New Telephone System Enables Worship Participation from Home

Today in many churches, aging of the membership has become a matter of concern. Especially noticeable is the absence of church members who cannot attend worship services due to age or sickness. Various ways are being attempted to provide care for members who earnestly desire to attend but cannot.

Until recently, the simplest means of providing access to sermons and church information has been the use of printed matter and recording tapes. But these methods have not enabled everyone to worship at the same time. The least expensive way to enable simultaneous participation in the Sunday worship service is use of the Internet; but adoption of its use for the elderly is difficult because many older adults are not accustomed to computers and bedridden persons are unable to sit in front of the apparatus. A simpler method that enables participation in worship and is adaptable by older people is use of a telephone circuit, and several churches have adopted this.

Takacom Corporation’s “service-phone” (a multiple-circuit voice-receiving device) provides multiple receive-only circuits. The basic monthly cost of 2,700 yen (under $30) is less than that of usual telephone circuits. Because it is designed only for reception, there is no call fee for the church to pay. Having decided that the system’s ability to receive several calls at once is advantageous for ministry, a number of churches have adopted this system.

Nakashibuya Church introduced the system in 1993, starting with five circuits. Feeling that some provision should be made for elderly persons who were unable to come to church, it was decided to install adequate speakers and amplifier equipment and to introduce the service-phone. The original cost, including microphone and amplifiers, was 660,000 yen (about $6,400). In 2006, due to an increase in the number of users, the order was changed from five to nine circuits. When an application is received from someone for whom coming to church has become difficult, the pastor gives the applicant the telephone number. The person in his or her own home can take part in the worship services being held in the church sanctuary. It is reported that offerings from the users are adequate for covering the telephone fees.

In prayer times during the worship service, these participants are remembered through the use of such expressions as “for those coming to worship by telephone.” Also during the worship service, a committee member checks a counter so that the number of persons taking part by telephone that day can be included in the attendance report. Thus, a ministry not just for those who gather in the sanctuary was born. Pastor Oikawa Shin says, “When I came to Nakashibuya Church, it was so good to have this equipment. Really, it would be good for any church to have. It would be good even now to get it. It would greatly strengthen a church.”

Chitose Funabashi Church introduced the system in 1996, beginning with three circuits. At one time, the number of users decreased, and the order was reduced to one circuit; but now there are two as there are always one or two pregnant women or elderly persons to use them. In order to improve the sound absorption, the number of microphones was increased and special ones installed for the worship leader, the preacher, and the organist. It is possible to listen by telephone not only to the weekly worship services but also to special Christmas music worship and organ concerts.

The worshipers too appreciate these opportunities as “times of blessing.” Above all, the ability for everyone to take part in worship at the same time has become a major element of the church’s fellowship. Many of the telephone users say simply, “Changing to the system for joining in worship was most suitable for ‘me as I was at that time.’” A woman who died recently had switched from usual worship attendance to worship via the telephone and is an example of one person who was able to take part in worship even after becoming bedridden.

Other problems remain, such as the difficulty of churches with limited financial resources being unable to meet the initial cost and being unable to use the service-phone in places like hospitals. However, it is true that with this system, there are people who can be blessed by joining with others in worship. (Tr. RB)

Tsuji Junko, pastor of Shitaya Church
East Subdistrict, Tokyo District

Reflection on Our Years in Japan

by Carol Hastings, missionary
Presbyterian Church (USA)

A raw egg ready to be cracked into a small bowl to accompany the sukiyaki; a beautiful and exotic name: Shizuka; a Japanese stone lantern to enhance the small church garden; miso soup with no spoon; green tea-flavored ice cream; a tube of wasabi, platters of soy sauce, freshly caught and prepared fish, and a cooperative party to share the feast. My first impressions of Japan, perhaps? Yes, but all before ever arriving in Japan. It seems that Japan had been working its way into my life since I was a young girl in Yonkers, New York where two Japanese families were involved in my parents’ church.

The last memory listed above, the sashimi feast, took place in Western Samoa in 1978. My husband Tom and I, newlyweds, were spending the year there with the Peace Corps. Sharing similar values and goals, we naturally bonded with the group of young Japanese JOCV volunteers also working in Samoa. This was where we tasted our first sashimi, probably the freshest that we have ever had. Our new friends urged us to visit Japan. We too were intrigued, and also impressed with the trusting, family-like relationships between the Japanese volunteers, so after returning to the U.S., we applied for jobs and fortuitously ended up as English teachers at the Yamanashi YMCA, led by a wonderful and deeply committed Christian couple, Eiji and Sachiko Osawa. Their truly international outlook created an unusually open and accepting environment in the small, countryside city of Kofu. We were truly blessed to be hired and nurtured by them.

