Fred Vergara reflects on 40 years of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries

Posted Jun 21, 2013

[Episcopal News Service – Burlingame, California] The Rev. Winfred Vergara, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for Asiamerica ministries, preached June 20 during the opening Eucharist of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries @ 40 gathering. The full text follows below.



(Message of the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of The Episcopal Church at the Opening Eucharist Celebrating the 40th Anniversary and Consultation of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries held in San Francisco, California last June 20, 2013)


I welcome you to the Consultation and 40th Anniversary of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry. Please turn to the person next to you and say, “Happy Anniversary!” Thank you. Please be seated.

EAM Consultations always serve as my barometer to measure the mood of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries. Nine years ago today, in June 2004, I was commissioned as the second missioner of EAM, right at this very hotel (Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.) It was a great and wonderful day, when then California Bishop Bill Swing, acting on behalf of then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold,  anointed me for the task. Notably present on that day and attending the EAM Consultation for the first time, was then Bishop of Nevada, who two years later, in 2006, would become the first woman Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev.  Katharine Jefferts Schori.

As I shared my hopes, visions and dreams, everything looked rosy and pregnant with possibilities. My wife and I sold our home in San Jose, California, left our parish and diocese, Holy Child Church in El Camino Real and moved to the Big Apple. The song I sang was “Start spreading the news; I’m leaving today, I wan’na be at 815, New York, New York.” (“815” is the insider language of The Episcopal Church Center to refer to its address, 815 Second Avenue, New York City.)

In my first year, I learned that our budget in The Episcopal Church Center was adequate for holding annual consultations. We also had some grant moneys to help start-up new missions and strengthen existing ones.  So during the 2005 Consultation in Seattle, Washington, I sang to the EAM clergy, “When you’re down and troubled, and you need a helping hand, and nothing, nothing is going right…you just call 815.”

In the succeeding years, we had consultations in Hawaii, in Los Angeles and for the first time, in Kaohsiung. We had a wonderful time of transnational networking as we savored the grand hospitality of the Diocese of Taiwan, the Asian frontier of Province 8. We jumpstarted, among others, the Korean Center for Mission in Los Angeles, with the Rev. Aidan Koh as director,  which developed a partnership with the Anglican Church in Korea, through Archbishop Paul Kim, a missionary exchange in some dioceses.

But in June 2009 Consultation in Florida, as we faced the worsening economy, the restructuring of The Episcopal Church, the cut in the budget and the moratorium on church wide conferences, I sang the song “Lean on me, when you’re not strong; don’t be afraid, I’ll help you carry on, for, it won’t be long when I’m gon’na need somebody to lean on.”

We adapted to the situation, cancelled annual consultations and decided to meet as Ethnic Convocations in order to economize. We also decided to meet less in person and more in teleconferencing. We altered the ways we do business, trying to do more with less. In lieu of EAM consultations, we participated in pan-ethnic and pan-cultural “New Community” and “Everyone Everywhere” conferences. Our youth participated more in the Episcopal Youth Event, our young adults in “Why Serve” and our leaders in various collaborative leadership and ministry training.

But I know, so many of you still long for the EAM Consultation which has not happened in the past three years and so this 40th anniversary of the EAM provided us with a strong reason to do it.

Yet we know that times have changed and things are different. As the economy continues to slow down, unemployment continues to rise, and the church in general has declined, with many parishes and dioceses struggling, and our budget is too lean and too tight to afford this Consultation, my song is from the Beatle’s “Help! I need somebody help! And just anybody… help!”

So now, I pause to thank God for helping make this day possible.

I thank the EAM Council for their partnership in raising funds. For the first time in history, the EAM Council has ceased simply being the implementing arm of the Asiamerica Ministry Office at 815, which used to provide all of the funds. Today, Asiamerica Office and EAM Council have become full and equal partners in holding this Consultation and I thank the leadership of its president, Bayani Rico. I’ve never seen him play golf when he was on earth, but I think it’s nice that one of your fund-raising is the Winston Ching Golf Tournament.

I thank the Church Pension Group for assisting us with some amount, through the EAM Council.

I thank the Youth & Faith Formation Office for giving us a partnership grant to help cover our expenses for the EAM youth and Young Adults program.

I thank Province VIII for providing scholarships to some of its delegates.

I thank the Diocese of California and Grace Cathedral for hosting this event along with the Dioceses of El Camino Real and Northern California.  I thank the Asian Commission of the Diocese of California for the legworks they’ve done in logistics and liturgy. I thank the Church Divinity School of the Pacific for donating giveaways.

I thank my fellow Ethnic Missioners and all my colleagues in The Episcopal Church Center for sharing their time and expertise to lead workshops and assist in whatever ways to make this Consultation work.

I thank our overseas guests, especially the primates and bishops from Asia, for coming. In the past, we had some funds to partially assist in their travel, but today, we can only offer room and board. So we are grateful for their share of the burden and we are thankful for their love and support.

