【June 2015 No.383】The Resurrection of a Dying Church

by Shibata Fujito, pastor

Narashino Church, Chiba Prefecture, Tokyo District

 

Narashino Church had its beginning as Hirai Church in Tokyo’s Edogawa District. The building was destroyed during World War II, and the name of the church was changed with the move to Narashino in 1947.

 

Before WWII my parents were pastoring Iida Chiku Machi Church in Nagano Prefecture, where I was born. Afterwards my parents moved to Yokohama; they had just moved to Hirai to start a church the year the war began. During the Tokyo air raids on March 10, 1945, Hirai Church was completely destroyed, and with almost nothing but the clothes we were wearing, we moved to our current location in Chiba. That was April 8, 1945.

 

Narashino Church is about a 20-minute walk from Mimomi Station on the Keisei (railroad) Line. The entire area is now residential, but when we moved here, we were surrounded by pine trees. It was a quiet area where squirrels, rabbits, and weasels ran about freely, and egrets even nested in the trees.

 

Of course, there was no electricity, gas, or water service. For water we would go to the rice fields below us and bring water back in buckets balanced on a pole across our shoulders. At night we would use kerosene lamps for light. What we called our house was really a one-room shed that had been repaired. For our roof we used pine branches, and my father built a kitchen.

 

Temporarily, my father made a living by cutting down pine trees and selling stove wood. After cutting down the trees, that area was cleared and cultivated for growing sweet potatoes and upland rice for our food. In due time, my father was able to buy a dairy cow from a farmer in Narita, taking an entire night to walk it home. The milk was to provide protein for the children, but before long, mothers in the neighborhood were coming to buy milk. We added cows one at a time and eventually had a farm with over 50 cows.

 

After Hirai Church was destroyed, my father quickly registered the move and the name change with the Kyodan, and with Kyodan approval, Narashino Church was born in 1947. Having said that, the reality was that worship was held in the pastor’s home, and our family was the worshipping congregation. Christianity enjoyed a “boom” for a short time following the war, and during that time young people would come to worship occasionally, but we were really a church without a congregation.

 

The turning point came in 1980, the year my mother died. My uncle, Pastor Kimura Hachiro, began coming periodically and started the “Joseph Meeting,” which met once a month in our home. My father died two years later, and his dying wish was that Narashino Church would continue. Even though there was practically no church activity, I am sure that my father never lost hope in the resurgence of our church because he continued to pay church apportionments.

 

The opportunity for this hope to be realized came in 1988, when the prayer request of Narashino Church appeared in the May issue of “Shinto no Tomo” (The Believers’ Friend). It stated that the church was without a pastor and that the people hoped to be able to reestablish their church. We received mail from readers across the country, responding to our prayer request. With the encouragement of this response, the laity began anew to pray together for the resurgence of our church.

 

Fortunately, Chiba District Moderator Ando Hajime became the pastor of our church, while continuing his other responsibilities. As a result, our church not only had a name, we had become active again. Following Pastor Ando, we were able to continue weekly worship through the cooperation of pastors Katagiri Chiyo, Machida Hisako, and Machida Shizuo.

 

Soon we began preparations to call a full-time pastor. Although there were only four or five lay members, we built a new church by raising ¥10,000,000 ($100,000) through fundraising, the sale of church bonds, and our offering. Again in 1999, we built a parsonage with about the same amount of money. We did all this without borrowing anything from the bank. The lay members who know of the situation at the time continue to talk about it. “I thought it was a miracle that we could do something like that.” “There were so few of us that we could do nothing. Entrusting everything to God was all we could do.” However, we were still not able to call a full-time pastor. Through God’s guidance, I entered Tokyo Theological Seminary, was called to be the pastor here when I graduated in 1999, and have continued since then.

