Japanese Anglican Church struggles to respond to disasters

The Anglican Church in Japan is struggling to respond to a series of calamities that have staggered the country.

On March 11, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the resultant tsunami decimated the northeastern coast of Japan, reportedly killing more than 10,000 people, displacing hundreds of thousands and leaving millions without electricity or water.

The crisis continues to deepen as a badly damaged nuclear reactor at the crippled Fukushima Power Plant leaks radiation and threatens to melt down.

Due to the extension damage to Japan's infrastructure, communications between the Anglican Church in Japan and the international Anglican Communion have been very limited.

However, on March 15 a church official in Japan managed to e-mail a status report to churches in the international Anglican community.

“The earthquake/tsunami affected areas include the diocese of Tohoku and Kita Kanto, and a very small area of the Diocese of Yokohoma in Chiba prefecture," reads the e-mail obtained by ChristianWeek.

Within the diocese of Tohoku - which has 29 churches, chapels and missionary stations - the prefectures of Yamagata, Fukushima and especially Miyagi were “hit hard" by the disasters, according to the report.

A public statement issued by Archbishop Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu, the Primate of the Anglican Church in Japan, states that the Church “is planning to establish an emergency relief centre within the [Tohoku] diocesan building."

Throughout the affected dioceses, writes Uematsu, “Priests have been frantically trying to confirm that their parishioners are safe."

“There is particular concern for two churches: Isoyama St. Peter's Church in Fukushima Prefecture and Kamaishi Shinai Church and Kindergarten that were close to the sea," Uematsu states.

The number of people who lost their lives in the affected dioceses is still unknown. According to the report, there were no casualties among the clergy.

The Anglican Communion in Japan has a total of 57,000 members, Archdeacon Paul Fehely, principal secretary to the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, tells ChristianWeek. He says there are 315 Anglican parishes in Japan, spread across 11 dioceses.

The Anglican Church in Japan, which was established in 1859 and became an official province in the international Anglican Communion in 1930, is the third largest Christian denomination in Japan, where Christians are a small minority.

In a March 11 letter to the Anglican Church in Japan, Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, expressed sorrow at the loss of life and widespread destruction.

“We hold before God all those who are engaged in the relief efforts," writes Hiltz, as well as “all who are ministering to the needs of a stricken, grieving nation."

The unfolding nuclear crisis weighs heavily on Fehely. “If one of those [reactors] really blows," he asks rhetorically, “how far away is safe?"

The Canadian Anglican Church is doing what it can to help by calling Christians to pray for Japan.

In addition, the Canadian church is receiving donations through the Primate's World Relief Development Fund (PWRDF), the humanitarian and development arm of the Anglican Church in Canada. The PWRDF will work with Japanese Anglican organizations to assist the victims and restore affected communities.

When asked if there was a particular passage of Scripture he would like Christians to consider during Japan's time of need, Fehely replied without hesitation, “1 Thessalonians 5:17. Pray without ceasing."

Right now, says Fehely, there isn't much he or other Christians in Canada can do to directly assist those most affected by Japan's escalating crises.

“But what I can offer from here, to them," he says, “is my prayers. And that's what they've asked for."

Uematsu has expressed gratitude to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and churches throughout the Anglican Communion for their prayers and messages of support.

Those expressions of compassion, caring and solidarity “point to the strength of the Anglican Communion," Fehely says.

The Anglican Church in Japan is proving itself to be resilient in the face of extreme adversity.

The coastal city of Sendai was close to the epicentre of the quake. It was also hit with the full force of the tsunami. Yet the Sendai Christ Church conducted its first Sunday service just two days later. The church was so badly damaged that the service had to be held in the diocesan office.

Even in the midst of the devastation, the work of ministry continues.

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Special to ChristianWeek

Geoffrey P. Johnston is a Canadian rights journalist. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffyPJohnston.