日本基督教団 The United Church of Christ in Japan

【December 2016 No.390】Union Japanese Church of Westchester: Its Ministry and Challenges


by Nishikawa Akimitsu, pastor Union Japanese Church of Westchester, New York City

Union Japanese Church of Westchester began a worship service in the Japanese language in September 1989. While receiving support from the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the United Methodist Church (UMC), it was given a place to hold services at Hitchcock Presbyterian Church, where it has continued to do church work as an interdenominational church.


New York State is in the middle of the Atlantic coastline and ranks third in population among the states and 27th in area. In the United States, New York City is located in the southeast end of the state and is the city with the largest population (approximately 8 million people). Our church is located in the outlying suburbs about 40 to 50 minutes by car north of Manhattan, the center of New York City. Scarsdale, in Westchester County, is a town with abundant natural beauty and affluent families.


In general, it can probably be said that missionary work among expatriates in New York is tied to and inseparable from world economics. During the period of economic growth in Japan, many enterprises in New York expanded, and the number of Japanese resident workers increased, resulting in vigorous activity by Japanese-language churches. At present, the number of resident Japanese people is slowly decreasing and being replaced by many Chinese and Hispanic people.


The number of Union Japanese Church members has also slowly decreased for several years now, and without the aid of its support group in Japan, the continuing existence of the church is precarious. In the midst of all this, having gone through several months of waiting for approval of a missionary visa, I arrived at my post in December 2014 as the Reverend Asada Yoko’s successor.


Due to visa concerns, ministerial changes do not go smoothly in churches outside Japan, and they often experience periods of being without a pastor, as our church did for a year and had to start again. Thus, many of the meetings other than the worship service had been suspended. Soon after arriving at my post, I reopened the house meeting in the Trumbull area in Connecticut. Nearly all the participants at the Trumbull meeting are non-Christians, but because it is a very homey gathering, the numbers are slowly beginning to increase.


Following the reestablishment of the house meeting, I also reopened the Bible study. However, church members are few in number, and nearly all are working. So we hold Bible study after the “Living in America” class at Hitchcock Presbyterian Church on Thursday mornings, and I have begun an introductory Bible class aimed at the Japanese persons who attend. Fortunately, the time for it immediately follows the “Living In America” class. So a few persons have started to attend, and we are continuing to have good fellowship.


Including these kinds of meetings, there are three Japanese-language churches serving in Westchester District: Union Japanese Church of Westchester, New York Japanese Church, and Metropolitan Japanese Ministry. Since they are all small, we wondered if there was not something the three churches could do cooperatively, so they started holding an interdenominational exchange worship service. (At present, Japanese-American United Church members, Japanese Christian Church of Greenwich members, and Japanese Christians from the Queens area are attending).


Japanese-language churches on the outskirts of New York State, with the exception of Manhattan Japanese American Church, are struggling with membership and financial hardships. The reason is that the majority of participating families reside in New York for a short period and then return to Japan. Likewise, those permanent residents who have ties to the church (and house meetings) are also beginning to attend English worship services.


At the same time, many of the U.S. denominations are proposing to cut their support because there is little result from evangelism among Japanese people. That alone would cause a crisis among the Japanese-language meetings that are also struggling to continue while facing membership and financial issues.


However, looking back at history and realizing that many of the Christians of the Meiji Era who came in contact with Christianity while studying abroad in the U.S., did wonderful work following their return to Japan, I feel that the evangelistic work mainly done here should definitely not be stopped, even if it does not substantially connect with church development. I request you, by all means, to please remember to pray for our church and for each of the Japanese-language churches outside Japan and to join with us in supporting them. (Tr. RT)

ユニオン日本語教会牧師 西川晃充

ユニオン日本語教会Union Japanese Church of Westchesterは、1989年の9月に日本 語による礼拝を始め、米改革派、米合同メソジスト派の支援を受け、ヒッチコック長老派教会Hitchcock Presbyterian Churchに場所を提供していただいて教会活動を続けている超教派の教会です。


私たちの教会は、このニューヨーク市の中心マンハッタンから北へ車で40分~50分ほど移動した郊外にあります。そこは、ウェストチェスター郡スカーズデールScarsdale, Westchester Countyという場所で、自然が豊かで富裕層が多く住む町です。

ニューヨークでの宣教(海外宣教全般にも言えることかもしれませんが)は、世界経済と不可分に結びついています。日本の経済成長期にはニューヨークに多くの企業が進出し、それに 伴い多くの日本人駐在員が増え、結果的に日本語教会の働きは活発化いたしました。そのため、現在は日本人は徐々に減少し、中国や ヒスパニック系の方々が多くなっているのが現状です。

このような中にあって、ユニオン日本語教会も教会員が徐々に減少し、日本の支援会の支えなくしては教会の存 続が危ぶまれる状況がここ数年続いております。

このような中、数か月の宗教ビザの認可待ちの期間を経て、浅田容子Yoko Asada牧師の後任として2014年12月に私が着任させていただくことになりました。

海外の教会はビザの関係で牧師交代スムーズに行かず、無牧期間を経ることが多くありますが、私たちの教会も 1年間の無牧の時を経ての再スタートでしたので、礼拝以外のいくつかの集会が閉じられておりました。

そこで、着任後すぐにコネチカット州トランブルTrumbull地区の家庭集会を再開しました。このトランブル集会は、ノンクリスチャンの方々がほとんどの集会ですが、と てもアットホームな集会であったため、少しずつ人数が増え始めました。

また家庭集会に続き、聖書研究会も再開いたしました。ただし、教会員の人数が数名のみにであり、そのほとん どが仕事をもっておられるため、木曜日の午前中にヒッチコック長老教会行われているLiving in Americaの終了後に聖書研究会を行うようにし、そこに参加する日本人向けに入門バイブルクラスとして始めました。幸 い、時間がLiving in America終了後ということで、数名の方が参加くださるようになり、楽しい交わりを継続できております。

こうした集会に加え、ウェストチェスター郡の3つの日本語教会(ユニオン日本語教会Union Japanese Church of Westchester、ニューヨーク日本語教会New York Japanese Church、メトロポリタン・ジャパニーズ・ミニストリーMetropolitan Japanese Ministry)のそれぞれが小さい教会であるため、3教会が連携して何かできないものか、と考え、3教 会が連携して行う超教派の交流礼拝もスタートいたしました(現在は、日米合同教会Japanese American United Church、グリニッジ福音キリスト教会Japanese Gospel Church of Greenwich、クイーンズ地区の日本人クリスチャンの方々も参加くださって います)。

ニュヨーク州周辺での日本語教会(集会)は、マンハッタンの日米合同教会Japanese American United Churchを除いていずれも人的財政的困難な抱えています。それは、ここニューヨークに短い期間滞在して帰国する駐在 員家族が出席者の大半であることに加え、教会(集会)の核となる定住者もまたアメリカの英語礼拝に出席するようになりつつあるためです。

こうした中、アメリカの教派の多くは、日本人宣教は実りが少ない、という理由から支援の打ち切りを申し出て きており、ただでさえ人的財政的困難を抱える日本語集会が存続の危機を抱えています。

しかし、歴史を振り返る時、明治期の中心的クリスチャンの多くが米国留学時に福音に触れ、帰国後日本で素晴 らしい働きをしたことを考える時、ここでの宣教が主として帰国者に仕える働きのため実質的な教会形成に繋がらないものであったと しても、決して途絶えさせてはいけない働きであるように感じております。

ぜひとも私たち教会、そして海外の一つひとつの日本語教会のために覚えてお祈りくださいますと共にご支援い ただけますようお願い申し上げます。

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