Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Thursday, December 31, 2015


My Top Ten Highlights in 2015
1.       I beat cancer!

2.       General Convention approved Rev. Hisanori Kano for “Holy Women, Holy Men.”

3.       My 5th book “Let God’s Light" was published and available in Amazon.

4.       Episcopal Asiamerica Consultation in Korea a great success

5.       Anglican Church of Korea celebrated 125th anniversary in pomp, pageantry and great liturgy.


6. North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry became the first African American Presiding Bishop. 

7.       “Asiamerica Mission to End Modern Slavery” granted funding byTrinity Wall Street.

8.       St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst, New York more than quadrupled in three years.

9.       Hmong Ministry in the Diocese of Minnesota celebrated 10th anniversary with the presence of former and current bishops and hundreds of Hmong celebrants.

10.   I reached retirement age healthy, strong and ready for the New Year and, hopefully, many more years of active ministry! To God be the glory!

Sunday, December 27, 2015


 (The following is the inaugural Sermon of The Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara, missioner for Asiamerica Ministry in the Episcopal Church when he accepted to help revive St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway, Elmhurst, New York. Founded in 1704 in what was then Newtown, a Dutch neighborhood, St. James is now finding its place in the 21st century.  Elmhurst is now one of the most racially, culturally and ethnically diverse communities in Queens, NY. In 2005, its theologically conservative congregation voted to separate from the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. In 2008, the Diocese regained the church properties but the congregation departed, leaving a small remnant. Subsequent efforts from succeeding leadership failed to revive the parish which has reverted into mission status. In April 1, 2013 Bishop Lawrence Provenzano asked the help of the Asiamerica Missioner to help revitalize St. James. This sermon last April 7, 2013 was the precursor of exciting events in the unfolding redevelopment of St. James. To God be the glory)

A summary of our Gospel reading (John 20:19-31): The doubting Thomas, seeing and hearing the risen Christ, exclaimed “My Lord and my God!”

“My Lord and my God!”  What a screaming expression of Thomas’ leap of faith! A moment ago, he did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Now he believes---and more.  He confesses that Jesus is Lord and God!

A moment ago, he was not ready to follow Jesus up to death. Now he is ready to go where He leads him to go. At the death of Jesus, his faith drooped and his hope faded. But at the rising of Jesus, his faith is revived and his hope springs up.

Journey in faith
The faith-journey of Thomas mirrors our own. There are moments of glory, there are moments of doubts. At some points, we soar above in the heights of faith; at other points, we backslide and down. My father, who was a war veteran and a tailor used to say, our journey with God is like Singer Sewing Machine---it is “atras avante.” Or at best, like the dictum of Mao Tse Tung, “two steps forward, one step backward.” It is never continuous.

That was exactly what happened to Thomas and the apostles. At the miracles that Jesus wrought, their faith rose to highest heights. At the death of Jesus on the cross, their faith sunk to lowest depths. But just when they would totally dim the lights, a new light shines forth. By the grace of God, a new revelation comes and propels them to move on. 

At the death of Jesus, the apostles when back fishing, the job they were accustomed to doing and not so excellently. At the rising of Jesus again, they renewed their commitment to be “fishers of men,” the ministry that they were trained to be, and to do it excellently. Do you know the difference between “fishermen and fishers of men?” The fishermen catch fish alive and put them down dead. The fishers of men catch men dead and put them down alive.

So from reluctance to total commitment, Thomas, like the other revived apostles, traveled from Jerusalem, to Samaria and to the ends of the world. It is said that Thomas became an apostle to India, where he introduced Christianity and planted churches until he was martyred in Madras (now Chennai). Today, Mar Thoma Church is one of the churches in India, who claim their origin from the missionary work of Thomas.

What lessons can we learn from the journey of St. Thomas?

In old Israel, the prophet Hosea said (Hosea 4:6):  “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.”  It was not that the people of Israel in Hosea’s time did not know God; they simply did not know the true God. The key to Thomas’ commitment as apostle lies in his enlightenment of Jesus as the true God. This faith commitment grew from one degree of glory to another as he began to know Jesus as God.

