The 38th Kyodan General Assembly was held over a three-day period, beginning Oct. 23, at the Metropolitan Hotel in the Ikebukuro section ofTokyo. Altogether, 376 of the 400 allotted delegates attended. As has been the case since the 2004 General Assembly, the Okinawa District delegation did not send any representatives.
The Assembly began with the opening worship service, where Takahashi Kazuto, pastor of Sendai Higashi Rokubancho Church, gave a sermon entitled “A Restoration that Transforms Tears into Comfort,” based on Ezekiel 37:1-10 and Hebrews 5:7-10. The following is the essence of that message:
From among the scenes of death and destruction visited upon us by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, we have also seen the essence of the world. From the sad ruins of the valley of bones, the Lord asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel had no answer as he stood there among the bones, but it was from that situation that God commanded him to speak.
We too have had to stand speechless in the face of destruction, and yet we must still speak to that situation. It is in such times that the Spirit blows in like a wind. The Lord Jesus himself had to learn obedience among tears and prayers, so he now stands among us as our High Priest, interceding for us in our wailing and tears of pain. Those being interceded for can know that the Lord is particularly close to them amidst their tears. People-power is certainly a prerequisite for recovery, but a recovery through the Spirit—one that is “a restoration that transforms tears into comfort”—is one that comes from the Lord.
Moderator Ishibashi Hideo’s report focused on the following four points, among others:
1) Promoting evangelistic cooperation among the churches through the establishment of the Evangelism Promotion Office during the 37th General Assembly period, with the intended goal of transforming the Kyodan from a “Kyodan that is warming up to evangelism” to a “Kyodan that is on fire for evangelism”;
2) The importance of “realizing the Holy Catholic Church” through unity based in the Kyodan Confession of Faith;
3) The proposal of a revised basic theory of mission; and
4) A reworking of the budget based on the original projection of overseas donations for relief and reconstruction of the disaster areas of the 2011 quake that has reached a plateau of 228 million yen, which is only 19% of the goal of 1.2 billion yen.
Following General Secretary Naito Tomeyuki’s report, the election of the new moderator was held. Secretary Kumoshikari Toshimi presented the proposal from the Executive Council to bypass the preliminary election system, but delegate Mukai Mareo proposed that a preliminary election be held, with the five candidates with the most votes moving on to the main election, which would be held after each of them had made a presentation of their thinking. The motion was narrowly defeated, with the final result that Ishibashi Hideo was reelected. The same process happened during the election of the vice-moderator, as a similar motion to hold a preliminary election was likewise narrowly defeated, and Ito Mizuo, a pastor ofOizumiBethelChurchinTokyowas elected. As for the secretary, in accordance with established tradition, the Assembly approved the candidate nominated by the vice-moderator, so Kumoshikari Toshimi was reelected. The election of the general secretary resulted in Nagasaki Tetsuo replacing Naito Tomeyuki, and among the members of the Executive Council, 3 of the 14 clergy members and 5 of the 13 lay members were likewise newly elected.
The Executive Council had also made a proposal concerning the restoration of relations with Tokyo Theological Seminary, the problem of which stemmed from the 1970 and 1972 General Assembly’s resolutions regarding the seminary’s decision to call in the police during the student demonstrations at that time. The Assembly had passed resolutions criticizing the seminary’s decision as being improper, and that has been the background of the inability to restore full relations all these years. A vote was taken and the resolution passed. Moderator Ishibashi stated, “As a result of the passage of this resolution, I plan to visit Tokyo Theological Seminary to submit a formal apology and seek restoration of relations.”
Much of the final day of the Assembly involved discussion of the issue of “unity and order” in regards to baptism and participation in communion, based on the Kyodan Confession of Faith and the Kyodan Constitution and Bylaws. From the standpoint of those opposing the move to enforce the rule of not allowing participation in Holy Communion until after baptism, a representative opinion was that “the type of order expressed in the proposal is not clearly defined in the Kyodan Constitution and Bylaws.” From the support side, however, the position taken was that “the Kyodan Constitution and Bylaws have been the basis for unity as a merged church coming out of a variety of denominational backgrounds.
Likewise, the expression of the Church delineated in the Kyodan Constitution and Bylaws is one in which a person becomes a part of the Body of Christ through baptism and then is nurtured by the life of Christ through the receiving of communion. Thus, there is a need to clarify this issue of church order. Due to the lack of time, the motion was referred to the Executive Council for further deliberation.
There were also a series of reports concerning the Great East Japan Earthquake. Ohara Muneo, moderator of Ou District, reported that while the emergency measures taken concerning those churches damaged or destroyed in the disaster have been finished, the road to complete recovery is going to be a long one, as there are other problems, such as a lack of unity within the churches as to their recovery plans. Takahashi Kazuto, moderator of Tohoku District, reported that over 70% of the churches in that district had suffered at least some damage in the quake, and that working together with the Kyodan as a whole, relief activities were continuing through two agencies that had been established: the Tohoku District Survivor Relief Center “Emmaus” and the Tohoku District Committee on Church Relief and Restoration. Next, Kanto District gave a presentation, using photographs of the damage that churches had experienced and describing the progress being made towards recovery. Following additional reports on two social welfare institutions, Kataoka Terumi, representing theAizuRadiationInformationCenter, reported on its activities, including the “rest and recreation camps” being sponsored together with the Kyodan. She emphasized that such work would be necessary well into the future. Finally, Moderator Ishibashi closed with an appeal for all to pause on the 11th day of each month to remember in prayer those affected by the great disaster that unfolded, beginning at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011.
—Makoto Kato, executive secretary
Based on an article in Shinpo
(The Kyodan Times), No.4761