Video: Allen Shin challenges EAM to find new wine, wineskins

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Oct 1, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Seoul, South Korea] Diocese of New York Bishop Suffragan Allen K. Shin told Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries’ international consultation here Oct. 1 that the group must help the entire Episcopal Church discover new models to stem the flow of young people away from the church.

“What new wineskin do we need to create and evolve so that both old and new can be preserved?” he asked at the Sept. 30-Oct. 5 gathering, echoing Matthew 9:17. Shin added that this question faces all Episcopal Church congregations, not just Asiamerican ones.

Shin and Nippon Sei Ko Kai Archbishop Nathaniel Makota Uematsu 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, during Shin’s remarks, a downpour could at times be heard in the background, as well as the cathedral’s noon bells.

Other ENS coverage of the gathering is here.

Shinn’s text follows.

History and Development of Asia-American Mission
EAM Consultation October 1- 5, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea
Allen Shin

I am not sure how it is that I have been asked to give a key note presentation this morning on the History and Development of Asia-America Mission, because there are many others who are far more qualified and experienced in this topic than I right here in this gathering. I see the Rev. Fran Toy, for instance, who has been part of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry from the beginning. So, I am truly honored to be the keynote speaker and share some of my half-baked thoughts on this topic.

When a famous philosopher like Kierkegaard writes down his half-baked ideas, it is called Philosophical Fragments. When a preacher speaks his or her half-baked ideas, it is called rambling. So, I hope my rambling this morning may be useful fragments and food for thought for you.

Recently I came across a book which has given me some new insight into the history of Asian migration to the Americas North and South. It is called The Making of Asian America by a scholar named Erika Lee. I highly recommend it to you. The author offers fresh insight into the history of Asian migration to America, weaving personal stories with the historical data.

Asians migrated to America as early as the 16th century, and most of them were indentured labors. Between 1565 and 1815 one hundred Spanish galleons called the Manila Galleons sailed between Manila and Acapulco and brought over one hundred thousand laborers from China, Japan, The Philippines, South and Southeast Asia. Los Chinos as they were called first landed in Acapulco in 1580. Many were also taken to Mexico and Peru to work in the plantations. Juan de Paez, for instance, was a Japanese laborer who later became a wealthy merchant himself in Guadalajara, Mexico and a mayor of a city in that region. Mirrha-Catarina de San Juan was a Chinese sex-worker who was brought over by the Spaniards to San Juan and after her death became a revered folk saint, La China Poblana.

Then, there were the Coolies. You can google the term Coolies and get a lot of information about them. Coolies is a pejorative term for the Asian indentured servants or laborers who were brought over to work on the plantations in the British West Indies. The first indentured South Asian laborers arrived in British Guiana in 1838. Between 1838 and 1917, 419,000 South Asians were taken to British West Indian plantations. Between 1847 and 1874, 140,000 Chinese were brought to Cuba. Between 1849 and 1874, 90,000 Chinese indentured laborers were taken to Peru. This global Asian indentured labor market flourished due to the abolition of slavery. Most of us know about the European and American slave trade, which enslaved about ten to twelve million Africans. The 1834 English Abolition of Slavery jeopardized the British West Indian plantation economy, they turned Asia for indentured labor market which is another form of slavery.

The first Asian settlement in the US took place in 1573 when a Spanish galleon brought Filipino laborers to New Orleans and set up a settlement called Malong Village. Later on the Gold Rush brought many Chinese laborers to California. One hundred and twenty-five Chinese laborers had arrived in 1849, and by 1852, 20,026 Chinese laborers arrived in California. Japanese and Korean and Southeast Asian laborers were also brought to Hawaii to work on the plantations in the 19th century. This sets up the historical background to the Asian presence in America.

In the fall of 2013, I took part in the process of electing the Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of New York. In October, six final candidates participated in the grueling exercise of the walk-abouts. Six of us were bused to seven difference churches around the diocese during that week. One of the location was Trinity Church Wall Street where our session was televised.

I remember that we were all tired and anxious as the session was in the evening. I remember this one particular question that was specifically directed to me. The question said that there was a document informing the mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church which had no mention of the Asian ministry. Someone by mistake had failed to include the information about the Asian ministry, and the question asked me what I thought about it and what I thought should be done about it. Since I had not seen the document, I had to trust the questioner on this. I remember saying something vague about Asians being an invisible minority and rambling on about something. It took me by surprise and I remember giving an unsatisfactory answer. It was one of those instances where I wish I had given a better answer and later kept replaying the answer I should have given in my head over and over again. I couldn’t sleep that night.

