【April 2020 No.407】Yokosuka Christian Center’s Developing Mission

While Japan was occupied by the Allied forces following its World War II defeat in 1945, an effort was made to change Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture from a site of military prominence to a city of cultural prominence. This effort was led by Yokosuka Naval Base’s new commander, Captain Benton Weaver Decker. After being assigned to Yokosuka in 1946, Captain Decker, who was a Christian, called together the Christian leadership of Yokosuka and encouraged them to use the various buildings and property previously occupied by the former Imperial Japanese Navy within the city as places for schools, hospitals, and social services. This enterprise can be called an “unforeseen (yet welcomed) consequence” of the Allied Occupation Forces’ policies.

At that time, the Kyodan took responsibility for the development of what is now Yokosuka Gakuin, Kinugasa Hospital, and Yokosuka Christian Community Center under the leadership of the Kyodan moderator, Kyodan pastors, and church laity. Yokosuka Christian Community Center was built in the community of Taura in the northern area of Yokosuka. The Community Center’s ministry began under the leadership of Sugiura Yoshito, a minister assigned to that position by the Kyodan.  In response to requests from local youth, a Bible study was started that resulted in the birth of today’s Taura Church.

In February 1948, Rev. Everett William Thompson became the first director of Yokosuka Christian Community Center. Thompson had been sent by the Methodist Church to serve in Japan before World War II but had returned to the US due to the war. Foreseeing Japan’s loss in the war and the need it would have for social services, Rev. Thompson went to graduate school and studied social work in order to be equipped for service in Japan following the war.

As planned, Thompson returned to Japan shortly after the war ended. He began his work there, serving “the least of these” by responding to the challenges of poverty and by opening a nursery school and a dormitory for mothers and children. His emphasis was on enabling the community to identify its own needs. He encouraged local residents to set educational goals and opened a library. He also encouraged cultural development. Noteworthy is the fact that he organized the first “senior club” for Japanese older people.

In 1957, Abe Shiro became the second director of the Community Center. He worked hard to develop professional social welfare services as well as new creative projects. With the development of groups like “Taura Mutual Aid” and “Taura Bazaar,” Abe was able to establish community programs and projects in Taura that had been envisioned by Thompson. Through these various programs and experiences, a community that was once foreign to Christianity opened itself to the Gospel.

As a Christian and director, Abe now faced two problems. One was bridging the differences of perspective of the social welfare agency and the local church toward a theological understanding of evangelism. The other problem was gaining financial independence from the church.

At that time, the chaplain of the base chapel at the US Naval Base in Yokosuka encouraged the rebuilding of the Community Center and offered to pay the full cost. However, because of differences in missional priorities—and in spite of the financial difficulties that would result— the offer was respectfully declined. The Gospel is for the entire community, and Christian social welfare services in the community are not delivered according to the faith of those in need. This comes from the belief that the heart of Christian social welfare is shown in the faith that enables us to administer services to whomever is in need.

In 2007, Kishikawa Yoji became the third director of the Community Center. As the Center adjusts to the increase of older people and the decrease of young people, changes are being made in policy, organization, and in the facilities themselves in order to enable proper service for a changing clientele. Continued conversations among the staff, as well as new learning/training opportunities, are being used to accomplish this.

Furthermore, through social welfare service in the community, the heart and spirit of social welfare has deepened, and we are committed to further developing our mission. We hope to have theological dialogue, not only within our facilities, but also with the local church, in an effort to increase our missional cooperation together.

Christian social welfare services are taking place at the front lines of mission. As we look at the history of social welfare, we see stories of faith in the footprints of the various social welfare agencies and service. This is an inheritance we want to honor, and a story we want to continue to tell through our services. (Tr. JS)

—Sato Senro, Board of Trustees member

Yokosuka Christian Community Center

From Kyodan Shinpo (The Kyodan Times), No. 4916

横須賀基督教社会館

(富国強兵を柱に据えた国家としての)日本が、1945年の敗戦により崩壊し、連合国の占領下にあった時、軍事都市であった横須賀を、文化都市へと転換させようとした人物が、米海軍横須賀基地司令官デッカー大佐です。キリスト者デッカーは着任直後の1946年、市内にある旧日本海軍施設の建物と敷地全体を使い、教育、医療、福祉の事業を始めるよう、キリスト教関係者に呼びかけました。その事業が「戦争の落とし子」と言われる所以です。

この時、日本基督教団は、学校(現、横須賀学院)、衣笠病院、横須賀基督教社会館の三施設の開設に責任を持ち、教団総会議長も含め牧師、信徒らが、それらの運営を担いました。

横須賀北部の田浦地区で開設された横須賀基督教社会館は、杉浦義人牧師が開設の責任者として教団から派遣され、活動を開始、間もなく地域青年の希望により聖書研究会が開かれ、後に田浦教会に発展します。

1948年2月に着任した初代館長エベレット・トムソンは戦前、米国メソジスト教会宣教師として来日、戦争により帰国しますが、日本の敗戦を見通し、大学院に通い、社会事業を専攻、敗戦後の日本が必要とするであろうことに備えました。

戦後日本に戻り、田浦に働きの地を得たトムソンは、「最も小さい者のひとり」の困窮に即応し、保育園、母子寮を開きます。さらに活動の重点を「地域のニーズを住民自ら気付くこと」に置いて町民を啓蒙、図書館を開設して、町民の文化的意識を高めました。特記すべきは、日本初の「老人クラブ」を組織したことです。

1957年、二代目館長に就任した阿部志郎は、専門的社会福祉と先駆的事業の展開に取り組み、特に、「田浦たすけあいの会」「たうらの町ふれあい福祉バザー」などに見られるように、トムソンが目指した地域福祉を田浦に根付かせました。そして、これら活動の歴史は、キリスト教と縁遠い地をキリスト教に開かれた町へと変えていきました。

キリスト者阿部がこの時期に向き合った課題が、教会との宣教(伝道)をめぐる神学的理解の違いと、教会からの経済的自立でした。

会館建て替えを勧める米軍横須賀基地内教会のチャプレンから、費用の全額支援の申し出がありましたが、宣教に関する理解の相違から、以後の経済的打撃を承知で断りました。福音の主体は地域住民 にあり、相手の信仰の有無に関係なく、福祉を必要とする人々の困窮に信仰をもって仕えていくことに「福祉の心」があるとの考えからです。

2007年、岸川洋治が三代目館長に就任。少子高齢化、暮らしの多様化など時代の変化に対応しつつも、先駆性を失うことのない施設の形成と運営を、全職員と共に話し合い、現場の取り組みに生かしています。

さらに、地域福祉事業を通して深められてきた「福祉の心」を、宣教力へと高めるため、施設内だけでなく教会も含めた神学的対話の構築、地域教会との協力関係を摸索しています。

キリスト教社会福祉の現場も宣教の最前線です。福祉事業個々の歴史の足跡に、信仰の生きた証を読み取り、継承し、宣教の言葉として発信していくことの大切さを思います。

佐藤千郎、横須賀基督教社会館 理事

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