Reflections on the Kyodan

Reflections on the Kyodan
by Sasaki Michio, vice-moderator
Kyodan General Assembly
I have been serving as the Kyodan vice-moderator since being elected to
the post at the 36th Kyodan General Assembly in the fall of 2008. There
is so much for me to learn as I participate in the various committee
meetings, such as the Kyodan Executive Council, and in ecumenical
relations with our partner churches overseas, and as I strive to
understand the structural workings of the Kyodan. As one of the top
executives of the Kyodan, I am aware of the heavy responsibilities that
are before me. Daily I pray for the more than 1,700 Kyodan churches and
house churches around the country, for their daily witness and ministries.

This year marks 150 years of Protestant mission in Japan, and there are
many commemorative ceremonies and evangelistic programs being held in
the various Protestant denominations as well as ecumenically. It is
important to remember with gratitude the commitment of missionaries in
the past, who worked tirelessly to spread the gospel of Christ and to
serve the people across Japan. The missionaries walked every corner of
Japan, carrying the message of Christ with them. Along the paths that
they tread grew churches, schools, and social welfare organizations that
still stand to this day. We, as the Kyodan, need to receive these
blessings of the past and to continue to serve with joy and
thanksgiving. At this time, Kyodan churches around the country are faced
with the issue of evangelism. As you may already know, many of our
congregations are aging, and the number of young people in our churches
is decreasing.

We might say that these trends are indicative of Japanese society as a
whole, but they are especially noticeable in the Kyodan. If the
generation that has supported the church in so many ways throughout the
years is aging, and the next generation is not able to follow in turn to
carry on the church, then we can assume that the witness of the
churches, the ministries of service to society, and the financial
feasibility of the church itself will be put in question in the years to
come. In particular, for the churches that witness in areas with a
declining population and that carry the gospel to a wide variety of
communities in the rural countryside, there is a real question of the
church’s survival. At the various district annual meetings this spring,
as delegates discussed district activities and budgets, people did
express their concerns on this matter.

The Kyodan’s Finance Committee produced a report last year entitled
“Data on the Kyodan over the Past 50 Years.” The report, with hard
figures that reveal the state of our churches, was circulated at
district annual meetings across the country. The committee also made
suggestions for the future of the church. There may be various opinions
regarding this report, but it is clear that our churches have been
experiencing the hard realities that this report confirms. The report
brings to the fore major issues that we must face. We must find the
strength and resolve to overcome these obstacles as we join in evangelism.

I have been pastoring a relatively small church for the past 30 years. I
have been very aware and grateful for the ways in which the missionaries
have, over the past 100 years, nurtured and given form to each of our
churches in the area. In certain instances, I have trembled anew at the
words of the risen Christ to “go therefore to the ends of the earth to
make disciples of all nations.” These are places that missionaries and
our predecessors in the faith came to over 100 years ago under
conditions much more difficult than our own. In these places they tried
to evangelize. These are the places in which God called them to build a
church. All over Japan there are such places where our churches now
stand. Many of our churches are still small, and yet it is in these
places that the gospel is preached, and the churches are able to make
their witness. These churches represent the hard work and the prayers of
so many people throughout the years who fought to protect and support
the church.

These, our churches, are now facing a major crisis. In order to hope for
a future in Christ, we need to pray and continue our efforts in
evangelism. We are called to pray together and to evangelize together as
one body. As members of the apostolic church who are called to hold firm
to “what we have heard from the beginning,” we must be resolved to stand
firmly in the faith. We can only proceed by finding common ground in our
understanding of ordained ministry. The Kyodan can only support each
individual church if we are able to find unity in faith and trust
between our churches.

As vice-moderator, I am humbled by the major issues that stand before
us. But I am also aware that the power to overcome these obstacles comes
from the Spirit, and from the Word, which is the foundation of our church.

I am very grateful both for the witness of our partners across the seas
as well as for all of you who continue to pray for the Kyodan. (Tr. JM)

Commemorating 150 Years of Protestant Evangelism in Japan

Commemorating 150 Years of Protestant Evangelism in Japan
The worship service commemorating the day of the Kyodan’s founding, held
on June 24 at Fujimicho Church in Tokyo, also celebrated 150 years of
Protestant evangelism in Japan. This was the Kyodan’s 68th commemorative
worship service, which 320 persons from 133 churches attended, giving
thanks for the planting of the seeds of Protestant evangelism and for
the mercy of God, the guiding force of history. The sermon, entitled
“Make Disciples of All Nations,” was delivered by Yamakita Nobuhisa,
moderator of the Kyodan’s General Assembly. Joining in the Confession of
Faith and taking part in the communion service was truly meaningful. A
ceremony for presentation of awards followed the worship. This was
carried out to express gratitude for the work of pastors who have
continued active ministry in church evangelism for over 50 years. There
are 61 such pastors. To these ministers Moderator Yamakita presented
handwritten letters of appreciation and Bibles, in commemoration. The
longest time of continued ministry was 66 years.

