Last Sunday, J-Tell Junho Kim, Suite J-Town manager Jill Shiraki, and I attended a Sunday Service in English at the Pine Methodist Church (PMC). This church was acknowledged as the "mother" church of all Japanese Methodist Churches in the United States, founded in 1886. It resided in Japantown for many years and closed for three years during internment, later moving to the Richmond District in 1965, largely because it is where many Japanese Americans moved to at that time - the suburbs.
As I learned when I got there, they are also the only Asian Pacific Islander (API) Christian Congregation that is openly accepting and inviting of the LGBTQ community. Hence their reverend, Reverend Jeanelle Ablola is a young courageous queer Filipina powerhouse!
When I arrived at the church I realized I had been there before. The moms of my elementary school, the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program of Clarendon Elementary, held a fundraiser there, a fashion show to be exact!
Junho, Jill and I went to PMC to spread the word about the Suite J-Town project, to connect with members of the church and facilitate their participation in the creation of paper leaves for the Pagoda installation being built by guest artist Kevin King. The paper leaves are wishes and memories of people who have been in the Japantown community, answering the prompt: "I am Japantown because...." or "I love Japantown because...".
Junho and I were given about ten minutes between the gospel and the sermon to describe Suite J-town, why it is a meaningful project for each of us, and how we would like people to share their stories with us. The writing on paper leaves took place after the service during the reception. There were madeleine cookies, macarons, grapes, pineapple, little cut tuna sandwiches, and lots of hot green tea spread out on the table. We stood at another table close by, and each member came and chatted with us. We talked to people about film making, volunteering at Kimochi home, and the importance of maintaining self-compassion.
It was an opportunity to dip into another community or an extension of my community. Announcements consisted of requesting volunteers to make jello for a memorial celebration at the Japanese Cultural Community Center for Northern California (JCCCNC), diapers and a dresser for a young mother at the Asian Women's Shelter, and volunteers to staff the Wafu Dog Food Vending Tent at Sakura Matsuri next weekend.
I was most grateful to find myself in a very spiritual setting full of reflection and honor. Rev. Jeanelle's sermon was incredibly connected to the work we are doing as the Suite J-Town project. Her sermon was titled "Reclaiming Who We Are". She acknowledged our Suite J-Town presence as a reminder of the power to heal through art and incite spiritual growth. She reminded us that everything we do is remembrance: sacraments, rituals, songs - that remembering has power and allows us to reclaim our identity. She ended by reminding us: ".
The purpose of her talk was to point us towards believing in our own and our collective transformation. Finally we all stood in a "rice-grain formation", an awkward circle in the aisle of the church, looking into each other's eyes and holding hands for a final prayer, only to let go and shake each person's hand, saying "Peace Be With You".
I was moved by the authenticity and energy of everyone we talked to and grateful to be part of emboldening relations between Japantown and Pine Methodist Church. I'm certain we will see many of our new friends at the gallery!