Video: Nathaniel Uematsu tells EAM about Japanese reconciliation work

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Oct 1, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Seoul, South Korea] Nippon Sei Ko Kai Archbishop Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu explained Oct. 1 during Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries’ Sept. 30-Oct. 5 international consultation here the ways in which his church is living a call to reconciliation.

That reconciliation, he said, is being attempted with churches in those countries which previously suffered under Japanese occupation during the country’s militaristic period. The forging of new relationships began with the Anglican Church of Korea, Uematsu said. The Korean church is hosting the EAM gathering.

Uematsu and Diocese of New York Bishop Suffragan Allen K. Shin presented a joint keynote address. The theme of their remarks was “Celebrating Our Partnership: The History and Development of Asia-America Mission.”

The two bishops spoke at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Nicholas in downtown Seoul, the main venue for the gathering, on a rainy morning when a downpour occasionally could be heard in the background.

Other ENS coverage of the gathering is here.

The text of Uematsu’s remarks follows.

The Nippon Sei Ko Kai

(NSKK, Anglican Church in Japan)

The Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK = the Anglican Church in Japan) was among the first Protestant churches established after Japan was re-opened to the world in 1854, ending 200 years of isolation.

In June 1859, the Rev. Channing Moore Williams, missionary priest and later missionary bishop of the Episcopal Church, landed at Nagasaki, in southwestern Japan. Williams joined the Rev. John Riggins, who had docked at Nagasaki one month earlier, and the Anglican mission in Japan began.

Six years ago, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of that beginning. For the 150th Anniversary celebration services and events held in Tokyo, we had a great pleasure to have your Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, with other distinguished guests like the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt. Honorable Rowan Williams, and the Primate of Anglican Church of Korea, Archbishop Paul Keun Sang Kim.

The foundations of the Anglican church throughout the country were laid by four organizations: The Episcopal Church Board of Missions in the United States which sent John Riggins and Channing Moore Williams and many more to Japan; the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), both from England; and later the Anglican Church of Canada. These missionaries helped establish a rich and broadly catholic and evangelical tradition within the NSKK.

The common vision of the missionaries was always the formation of an independent Japanese church supported by Japanese Anglicans. Owing to their insights and efforts, the first General Synod of the NSKK was held in Osaka in 1887. Now formally organized, the NSKK began pioneering work throughout Japan, in an environment of still considerable misunderstanding and prejudice against Christianity. In addition to planting churches, the NSSK was active in the fields of preschool child-care, secondary education, medicine, and social welfare. This work continues to this day, thanks to the efforts of the overseas missionaries as well as countless Japanese clergy and lay people. We express our heartfelt gratitude for their dedication.

Roughly fifty years after Channing Williams’ arrival, Japan began a marked turn towards becoming a militaristic nation, as symbolized by the forced annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910. The flow of events during this period was indeed overwhelming, as Japan engaged in armed conflict and undertook a program of occupying and colonizing neighboring Asian countries. The church, lacking a clear understanding of the Christian faith and the Gospel, using the form of “Special Prayer Service for Shina-Jihen (China Incident)” and “Special Prayer for Dai-Towa War (Great Asia War)” prayed for victory and proved unable to speak out against these events. Thus the NSKK approved the occupation of other nations and contributed to the war in the name of Christianity.

(China-Incident: total scale China-Japan war provoked by the July 7th battle near Beijing. Japan called the wars “incidents” in China because it did not declare them officially. Great Asia War: naming of the Asia Pacific War by the Imperial Japanese government. It implies the understanding of the character of the war as “liberating Asian nations from the colonization of the West”. The word is being used even today by those who deny the historical fact of Japan’s aggression.)

Moreover, in 1941, the Japanese government expelled all foreign clergy and missionaries from the country, and the unity of the NSKK itself was shaken by the desperate reactions to the government’s attempt to force all Protestant churches together into a single umbrella organization. Even as we are mindful of the hardships faced by our brothers and sisters in the church during that period, we must also continue to remember this painful history.

After Japan’s defeat in 1945, the country entered a period of rebuilding “from the ashes.” Free at last from long years of oppression under a militaristic government, there was a period when Christianity attracted the hearts of many Japanese people, and the Church once again found a role as a means of contact with Western culture. However, as the nation rallied the populace toward accelerated economic growth, and with the emergence of a materialistic consumer society, the identity of the church, too, underwent a dramatic transformation.