Levels of Knowing Jesus as God
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, the father of “existentialism,” wrote that there are three levels of knowing Jesus: the aesthetic level, the ethical level and the spiritual level.  At what level of faith are you on? Will you be willing to take a leap of faith and move forward?

By the way, since this is my first sermon in this congregation, I must say to you, at the outset, that I am a three-point preacher. No matter what scriptures, I read, I always find three points. One time, a youth member of my former parish asked “Father Fred, why do you always have three points? “ and I replied, three reasons: one, I am a Trinitarian; two, I am the third child in my family; and three, survey said that the most that people can remember in a sermon is three points. And I told the young man, “When you grow old like me, there are three things you will lose. First is your memory, the other two, I could not remember.”

The best three point sermon was done by John Wesley, the Anglican priest who founded the Holiness Movement which paved the way for the Methodist Church. It was a three-point sermon on money. Wesley said, “First point, we must earn as much money as we can.” And all Anglicans said, “Amen!”  Second point, Wesley said, “we must save as much money as we can.” And all Anglicans said, “Amen!” Third point, Wesley said, “we must give as much money as we can.” And all Anglicans said, “Lord, have mercy.”

First Level- The Aesthetic Level
Aesthetic means cosmetics or the external beauty. If you want to have a facial, you go for cosmetology. If you want to change your face and make your lips look like Angelina Jolie’s, you go to cosmetic surgery. External beauty is called aesthetics.
To know Jesus in the aesthetic level is to see him as the image of God. Colossians 1:15 says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God; the first born of all creation.” This is the most elementary way of knowing Jesus. Jesus is the image, the icon, the representation of God.

In India, the predominant religion is Hinduism. There are over 33 million gods in the Hindu religion. When you walk in Calcutta, most likely you would bump into a god. Jesus is one of their gods, one of their avatars, one of the icons of God. He can be placed alongside any god and no one will notice his uniqueness. He could just be one of the 33 million models of God.

I was once wondering why fashion designers often choose slim or thin ladies to model their signature dresses. Later I learned from one couturier that the reason why he chose thin ladies was this: “models do not express themselves; they express the clothes. In other words, they have to be thin because they serve as hangers!”

Well that was logical, though a bit dehumanizing. The problem in knowing Jesus simply as a hanger or a model of God is that models change. Take for example the model of courtship. During my father’s time, the men were expressive of their love. They sang songs like this (Frank Sinatra):
My love is deep as the sea that flows forever;You ask me when will it end? I tell you never.

During my time, we were a bit subdued, but nevertheless poetic. And we sang songs like this:
No, I never meant to love you;   No I never meant to care.        
But have you ever noticed; Just how often I was there?

Today, the model of courtship has changed. It’s like “Gangnam style.” The young people simply say like this (Justin Beiber): 
Baby, baby, baby Oh; Like baby, baby, baby Oh!”

So to know Jesus simply on the aesthetic level is not enough. It opens up the doubt as expressed by John the Baptist to his cousin, Jesus: “Are you He who is to come or shall we wait for another?” (Luke 7:19)

Second Level- The Ethical Level
The second level of knowing Jesus is the ethical level. This means knowing Jesus not only as a model of God but the reality of God. Being co-equal with the Father-God and the Spirit-God is the uniqueness of Jesus, the Son-God. Models may change but the reality does not. Jesus as God is the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

Knowing Jesus in the ethical level leads to commitment.  Thomas learned that the power within him was greater than that of the world. But it was only head knowledge. His behavior did not change. Faced with pressures in life, he rationalizes. This is called paralysis of analysis. But when he saw Jesus' body penetrating the closed door and heard him speak and saw the marks of the nails, he made a leap of faith. The miracle of the resurrected body broke open his heart to believe. Then he decided to obey Him even unto death.  

