Introduction and History
Executive Secretary (Rev. Doug Goodwin)
While past events cannot be changed, our present relationship to those events can change, and often have to change. In Christian faith this is often done through confession and forgiveness.
In the early decades of the 20th century there was a thriving Japanese United Church presence in BC. One of those congregations worshipped at the United Church on Powell Street. When Canada entered the war against Japan in 1941, all people of Japanese origin or descent were interned in camps away from the coast, many in the Kootenays. Japanese church properties were put into the trusteeship of the United Church. Although the war ended in 1945, the internees were not allowed to return to the coast until 1949. When the Powell Street congregation returned, they found a church building that was now being used primarily for storage and no longer adequately maintained for worship or congregational life. They began to worship at First United Church, then Fairview United and Renfrew United. Finally, over two decades later, they found a permanent church home in their present building, the former St. Luke’s.
Meanwhile, in 1953, the United Church sold the Powell Street church building to Welfare Industries, a service society of First United Church. The following year Welfare Industries sold it to a Buddhist society for use as a temple, which it still is to the present day. In neither of these sales did the Japanese congregation for whom that place was home have any decision-making power, nor did they benefit in any direct way. In short, their church had been taken away during the internment and never returned.
We do not know how church leaders saw their actions at that time, or during the decades that followed when this matter was raised by Japanese United as an issue to be addressed. We do know that it has never been satisfactorily recognized and confessed… which now becomes our Christian task this day.
Recognition and Apology
President (Rev. Hilde Seal)
Chizu Uchida, members of Vancouver Japanese United Church, Issei and Nisei: from its beginnings The United Church of Canada was a church made up of diverse peoples, from many lands and cultures. It has always been our vision that, despite the difficulties diversity brings, we would work together as sisters and brothers in Christ to overcome troubles so the body of Christ might be one, working together, loving one another, respectful and honouring of one another.
We confess that we have often failed this call. In particular, we recognize and now confess that the church’s actions in regards to the sale of the Powell Street church were deeply flawed and dishonouring of the living congregation that called it home. We confess that the church, too, was tainted by the prejudices and fears of that era, and that even best intentions were warped by often-subtle forms of racism. We acknowledge that you lost a church home, and along with all the other trials of recovering from internment, you also had to struggle to find a new place to call your own for the worship of God. You had no say in the future of that place; you did not even receive a financial benefit from its sale. And for close to 60 years the church has not found a way to acknowledge adequately this history.
As trustees of your property, the church failed. As trustees of the unity of Christ among all peoples, the church failed. As your sisters and brothers in Christ, we failed. This is our confession.
And our promise is this: that we commit ourselves anew to continue to minister with you as sisters and brothers in our shared faith, acknowledging the troubles, facing the difficulties, rejoicing together, crying together, worshipping and celebrating together, whatever the days ahead might bring, trusting always in the One who has broken down all walls of hostility, and who promises life in abundance.
Congregational Minister (Rev. Daniel Kirkegaard)
In response to this act of recognition, confession and apology by BC Conference of The United Church of Canada addressing the historic break of trust toward the members, adherents and families of Vancouver Japanese United Church, it is appropriate that a few of the voices and sentiments of those who have kept this before us for decades be heard.
In a conversation, the Rev. Tad Mitsui, retired clergy of The United Church of Canada, expressed that further to the humiliation and injustice of the internment of Japanese Canadian families, the huge loss of personal property along with the sale of their church building at Powell Street caused an emotional weight and confusion for the children and grandchildren that is evident to this very day. The nature of the Japanese people is to be very gracious and much of the effect of these wounds to the identity and integrity of this people was held internally. The act of this Conference provides a long awaited release.
The late Rev. Gordon Imai and his spouse, Joan, who is with us today, held a firm belief that the physical structure of the visible church was a strong, uniting force for the community. This was evident throughout their ministry as they helped established many of the Japanese United Church congregations across this country. The loss of their building at Powell Street, their place of belonging, created a scarring effect on the Japanese people of the United Church. This act of recognition, confession and apology can now heal the underlying effect of those scars.
The Rev. Maki Fushi identified a scripture she had read just prior to our phone conversation a few days ago: Habakkuk 2 : 10, 11& 14. “You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.” The second and third generations of the Japanese families that had their church sold without their consultation or agreement have for years called out for that wrong to be addressed. It is finally coming to fruition. Not only will the families be able to move more freely into their future, released of this weight, but the whole United Church will also more truly “…be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord….”
Without question, the members of the Vancouver Japanese United Church congregations are thankful for this action of BC Conference today. The further step we will take in a local service of recognition will give opportunity for many others to hear, respond and participate in the humble gift that is offered here today. In light of the talk by the Rev. Dr. Peter Short last evening, both the BC Conference and the Vancouver Japanese United Church congregations may now have a better change of “getting a grip on letting go.”
May God’s blessing rest upon us all.