The Pan-Anglican Congress held in 1963 in Toronto, Canada proposed to the Anglican world the idea of the “mutual responsibility and interdependence” of the various Anglican churches worldwide. By 1970, missionaries from overseas Anglican churches, who had contributed so much to the work of evangelization in Japan, had nearly all returned to their home countries. The NSKK, both as a province and at the parish level, was no longer a “receiving church” dependent on overseas support, but rather was called to bear mutual responsibility and become a spiritually, administratively and financially independent church among many in the global Anglican Communion. The NSKK became a self-supporting province in 1972.

At the same time, influenced by ongoing changes in the world social order as well as in thinking about mission, the NSKK searched for a renewed ecclesiological shape. A new Prayer Book (1990) and Hymnal (2006) arose out of this quest. Also during this period, while respecting the differences in theological convictions, the NSKK also recognized the ordination of women to the priesthood (1998). The NSKK today is made up of nearly 280

Churches in 11 dioceses, claiming roughly 51,000 members, including over 220 active clergy.

At the same time, the NSKK began to look back over the events leading up to the Asia-Pacific War. We especially felt called to repent and seek reconciliation and deeper engagement with our neighbors in countries throughout Asia who had first suffered under Japanese occupation and colonization, and then been made subject to economic control under Japan’s post-war development.

We were especially blessed by our fellow Anglicans in the Anglican Church of Korea (ACK), who opened their hearts to us even before Japan had come to terms with and apologized for its role in the colonization of the Korean peninsula. As brothers and sisters sharing the same faith, even as the ACK drew our attention to the inadequacies and errors of Japan’s historical awareness, they also opened the door to exchanges between individuals, churches, dioceses, and at the provincial level. Last year the NSKK and the Anglican Church of Korea together celebrated the 30th anniversary of Korea-Japan Anglican Mission Partnership in Jeju Island, Korea. Since 2007, through an inter-provincial agreement, clergy from the Anglican Church of Korea who sense a calling to evangelism in Japan are now serving in areas throughout Japan. We have welcomed over 20 such missioners to date.

With regard to Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and other countries which also suffered under Japanese wartime occupation, the NSKK has sought reconciliation and a restoration of our bonds under the same Lord, Jesus Christ. At the same time, we have been blessed by the wealth of faith-filled experiences of our brothers and sisters in these countries.

In 1972, after walking a path of suffering separated from the Japanese mainland for 27 years, Okinawa was returned to Japanese control, and the Diocese of Okinawa became part of the NSKK. Even now, though, the Okinawan people continue to suffer under the intense strain of the presence of U.S. military bases. We take seriously the challenges to peace pointed up by their struggle, and are keenly aware of being called to work toward realizing the peace that is in Jesus Christ.

Let me go back to the issue of NSKK’s repentance and reconciliation in relation to the partnership with the Anglican Church of Korea, because I believe it is the most crucial and turning point for making a new vision of the mission of the NSKK. This year of 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the end of the WW2. For Japan, it is the 70th year of the defeat, but for Korea, it is the 70th anniversary of the liberation and emancipation from Japanese colonization. As I said, last year, the NSKK and the Anglican Church of Korea celebrated the 30th anniversary of our mission partnership together. Before we began official partnership in 1984, both churches had experienced very difficult time, in which we were suffering from the scars and pain caused by the war. Atrocities committed by Japan during the invasion of Korean Peninsula by Japanese Army and forced Annexation of Korea to Japan caused among the Koreans pain, grudge, sorrow and humiliation. Before our two churches agreed to begin the official relationship, only few people had been trying to build the bridge between Korean church and Japanese church. Although we were neighbors and Anglicans, we simply could not come close to each other for 40 years. Even after we started the official relationship, we admit that the work of reconciliation between two churches was not easy. There have been a lot of tension, torment, embarrassment, disappointment, and even anger in the course of making new relationship. Sometimes, our joint programs came to a deadlock.

But now, we can tell you many stories of grace which we rejoice and celebrate as a result of walking together the path of reconciliation. Bishops of two churches are all good friends, and if the consecration of bishop takes place either in Japan or in Korea, most of bishops likely participate in the laying of hands.

Youth seminars and camps are jointly held, and they learn from each other and become friends. Some Japanese youth go to college or seminary in Korea. In the NSKK, now about 20 Korean priests are working. Four years ago, when the Great East-Japan Earthquake struck north-east part of Japan, many Korean clergy including Archbishop Paul Kim and lay persons and youth groups visited the affected areas to help those victims, churches, and church activities. It was a sign of our good relationship and solidarity. Because two churches experienced the war and its aftermath, now we are launching together to make ourselves to be the instrument of peace.

We have co-hosted the Anglican Peace Conference twice: one in Paju, Korea, and one in Okinawa, Japan.

Last December, on one Sunday, I was a preacher at the Cathedral in Seoul. It was the first time that a Japanese bishop preached at the Seoul Cathedral after the war. It took 70 years to make it happen, but it was a definite progress of our reconciliation process

In order to engage in the work of reconciliation with our neighbors, especially with the Korean Church, there needed the scrutiny of our history and church’s involvement in that history. It was the most difficult task for us. However, without this process, we could not have gone forward. In 1995, the year of the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Asia-Pacific War, the NSKK held the Mission Consultation to discuss and evaluate our past as the church in Japan. Under the theme of “Responsibility for History and Prospects for the 21st Century,” we admitted our war responsibility; based on repentance and looking toward the 21st century, we determined to walk with those who were historically persecuted and victimized during the war and still discriminated against, including Koreans in Japan. Furthermore, at the NSKK 49th General Synod held in the following year, 1996, we adopted the Nippon Sei Ko Kai’s Statement on War Responsibility” and all churches agreed to collectively share NSKK’s war responsibility, convey an apology in the name of NSKK to the churches in the countries which Japan had invaded, and to start and continue a program in each diocese and parish to review the historical facts and deepen our understanding of the Gospel. Admitting our own guilt and sin is always the most difficult thing. However then, only from then, we can go on repentance and then we can experience the blessing that we are forgiven.

Four years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami struck on March 11, 2011. The NSKK immediately organized a project called “Issho ni aruko”, which means “Let us walk together” to help the victims. As the NSKK had decided in the War Responsibility Statement, we have been trying to live and to be with those who are marginalized or have been forced to live in very difficult conditions because of the disaster. We are very appreciative that many people overseas contributed for the work of “Let us walk together.” I would like to say on this occasion thank you to our friends in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Korea. Presiding Bishop Katharine and Archbishop Paul Kim were among many people who actually visited the affected area to be with the victims, to pray for them, and to cry with them.

The aftermath of the accident of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station is still going on. We have not resolved nor yet found a certain direction to resolve the problem. Even now, people were forced to leave their homes, and families were broken up while suffering from the fear of health-harming radioactive contamination. The NSKK have decided to walk together with the nuclear victims and to establish the No-Nuke Project.

As we mark this 156th year of an Anglican presence in Japan, in many ways it seems that we have failed to adequately sustain the tremendous energy that the missionaries first brought to mission and evangelization in this country. It seems we have not yet been able to give adequate expression to our faith as those who live in Japanese society. We face declines in the numbers of both lay members and clergy, and our congregations as a whole are aging — problems which cannot be solved overnight. Throughout the country, in spite of the lack of priests at many churches, Sunday worship has continued to be carried out by a small number of lay people. We give thanks for the dedicated service of these people, and ask for the Lord’s special blessing on them.

And yet, in the midst of these conditions, there have continued to be enthusiastic, energetic gatherings of young people in our church, both locally and at National Youth Conferences.

As we have looked back over the great blessings God has bestowed on the NSKK over the past 156 years, we have reflected on what this church has accomplished, on what we intended but failed to do, and on many things we simply did not consider.

Just as worship is called “the work of the people” (leitourgia), the church is above all the community of the people of God. We are called to be instruments carrying the Good News and the love of Christ to the world. As such, wherever we might be, we are gathered together in worship, nourished by the Word and the Eucharist, and sent out into society. The work of the laity is therefore equally as important as that of the clergy. The church does not exist only for its own sake, but is also called to seek the presence and action of God in the world, particularly among the least in society, and to serve the world. This work is carried out not only within the NSKK, but also in dialogue and mission collaboration with churches in other traditions.

Even though the NSKK is a small flock, in the midst of a world experiencing deep pain and division, the rest of the Anglican Communion looks to us to continue proclaiming a message of peace and reconciliation, grounded in our own repentance. At the same time, as we saw at the Lambeth Conference in 2008, we believe God is asking us to walk together with the worldwide Anglican family, with all its diverse gifts. We must be willing to share with one another, willing to take the time to listen to one another’s different experiences. We believe this is the shape our church must take in the 21st century.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.