Variety of Participants Enriches Church Worship Experience

 by Edo Kiyoshi, pastor
Oku-nakayama Church, Iwate, Ou District
I believe that the joy of worship in Oku-nakayama Church comes from experiencing the life that each of us receives from God and also from sharing the gifts that God has given to each of us. So looking at our past and present, I will try to introduce the ways in which we have experienced this reality.
First, let me describe the path by which Oku-nakayama Church has become what it is. Located in a pioneer village, the church is situated at an altitude of 450 meters and at a latitude of 40 degrees north. It is at the base of the Ou Mountain Range, where the snow is deep and the temperature reaches minus 15 degrees centigrade. It is about ten minutes by car from the town’s ski resort and hot springs, which lie in a beautiful natural setting. The area was famous in the Meiji Period as a producer of war horses.
After World War II, in an effort to increase food production and as part of a national emergency development plan, several Japanese colonists returning from Manchuria were employed in the area. The leader, assistant leader, and secretary of the development group were all Christians, and through their efforts, the church was planted. The church first met in a shed belonging to the group leader. At that time, most of the children of the group, because they were needed to work with their parents or because they had no lunch to bring, were not able to attend school.
Saturday School. There was a request that at least the children should learn to sing some Christian hymns, and so with the help of a missionary and the cooperation of Uchimaru Church in Morioka City, a Saturday School was started. At first, the church school met outdoors, with the students seated on tree stumps and logs.
As the Saturday School began to grow, older youth began to attend. Bible study began, and through the use of a record player, music appreciation was taught. The next step was the establishment of a new church. At that point, with pastoral leadership provided by the minister of Uchimaru Church, the new church was founded. Support was provided by offerings from district churches, funds from the Kyodan’s Rural Evangelism Department, and money from North American mission boards, and with the material and moral support generated by events like work camps, the first church building was built.
Canaan Gardens. The next significant development was the creation of Canaan Gardens. In 1974 Christians and other volunteers in Oku-nakayama and several churches worked together to establish Canaan Gardens, a care facility for mentally challenged children. On the occasion of its opening, children and staff gathered to worship, filling the building.
The Present Building. With the vision for a new building, money was collected. Knowing the church’s situation, people gave large amounts, and the present wonderful building was erected. Along with the growth of Canaan Gardens came the establishment of San Ai Gakusha, a high school for students with disabilities and Chisaki Mure no Sato, a facility for adults. This brought many diverse people together and brought new blessing and joy to our worship.
Our Worship Pattern. For more than 15 years, our worship has been evolving in new patterns as we search for ways to adapt to our new situation. As children and adults worship together in a combined service, we had to find ways in which all could participate. Children were invited to lead the opening and to read scripture. Hymns were selected from a variety of sources, such as the children’s songbook, gospel songs, and the old and new hymnals. While singing, we naturally began to clap hands and move our bodies, and some participants would step forward to lead the singing. Staff members of Canaan Gardens transferred their membership, and since they came from various denominations and traditions, elements of their worship were added. The result was a worship experience of depth and breadth. During the worship service, “songs of testimony” began to be offered not only by church members but also by some residents of the care center.
At present, one-third of the members of Oku-nakayama Church are members of Canaan Gardens and have been with us since the founding of Oku-nakayama Gakuen. Worship attendance sometimes exceeds 100 people. I believe that this church has always tried to avoid alienating the least of God’s children and instead has placed them at the center. So we have always proceeded by asking, “What is best for the church?” I personally constantly keep in mind that God is continually inviting the least among us, and so I want to serve them.
From last April, our worship service changed. A person who has great difficulty in reading became our liturgist. Since then, five more people with similar limitations have also led our service, and I have come to believe that this is normal. All of these, without pretension, are serving God just as they are. Their speed is slow, sometimes with long pauses. Sometimes an assistant will pronounce the words first, and the liturgist will then read them to us. We hear the scripture slowly and deliberately. For me, each syllable being uttered is both a testimony and an exposition of the text.