This is the answer I should have given and I wish I had given. Did you know that Asians have been an integral members of the Episcopal Church more than one hundred years? Did you know that the first Episcopal Asian mission, a mission to the Chinese, began in 1874 in Carson City and Virginia City in Nevada? A lay Chinese man named Ah Foo worked tirelessly and effectively evangelizing and building an Episcopal mission of a couple of hundred Chinese members. In 1886, the first Chinese Episcopal Church, St. Peter’s, was founded in Honolulu, HI. The first Japanese Episcopal Church, Christ Church, was started in San Francisco in 1895. Then the first Chinese congregation on the continent, True Sunshine, was founded in San Francisco in 1905. In 1907, St. Mary’s Japanese Church was founded in Los Angeles, and yet another Japanese Episcopal Church, St. Peter’s, was founded in Seattle in 1908. The first Korean Episcopal Church was founded in 1908 in Honolulu, HI. With the exception of Ah Foo’s first Chinese mission, all these Asian Episcopal Churches are still in existence. Did you also know that recently the first Hmong priest in the whole of Anglican Communion was ordained in the Diocese of MN? All these should be celebrated by the entire Episcopal Church. These should be shared and known to the entire Episcopal Church.

As the Rev. Fred Vergara mentioned in his sermon earlier, from the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, there were a series of discriminatory anti-Asian immigration acts such as the 1885 Chinese Exclusionary Act which effectively stopped Ah Foo’s missionary effort to the Chinese, the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act and the Japanese Internment Act in 1942. But, in the immigration act in 1960s opened the doors for new immigrants especially from Asia. That allowed for a huge influx of Asian immigrants into the US in the 1960s and the 1970s.

That’s when my family also immigrated to the US in 1972. I remember the day vividly. One day my parents told me that we were going to America and we packed our luggage and flew across the Pacific Ocean and landed in Seattle, our port of entry into the US. Eventually my family settled in Washington, DC, where I grew up.

Since the 1960s, many Asian churches have been established in the Episcopal Church. Today there are more than 140 Asian Episcopal congregations around the country. And that’s something the entire Episcopal Church ought to celebrate. There is much more work to be done sure but the Asian ministries have been an important part of the Episcopal Church for quite some time.

It was in 1973 that the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry was established with Winston Ching as the officer of the EAM office. Winston was a wise mentor to me and to many young Asian priests. He had a particular vision and wisdom for how to start and establish the Asian ministries in the Episcopal Church. He didn’t want it to be just Asian American mission but he saw the need to remain connected and in relationship with the Asian Anglican Churches across the Pacific. That is why he didn’t name the office Asian American Ministry but Asiamerica to include both Asia and America mission to the Asians. So, during his time and continuing today the partnerships between the EAM and the Asian Anglican Provinces have been developed, nurtured and strengthened. Some partnership projects included the Korean Episcopal BCP which was done in partnership with the Anglican Church of Korea, the Chinese Episcopal BCP with the Province of Hong Kong, the Vietnamese BCP and I understand that the Hmong BCP is in the process.

There have also been exchanges in theological education and in the sharing of the priests. During the explosion of Asian immigration population in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a real need for Anglican priests from Asian Provinces. Many Asian priests were brought over who as immigrants themselves lived alongside their immigrant parishioners in their struggle to establish a new life in the new land. It worked well in those years. But, today in many of our Asian congregations most people have been in the US for thirty to fifty years or longer. So to bring priests from Asian countries is a challenging and complex prospect. This is a challenge the EAM congregations must work together to deal with and solve. I am afraid as a community we have not done a very good job of raising new leadership of the next generation Asian Americans and many Asian American congregations are faced with the possibility of dire consequences.

According to the 2012 report of the US Census Bureau, Asians are the fastest growing ethnic minority group at 2.9%.  By comparison, the Latino/Hispanic population grew by 2.2%.  The same report found that 37% of the nation’s population was from a minority population or mixed race.  The US immigration pattern affirms the explosion of Asian immigrant population in the recent decades. In 1969, Asian immigration to the US was just at 11% of all immigration that year. It grew to 34% by 2010.  The Latino immigration to the US in 1969 was at 39% and has grown to just 41%.  According to the same report, among the Asians, Filipinos make up the largest group with 16.2%, and Indians, 15.6%, Chinese including from Hong Kong, 15.4%, Vietnamese, 10.4%, Koreans, 9.4%, Taiwanese, 3.3%, Japanese 3.1%, Pakistani, 2.7%, and Thai 1.9%.

It is not surprising that most Asians live in the coastal states. 46 percent of Asian Americans live in the West, 22 percent in the South, 20 percent in the Northeast and 12 percent in the Midwest. 75 percent of the Asian American population lives in California, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, Washington, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The top ten metropolitan areas with the highest concentration of Asian Americans: New York, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, Honolulu, Chicago, Houston, Fremont, CA, and Philadelphia. 1

For the population of 5 year-olds and younger, 49.9% was of minority or mixed race. 5 percent of the Asian American population identified as multi-racial. From 2000-2010, this population grew faster than the Asian alone population. 61% of those Asians who intermarried married a White person. Those most likely to intermarry: Japanese women (52%), Filipino women (44%), Korean women (38%), Chinese women (35%).