Those who entered Japan as Protestant missionaries in 1859, when the
ports of Yokohama, Hakodate, and Nagasaki were simultaneously opened,
were John Liggins, C.M.Williams, G. Verbeck, J. C. Hepburn, Samuel R.
Brown, and D. R. Simmons. This was during the final years of the Edo
(Tokyo) Shogunate government, a time of upheaval in Japan. The
missionaries came to Japan to bring the Gospel, but public notices
outlawing Christianity were posted throughout the nation. Consequently,
the missionaries applied their energy to Bible translation and to
editing and publishing Japanese-English dictionaries. The public notices
forbidding Christianity were removed in 1873. This enabled the
missionaries to begin full-scale evangelism. As Japan opened its ports,
the number of young people wanting to engage in Western studies steadily
increased. Reportedly, nine of the young people who gathered around J.
H. Ballagh in 1872 were baptized, thus laying the foundation for the
first Protestant church in Japan. The missionaries, while proclaiming
Christianity, also enthusiastically taught Western studies, social work,
education, and medical treatment. They advanced these retarded areas of
Japanese culture and built the foundation for a new Japan.

The theme of this year’s events is the Protestant evangelism that began
150 years ago in 1859; but on April 30, 1846, (13 years earlier),
Bernard John Bettelheim, sent from England as a missionary by the
Anglican Church, arrived in Okinawa. Bettelheim landed with his family
in the Ryukyus (now Okinawa) and for eight years, in spite of
persecution, diligently devoted himself to evangelism, medical care, and
translation of the Bible into the Ryukyu language. He is believed to
have left Okinawa, gaining passage on a ship in Perry’s fleet, which was
pressing Japan to open its ports. So it might be said that Bettelheim is
the one who first engaged in Protestant evangelism in Japan. Thus, when
we commemorate 150 years of evangelization in Japan, dating it from
1859, we must remember Bettelheim’s lasting pioneer labor. Also to be
noted, as we celebrate these 150 years, is their relationship to earlier
celebrations commemorating 50 years and 100 years of evangelism,
counting from the same year. However, the earliest introduction of
Christianity into Japan goes even farther back to 1549, when Francisco
Xavier came to Japan as a missionary of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus,
Christianity has been propagated in Japan for 460 years.

As the year 2009 approached, several of the Protestant churches in Japan
decided to sponsor jointly a mass meeting commemorating 150 years of
Protestant mission in Japan. One event planned early was the
commemoration dinner held on July 7, when 915 persons gathered and
rejoiced while eating together. Representatives from the U.S. Episcopal
Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Reformed Church in America
presented greetings. The archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in
Tokyo also brought greetings.

A commemorative assembly was held on the following days, July 8 and 9,
at the Pacifico Yokohama National Hall. Under the theme “One in Christ
(as the Lord’s witnesses),” the various Japanese Protestant
denominations came together as one to give thanks and celebrate the past
150 years. The attendance at the opening worship service on July 8 was
4,500; at the memorial ceremony on July 9: 3,700; and at the “sending
out for witness” worship service: 4,000.

This fall, the Kyodan will hold a lay persons’ mass meeting on Nov. 22
and on Nov. 23, a ceremony commemorating these 150 years of evangelism.
We offer heartfelt thanks to God who has guided our history leading to
these 150-year commemorative celebrations. (Tr. RB)

–Suzuki Nobuharu, secretary
Kyodan General Assembly

Executive Council Establishes an Executive Committee

Executive Council Establishes an Executive Committee
The second Executive Council meeting of the 36th General Assembly
biennial period took place at the Kyodan headquarters on July 6 and 7.
The Executive Council consists of 27 delegates elected at the General
Assembly, including the san’yaku (the three top officials: namely, the
moderator, vice-moderator, and secretary of the General Assembly). Prior
to beginning with the regular proceedings, the changes in council
membership were announced. One of the members had suffered a
subarachnoid hemorrhage and thus was unable to continue, so his
resignation was received. Kishita Nobuyo, the next in line in the
General Assembly voting, was installed as the replacement, necessitating
his resignation as chairperson of the Commission on Ecumenical
Ministries although he will continue as a member of the committee.