Sometimes the reader cannot imitate the assistant’s pronunciation. The congregation may hear only the attempted sound, but I experience then that God’s word is Spirit. The word is not just mere information. Even in the periods of silence, we feel God’s presence.
The Lord’s Supper. In these ways, our worship has grown fuller. We can feel God working in various ways. Richness can be felt in things like our prayers of intercession and the prayer for the offering. Half of the people who attend the worship service have not been baptized. During the celebration of communion, the pastor places his hand on the heads of participants who do not receive the elements and recites a prayer of blessing. Some of those who do receive the sacrament also ask for a prayer of blessing. Each time we celebrate communion, there are those who ask for the blessing twice.
Last Christmas, a person was baptized who for 40 years had not only been attending the worship services but also prayer meetings and the early morning Bible study. Although baptism had been desired for a long time, the family situation had delayed it until last year. The person had asked me the simple question, “Why am I not permitted to receive the bread?” I had answered many times, but the same question kept coming. Each time I felt that the Lord Jesus was asking the same question. Each time we worship, I feel that I am being asked, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” Through this person’s baptism, the church members and I are being made aware of and taught many things.
Prayer Meeting. Our “Bible and Prayer Meeting” is attended by over 20 people, 70 to 80 percent of whom are residents of or participants at Canaan Gardens. We read one chapter of scripture at a time. Each person reads one verse in turn. Those who are unable to read alone read along with the person next to them. For prayer, the group is divided into smaller groups of three or four persons. Some people repeat the same prayer time after time; others use only the same petition, “Lord, protect me. Amen.” Others pray long prayers, and all of us wait until everyone finishes. Some who are sick, experience healing. Some who have no words pray in silence. Basically, the prayer meeting is a fellowship of the Spirit more than a class for learning.
In Conclusion. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is near.” In this world, we are waiting and hoping for that kingdom. We must walk and pray together so that no one will stumble and be left behind. The church’s worship and the witness of our prayers together are not something extraordinary. They are simply reporting what is happening in our daily life. Accepting our everyday existence, as it is, provides an occasion to give thanks to God, who gives life for each day. Even when we are troubled, this is the path of joy in living for each one of us. (Tr. GM)
–From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)
さまざまな人と共に礼拝することの喜び
奥中山教会とカナンの園の人びとの礼拝
江戸 清 えど きよし/岩手・奥中山教会牧師
 奥中山教会における「喜び」とは、一人一人が神によって生かされた存在であり、また一人一人違う「宝物」が与えられていることを互いに受け止めあうことだと思っています。そのことにより、喜びへと招かれていると感じています。以下、歴史と現在を振り返りながらそのことの実際を紹介したいと思います。
