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.”