Building a More Diverse Family

This is an excerpt from the book Times and Tides: BC Conference — an overview 1970–2017.  The chapter “Building a More Diverse Family” was written by CCS Communications staff person, Kimiko Karpoff. 

In some ways my family’s story, my story, is illustrative of the larger story of ethnic and intercultural ministries within the United Church. It is a story of immigration, multiculturalism, and integration.

In September 1963, my grandfather, Rev. Jun Kabayama, was called as the first full-time minister to the Fraser Valley Japanese United Church. In September of 2012, my friend Rev. Yoko Kihara presided at her final service at Fraser Valley Japanese. It was the annual O-Bon or Memorial Service, and it marked not only the end of her ministry there but the winding down of that congregation. They continued to worship for several months with a minister borrowed from the Vancouver Japanese Issei (Japanese speaking) congregation. Six months later, on Easter Sunday 2013, Fraser Valley Japanese officially amalgamated with Northwood United Church. They had shared a building for 50 years before Northwood was created through an earlier amalgamation, but they had only rarely even shared worship together.

My mother Lily is the youngest of Jun and Maki Kabayama’s eight children. She is the daughter of immigrants and a preacher’s kid. My mother was born at the cusp of the Second World War while her father served the Japanese United Church in Ocean Falls. Their family was interned during the war, first at Hastings Park in Vancouver and later in Raymond, Alberta. Like a large majority of Canadians of Japanese descent, she married outside of that culture. She remained active in the United Church her whole life.

Author Kimiko Karpoff with her grandfather Rev. Jun Kabayama at her baptism.

My father, Jim, is also a preacher’s kid. He is the middle of the five children of Ted and Florence Karpoff, a minister and a deaconess. His father immigrated from Russia as a young man and because he retained his mother tongue, spent the latter half of his ministry in BC working closely with the Doukhobor community in the Kootenays. Until the late 1960s, he hosted a Russian language Christian radio program and worked to build bridges between the Doukhobors and the wider community. Although this history of ethnic ministry falls outside my current timeline, it is part of my story.

As an adult, my mother attended North Surrey United, not the Japanese church where her father was minister. North Surrey ultimately amalgamated with Fleetwood United, creating the new Northwood United Church which now included the Japanese congregation. Today, Northwood is engaged in conversations about becoming an intentionally intercultural congregation.

In that sense, Northwood represents the direction ethnic ministries have been moving. While language-specific ethnic ministries still exist, things shift as the younger generations find their needs different from those looking for a historical cultural and linguistic connection. At the same time, English congregations find neighbourhood demographics changing around them. Increasingly, congregations look toward intentionally intercultural ministry as a way to respond to their own needs and the needs of the communities in which they exist.

FROM DOMINANT TO MULTICULTURAL

Ethnic and intercultural ministries can be defined more along a continuum. On one end are congregations such as Korean United and most English congregations. Along the continuum are bi-cultural congregations such as Chown Memorial and Chinese who have an English and a Cantonese service, each with its own minister. Wilson Heights is an English congregation with a very multicultural mix within the congregation; they also have a Tongan fellowship that meets and worships in Tongan. Lakeview Multicultural is a single, blended, English speaking congregation with a large number of Filipino families although also multicultural. West Point Grey calls itself an intercultural church. They worship in English, while ensuring the scriptures are available in Chinese and Korean. They have an intercultural co-ordinator and have programs ranging from groups for Chinese seniors and ethnic confirmation classes. Congregations such as Trinity Memorial Abbotsford worship in English, include a large Korean speaking cluster, and are reaching out intentionally into the broader community.

So there is not a single story or history of ethnic and intercultural ministries in BC Conference but many intertwining narratives.  The histories, while filled with individual stories, are also shaped by broader cultural and historical realities. Ebbs and flows in ethnic congregations follow ebbs and flows in immigration and the nature of who is an immigrant. Ebbs and flows also follow cultural shifts.

Time and Tides will have its official launching at 5:30 on June 1 at the BC Conference Annual Meeting. To order a copy, e-mail reception@bc.united-church.ca. Books are $20 + shipping.

Kimiko Karpoff graduated from CCS in 2011. She is called to the ministry of storytelling and you will often see her with a camera in hand. She shares stories in words and images at scatteredsacred.com