by Rev’d Canon Timothy Makoto Nakayama
A statement by The Rev’d Canon Timothy Makoto Nakayama, from the perspective of the Japanese-Canadian Vancouver Consultative Council (JC-VCC)1 question “What happened to the Japanese-Canadian Anglican Churches in 1945 and 1949?” It was developed with the understanding that it will be recited and filmed, and that it will represent my input to the video being prepared for Synod, “Understanding First, Reconciliation Second.” The JC-VCC team asked Greg Tatchell to read it in English, and his wife Michiko, who did the translation, in Japanese. As a member of that team, that decision reflects my wishes. It was so filmed on April 18, 2010, at Holy Cross. It is here preserved in bi-lingual form (see Japanese version in the Geppo), for the community in whose honour it was written.
Before Pearl Harbor, I was a child attending the Church of the Ascension at 3rd and Pine in Vancouver, with other Japanese-Canadian Anglicans. My father was the priest. He built this new church in 1935. Joy and I have fond memories of this church. At the same time that Joy and I were attending Church of the Ascension, Basil Izumi, another member of our JC-VCC1 team, was attending the other Japanese Canadian church, Holy Cross. In 1942, both of these churches were closed and we were sent to ghost towns in B.C., an action of Canada’s Prime minister and cabinet by Orders in Council. At age 10 then, I was, as one book describes, “A Child in Prison Camp.”
While we were thus in exile, without our knowledge or permission, the Custodian of Enemy Alien Property sold all our real estate and chattels by Government auction. Our family home, for example, was sold on September 22, 1944. None in our family knew this until 2009. Although it was the government that sold our homes, it was the diocesan authorities that sold our churches. For sixty years we have been in the dark with unanswered questions.
After war’s end in 1945, Canada’s dispersal policy scattered us to the winds, and unlike Japanese Americans, we were prohibited from returning to our homes or to the west coast. We did not know that our Church of the Ascension had already been sold. On August 31, 1945 our family moved to the flat, treeless prairies of Southern Alberta. Four years later, on April 1, 1949, we were finally granted the freedom to return. In 1950, I graduated from high school in the village of Coaldale. That fall I entered UBC in Vancouver, received a BA in 1953 and became a student of the Anglican Theological College of BC to follow in my father’s footsteps in the sacred ministry.
During that summer I stayed in the students’ residence of the Anglican College and assisted the Rev’d Canon W. H. Gale in gathering together the Japanese Canadian Anglicans who had returned to Vancouver after their seven years in exile, looking for a church and a community.
Canon Gale took me with him one day during the summer of 1953 to the Synod Office in downtown Vancouver, to meet the Rt. Rev. Godfrey Philip Gower, Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster.
I asked Bishop Gower, “What happened to our Churches?” Instead of replying to me, the Bishop took Father Gale and me to the Outer Office. He summoned the Diocesan Treasurer, Mr. Mathewson, and asked him to answer my question, “What happened to our churches?” The Diocesan Treasurer, with complete knowledge of the church sales, answered me with a three-word sentence: “They were relinquished.” I was stunned. I said nothing. Father Gale, a very quiet spoken person, did not say anything either. Nothing further was said by anyone. I returned to my room at the College and looked up the word “relinquished” in my Webster Collegiate Dictionary. My recollections of that term left me with the impression that the Bishop and Diocese had taken our church properties off their shoulders, no longer maintaining any sense of responsibility of being entrusted with the care of the Mission properties we had been using for over four decades.
Given that we had no churches, and that we didn’t know what had happened to either Church of the Ascension or Holy Cross, Father Gale went to visit St. James’ Church, where a ministry of outreach to the Japanese had begun in 1904, fifty years before. He asked the Clergy if we could use St. James’ Church to meet during times when it was not in use, to conduct services in Japanese to minister to those who had returned to Vancouver. With their permission the Japanese ministry resumed in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament of that church.
Having served in the Anglican Communion in both Canada and the United States, I think of the painful contrast between what happened in Vancouver and in Seattle. It’s a tale of two churches. It does not take Solomon’s wisdom to discern where Love’s presence was. One shepherd faithfully tended his flock. The other did not. While we were gathering in St. James’, the Japanese-Americans in Seattle had been fully restored to their church, as a fully functioning worship community, since 1945. Our poverty by comparison was stark.
So, 57 years later, are there more answers to my question, “What happened to our churches?”
Last year, 2009, Greg Tatchell and our JC-VCC team, of which I was an active member, traced and documented Diocesan actions with regards to our churches that had been “relinquished.” His thesis chronicles in detail what occurred to both Church of the Ascension and Holy Cross, and where the money went.
I would like to emphasize three of our discoveries that are of particular importance in answering the question of what happened to our churches.
Point 1: The church that cost the diocese nothing, Church of the Ascension, was sold by the diocese. A 1937 report at General Synod states, “The congregation of Church of the Ascension, Vancouver, planned, financed, and erected a church building which will seat one hundred people.” Eight years later, in July of 1945, the Diocese sold that church. We never knew aspects of this sale until the work of 2009. We never did find out what happened to the sacred articles or the record books.
Point 2: The motivating factor in the exile of Japanese Canadians in 1942 was racism, which had existed on the West Coast for decades. The motivating factor in the sale of our churches in 1945 and 1949 was also racism. I believe this needs to be declared. The Rev. Dr. Cyril Powles, a fellow JC-VCC team member, has characterized the racism in 1945 as virulent. It is incumbent on us today these many years later to be alert to unconscious racist attitudes. This is part of the challenge that has been handed to us.
Point 3: Japanese-Canadian Anglicans were trickling back to Vancouver following the ending of our seven-year exile, on April 1, 1949, nearly four years after the war was over. The great tragedy to our community was that, at the very time that we were returning, our last church in Vancouver, the original Holy Cross Church, was sold on August 19, 1949, 140 days after our return.
It is impossible to overstate how the availability of our church would have helped our community’s morale if we had been able to move back into even one of the two churches we left behind in 1942. It was painful that our beloved Church of the Ascension still stood, but was now inaccessible, a furniture factory2.
I think we have finally answered the question I asked Bishop Gower, and that we know with certainty how our Japanese Canadian churches had been relinquished, Church of the Ascension in 1945, and Holy Cross in 1949.
I am filled with hope that the Diocese has understood that before there can be Wakai, Reconciliation, there needs to be Rikai, Understanding; UNDERSTANDING FIRST, THEN RECONCILIATION.
I thank Bishop Michael for beginning this painful process. For those remaining of the 1500 Japanese Canadian Anglicans exiled in 1942, this is a great joy in these, our twilight years. God bless this process and all of you that have facilitated it.
1 JC-VCC: Japanese-Canadian Vancouver Consultative Council; 9 members of the extended JC community who researched and answered the question “What happened to our JC Anglican Churches in 1945 & 1949.
2 Shig Kuwabara worked for three months in this furniture factory. Shig was to become a Bishop’s Warden
at Holy Cross in the 50’s and 60’s, and contributed to the work done by the JC-VCC in 2009.