Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry – 40th Anniversary
The nations have gathered, and streamed in to this city set on a hill – there are supposedly 7 hills here, and this is almost certainly the highest one with a church! – the nations have come up to the house of the Lord with great rejoicing. It is exceedingly fitting to celebrate 40 years of Asiamerica ministry in this church, in this city, in this part of God’s creation.
Anglicans first worshipped on these shores on this date in 1579, when Sir Francis Drake’s crew came ashore to pray just north of here. Those prayers were led by Chaplain Francis Fletcher, and some Native Americans apparently stood and watched the gathering. The ancestors of those Native Americans came here from Asia thousands of years before.
North America’s first Anglican worship in Chinese took place just east of here in Nevada Territory, in the early 1870s, and grew into a ministry that lasted until the ore played out and the miners and railway builders moved on or were expelled. Japanese-Americans gathered to pray up and down this coast until they were removed to internment camps during WWII. Winston Ching, born 70 years ago today, is a saint of this church forged in the aftermath of that era.
At least from the early 19th century, Americans began to take this faith tradition with them as they traveled the world, through mercantile empires, military invasions, and overtly missionary activity – to Hawai’i, the Philippines, China, Japan, Korea, and beyond. Our first missionary bishop for overseas work was William Jones Boone, sent to work in Shanghai in 1837, and consecrated in 1844. He worked there until his death in 1874, translating the prayer book and parts of the Bible. The second overseas missionary bishop, Horatio Southgate, was also consecrated in 1844, and sent to the other end of Asia as Bishop of Constantinople.
The interchange has always been in both directions, from this continent to Asia, and from Asia here. This complex history includes the witness of Father Hisanori Kano, who came to Nebraska as an agriculturalist and became a powerful and prophetic pastor, and Paul Rusch, who migrated in the other direction to found an agricultural station in Kiyosato and build lasting relationships between these two nations.
Migration here followed the end of each war in the Pacific, as well as including those fleeing conflict. Refugees have come from Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and economic and political migrants from China, Hong Kong, Korea, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Today we have among us thriving Hmong and Karen congregations, as well as growing numbers of people with roots in South Asia. People have found in The Episcopal Church a place to worship, a community to help them settle in a new land, safe harbor from the larger society’s discrimination (although that discrimination has been abundant even within this Church), and partners in building a society of greater justice that looks more like the Reign of God.
This Church’s history of interaction with Asia and with Asian-Americans, like the history of all human and sacred communities, is a mixture of holy witness, prejudice and exclusion, solidarity, and all sorts and conditions of charity and mission work. We have not yet told the whole truth or fully reconciled that history. This celebration is a sacramental recognition that God continues to bring forth light out of darkness, wholeness from destruction, and new life from death.
Migration and border-crossing is part of that cosmic movement. The wisdom teacher in Ecclesiasticus insists that those who seek God are travelers, looking for what is good and what is not so good, and testing what they find in the people they meet. God willing, out of that comes understanding, and they become wise teachers of others. That is an image of the city set on a hill, toward which the nations stream, seeking God and God’s wisdom.
The Jesus road is the same kind of traveling Sirach encourages – going into the world, looking for the presence of God and discerning the activity of God’s spirit already at work. His followers take up their crosses and lose their self-centered lives, moving from one way of life to a new one. That kind of border crossing brings abundant challenges, but it is the only route to abundant life. Every person who has migrated knows something of those challenges. Jesus offers us an example of cosmic migration, as God enters foreign flesh and continues to bless it. God named that flesh good at the beginning – we’re the ones who misuse it or close off the possibility of blessing we received at creation. We will not find the reign of God if we’re unwilling to migrate down the road and across the barriers that separate us from God-with-us in those we too often call alien, foreign, or other. Those others are also part of God’s body, and our own ultimate healing depends on discovering that they are part of us, we are part of them, and we are all part of the same whole.
Those wisdom teachers and seekers after God are a very significant part of our journey to this place. We would not be here today without the witness of others who have picked up their cross and walked, swum, and sailed across borders. The Ven. Lincoln Eng was one of those powerful witnesses.
Archdeacon Eng helped to found EAM, having been a member and chair of its predecessor, EAST (Episcopal Asian-American Strategies Taskforce). He was born in Seattle, the oldest of 12 children of Chinese immigrants. He had TB as a young man, and spent time in hospital, and then stuck around to help with the nursing. He was disenchanted with the Chinese Baptist Church he’d grown up in and learned about the Episcopal Church from a friend. He was soon baptized and confirmed. Eventually he came here to study at CDSP. He started his field work at the Chinese congregation in Oakland but didn’t speak good enough Cantonese to fit in, so he finished his field work at St. Clement’s in Berkeley. When he graduated the bishop sent him to an African-American congregation in Seattle, and then later to a Japanese-American parish. He reportedly told the bishop, “I’m Chinese, you know.” The bishop sent him there because the members wanted him to work with young people. His work on integration in the Seattle school system had him reminding Spanish teachers that the Latinos they worked with spoke a version of the language that was just as dignified as the Castilian they were pushing. He worked to integrate the trade unions, which wouldn’t admit blacks or Asians. When he was 50, he moved across the river to the Diocese of Oregon, where he served as rector of a big suburban congregation outside Portland and then as Archdeacon of the diocese.
After he “retired” he continued to serve as an interim. The first one was in the congregation where I’d agreed to serve a second year as senior warden just before the rector announced he was leaving. That priest had had a very hard time with the old guard who much preferred the style of his long-term predecessor. Lincoln arrived and started loving and challenging everybody to move to a new place, down the road from where they’d been, closer to something that looked less like a kindergarten sandbox and more like the Reign of God. He also told stories about what it had been like to grow up a Chinese kid in Seattle in the 20s and 30s. They weren’t pretty stories, but they were always about what it’s like to cross borders and tear down dividing walls.
That is what EAM is all about, whether it’s first or second or third or a later wave. We are not yet permanent residents of the kingdom of God, but we do know the direction in which it lies. That road will take us through a lot of dyings, and it will also yield abundant life. Some of that dying involves reconciling the wounds of the past, and addressing the injustice and alienation of the present, and some of it is simply about getting out of our own too-comfortable places and states of mind. New and abundant life awaits those who are willing to pick up and cross over. There is a reason why we call this cross-cultural ministry – if it is faithful it is about the culture of the cross. Walk on, my friends. That is the way to the kingdom!