In 1517, the German monk named Martin Luther, nailed down a piece of paper on the door of the church in Wittenberg. The paper contained 95 theses or reasons condemning the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church of his time. These theses set the stage for the Protestant Reformation. When he was excommunicated and condemned by the papacy of his time, Luther said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

I’m sorry that I could not remember those 95 theses of Luther. Had he broken them down to only three theses, I might have remembered, but that’s another story. The point I am driving at, is that ethics (behavior) and faith intersect. We are supposed to  practice what we preach because if we do not practice what we preach, we become superficial and hypocrites. If we say we love God and hate our brothers and sisters, St. John wrote (1 John 4:20), we lie. For how can we say we love God whom we cannot see and hate our neighbors whom we can see?

 In other words, worship and work must be one. When we talk about Christian unity, we talk about solidarity in the secular world as well as unity in the spiritual world. If we cannot be one in sharing pan de sal and a cup of coffee at the fellowship hall, how can we truly be one in sharing the Body and Blood of Christ in the holy altar?

So if you know that Jesus is not just one model of 33 million gods but the one, unique, solitary God, then your ethics should change. You make a decision. Like Luther, you make a stand. Someone said that if you don’t stand on something, you will fall for anything. 

Third Level---The Spiritual Level
This is the highest level of faith, the faith that surpasses human understanding, the gift and virtue of the mystics. The spiritual level means knowing Jesus not only as the aesthetic model of God, not only as the reality of God but as the experience of God. Jesus told his apostles prior to his departure, “Those who believe in me will do the works that I do and will even do greater deeds, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).

Are you able to believe that you will experience the power that Jesus had given the apostles? Will there be signs and wonders when you proclaim the message of God? Will there be healing of the sick, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the captives, liberation of the oppressed and hope for the poor? 

Will you, like St. Peter on the Day of Pentecost, be able to preach one sermon and cause repentance and faith of 3,000 people? Will you, like St. Paul be able to establish churches and strengthen Christians by way of writing letters (or now emails and social media?) Will you be able to pray for the sick and they will recover?

When Jesus died, the apostles went back fishing. This is called “backsliding.” From being “fishers of men” that Jesus called them to be, they returned to being fishermen. But when they experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, their lives completely changed. They became true to their mission. The experience of the Holy Spirit became the wind beneath their wings. They proclaimed Jesus in passion and compassion. As fire is for burning, their passion for evangelism energized their ministries. The spiritual level of knowing Jesus makes us to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in moving mountains of despair and obstacles and achieving the fecundity or fruitfulness of our lives and character.

The Questions
This is my first sermon here as your new priest.  I was appointed by the Bishop last April 1, otherwise known as “All Fools Day.” Through this week, as I went through transition, I meditated on what it means to be a “fool for Christ” and asked myself these foolish questions: “Are you he who is to come or shall they wait for another?” “What makes you different than the priests before you?” “Are you able to turn this church around?” “Are you able to revive this church?” “Are you able to move this church from decline to survival; from maintenance to growth?” "And can you do it as a weekend priest-in-charge"(my full-time job is missioner for Asiamerica Ministries and staff of the Presiding Bishop).

My answer was and is, “No, I am not a messiah.  I cannot revive this church; I cannot turn this church around. But I will help the people of God at St. James Church to know Jesus more and more. So that knowing Him, they may love Him; and by loving Him, they may serve Him.  By knowing Jesus, by loving Jesus and by serving Jesus, the Holy Spirit will empower us together, to turn this Church around!”

Like St. Thomas, St. James, St. Peter, St. John, St. James and all the apostles, may we all know Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord. The true and living God. He is the Christ who cannot be buried below the ground. He is the Christ who got out of the tomb. He is the Christ who rose on high and ascended to the Father. He is the Christ who spoke peace and said, “Fear not...Peace be with you.”

I will help you to know Jesus as the image of God, the reality of God and the experience of God. Today, at St. James Church in Elmhurst, a new journey begins. Because Jesus lives, we all can face tomorrow. Yes, Lord. Do it again. Revive us again. Allelluia! Thine the glory. Revive us again!

