Video: Presiding Bishop discusses future of Asia-America partnerships

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Oct 2, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Seoul, South Korea] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke Oct. 2 here about the future of mission partnerships between Episcopalians and Anglicans.

Her keynote address was part of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries’ Sept. 30-Oct. 5 international consultation here. She spoke at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Nicholas in downtown Seoul, the main venue for the gathering.

“Know that the work you are doing is changing the face of The Episcopal Church,” she told EAM participants. “Keep at it. Be bold, be confident. God is doing a new thing in our midst because of our collaboration and growing partnership.”

Other ENS coverage of the gathering is here.

The text of Jefferts Schori’s speech, which begins after some introductory remarks at the 0:42:12 mark in the video, follows.

Uniting Our Mission: The Future of Asia-America Partnership

Episcopal Asia-America Ministry Convocation

2 October 2015

Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, Seoul

If we’re willing to look back several millennia, we might recognize that the first witnesses of the gospel in the Americas had Asian roots. The indigenous peoples of the Americas migrated there from NE Asia more than 20 thousand years ago.[1] The first witnesses of an Anglican service in the Americas were Native Americans looking on as Sir Francis Drake’s chaplain held a prayer service north of San Francisco Bay in 1579. One of the first two people baptized by Anglicans was Manteo, a Croatan chief, in 1587; the other was a baby, Virginia Dare, born to parents who were part of the “Lost Colony” off the coast of what is now North Carolina.[2] The first recorded Chinese Anglican service held in North America took place in 1871 in Virginia City, Nevada. Asian roots are deep and pervasive in The Episcopal Church, from Ah Foo who ministered to Chinese miners and railroad workers in Virginia City and Carson City in the 1870s,[3] to Hiram Hisanori Kano, who worked with Japanese immigrants in Nebraska beginning in the 1920s. He was the only Japanese-American in Nebraska to be interned during the war, apparently because as a priest he was seen to be so dangerous! We are giving thanks here for the first Hmong congregation in TEC, now served by Fr. Toua Vang.

The Asia-American experience in TEC is not simply a history, but an unfolding and growing reality in North America. While the Latino population has been the largest immigrant presence in recent decades, the latest census projections in the United States indicate that immigration from Asia will make that population the fastest growing by 2025.[4]

What does this mean for TEC and for our varied contexts, and not only in the US? What does it mean for the Anglican Communion? Certainly the presence of various Asian cultures has been an expansive blessing for this church, and has offered other cultures a broader and richer understanding of what it means to love God and neighbor with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. We learn that God is worshiped in ways that are broader and deeper than what we first knew: the deeply quiet reverence of a traditional Japanese liturgy; the surprising vigor of an Igorot gong dance; the liveliness of a Chinese dragon dance welcoming a new bishop in San Francisco or Los Angeles; the feathered smudge, drum, and flute of Native Americans.

The gifts of migration move in both directions, from Asia to America, and back again. We are slowly growing into the great dream of the last half-century, that we might become Mutually Responsible and Interdependent parts of the body of Christ. I’m going to speak primarily of what I see as the gifts of Asian sending contexts for The Episcopal Church. I hope and expect that others might speak of what is received here in Asia.

The most powerful witness of the churches and provinces of Asia for their brothers and sisters in TEC is two-fold – the creative and contextual forms of ministry in those varied places, and the overriding focus on reconciliation and peace-making. Yesterday we heard powerful accounts of the difficulties that early missionaries had evangelizing in several Asian contexts, particularly when there was a refusal or inability to recognize what God was already doing in those contexts. Certainly one of the prophetic leaders in shifting that dynamic was Roland Allen, who in the early twentieth century claimed a missionary method like the apostle Paul’s. Allen said he believed his duty was to bring the scriptures and the sacraments, and then get out of the way, encouraging the gospel to take root in native soil.[5] The vigorous trees of life that have grown in varied Anglican-Episcopal contexts in Asia have borne fruit that when planted in other soil has begun to deeply bless that context. That fruit looks and tastes a bit different than it does here – and we’ve heard some of the challenges that come of expecting it to be identical, particularly for new generations.

One of the gifts of the Anglican Communion in recent decades has been the focus on Five Marks of Mission, with an implicit expectation of variation in different contexts.[6] That framework exemplifies the kind of theologizing we can do together, and it’s become an important marker in thinking about and acting on God’s call to reconciling the world. I want to encourage you to learn to put these into your own language, and what I’m going to offer is only an example.

Reconciliation is the foundation of God’s mission, and our response and partnership comes through deeply owning that vision of a healed world, giving our heart to the goal we call the Reign of God, by believing it and acting on it (Mark I). We share that mission by forming others, and being formed ourselves, as students and disciples of that good news vision (Mark II). We partner with others to relieve the suffering in this world, through concrete response to particular human pain and dis-ease (Mark III). We come together to change the human systems of domination that sustain and permit human suffering, injustice of all kinds, and the particular evil of war and violence (Mark IV). And as Anglicans, we are newly re-awakening to the original human vocation – tending the garden in which we’re planted (Mark V). There can be no long-term hope for achieving that vision of peace and justice if the earth cannot sustain life, and life in abundance, for all its inhabitants.

