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Asiamerica Ministries grow with new congregations, young leaders

By Pat McCaughan
[Episcopal News Service]  More than 200 people -- including about 30 youth and young adults -- who participated in this year's Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries (EAM) consultation celebrated the startup of congregations, the appointment of a youth chaplain, and a rise in the number of seminarians and ordained leaders, said the Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, national church missioner for Asian ministries.

"We had record attendance at EAM this year and greater participation from the various ethnic convocations including Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese and Southeast Asian. The theme 'Equipping the Saints: Sharing our Stories, Discovering our Voice and Using our Gifts' was lived out by the participants in plenary meetings and in small groups," he said. The consultation was held June 30-July 4 in Seattle.

Vergara also celebrated his one-year anniversary, noting he'd been named missioner just prior to last year's consultation in San Francisco. He concluded his state of EAM address by serenading the group with his own version of the 1970s James Taylor tune "You've Got a Friend." Assuring participants that the Church Center staff cares about them, Vergara received a standing ovation for singing "You Just Call 815."

"I'm happy to report that the state of EAM is very good," said Vergara, noting that a day prior to the consultation, pre-assembly meetings were held by the newly-organized Episcopal Asiamerican Clergy Collegium (EACC) and the EAM Women's Convocation. The first EACC training program is an online course on "Asiamerican Ministry and Theology in the Episcopal Church", October 3-November 20, 2005 in partnership with the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, he said. Development of an Asian American Ministry and Theology Center is also underway.

The new congregations included: a Taiwanese congregation at St. Thomas, Hacienda Heights, in the Diocese of Los Angeles; a 600-member Hmong congregation at Church of the Holy Apostles, St. Paul, Minnesota; two Filipino congregations in the Diocese of Nevada and a Filipino-Bangladesh congregation in the Diocese of Long Island. Vergara said congregational development partnerships with the dioceses of San Diego and Oregon are also underway.

Local ministries featured

Consultation workshops on anti-racism training, stewardship, telling faith stories and church planting were so energizing that the Rev. Jerry Shigaki, multicultural missioner for the Washington-state Diocese of Olympia and a consultation organizer, now hopes to start a new Filipino congregation.

"We have about 70,000 Filipino residents in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties, many immigrants, as well as second and third generation and about 75 percent of the seafarers here in Seattle are Filipino," he said. "They work 12 hours a day on the boat and are out at sea for three months at a time."

Noting that Seattle's Seaman's Center might serve as a base of operation, "we hope to develop a ministry from the Seaman's center and go out into the community to establish bridges. We hope to provide dinners and other services and we'd love to celebrate the Eucharist at the center."

A July 4 celebration honoring the World War II experience of Japanese Americans confined to interments camps and their contributions since the war was especially meaningful, Shigaki said.

Peter Ng, program director for Church of Our Saviour in New York City's Chinatown and a consultant for Asian Affairs for Anglican Global Relations, said more than 20 dioceses participated in the consultation including a senior pastor from Vietnam.

"Last year, the theme was new beginnings. This year, we tried to help participants identify new leadership among their own congregations. A set of story cards which help us share our faith story were given to each congregation to implement at the local level."

Ng, who describes his congregation of about 140 families as a stepping stone for newly arrived immigrants, said he relies heavily on bilingual resources available through the national church.

"They just completed publishing a fully bilingual Chinese Book of Common Prayer that's very helpful for us," he said. The prayer book has also been made available in Korean and Japanese, and prayer books in Vietnamese and Hmong languages are being developed.

Sharing stories

The Rev. Dr. Fran Toy, the first Asian American woman ordained in the Episcopal Church in the United States, said a highlight of the consultation was sharing her own faith story.

"After last year's consultation, people said they wanted tools for leadership, something to take back to grow congregations. So we came up with the theme equipping the saints and we gave them, we hope very tangible tools to take back and try in their local congregations," said Toy, who is retired from parish work and serves as EAM Council President.

"I told them that most of my life has been spent as a layperson," said Toy, also a retired schoolteacher. "Ninety-nine percent of the church is lay people so I talked about growing and resourcing our churches and about human beings as resources."

She recalled surprise while attending church one Sunday 30 years ago when the priest, after concluding his sermon, stepped down from the pulpit and handed each member of the congregation a crisp one-dollar bill.

"He said, 'I want you to use some of your God-given gifts to multiply this dollar,'" she recalled. Toy said she recognizing baking as one of her gifts and purchased a box of angel food cake mix, and a three-ounce bar of Philadelphia cream cheese. She baked a cake with mocha icing and raffled it off for a quarter a ticket. "I was able to multiply that dollar 15 times over," she said. "Another woman's gift was knitting. She took the dollar, bought yarn and raffled off what she made."

Learning to recognize those and other gifts provided the impetus for her to eventually seek ordination, Toy said

Youth, young adults among leaders

EAM also continues to seek ways to support youth and young adults and develop leadership, said the Rev. Richard Helmer, 31, vicar of Christ Church Sei-Ko-Kai in San Francisco, who was appointed chaplain to the youth group, a newly designated position.

"At this point, I'm serving as a pastoral care mentor of the group and working with Kathryn Nishibayashi, who serves on the EAM council and has been representing the young adults along with Brian Pahed," said Helmer.

He added that EAM experienced record-setting attendance among youth as well. "A lot of younger people are stepping into leadership positions across the country and in EAM and that's wonderful to see. More young people are more involved in their ethnic convocations and we spent time in the Diocese of Olympia seeing how the young adult ministries there are taking root.

"It was most evident with Holy Family of Jesus in Tacoma, Washington, a Cambodian community who does shared work with a local evangelical church. They have a youth service once a week on Friday evenings and they do a lot of music and have testimonies and pray together and support each other. They can fill up that church with young people."

For Nishibayashi, 22, a member of St. Mary's Church in Los Angeles, being elected a co-convener of the youth Japanese convocation was a great honor.

"I feel like I've truly begun to carve out my own niche in the EAM community and hopefully I will be able to make some kind of difference," said Nishibayashi.

"It's always nice to reconnect with old friends and also make new friends of all ages," she said. "I returned from EAM energized. I feel a sense of renewal of faith after each consultation."

Helmer agreed. "It's a really an exciting time to be in EAM right now. Fred's leadership has brought a fresh perspective," he said.

"There's a renewed energy to grow our churches and a recognition that Asian American ministry is one of the cutting edges of church growth in the future of this country. I have every reason to expect we'll be on the forefront of new things in the Episcopal Church in years to come."