Our two years in Kofu held surprising new changes for us. Our first daughter Rose was born there, where her blue eyes and pink skin created quite a sensation. Tom and I also experienced a kind of rebirth in the Christian faith of our childhoods. After the tumultuous years of the 1960s and 70s, when we were both questioning everything we had been taught, we had strayed away from the church and had been looking for a spiritual home-even trying out Zen Buddhism. It never ceases to amaze us that God chose to draw us back to Him during our time in Kofu, Japan. In gratitude, we pledged to return to Japan after receiving more theological training in the U.S.

Our return to Japan in 1987 brought us to another beautiful city, Kanazawa, where Tom was hired to teach English and Bible at Hokuriku Gakuin. We first heard about this school in Wheaton, Illinois where we met the nephew of Virginia Deter, a PCUSA missionary, during a church fire drill, of all places. While standing around outside the church, he told us all about his dear aunt who had devoted her life to Japan at Hokuriku Gakuin. He said that she was always on the lookout for new English teachers and recommended that we contact her, which we did. We were fortunate to work together with her in Kanazawa for four-and-a-half years and also pleased to be officially appointed as missionaries by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1988.

Our family had expanded by then and included our son Paul and second daughter, Sarah. I became immersed in the worlds of yochien and elementary school. It was quite a bewildering experience to find the required yochien bags and school supplies. Every item had to be ‘just so.’ After the variety and freedom we had experienced in the U.S., this was quite a job. Thankfully, our children’s new schoolteachers at Wakakusa Kyokai Kindergarten and Hokuriku Gakuin Elementary School, really helped us out. I studied Japanese, taught in our church school, taught our children English reading and writing at home and helped them with their Japanese homework, and was involved in many community groups. Those were busy but happy years. As Kanazawa was rather isolated from the foreign community, our children especially looked forward to the annual Presbyterian missionaries’ retreat held at Amagi Sanso. In those days, this retreat involved nearly 100 people. Nowadays, with the decrease of PCUSA missionaries sent to Japan, there are only ten full-time PCUSA mission workers.

After a home assignment in Princeton, New Jersey, we returned to Kobe so that our children could attend an international school, Canadian Academy. Tom taught Christian Education at Seiwa College, and I had many private piano students at school and volunteered in various capacities at Kobe Union Church. Our third daughter, Katie, was born in Kobe, making our family complete. Soon after settling in Kobe, Tom was surprised to receive a call to join the faculty of Tokyo Union Theological Seminary. After much prayer, we decided to accept the invitation. Our older children were rather upset to be moving again so soon, but the devastating earthquake in 1995, which ruined our house, actually hastened our departure. Our children were shocked and distraught, as were my parents who pleaded with us to spend a few months with them in Cape May, New Jersey before our planned move to Tokyo. Seven months later, on a very hot August day, we arrived in Tokyo. We sure were grateful for the air conditioners in the guesthouse on the seminary campus. Tom launched into his work at the seminary where he was thrilled to help prepare students for ministry in the church throughout Japan. I was also very happy to teach English to the seminary students over the past year.

Now, after 13 years in Tokyo, we are sorry to be saying good-bye. I had just begun working on the staff of this Kyodan Newsletter when we rather suddenly realized that God was calling us againA|this time back to the United States. My widowed mother needs us near her, and so we must go. But, we believe that our own country needs help, too. The churches are losing members there, just as they are here. Young people are not interested. The war in Iraq has not only drained our country’s resources and Iraq’s, but has worsened the conflict between religions and cultures. There will be plenty of opportunities for ministry and learning.

Nevertheless, Japan has become a second home for our family. Our oldest daughter will stay in Tokyo to work at her new job. Our son is involved with Japan through his work in New York at the Japan ICU Foundation. Our second daughter spent this past year working at the American School in Japan. Our youngest daughter, still in school, is already wondering when we can come back to visit. As soon as possible, we tell her.

Career Missionaries Retire

Robert (Bob) and Hazel Terhune, United Methodist missionaries, have completed 40 years of service and in March 2008 returned to the United States. Both had received the Lord’s call to mission service while they were young: Hazel at age 9 and Bob at age 14. In God’s mysterious plan they met and were married while studying at the same seminary, then joined their paths in preparation for pastoral and Christian educational ministries.

In 1968 they responded to the United Methodist Church’s call for missionaries, and they were sent to Japan. After one-and-a-half years of language study, their first assignment was to Tottori Prefecture, where they worked hard doing evangelism for 14 years. At first they struggled with the language and with various local challenges, such as shoveling snow and cleaning ditches. Through their struggles, they met many people with whom they connected and made deep, abiding relationships. Later Bob even served as pastor of Aoya Church. They now recollect, “We became who we are through those 14 years in Tottori, which gave us a strong foundation for our mission service in Japan.”