Each of the cultures and languages represented here is partnering in God’s mission in a variety of creative ways. I’m going to note just a few of the very creative missional endeavors taking place across this hemisphere.

Proclaiming good news: Following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Sendai, Japan, the NSKK responded by caring for particular communities in specific ways. In one small community, relocated residents were housed in shelters built into shipping containers. They were modest, and very functional, and church workers soon learned of residents’ deep hunger for the social and emotional support that people had known in their former homes. For one thing, their housing didn’t have traditional soaking tubs. Church members began to offer tea ceremonies in these communities – to people of varying religious traditions or none. The NSKK stood in solidarity with a fishing village where most of the wives were Filipino immigrants, often isolated from the rest of the community – so they offered language courses and social support. Yet another initiative hosted a bakery that employed mentally disabled and joyous young adults. Reconciliation in that crisis recovery context reminded people of their basic human dignity and value, in ways that were specific to the need. That walking together is a quiet and deeply authentic way of proclaiming good news in deed and word.

Form new disciples: The Episcopal Church in the Philippines and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente are clear about their desire to share resources, like a seminary. The two traditions largely work in different geographic contexts – by choice, out of a theological and ecclesiological belief that they shouldn’t be competing.[7] All human communities have something to learn from that witness, for the tense struggle between identity and collegial partnership is as old as Cain and Abel.

Education efforts by Anglicans and Episcopalians everywhere help to form human beings for life in community that will lead to more abundant life for all. Some of those disciples are overtly and avowedly Christian; others become stronger Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims, and all have the lively experience of creative encounter in a diverse environment. Rikkyo University in Tokyo; Nanjing Theological College in China; St. Andrew’s seminary, Brent School, and Trinity University in Manila; several bilingual kindergartens and St. John’s University in Taiwan; Ming Hua and other educational institutions in Hong Kong; and Songkonghoe University here in Seoul are all engaged in forming citizens to take their place as agents of change in their local communities, nations, and the world. The vision of change they inherit and discover through these institutions is about abundant life for all.

Learning that vision, making it one’s own deeply enough to say that I believe it, and give my heart and soul and being to that vision, is the fruit of practice and habit. We learn to love our neighbors as ourselves from guides who help to form habits for the journey. It may look like sharing a meal with a lonely and frail elder, tutoring a school child, feeding a hungry person, or gathering for worship with people and in ways that challenge us all. Those habits include the courage and will to reach across fear, difference, and violence in search of peace, knowing that justice is essential to peace. I will come back to this, as I think it is the particular gift of many provinces in this part of the world.

The last Mark of Mission has to do with caring for the earth. The Church in the Philippines has been prophetic in working with farmers to rediscover and honor traditional agricultural techniques, and improve them without the use of seeds which require excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. The Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project (KEEP) and the Asian Rural Institute are other examples of long-standing mission work that seek to reconcile human beings with their environment. Working toward the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture is a hallmark of the Polynesian church’s mission; the church in Bangladesh challenges the world to address climate change and the coastal flooding they are increasingly suffering. So, too, does the plight of the many island peoples of the Pacific, who are seeing their garden soils and drinking water become increasingly salty and their ancestral lands slowly sink beneath the sea. Seafarers missions seek to sustain the life and livelihoods of those in peril on the sea.

I want to return to the form of reconciliation held up in the 4th Mark of Mission: challenging violence and seeking peace. It’s worth noting that any concrete work that seeks to end violence always confronts unjust systems that lead to and sustain violence. That confrontation can elicit violent response, as Jesus knew and experienced. Human communities often descend into violence in the face of scarce resources, whether that scarcity is real or imagined. The expansionist lust for power, territory, or the ability to impose a particular worldview are variations on that same theme of scarcity. The wars that have been fought in this part of the world in recent centuries, the imperial and colonial adventures of regimes both local and foreign, and the ongoing and varied alliances of some powers against others all tell the same sad human story we know from Genesis, Exodus, the Roman occupation of Palestine, and more recent conflicts.

The Christian witness in Asia has had a checkered history, just as it has in other parts of the world. Many of the early Christian missionaries came as part of colonial and imperial expansionism. At the same time, many of those early witnesses to the power of God in Jesus Christ demonstrated what they professed by literally giving their lives, as white martyrs and red ones. Their witness continues to change hearts, and to make reconciliation and peace-building more possible. The peace-making initiative of TOPIK[8] seeks not only peace on this Korean peninsula, but an expanding possibility of peace throughout this region and the world. When we see the selfless action of even a few, it gives courage to the many, and the cause of peace advances. For the love demonstrated in the quest for peace does cast out fear.