 

Our membership has grown from the 4 or 5 members at that time to 46 today. We were also able to establish a cemetery and get our legal status as a “religious juridical person.” We continue our ministry now with a strong awareness of our need to entrust everything to God in the midst of our weakness. “God will protect our church,” is a common expression of our congregation. As we continue to pass through troubling times, we welcome the encouragement from churches across the country, and feel nothing but thanksgiving for their help in bringing resurrection to our church. The Shintsudanuma Church and other neighboring churches have continued to be of help to us. “God has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a). (Tr. JS)

—From Shinto no Tomo (The Believers’ Friend), April 2015

 

消えかけた教会の灯がよみがえった    柴田福嗣人しばた ふじと/千葉・習志野教会牧師

 

戦災で現在地に移転

習志野教会の前身は東京都江戸川区にあった平井教会です。戦争によって被災し、戦後の47年に習志野に移転して名前を改めました。

私の両親は戦前に長野県の飯田知久町教会で牧師をしており、私はそこで生まれました。両親はその後横浜 に移り、ちょうど太平洋戦争が始まった年に平井に移って開拓を始めました。しかし平井教会は45年3月10日の東京大空襲で全焼 し、私たちはほとんど着の身着のままで千葉の現在地にやって来ました。同年4月8日のことです。

習志野教会は京成線の実籾駅から徒歩で20分ほどのところにあります。一帯は住宅街になっていますが、移転当時は一面松林に囲ま れ、リスや野うさぎ、いたちが飛び跳ね、白鷺が群れをなして木にとまっているようなのどかな場所でした。

もちろん電気もガスも水道もありません。水は下の田んぼの揚水機からバケツに入れて天秤棒でぶら下げて 運び、夜は石油ランプで明かりをとる生活です。家といっても、人から物置小屋をもらって建て直した一部屋だけのもので、松の枝で屋根 を葺き、台所は父が建てました。

当座は松林の木を切って薪にして近所の人に売って生計を立てていましたが、木を切った後は開墾して畑に し、陸稲やサツマイモを植えて食糧としていました。やがて父は成田の農家から乳牛を一頭買い入れ、一晩中歩かせて連れて来ました。子 どもたちにタンパク質を与えるためでしたが、近所のお母さんたちが牛乳を買いに来るようになり、1頭、また1頭と増やしてとうとう50頭ほどの牧場になりました。

教会のほうはというと、平井教会が戦災にあうと父はすぐに教団に移転と名称変更の届けを出し、47年には第2種教会として認可されました。習志野教会の誕生です。とはいえ、実質は牧師 の自宅で牧師一家のみで礼拝を守っていたのです。戦後の一時期キリスト教ブームが起こって村の若者が話を聞きに来たこともありました が、実態は休止状態でした。

 

ただ神さまに委ねて

転機となったのは母が亡くなった80年です。叔父木村八郎牧師が定期的に訪れるようになり、近所に住む信徒を集めて月1回 の「ヨセフ会」という家庭集会をわが家で始めました。また父は翌々年に亡くなりましたが、教会の名前は消さないようにとの遺言があり ました。教会としての活動はなくても負担金を教団に払い続けていた父の思いの中には、いつか教会を再建するとの願いがあったのではな いかと思います。

こうした願いが実現するきっかけになったのが、88年に『信徒の友』の「日毎の糧」に掲載された祈祷課題です。それを読んだ全国の読者か らたくさんの便りが届きました。その便りに励まされて、集っていた何人かの信徒と一緒に教会再建の祈りを始めたのです。

幸い、当時千葉支区長だった安藤肇牧師が兼牧してくださることになり、名実共に習志野教会の活動が再開 されました。その後も片桐千代牧師、町田久子牧師、町田静夫牧師らの協力を得て、とにかく毎週礼拝を守ることができるようになりまし た.

やがて専任の牧師を迎えようということになり、わずか4、5人の信徒でしたが、募金と献金、教会債で1 千万円を集めて会堂を建築しました。また99年にもほぼ同額で牧師館を建てました。銀行からの借り入れはありませんでした。「奇跡 のように思いましたね。そんなことができるんだ、と」「信徒数人で何もできない私たちでしたから、神さまに委ねるしかありませんでし た」と当時を知る信徒は語っています。しかし結局牧師の招聘は実現せずに私が主の導きによって東京神学大学に入り、99年に卒業と同時に招聘されて現在に至ります。

4、5人だった会員は46人となりました。教会墓所も与えられ、宗教法人格も取得できました。何もできないから ただ祈って神さまに委ね続けて今日に至ります。「神さまがこの教会を守ってくださる」が皆の口癖でしたが、さまざまな苦難の道を通り ながら、全国の教会の励ましを受け、教会として復活させていただけたことはただ感謝です。新津田沼教会をはじめ、近隣の教会にも助け られました。

「神のなされることは皆その時にかなって美しい」(口語訳、伝道の書3・11)(信徒の友 4月号 より)