The first item on the agenda concerned observers. Pastor Sugasawa
Kuniaki’s request for permission to be an observer at the meeting was
discussed but denied, based on his previous actions. Specifically, he
was accused of showing disrespect for the communion service at the
General Assembly by his actions in the distribution of the elements.

As it had been over six months since the previous meeting of the
Executive Council in December 2008, many issues were raised about items
in the reports of the General Assembly secretary and the Kyodan general
secretary. Questions were raised particularly about the report on the
“Kyodan Subsidies for District Activities,” the “Designated Observer
Report,” and the “Report on the Admonition of Pastor Kitamura Jiro,” but
in the end, all of the reports were approved. (See KNL issues 347 and 349.)

Regarding the appointment of executive secretaries, the present
structure provides for two full-time executive secretaries (General
Affairs and Financial Affairs, both being appointed for four-year terms)
and four part-time executive secretaries, with terms of one year each.
The four part-time executive secretaries are recommended by the general
secretary each year for approval by the Executive Council.

This year, it was decided to approve the part-time executive secretaries
one at a time instead of the usual way of ratifying their selection as a
block. As a result, one of the nominees was rejected, and when this was
announced, the executive secretary said that he could not accept this
decision. He immediately submitted his resignation and left the meeting.
Needless to say, this brought on a crisis, and so it was left up to the
san’yaku (the moderator, vice-moderator and secretary of the General
Assembly) and the general secretary to work things out.

On the second day of the session, the discussion shifted to that of
establishing the Executive Committee, which up to that point had not
been duly constituted as stipulated in Article 37 of the bylaws. As the
Executive Council had not been able to meet for over six months,
important issues had to be delegated to the executive secretaries. In
order to avoid such an undesirable situation, seven members of the
Executive Council were chosen to serve in this capacity. Their first
meeting was scheduled for August 31.

The other main topic addressed was that of the examination for the
status of director of Christian education. At the most recent qualifying
examination for directors of Christian education, there was only one
applicant, and that person did not pass. With respect to this situation,
the issues of what constitutes a qualifying examination and how someone
who has failed should be treated were raised and debated. However, the
proposal to discuss the actual content of the qualifying exam was
rejected, and with that, the session ended. (Tr. TB)

– Ishimaru Yasuki, executive secretary
Based on article in Shinpo (Kyodan Times)

The General Secretary's Diary:Dedication of the Togi Mission Church's New Building

On the 17th of March, 2009, I attended the dedication service of the Togi Mission Church–one of the churches whose buildings were destroyed by the Noto Peninsula earthquake. This mission church is an outlying mission point of the Hakui Church and is a place of unforgettable memories for me.

For 20 years I was the former pastor of a church in Kanazawa, Hokuriku area’s major city. During that time, I was closely related to the churches scattered along Noto Peninsula, which lies in that same area; and took part enthusiastically in their evangelistic activities. The building used by Togi mission at that time was an ordinary Japanese house, and the members of the small congregation sat on zabuton (cushions) on the tatami (straw mat) floor during the worship services.

This was just after World War II had ended; and Togi, which became the location of the mission, was a seacoast town rich with the beauty of nature. The gospel was preached there, and the small church was founded. But recently, the condition of the town has deteriorated; the church members are aging; and in addition, the population of the town is rapidly decreasing. Just as concern about the future was deepening, the Noto Peninsula Earthquake struck, and the old building was so greatly damaged that there was no alternative but to demolish it. Rebuilding seemed to be impossible.

However, the Kyodan immediately set up a special committee, the Committee on Aid for Reconstruction of Churches Damaged in the Noto Peninsula Earthquake, and appealed to all the Kyodan churches nationwide to send donations to an emergency aid fund, setting a goal of 150 million yen (about US$1,500,000). The response was wonderful. Contributions were received at a rate that exceeded all expectations, and it became clear that achievement of the goal was assured. By means of these offerings, prayerfully given, Togi Church’s new sanctuary was built, and a completely new era of mission work has begun.