The world needs that confidence that peace is possible, particularly in this anxious and fearful season. We know that the resolution of conflict in one part of the world gives impetus and confidence to its resolution elsewhere. The current anxiety about economic conditions, the wanton and degraded violence of terrorism, and the storm clouds of climate change and potential food shortages are all contributing to the violence around us. The world was in a similar state some 50 years ago, as people were building bomb shelters at home, hoarding food, and foreseeing the imminent end of the world. The strong and faithful hearts of a few found the courage to draw back from violent response and seek peace. We need the same courage now, and there is abundant example and leadership represented here.

The work of TOPIK began by seeking to end the Korean War and to reunify families separated for more than 60 years by a suspicious ceasefire. This province has brought together the churches of old enemies to make peace. Those efforts continue to expand beyond Korea, Japan, and the United States, and the reconciling and truth-telling experience in South Africa and Ireland, and Canada’s reconciliation journey with First Nations peoples have energized the work and offered new and particular avenues for building a culture of peace.

Those examples, and others yet to be shared or developed, are essential in the face of current territorial claims in the South China Sea, and the resulting fears of that expansionism are threatening the gains for peace in Article 9 of Japan’s constitution. The same fears are prompting calls for a re-expanded US military presence in Subic Bay and Okinawa. Christians know in their bones – those dry ones into which God continues to breathe life – we know that war is never the answer. We cannot hope for peace by cutting off the ear of the empire’s servant, or through armed rebellion. We can hope for peace through the painful work of seeking and offering forgiveness, and through loving those who appear to be former and current enemies. The first TOPIK conference went to North Korea to celebrate Eucharist and to offer relief supplies to a flooded village. The ongoing efforts of this province to feed the enemy are a profound gift and witness to the rest of the Communion and the world.

There are other examples. Anglicans and Episcopalians are offering lament in the face of seeing fertile ocean habitat destroyed by over-reaching commercial fisheries, coastal communities threatened by rising sea levels, populations nearby and far away threatened by changing weather patterns, forest clearing, mining and the ongoing rapacity of human hubris. Our members are making lament, telling the truth of human and planetary suffering, and seeking concrete ways to respond to that suffering.

The church in Pakistan continues to be a remarkable witness in the face of religious persecution and oppression, and their lament has begun to make a difference in the ruthless and sordid application of blasphemy laws. The senseless violence of bombing seems to have increased the strength of the church – and their commitment to peace-making.

God’s mission, and our response, seeks peace in all things, for all people, and all creation. We seek a garden of harmony and abundance, yet we live in the midst of greed and violence. The response Jesus teaches is about deep friendship, seeking the image of God in those who differ from us and those who oppose us. That motivation to go seeking friends, and to love the neighbor, drives our part in God’s mission. It is particularly evident in the opportunities for building friendships in Christ in the midst of communities of difference. It is at the root of the experience of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry. Boundary and border crossing is the call of Jesus to find a friend in unexpected places, particularly in the face of enmity, difference, and “the other.” The very experience of migration, and moving across a national border, is a witness to that kind of courage. EAM communities bring that courage in abundance, and it can be contagious – contagious enough to plant a new virus in our DNA that disposes us to see the new person as friend rather than enemy.

EAM’s congregations can be provocative pockets of counter-cultural courage in the face of difference, and that gift is urgently needed across the world today – certainly in the US, caught up as it is in anti-immigrant prejudice and fear in so many places. That gift actually increases the resilience of communities where the settled folk begin to interact with the newer ones. Communities become more hospitable to people from other states, cultures, nations, religious and economic backgrounds once they’ve discovered an unexpected friend. That reality is certainly being played out in parts of Europe right now. It is at work in schools in Israel and Palestine that insist that children of all three Abrahamic faiths be educated together and in one another’s languages. We affirm that Jesus’ migration into human flesh made deep and reconciling friendship more possible between God and humanity, and among human beings themselves. When the image of God migrates on earth and begins to develop deep and reconciling friendship, the same reality obtains.

That creative reality is built into the nature of creation as well. Biologists talk about hybrid vigor, as the greater health and adaptability of the offspring of slightly different parents. It’s especially important in rapidly changing environments, or disrupted contexts. The greatest diversity of biological communities tends to occur along the borders between more stable environments. If we really believe that God is beyond our full knowing, then we might reflect on the diversity of the human images of God. Befriending a greater variety of humanity can only show us more of who and what God truly is.

The violence of this world is born of scarcity and a desire to control resources for the sake of one nuclear community. The weapons of mass destruction we seek to eliminate are thus aptly and ironically named. The threat they pose makes us all part of the same nuclear community. Peace-making is about befriending the other for the sake of the One who has made us all, and for the sake of the One of whose body we are all a part. That is our vocation as followers of Jesus – who calls us friends, who laid down his life for his friends. The continuing surprise for most of us is that he included the whole of the human race, and the whole of creation. We live in hope that we might imitate that kind of friendship. Arigato, kam samida, she she, thank you, Jesus, for making us friends.








[7] Charles Henry Brent, on discovering the work of the IFI in cities, proclaimed that he would not “set up an altar against an altar” and moved to the highlands to proclaim good news.

[8] Toward Peace In Korea. The first conference’s communique: and the second:

A recent update:

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