奥中山教会の歩み
1 開拓村
 奥中山教会は、標高四五〇メートル、北緯四五度に位置します。奥羽山脈の内陸部にありますが、雪が深く、マイナス一五度くらいまで気温が下がる所です。車で一〇分ほどの所に町営のスキー場と温泉があり、自然が豊かです。明治期には、軍馬の育成地としても知られていました。
 第二次大戦後、食糧増産を目的として、国策の緊急開拓事業のもと、多くの満州引き揚げ者が入植しました。当時の開拓団長、副団長、事務局長がキリスト者であったこともあり、この地に教会が立てられました。
 教会の歴史は開拓団長宅の掘っ立て小屋から始まります。開拓者の子どもたちは、当初、親の手伝いや、昼食の弁当が用意できないなどという理由から、学校に行けない子どもがほとんどでした。その子どもたちにせめて賛美歌を歌わせてあげたいとの願いから、宣教師や内丸教会(盛岡市)の協力を受けて土曜学校が始まりました。丸太や切り株を椅子にした野外教会学校の始まりです。
2 伝道所開設
 土曜学校が盛んになり、青年も増え、聖書研究などが行われるようになり、また蓄音機によるレコード鑑賞も行われるようになりました。このころ、内丸教会の牧師が兼牧体制を取る形で教会が開設されました。
 教区内の献金、教団の農村伝道部からの援助、アメリカのミッションボードからの寄付、ワークキャンプなどの物心両面の援助により、最初の会堂が建てられました。
3 「カナンの園」と共に
 一九七四年、奥中山にキリスト者を中心とした有志と様々な教会の協力によりカナンの園児童施設「奥中山学園」が開設され、職員、子どもたちが礼拝に集うようになり、会堂が人で埋め尽くされました。
4 今ある会堂
 会堂建築の幻を見ながら、会堂建築献金を始める中で、教会の実情を知った方から多額の献金があり、今日のような立派な会堂が建ちました。またカナンの園の子どもたちの成長と共に「三愛学舎」(高等養護学校)「小さき群の里」(成人施設)が開設され大勢の方々が礼拝に出席するということも恵みでした。
礼拝風景
 一五年ほど前から礼拝の新しいあり方が模索され、子どもも大人も共に礼拝が守られるようになりました。合同礼拝です。礼拝に集う皆が参加できるプログラムが考えられました。
 礼拝の招詞と聖書朗読は子どもたちが担当します。またプログラムの中では、『こどもさんびか』『讃美歌』(54年版)『讃美歌二編』『讃美歌21』『聖歌』『ゴスペル』などを用いています。賛美するときは、自然に手拍子をしたり、体を動かしたりします。自分で指揮をされる方もいます。
 カナンの園の職員の転入などもあり、さまざまな教派の伝統も加わり、礼拝が豊かさと広がりのある形となっています。礼拝の中には「讃美証」があり、教会員だけでなく、ケアホームに暮らしておられる方々も証しをしてくださいます。
 現在教会員の三分の一が奥中山学園開設時代からつながってきたカナンの園のメンバーです。礼拝出席は一〇〇名を越えることもあります。
 教会は常に、小さくされた者が疎外されないように中心に据えてきたと思います。そのために、「何がこの教会にあって良いことか」と問いつつ歩んできました。神さまが、いと小さき者を招いておられることを、いつも念頭に置いて仕えていきたいと私自身も願っています。
 昨年の四月からも少し礼拝が変わりました。字を読むことが困難な方も司会を務めることになったのです。今日までに五名の方が司会をしてくださいましたが、これこそが、日常の姿であると思わされています。
 皆、飾ることなく、そのままの姿で神さまに仕えています。スピードもゆっくりです。時には長い時間がかかります。付き添いの人が、聖書を読み、それを聞いて声に出しての聖書朗読もあります。聖書をじっくり聞くことができます。私はその方の声から発せられる一音一音が証しであり、解釈でもあると思うことがあります。
 中には、付き添いの方の言葉をまねることができない方もいます。聴衆は、ただその音を聞くのみです。しかしその時、私は、神の言葉は「霊」だということを感じます。それはただの「知識」ではありません。沈黙の間も、そこに神の存在を感じるのです。
聖餐式にて
 このようにして教会は礼拝によって豊かにされてきました。礼拝には、神からのさまざまな働きを感じます。礼拝の中での執り成しの祈りも、献金の祈りも、これらのことを通して豊かにされています
 礼拝出席者の半数が、未受洗者です。聖餐式では、聖餐にあずかれない人に対して、牧師が各人の頭に手を置き、祝福の祈りをします。聖餐にあずかれる人でも祝福の祈りを願う方がいます。毎回二回、祝福を受ける方もいます。昨年のクリスマスに洗礼を受けた方は、四〇年近く礼拝に出席している方です。祈祷会も休まずに出席しています。日曜日の朝は早くから、「朝の会」(教会学校にかわるものとして始められた会)に出席しています。受洗を長く希望していましたが、ご家族のご事情により今までかないませんでした。
 その方は私に、「どうしてパンを食べられないの?」と素朴な質問を投げ掛けて来ました。そのことで何度も応答してきましたが、何度も同じ質問をされます。そのたびに、私にイエスさまが同じ問いかけをしていると思うことがあります。イエスさまなら、このような状況の時、どうされるだろうか、いつも礼拝にあたり、問いかけられています。この方の受洗を通して、教会員も私も多くのことに気づかされ、学ばされました。
祈祷会
 「聖書と祈り会」は、二十数名で守っています。出席者の七~八割がカナンの園を利用している方です。聖書を一章ずつ通読しています。一人一節ずつ輪読しています。字が読めない方は、隣に座っている方と一緒に読みます。
 祈りは、三~四人一組に分かれてしています。決まって毎回同じ祈りをする方がいます。また一言「守ってくださってアーメン」と終わる方もいます。長い祈りをする方もいます。みんなの祈りが終わるまで待ちます。また病気で苦しんでいる方への祈りでは、癒しを経験します。言葉にならない沈黙の祈りもあります。祈祷会は、あらためて知識ではなく「霊」の働きだと感じる交わりです。
終わりに
 「神の国は近づいた」 とイエスは言われました。この地上に神の国を待ち望んでいます。だれもが疎外されずに歩めるように、祈りを合わせています。教会での礼拝や祈祷会での証しは、何か特別に行ったことではなく、日常生活で起こった出来事をそのまま話しています。日常のありのままの「存在」を受け止めることは、今日という一日を生かしてくださった神に、感謝する場となっています。一人一人が困難な状況であったとしても、「生かされたという喜び」へとつながっています。  —–

Indonesia Site of First Japanese Christian Family Camp in Asia

The first Japanese Christian Family Camp in Asia was held Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2011 at Inna Putri Bali Hotel in Bali, Indonesia, with 70 participants, 30 of whom were from Japan, including myself. At the same time last year, the first Missionary Work Forum in Asia was held in Hong Kong where, during prayers for preparation of a second forum, the plan for this Family Camp was proposed to the members, which led to its being held.
There was no need for any qualifications for participants, but I was a little surprised that some people there were from the “Non-church Movement (Mu-Kyokai).” The other 40 participants were mainly from Japanese Christian churches outside Japan, such as China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and India. What drew my attention concerning the names of these churches are the letters “JCF,” as in Jakarta JCF and Singapore JCF. These letters stand for Japanese Christian Fellowship. Although called a “fellowship,” they are each formally recognized churches in their respective countries in Asia. Interestingly, no approval of the use of the term “JCF” is required from any denomination or group. Each JCF regards itself as an independent ecumenical church. The Kyodan has currently dispatched a missionary, Matsumoto Akihiro, to the Jakarta JCF in Indonesia. The plan and management of this Family Camp could not have been carried out without the selfless efforts of Matsumoto and the members of the Jakarta JCF.
Bali is famous as a tourist resort. The hotel was filled with tourists, and there was a beautiful beach 50 meters away. When I saw the program of the Family Camp, I realized that I had to discard my image of “camping.” With the exception of meal times, we were in some sort of conference from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. For the first time in a long time, the term “working bee” came across my mind. The conference was rich in variety, with reports and discussions.
One of the most memorable things for me was a power point presentation on what was called the “Rembrandt Concert.” I heard that it was originally planned with the collaboration of a travel agency. The presentation is a practical model of missionary work intended for Japanese non-Christians, who are 99 percent of all Japanese, and provides an opportunity to come in contact with Rembrandt’s faith naturally by visiting the actual places depicted in his paintings and listening to a commentary on what is being portrayed. There was a report at the end of the Camp that a young Chinese woman from the church in Shanghai had decided to be baptized. Considering that the only non-Christian participant was led to baptism, I believe that the significance of this camp was enormous.
Needless to say, missionaries have strong relationships with the church that sent them. So far, however, Japanese Christian Churches in Asia have had a weak relationship with other Japanese churches or JCFs in other countries, even if the church itself uses “JCF” in its name. Perhaps due to the geographical situation, I think I was given the vision of the scattered Japanese Christian churches in each country teaming up to cast a net of our Lord Jesus’ salvation in Asia. This is because missionaries who have been given such visions are already at work. (Tr. SM)
–Kato Makoto, executive secretary