Wednesday Wonders: Why a Closing Japanese American Church Matters Today

Standard
IMG_7900

Bulletin with a photo of the stained glass from the Tacoma Japanese American Episcopal Methodist Church on Fawcett Street in Tacoma complete with my prayer doodles

Last Sunday, I went to the closing ceremony of the Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church, a congregation of Japanese Americans who voted to shut their doors this spring.

I sat in the back of Puyallup United Methodist Church in a different pew from where I sit most Sundays.

Here I saw Shirley DeLarme and Ann Berney, two former pastors of PUMC, and many of my church friends. The origami cranes hung from the ceiling in gold, red, blue, and primary colors that danced and twirled.

The company filled my heart and the decorations reminded me of countless hours I spent with Japanese students in my younger years as a teacher. The futomaki I ate afterwards reminded me of them even more with the rolled nori and stuffing probably designed to suit the tastes of the American-born.

Running through my nostalgia, however, was a stinging thread of sorrow. 

I saw the pain in the faces of those who had lost their church community that opened on September 22, 1907. I heard the anguish in the voice of their Pastor Karen Yokota Love as she reassured them that they had not let their ancestors down. Even as Whitney Memorial presented generous gifts of the cottage they owned, stained glass and the original bell from their church, I ached.

IMG_7898

The church bell Mr. Mizukami said once came from a train

I could not escape the loss the closing of this church represents to our community.

Those cranes hung from the ceiling came from the 2014 United Methodist conference held at the Puyallup Fair Grounds. Here the ancestors of those remaining members, including then church pastor Seichi Niwa, found themselves interned in 1942.

After the war, member Greg Mizukami told us, only ten percent of the population retuned to the once thriving church community then located on Fawcett Street in hilltop Tacoma. In spite of this they continued to do the work of Christians everywhere, helping the poor and the immigrant communities, even though many of the congregation never returned and the church never fully recovered.

IMG_7894

The Fawcett building still stands and is now owned by the University of Washington.

Over one hundred years later, we still face the effects of the anger and fear from World War II.

When I asked him, my father once told me how terrifying it was to live with the fear of a Japanese invasion. He spoke of black outs and air raid sirens, of forts built to guard Puget Sound, and of fear of spies both rational and irrational.

I get that. I feel it now when the news brings stories of American citizens pledging themselves to foreign powers and then viciously killing innocents. I feel it when I wait hours in line for security checks even for our college’s graduation ceremonies. I feel it whenever I think  on September 11, 2001 or San Bernardino this last year.

But I also know that locking up people who have done nothing wrong is never the answer to keeping ourselves safe. It wasn’t the answer then, and it isn’t the answer today.

The effects of unjust incarceration devastate individuals and communities.

The effects last for generations.

I saw those effects Sunday.

I do not want my grandchildren to see a ceremony one hundred years from now like the one I saw Sunday.

I pray we all know grace and peace even in times of fear. May we know this for our own tranquility, for those we might otherwise hurt, and for the generations that will follow us.

I don’t believe Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church let their ancestors down.

And I intend to work like my hair is on fire to be sure I don’t let my descendants down.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements