York (Our Savior, Chinatown); Flushing, New York (St. George’s Church); Brooklyn, New York (St. Peter’s Church); and the Chinese mission in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston, among others.

Korean and Filipino Missions

The Korean Episcopal Ministry in Hawaii was first planned in 1906, but became visible in 1907 with the establishment of St. Luke’s Episcopal Parish in Honolulu, which ministered among Korean immigrants. St. Luke’s Korean Ministry had its years of fecundity, but by the latter part of the 20th century had evolved into a multicultural church, as with most parishes in Hawaii. Many original Korean members of St. Luke’s and their offspring also moved to the U.S. mainland and would later help establish Korean missions in California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Illinois, Texas, Florida, and Tennessee.

Most Filipinos who came to the U.S. in the early 1900s as farm workers in Hawaii and California were Ilocano males of Roman Catholic background. There was an attempt by The Episcopal Church in San Francisco to to reach out to the Filipino Manongs in the 1940's during the War (WW II) years. A missioner named Mondejar from Iloilo City worked in Christ's Church and made outreach in Stockton, California but it did not prosper. It was after the Concordat of Full Communion with the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) in 1961 and the formation of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry in 1973 that the Filipino congregational development  began first in Hawaii and later in New York and California.

Establishment of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry

The American Immigration Reform of 1965 relatively eradicated the overt and structural racism and hostility of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the anti-miscegenation laws against the Filipinos, and the Japanese internment camps. It also increased the quotas of immigrants from Asia. As the United States rose as a super power, it became a magnet for many immigrants from Asia seeking a better future and escaping the grinding poverty in their home countries. As Asian immigrants began to settle in the U.S., they sought spiritual communities. It was a perfect environment for Christian evangelism and church growth.

The few Episcopal Asiamerican churches, which were mainly Chinese and Japanese, were not only recuperating from the nightmares of their past but were also struggling to find their places in the largely white American mainstream. Meanwhile, the unparalleled positive impact of the American civil rights movement led to the emergence of advocacies among the black, Native American, and Hispanic caucuses within the mainstream Episcopal Church. The Asian Episcopalians were few and far between.  

So it was providential that in 1973, Canon James Pun was called to serve as priest of True Sunshine Church in San Francisco. He had just come from Hong Kong and understood the sense of isolation of Asian clergy. He saw the need for a national Chinese ministry in the Episcopal Church to reach out to the increasing number of Chinese immigrants moving into the various parts of the country from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. Pun began to communicate his sense of loneliness, reaching out to other Asian clergy.

In their first meeting, in March 1973, the Rev. Canon John H.M. Yamasaki, rector of St. Mary’s Japanese Church in Los Angeles and representative of Province VIII to the Executive Council of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, affirmed the sentiment of James Pun and proposed an ad hoc committee to study the matter. It was agreed that Asian clergy should not only serve as chaplains to Asian Episcopalians, but that they should develop a strategy to enable mission and evangelism among the Asian peoples who were immigrating in record numbers to the United States. It was also imperative that a national plan to develop “Asian and Pacific Island Ministries” be recommended to The Episcopal Church.

The members of the ad hoc committee were the Rev. Canon John Yamasaki, who took the recommendation to the Executive Council and then to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church; the Venerable Lincoln Eng, who was then rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Beaverton, Oregon, and served as executive secretary of the ad hoc committee; the Rev. Winston Ching, who was vicar of St. John the Evangelist in San Francisco and chair of the ad hoc committee, and who presented the proposal to the executive committee in Louisville, Kentucky, just prior to the General Convention. Other members included Mrs. Betty Lee, a lay leader from the Diocese of California; the Rev. Victor Wei, who was then the executive administrator of the Diocese of California; and Canon James Pun.

The ad hoc committee drafted and finalized the resolution and submitted it to the 64th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which met in Louisville, Kentucky, September 29 - October 11, 1973. The resolution called for the establishment of “Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry in order to deepen and strengthen the existing ministries of the Episcopal Church involved with Asian and Pacific Island peoples as well as to establish new ones.” The word “Asiamerica” was invented to include both American-born as well as foreign-born (immigrant) persons of Asian ancestry.