 (Post note: Attendance at St. James has more than quadrupled in just over 2 years, with new and innovative ministries and has become financially viable again. The Church is working on its Long-Term Plan for becoming a Parish again.)

Thursday, December 17, 2015


GUEST BLOG: In the beginning… there was a friendship: Genesis of Hmong Episcopal Ministry
A Story Cloth by Sy Vang Lo whose friendship with the Rev. Susan Moss became the contact point for the Hmong to know about the Episcopal Church.
Susan Maetzold Moss (center) with her friend, Sy Vang Lo

(Editor's Note: The Hmong congregation at Holy Apostles Church in Minnesota celebrate dthier 10th anniversary last December 13, 2015. Following is the address of of The Rev. Susan Maetzold Moss, missioner of the Episcopal Diocese in Minnesota in 2005 when the Hmong were received in the Episcopal Church. This is one of the ten stories shared at the gathering.)

Father Fred Vergara, noticing the line up of this evening’s speakers wrote on his FB page that it was a little like a message relay for the church, each holding the baton for a while and passing it on to the next. 

I like this image.  I want to also offer another one that fits our message relay: The image of the mustard seed from Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed.

“Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

For me the mustard seed is the day I met Sy Vang Lo 34 years ago.

I was a seminarian working at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. One day on my way home I stopped by Sy’s first shop on 24th and Hennepin Avenue pulled in by the magnetic beauty of the Hmong folk art I saw in her shop window. Sy and I became friends that day. Not long after she would make a beautiful chasuble for my ordination to the priesthood in 1985 with a pa ndau Hmong symbol as the focal point.

A year or so later, Sy’s Hmong Folk Art shop moved into my neighborhood. While strolling my babies I would stop in to say Hi and sometimes help with the translation of her orders, talk about our children or meet members of her extended family.  As I learned about pa ndau and story cloths, I begin to learn why Sy, her husband  Deacon Va Thai, their children and extended  family came to MN from the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand.

Other Episcopalians had discovered the Hmong Folk Art Shop and began to learn the story of how and why Hmong people were  coming to MN after the Viet Nam war. Mary Anderson and Bishop Bob Anderson, The Rev Dick Smith and Marcia Smith, Deacon Lyn Lawyer to name a few were fans. When I visited Bishop Anderson to say good bye, as he was dying of cancer, I brought him one of Sy’s Hmong Hearts

We all encouraged her to bring her work and the textile work of  other Hmong women to the fall  Minnesota Episcopal Church conventions where she met more of us.

One day in 1988 Sy asked: Sue how can I get to the Episcopal Church General Convention in Detroit. I want to go. I’ve heard there are a lot of people there. I said, No don’t go! The Detroit Labor Unions will rob you with fees for even changing a light bulb or getting you a chair to sit on.

But determined she got on the bus with several suitcases of Hmong folk art and not only sold thousands of dollars of merchandise but made even more friends in The Episcopal Church.
She has attended every convention since that year in Detroit.

Over time Sy told me many stories of St. Vincent’s Church, of the untimely death of their first beloved pastor followed by the very  serious  subsequent conflicts with the Archdiocese. So it was not surprising to me to receive her phone call one day in my office at the Episcopal Center where I was the Metro Area Canon Missioner.

Sue, we are ready to leave St Vincent’ s Catholic Church.
We are ready to visit the Episcopal Church. To come and see.
To meet your Bishop. Where can we go?
What are we talking about Sy? I asked
Several hundred people. She replied, Where can we go?
Are you sure about this? Yes.
Holy Apostles Episcopal Church. I want you to meet their priest Father Bill Bulson, I replied.

As it happened, the MN Episcopal Church convention was scheduled to meet not long after our phone conversation. Of course Sy was going to be there.

I’m guessing it was the fall of 1999 that I had the honor and the pleasure to introduce Sy Vang Lo to Father William Bulson right there at the Hmong Folk Art table.

As I walked away another friendship began; yet another sprout of the mustard seed began to grow.

And now 10 years later we are celebrating the 10th year anniversary of the Hmong faithful becoming Episcopalians.

Jesus said: “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”