I thank the Presiding Bishop (Bishop Katharine), the President of the house of Deputies (Gay Jennings), the Chief Operating Officer (Bishop Stacy), and the Director of Mission (Sam Mc Donald) for their inspiration, encouragement and support.

I thank you all who are here today. You honor us with your wonderful presence and remarkable patience in bearing with our logistical problems. Truly, it takes a whole “Episco-Village” to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries!


In the midst of trials and challenges, not the least being financial, my mantra has always been: “Where God guides, God provides. God’s work, done in God’s way, in God’s time will never lack provision.” As people of faith, we must always believe that God answers our deepest needs, mends our broken hearts, wipes the tears from our eyes—and leads us to abundant life. Our gospel today reads: “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you.”

A poor, unmarried and blind man was praying and God said to him. “Ask of me only one thing and I will give it to you.” The man was torn in turmoil for he has many needs. If he asks for wealth only, what good would it be if he were blind and with no wife and children to share it with. If he asks for wife and children, what good would it be if he were poor and blind; and if he asks for sight, his heart would only be broken to see his wife and children wallow in poverty. So he set out into thinking and in moment of inspiration, he prayed to God: “Lord, I ask you of only one thing: Give me THE JOY —of seeing my wife and children eating New York steak on a silver platter!”

Perhaps this was the kind of wise prayer expressed by the eight (8) Asian priests and one lay woman,  who gathered in San Francisco in June 1973: James Pun, vicar of True Sunshine, San Francisco; John Yamasaki, rector of St. Mary’s, Los Angeles; Winston Ching, vicar of St. John’s, San Francisco; Lincoln Eng, archdeacon of Diocese of Oregon; Tim Nakayama , vicar of St. Peter’s, Seattle; Albany To, vicar of Church of Our Savior, New York; Victor Wei, vicar of Church of Our Saviour, Oakland; and Robert Tsu, vicar of St. Anselm’s, Lafayette, California and Betty Lee, a laywoman leader of the Diocese of San Francisco.

The nine disciples gathered for fellowship and decided to ask to ask of only one thing—a meager fund to develop a Newsletter that would connect the few Asian churches to one another. There is a Chinese proverb which says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” That first step resulted in a resolution which was presented to the 64th General Convention held in Louisville, Kentucky on September 29-October 11, 1973.  As the resolution journeyed to the floor and presented by Convention deputy, John Yamasaki, it was finally worded as “Resolved, that the 64th General Convention calls for the establishment of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry in order to deepen and strengthen the existing ministries of the Episcopal Church involved with Asian and Pacific Island peoples as well as to establish new ones.”

The response of the General Convention was overwhelming. The resolution was unanimously adopted with an annual budget of $50,000 which at that time was quite substantial. At the initial organizational meeting of the EAM, again in San Francisco, Canon James Pun, the prime mover of the original request said and I quote: “I only asked for a bicycle; but they gave us a bus and hired a driver!”

The first driver of the EAM bus was the Rev. Dr. Winston Ching. He stayed in this job for 30 years, working the infrastructure with great diligence and wisdom. Today, we pause to honor his legacy and that of the pioneers of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry. We are, today, standing on their shoulders.

As the second bus driver, I endeavor not only to preserve the legacy but to be faithful and continue the vision even amidst the changes and chances both in American church and society. What began as a gathering by a handful of clergy forty years ago, has now become a conglomeration of around 150 churches and missions identified as the “EAM Network.”  Like answer to the prayer of the poor, unmarried and blind man, the grace of God is beyond what we can ever ask for or imagine. God is able to do exceedingly, according to the power working in us, even in our weakness.

And so today, as we celebrate the 40 years of God’s grace and blessing, we are again asking for wisdom as we gather in God’s name and in God’s presence. We need the wisdom of the past, the confidence of the present and the hope of the future.  I am happy that the theme of the Consultation aptly describes my own sentiment: “EAM at 40: Remember, Celebrate and Re-Envision God’s Mission.” We are not really that old. Some people even say, “Life begins at 40” So I am confident that EAM will not only survive but will continue to thrive in the 21st century and on to the next forty years or more!

I feel in my heart that the best legacy that Winston Ching and other pioneers of the EAM have left us, more than the foundational infrastructure of the EAM, is a word, just one word–“Asiamerica.” Nobody in these United States use the word “Asiamerica” but EAM.  In many circles, the word used is “Asian American,” but for us, we use the word Asiamerica.

What is the meaning of Asiamerica? In origin, it was meant to be a two-pronged ministry: ministry to immigrants from Asia and to American citizens of Asian ancestry.  As EAM has evolved in history, it has now become a three-fold ministry: ministry to Asian immigrants, ministry to Asian Americans and ministry of building bridges to Asia. It is a cultural ministry, a cross-cultural ministry, a transcultural ministry. It is an ethnic ministry, a generational ministry, an ecumenical ministry. It is an immigrant ministry, a domestic ministry and a global ministry.