As for the religious affiliations among Asian Americans according to the 2010 census survey, 27% identified themselves as Protestant, 17% Roman Catholic, 8% Buddhist, 14%, 14% Hindu, 3% Muslim, 5 % other, and 23% None. Harvest is plentiful among Asian Americans. The Asian mission field is wide open. In the U.S. context, 3rd generation Asian American young adults are trending more progressive politically and more conservative theologically.

Emergence of the “hapa (mixed race)” population will change us all. Globalization and changes in the immigration pattern will affect ethnic enclaves and ethnic specific parishes. Many ethnic specific congregations have experienced silent exodus of young people of the second and third generations in the United States. On some level, the exodus of youth and young people is a challenge faced by perhaps all congregations. But, this poses a particularly serious challenge to the ethnic congregations as they find their congregation members graying rapidly without new growth.

When I began my ministry as an Episcopal priest, I had two jobs. I worked at the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry office as assistant officer to Winston Ching for three years and for five years as curate at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, otherwise known as Smokey Mary’s from 1996 to 2001. It is one of those churches that have three masses everyday and I celebrated Mass just about everyday. One day after the Noon Mass, I was standing at the door greeting people as they were leaving. Then I saw this woman who was standing a near the door and just staring at me. I was a bit nervous as she began approaching me, wondering what she was up to. Then she came right near me and stared at me even more and asked, “Are you Dalai Lama?”

This has turned into sort of an identity crisis for me. I have to admit that I have used it myself a couple of times as an ice-breaker. But underneath is there is something unsettling about it, isn’t there? Yes, it’s funny and humorous. But, it can be understood as asking something which I find unsettling for me. It’s asking, “As an Asian, why are you Christian?” I have been, in fact, asked this question a number of times: “Why are you a Christian and not a Buddhist?”

I have also been asked the question, “Where are you from?” In truth, as an immigrant the answer for me is straightforward; I am originally from Korea. But, having lived in the US for over forty years, I feel less Korean and American. My Korean-ness has diminished over the years, and I fully identify myself as an American. In fact, my wife talks to me in Korean and I often reply in English, for I am more comfortable speaking in English than in Korean. For those of you who were born in the US such as my niece, it’s a pretty difficult question to deal with. The question seems to be saying, “You don’t belong in America; you are not really an American because you are Asian.” That is a perpetual subtle racism many Asian Americans have to live with. But, how do we turn that into something of positive energy? That’s the challenge we must deal with.

I would like to end with two thoughts to reflect upon. In Matthew 9:17, Jesus says, “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Like many other ethnic congregations, our Asian churches are faced with this very issue. What do we do with the exodus of our younger generation Asian Americans from our churches? What new wine skins do we need to create and develop so that both the old and the new can be preserved? This, in fact, is a challenge all our congregations are facing today, not just Asian congregations. But, particularly for the Asian context, this is a serious issue we must deal with.

The other thought I would like to live you with is the idea of reconciliation. Archbishop Uematsu talked about the reconciliation ministry between the Anglican Church of Japan (Nippon Sei Ko Kai) and the Anglican Church of Korea. Reconciliation necessarily requires partnership and conversation. Reconciliation requires a relationship and relationship-building. One cannot have reconciliation by oneself; that would be pretty boring and meaningless. The true and lasting reconciliation requires, I believe, what the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks, has called, “the dignity of difference.” I think that we Asians practice that innately and culturally. The Asian culture is instilled with respecting the dignity of others and honoring not just the elderly but strangers.

The dignity of difference is founded on a simple notion of holiness. Sanctification or to sanctify in the Bible literally means to separate out or to set apart. So, difference is the essence of sanctification; difference is the heart of holiness. The true and lasting reconciliation can be achieved by honoring the dignity of difference. Often times, in order to reconcile we are too quick to go for unity. In vestry meetings or board meetings, whenever there is a difference of opinions, the first instinct often is to solve it by putting it to a vote. Let ‘s take vote and the majority opinion wins. The danger of this is the tyranny of majority, because it does not honor the dignity of difference. The tyranny of unity is exactly that. This is it; it has been settled and those with the minority view have no voice. Reconciliation requires that sense of dignity that honors the dignity of difference. And I believe as Asian Christians we have a critical role to play in this, because in our Asian culture we are ingrained in that sense of honoring the dignity of difference. God created all of us, every individual difference. In creation, God respected the dignity of every individual difference. There in lies the foundation for our mission and ministry of reconciliation.

I leave these two thoughts with you as we continue to explore our Asia-America mission and partnerships. What kind of mission projects can we explore for creating new wine skins for new wine so that we can preserve both the old and the new and for creating the ministry of reconciliation together, respecting the dignity of difference in every human being? Thank you very much.

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

Editor’s note: The text of this presentation was edited Oct. 9 at the request of Bishop Allen Shin to clarify immigration percentages cited.