Subsequently, they served for almost nine years in evangelism at Nishi Arai Church in Tokyo, preaching sermons, leading Bible studies, and sharing with the youth and young adult groups. From 1993, Bob served as a missionary professor at Aoyama Women’s Junior College teaching Christian studies. Through religious activities, Bob was able to strengthen and realize the purpose of the school, which is “a life based on the Christian faith.” During those 15 years, the Terhunes also served at Tokyo Ikebukuro Church, preaching, helping with the children’s ministry, guiding youth, and supporting the evangelistic outreach of the church. From 1988 Hazel served as the English secretary at the Kyodan General Office in Tokyo and for 15 years as the Kyodan Newsletter’s editor and chair of the KNL Editorial Committee. Bob was also a committee member and translator for the newsletter. Later Hazel additionally served as the Mission Personnel Secretary of the Council on Cooperative Mission (CoC). Then, from 2004 until the end of their term in 2008, she served as treasurer and representative of the United Methodist Mission Office in Japan.

They mention their gratitude, saying: “For these 40 years God’s deep love and guidance, as well as all of your friendship, has sustained us, so that all things worked together for good, and we could share God’s Word and do His work here. For this we want to give thanks from the bottom of our hearts.” Surely we, the church in Japan, shall never forget Bob and Hazel Terhune, their ever-welcoming smiles and their devotion to the practice of God’s love. (Tr. NB)

Nishio Misao, member
KNL Committee

Local Church Program Features Haiku, Sign Language & Finger Braille Classes

On the first Sunday of every other month, a Haiku group named Eagle Society holds a regular meeting after the worship service. We share our compositions and appreciate one another’s work as we enjoy a lunch prepared by members of the church women’s group. There are seven of us, all over 77 years of age. As members of the same church we are familiar with each other, so we do not hesitate to share our Haiku, even though they are not such excellent ones. We conduct our meeting in a carefree manner, like eagles flying with outstretched wings.

Classes for learning sign-language and finger braille were organized because of our desire to communicate with people among our congregation whose seeing and/or hearing is impaired. Even with only once-a-month training we are able to use these skills in our communication with them. We also provide translations of the worship service every week in sign-language and finger braille, by taking turns among class members. We translate into Braille the worship order, the sermon, and discussion papers for annual church meeting, as well as papers for the women’s group’s regular meeting. Some of us do volunteer work to use these skills for people in need outside of our church. (Tr. HL) [Ed. note: Finger braille is a means of communicating by using your fingers to " type " a message as if you were actually typing on a braillewriter.]

Nakagawa Hiroshi, member
Shizuoka Kusabuka Church, Tokai District
Shinto no Tomo (Believer s’ Friend)

The General Secretary's Diary

The season of annual district assemblies begins in late April. The General Affairs Department of the Kyodan General Office has been particularly busy making preparations for the 2008 sessions and has completed the moderator’s greetings to each of the districts and the general secretary’s report on the business of the Kyodan during the 2007 fiscal year. As general secretary, I have reviewed the charts listing church statistics for 2006, the budgets and financial reports, and distributions of financial support for district activities, etc., and was reminded anew of the severity of the Kyodan’s situation. The unfortunate reality is that Kyodan membership and attendance at worship services as a whole is slowly declining, and the same can be said concerning the church’s financial status. Thus, each Kyodan church needs to renew its commitment to outreach and evangelism.

Recently, I also found some very interesting data in a report entitled, “50 years of Kyodan data: See the church in graph format.” Prepared by a member of the Committee on Finance as an aid to committee planning, it looked at the past 50 years on both the general church and district levels, analyzing a number of relevant statistics, such as communicant membership, worship attendance, number of baptisms, deaths, age distribution of membership, church school attendance, apportionments (amount paid by churches to general church), pastors’ salaries. The implications of the various statistics were easy to identify. In addition to these internal church statistics, the analysis included the aspect of the general financial strength of each area or prefecture involved and drew the following conclusions.

-If current church trends are prolonged, the Kyodan will continue to decrease in strength.
-If the Kyodan wishes to grow in the future, its motto must be “#1: evangelism, and #2: evangelism.” It must refocus its efforts on evangelism.
-If each church could average one baptism and the reinstatement of two inactive members per year, the Kyodan would maintain a growth pattern.

I think this explanation is easy to understand, and I find it convincing. I pray that as a church that is part of the Body of Christ, the Kyodan at its national and local levels will refocus its efforts on evangelism and make its worship services more meaningful so that this goal of one baptism and the reinstatement of two inactive members per year can be reached. I pray that each church will recommit itself to the principles of an evangelical statement of faith and the following of the bylaws of the church. (Tr. TB)

Naito Tomeyuki
Kyodan General Secretary