With this in mind, I would like ask, seek and knock for a three-fold vision. This Trinitarian vision is expressed in three acronyms: ARISE, AFIRE and ATONE.

1. ARISE –means “Asiamerica Research in Strategic Evangelization.” Episcopal Asiamerica ministry historically began not in 1973 but in 1873, (not 40 years ago but 140 years ago), when a Chinese lay worker named Ah Foo evangelized and built a church among the Chinese railroad workers in Carson City, Nevada. That self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating ministry was cut in the bud when the United States passed the Anti-Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Ah Foo and his congregation were among those who were driven out of this country after they had built the transcontinental railroad and mined the “Gam Saan,” the “gold mountain” of California.

I therefore visualize ARISE to be a major research work of EAM to discover, analyze and interpret the relationship between hospitality and evangelism, between racial justice and church growth against the background of Asiamerica history. I visualize ARISE to unmask the destructive power of racism and colonialism that hinders the spread of the kingdom of God from the experience of early Asiamerica Christianity.

One of the living pioneers of the EAM, the Rev. Timothy Nakayama, is instrumental in bringing to the attention of the Anglican Church of Canada the injustice done to the Japanese Anglicans when the Diocese of New Westminster sold two Japanese churches while their congregations were in Internment camps. The Anglican Church of Canada very recently acknowledged “the error of our ways” and issued an apology to the Anglican Japanese Canadians and resolved to make amends and reconciliation.

I visualize ARISE to make a corrective work on the history of racism against Asiamerica as embodied in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Anti-Miscegenation Laws against Filipino farmers in the 1930’s and the Japanese American Internment in 1940’s.

2. AFIRE – means Asiamerica Fund for Immigrant Rights and Education. Our hearts must be is afire for God’s people suffering in the cold and hiding in the shadows because they are undocumented immigrants. Today, there is the issue of the comprehensive immigration bill that promises a path for their legalization and citizenship. Our Presiding Bishop has spoken many times on this issue but how are we as immigrant churches involving on this issue of our time? It is estimated there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. The fact that there are over one million Asians among them is not the only reason why EAM should get involved. EAM should get involved because our ancestors have experienced being rebuffed in history and we owe it to their memory to stand in solidarity with all the marginalized, to be helpful to the undocumented, to be kind and hospitable to strangers, because we were once “strangers from different shores,” ourselves.

I visualize AFIRE ministries to be developed in every parish, partnering with the Episcopal Migrations Ministries, with Public Policy Network and other agencies in transforming our EAM churches to become spiritual oases for strangers, and centers advocating for and providing services on immigrant rights, education and legalization.

3. ATONE – means Asiamerica Theological Online Network Exchange.  The word “atonement” means in the Old Testament as a “reparation from sin” and in the New Testament as “reconciliation.” But I like to see the image of atonement as “at-one-ment” or the character of being of one mind and one heart, despite our great diversity. I visualize ATONE to be a continuing dialogue and reconciliation with Asia and the global diaspora in the area of theology, mission and ministry.

One of the exciting things that happened during my first year as missioner was when Margaret Larom, the former director of Anglican Global Relations and I had a conversation that led to the appointment of my colleague Peter Ng as the first Partnership Officer for Asia and the Pacific. It has further led to the strengthening of our Asian relations and the development of Asia-America Theological Exchange Forum. I visualize ATONE to be a continuation and expansion of this direction, using the tools of modern technology.

I visualize EAM to develop a virtual Asiamerica Theological Seminary that will continue to connect EAM with Asia and the Asian diaspora as well as other cultural and global communities. Isn’t it amazing if EAM can be of service to its neighbors to develop Anglican “AsiaCanada,” “AsiaBritania,” “AsiaEuropa” and “Asiaafrica,” ministries  with and among the global Asian diaspora? It is estimated that the diverse and pluralistic peoples of Asian descent, comprise almost two-thirds of the world’s population. Don’t we have the mandate to reach the whole world with the message of the reign of God? Maybe we can do ATONE in partnership with seminaries like CDSP, EDS or Vancouver School of Theology—as we have done with our Doctor of Ministry program at Episcopal Divinity School.

Surely this vision is not as simple as asking for bicycle or a bus. But let me end from the words of President John F. Kennedy, when he launched the Space program of the United States on September 23, 1962. JFK said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

In my flesh, I maybe out of my mind thinking these things I visualized can be accomplished in my tenure as missioner for Asiamerica Ministries. But visions and dreams, according to the scriptures, are not works of the flesh but the language of the Holy Spirit. Yet to calm your feelings, I still have another quote, from W. Clement Stone, who said, “Always aim for the moon, that way, even if you miss, you’ll still be among the stars!”

So ARISE, AFIRE and ATONE. Let this trilogy vision be the defining stars of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries in the 21st Century!

Now unto God who is able to do exceedingly more than we can ever think, hope or imagine, Thine be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.