As I attended the dedication ceremony, two scripture verses came to mind. One is Ecclesiastes 3:11: God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” (RSV) The other verse is Isaiah 43: 19: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

God lives. God rewarded the labor of those who went before, and who so long and persistently bore the burden of evangelism in difficult circumstances, and gave them a lovely new sanctuary as a gift. Already some of the town’s people have asked to hold their weddings ceremonies in the new sanctuary. I earnestly hope that with prayer and with thankful hearts, the church will continue and expand evangelism in this area. (Tr. RB)
–Naito Tomeyuki
Kyodan General Secretary

The Work of the Green House Youth Center in Yokohama

by Nathan and Nozomi Brownell, missionaries
Yokohama, Kanagawa District
True to the meaning of its name, we purpose the “Green House” to be a safe place for youth to be nurtured and to grow. No matter how inhospitable the climate outside, a greenhouse is a place to set the atmosphere and environment for vegetation to grow and blossom or produce fruit. Those who observe modern Japanese culture and society note a certain unfortunate hardening of the hearts among a surprising number of youth. In too many cases, this can lead to crime or even suicide. We purpose the Green House to be a place for youth to experience a sense of wholeness and life through Christ. The facility actually is a green house, but we vision it to be an actual greenhouse for the hearts of the youth.

The “Green House” is the former home of Yokohama Union Church. Several years ago, the Reformed Church in America helped support the building of the new church building next door. The RCA then designated this facility to become a Christian youth center. At that time, a missionary of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Christian Zebley, in cooperation with the short-term missionary English teachers who were serving in the area’s Christian schools, began gathering junior and senior high school students to participate in an after-school program. The program was centered on fellowship, with Bible reading and testimony time. After Zebley’s return to the United States in 2007, we (Nathan and Naomi Brownell) were sent by the Reformed Church in America to lead the Green House efforts. We come with the experience of an eight-year pastorate at the Japanese American United Church in Manhattan, New York.

As a youth center, we are planning and actually reaching out to a range of persons, all the way from infants to young parents. In the wider sense, we are also planning to support those who are serving the next generation.

Children and Worship program
In recent years, the C&W program, which began in North America, has successfully been spreading across many denominations and even around the world. We have established a C&W center at the Green House, with all the materials and wooden figures necessary to hold and offer the program. The C&W program, which was originally inspired by the Montessori method and interpreted into the Protestant way of worship, offers a chance for children to experience God in worship rather than teaching them about God. The Bible stories are told with materials, such as three-dimensional wooden figures, following the church calendar and lectionary. In this way, the children can also experience and journey with us through the Bible stories.

Presently, once a week, we hold chapel time for the children of the neighboring Yokohama Union Church preschool. We also hold seminars and training sessions, introducing Christian kindergarten, elementary, and Sunday school teachers to this valuable program. We are pleased to announce that the Japanese version of the “Young Children in Worship” textbook is being translated and will be available soon. We hope this will help share this precious worship experience with more and more children. Having completed her degree in Religious Education and having been certified as a Children and Worship trainer in the United States, Nozomi now comes eager to help the team, which has already been hard at work here in Japan, to share this program with the churches. We are also planning to help support a drama and puppetry ministry in the future.

English fellowship for junior, senior high school students
We have been working to provide consistency and continuity for the junior and senior high school students’ after-school program. Approximately eight short-term missionaries, who are serving as English teachers in area schools, pray and whole-heartedly serve the students. Depending on the season, the gathering can reach several dozen students. The program begins with refreshments, games or interesting activities, followed by singing hymns or praise songs and listening to a Bible message or a testimony by one of the foreign teachers. Sometimes we have a brief time to pray for a student’s request. We have seen tears well up in the eyes of some students as we pray for their heartfelt concerns. To say it another way, we seek to help water the seeds that have been planted during the students’ life at the Christian schools.

Returnees’ fellowship
We want to respond to the heartfelt needs of those returning to Japan from overseas. Unfortunately, it is said that as many as 80 percent of those who come to Christian faith during their time as international students, or living abroad, do not connect with the churches here upon their return. While there are several reasons for this phenomenon, we believe that by gathering these individuals and providing a place and time for each to share his or her Christian experience, we can encourage one another to find a church home here in Japan. We believe that this will not only benefit the returnees but also the Japanese church.

Coffee Hour: young parents’ program
Two days a week, from morning to early afternoon, we are opening the Green House. This program is primarily for parents of children attending the preschool of Yokohama Union Church. (Others are welcome). We want to respond to the heartfelt needs of these young parents. One such practical need is for a safe place for parents and other small children during the Pre-K (pre-kindergarten) time. We offer cooking, crafts, and intercultural activities. We also recognize that many of the parents need support. Two times a month we plan special activities, with a firm Christian foundation, which are focused on nurturing these couples and families.

The purpose of the Green House is to support the youth outreach of the Kyodan. We are all aware of demographics and the aging of Japan and of the churches. We are keen to help the churches welcome the youth and to pass on this precious inheritance of our faith to the next generation. We want to become a window through which youth can glimpse the church or, better yet, become a bridge over which they can eventually walk into the Christian life in a local congregation. This is our sincere hope for the Green House.