It has been very heartbreaking for me to see the pictures and videos of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. For me, it is personal. I grew up in California and have experienced my share of strong earthquakes; albeit nothing as strong as the one in Japan, but strong enough to throw me around the room as I tried to make it to a doorway to brace myself for the shocks. Earthquakes come with no warning and can strike at any time.
But more than my own experience of earthquakes is my personal connection with people in Japan. I had the honor and privilege to be part of a delegation to the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, Diocese of Tokyo in 1996. Nippon Sei Ko Kai (or NSKK) is the Anglican Church in Japan and it has a longstanding relationship with the Episcopal Church as many of our clergy were missionaries to Japan.
I was part of a five woman delegation to the NSKK in 1996 consisting of two priests, one deacon and two laywomen (I was one of the laywomen back then). We were invited by the Bishop of Tokyo to come and engage in conversations about the ordination of women to the priesthood. At that time, the NSKK would ordain women as deacons but would not ordain them as priests or bishops. The NSKK's synod convention voted on a resolution that year to ordain women as priests - a vote which resulted in a split between the houses. Like the United States Congress, many national churches in the Anglican Communion have bicameral systems of governance consisting of the House of Bishops (made up of ... bishops) and the House of Deputies (consisting of priests, deacons and laypersons). Both houses have to vote in favor of a resolution to pass it. In the vote that year on ordaining women as priests, the House of Deputies approved the resolution and the House of Bishops voted against it. The Bishop of Tokyo was in favor of ordaining women as priests largely because of his experience of women priests in the United States - hence our invitation.
I was blessed to spend twelve days in Japan with our sisters and brothers in the NSKK. We spent time in Tokyo, Kyoto, Gifu City, Nagoya (1/2 our delegation went to Osaka), and even spent time in the mountains on retreat. It was an amazing experience and the radical hospitality of our friends in Japan was overwhelming. Their generosity of spirit and willingness to support the mission and ministry of a Church which comprises approximately .02% of the population was remarkable. Our trip there was just one year after the devastating earthquake in Kobe and the stories we heard of how the congregations responded to this disaster with generous gifts of money and time to help Kobe rebuild were amazing. One church had held a capital campaign to build a new church but, when the earthquake hit, the congregation voted unanimously to send their entire building fund to Kobe. Their rationale? "They need the money more than we do." That's stewardship!
Bishop Kato of the Tohoku Diocese (near the epicenter of the quake and where the tsunami hit hardest) is asking for our prayers. I ask you for prayers and one thing more. Please make a donation to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund and direct that donation to the Japan Earthquake Response Fund. Go to: https://www.er-d.org/donate-select.php to donate online. Episcopal Relief and Development Fund sends 100% of your donation directly to the relief efforts. Bishop Kato and his staff are setting up a relief center in Sendai City and they need your help.
And for those of you who are wondering ...
18 months after our trip to Japan, the NSKK had another synod convention and voted again on the resolution regarding ordaining women as priests. It passed both houses overwhelmingly.