The response of the General Convention was overwhelming. The resolution was unanimously adopted with a corresponding initial budget of $50,000 to fund the development of Asian ministries and to hire a staff officer. At the first meeting of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry in San Francisco, following the General Convention, Canon James Pun declared, “I only asked for a bicycle; but they gave us a bus and hired a driver!”

Congregational Development and Advocacy
The Episcopal Asiamerica historical experience demonstrates the truism that congregational development and political advocacy are inextricably intertwined. Where there is hostility and lack of advocates for their inclusion, immigrant faith communities will not survive as in the case of the first Chinese Episcopal Church (Ah Foo) during the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882 and the many Japanese Churches during the Japanese Internment era. But where there is hospitality and advocacy for their inclusion, as in the establishment of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry, the  immigrant churches will survive and flourish.

The correlation of congregational development and political advocacy is acutely true with Asian immigrant churches in the United States. Asian immigrants are generally passive-aggressive and do not show their displeasure openly. Their wheels seldom squeak, they hide their tears and are experts in self-deprecation. In churches, they do not often self-volunteer but are quick to comply with ministry when asked to serve. They vote with their feet, that is, when they sense hospitality and welcome, the stay but when they sense hostility and racism, the quietly leave. With the history of Chinese Exclusion, Japanese Internment and Filipino anti-miscegenation, these reactions to the attitudes of the mainstream church is understandable.

This is another way of saying that in many cases, the Asian immigrants would gladly have joined the mainstream white and black Episcopal churches. But having Ethnic Asiamerican churches provided them with a safety net to work out their faith in their own languages and cultures as well as to shield them from being rebuffed in the mainstream and dominant American churches.

Since its establishment by the General Convention in 1973, the Asiamerica Ministries office has been actively involved in planting, strengthening and expanding ministries of The Episcopal Church among the Asian and Pacific Islanders.  In the west coast, the Dioceses of Hawaii, California, El Camino Real, San Joaquin, San Diego, Los Angeles, Olympia, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado have been active. In the east coast, the dioceses of New York, Long Island, New Jersey, Newark, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts and Maryland have been active. In the midland, the dioceses of Chicago, Fond Du Lac, Georgia,Forth Worth, Texas and Minnesota have been active.
In its earlier years, the Episcopal Church ”Venture in Mission had provided “seed grants” for the planting of congregations. In the ensuing years, grants have been given for the translations of the Book of Common Prayer in some Asian languages such as Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Hmong.

Models of Asiamerica Congregational Development
The development of congregations serving Asiamerica communities has taken many forms depending on local contexts. The following are some models of Asiamerica congregational development:

Classic Ethnic Church:  This congregation grows to acquire a building for worship and staffed by at least one priest. It features a clearly defined ethnic or cultural identity, financial independence and adequate building and property.  The True Sunshine Episcopal Church in San Francisco for instance, started up as a Chinese mission congregation in 1905 and attained parish status in 1973. This is true in many Asiamerica ethnic parishes such as Church of our Savior, New York Chinatown; Church of our Savior, Oakland; One in Christ Church in Chicago; St. John’s Episcopal Church in Flushing, New York and many others.

Rented or Shared Facility: Two separate congregations sharing common facility, oftentimes with an Anglo congregation who “owns” the building and an ethnic church renting. This feature is less expensive for the ethnic congregation and a help to the Anglo congregation who earns from the rental. It also allows for an “intercultural fellowship.”   St. Benedict’s  Filipino Church, established in 1988, first rented the facilities  of St. Martha’s Episcopal Church in West Covina. In 1991, they moved to Holy Trinity in Alhambra, California and became “yoked” or ”merged”with the Anglo Church. 

Yoked or Merged Church: A new Asiamerica congregation is yoked to a declining Euro-American congregation with a single ethnic priest serving both constituencies under one church name or identity.  Although the priest is Asiamerican, the ownership and control of the building often belong to the declining congregation, thus the ethnic priest suffers the difficulty of navigating leadership in both congregations, especially when the ethnic priest does not have proficiency in the English language.  After a certain period, either the “merging” is dissolved or the ethnic group outgrow the declining Anglo congregation. Examples of this merging are St. Francis (Korea-Anglo) in Norwalk, California; Holy Child-St. John’s (Filipino-Anglo) in Wilmington, California; Holy Child-St. Martin’s (Filipino-Anglo) in Daly City, California; and Trinity-St. Benedict’s (Filipino-Anglo) in Alhambra, California.

Fellowship:  A loose affiliation where participants are also members of existing parishes or congregations in nearby parishes or dioceses. The primary focus is language or cultural fellowships. It provides low cost maintenance as participants gather only weekly or monthly and without organizational structure. Example of this model is the Metropolitan Filipino Fellowship (MFM), which meets in Good Shepherd Church in Manhattan, New York.

Open-Ended Fellowship/Church With No Walls: Similar to Fellowship, the feature of this ministry is providing activities that draw together ethnic communities coming from various regions. Faith formation, spiritual development and pastoral care happen in host congregations coordinated by a regional lay or clergy missioner. Example of this model is the Metropolitan Japanese Ministry (MJM) which currently meets at St. James Church in Scarsdale, New York.

Asian Congregation in a mainstream parish:  An Asiamerica congregation flourishing even in the context of a mainline parish led by a non-Asian rector. The ethnic group is often led by a church growth ethnic curate” who grows the congregation in both finances and membership, often more than the traditional congregation. Example of this model is the Chinese congregation of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Flushing, New York.

Asiamerican-led Bi-lingual, tri-lingual church: An Asiamerican clergy who speaks English, Spanish aside from his/her ethnic language is assigned to a congregation and develops bi-lingual services. Example of this model is St. Luke’s Church in the Diocese of Arizona (Tagalog-Spanish-English).

Asiamerican-led bi-cultural, multi-ethnic or Pan-Asian Ministry: Asiamerican rector or priest-in-charge develops multiracial English-speaking congregation and several Asian language services in one single parish or mission. This “one church, many cultures” model has a Vestry or Bishop’s Committee which represents the various ethnic groups and services. Example of this model is St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst, New York and St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Foster City, California.

Covenant churches: Two or more churches with clergy leaders signing a joint covenant of mutual encouragement and sharing of resources in administration, pastoral care and evangelism renting a common facility and neighborhood outreach. Example of this model is Holy Child (Filipino) and St. Joseph’s (Anglo) churches in Milpitas (Silicon Valley), California.

Concordat and Ecumenical parish: A congregation established and maintained by a clergy of the Episcopal Church but drawing membership from concordat or ecumenical churches. Examples of this model are St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Woodridge in the Diocese of Newark (Episcopal and Church of South India) and St. Paul’s Church in Honolulu, Hawaii (Episcopal and Iglesia Filipina Independiente.)

To assist the Asiamerica Missioner who is employed by the Episcopal Church Center based in New York City, the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council was formed in 1955. Over time, the EAMC served as “partners-in-mission, advisory council, and advocate” to the Asiamerica Missioner in connecting and coordinating the national consultations and the various Ethnic Convocations.
Members of the EAM Council are the elected conveners of the EAM Ethnic Convocations, the EAM Youth & Young Adults and the EAM Advocates. At some point, it also included liaisons from the Dioceses, Diocesan Commissions, Executive Council, EAM Women, as well as representatives from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the Mar Thoma Church. Due to decreasing funding, current membership to the EAM Council has been limited to EAM Ethnic conveners and conveners of youth and EAM Advocates. The Asiamerica Missioner and the Partnership Officer for Asia and the Pacific are ex-officio members. 

In addition to the EAM Council, several dioceses have also formed diocesan commissions which further assist the Asiamerica Missioner in coordinating congregational development and advocacy in their specific dioceses. ( TO BE CONTINUED)

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