At 11 a.m. on September l, 1923 Yokohama was settling into another bustling day as one of Japan’s leading port cities. An hour later 78,646 houses and 26,623 human lives had been destroyed. Such was the ferocity of the Great Kanto Earthquake that struck Tokyo and Yokohama on that terrible day. Miss Jennie Kuyper, Principal of Ferris Seminary and Mrs. Edith Lacey, YWCA secretary, were killed. Also falling victim was George Ivison, secretary of the Sunday School for seven years. The church building had been devastated, the caretaker and his little son dying in its collapse. Thousands of refugees were taken to Kobe, but many returned quickly to begin rebuilding Yokohama and their lives.
The membership of Yokohama Union Church had been spread around the world by the earthquake. Gradually they returned, with nineteen people present at a February 19, 1924 reorganizational meeting. The church began to function again in the midst of the debris and held its first service on March 2, 1924 at the gutted YMCA building. Services were subsequently conducted at the Seamen’s Club, again at the Kaigan Church and at the YWCA’s temporary building.
Dr. Manchester, a former pastor, was working in America to secure funds for the church and in December 1925 returned with “much money”. The lot at No. 49 Bluff was sold to Ferris Seminary and a new plot bought at No. 66-B where a “community house” was erected.
Eighty to one hundred and twenty people could be seated on the main level with Sunday School and socia1 rooms below. A manse and a caretaker’s house were also built. These facilities were dedicated December 18, 1927 with Dr. Manchester presiding. Soon thereafter Dr. Manchester retired with much appreciation expressed for all he had done to help the church recover from the quake. Yokohama Union Church had rebuilt from the rubble in three short years, as had the city of Yokohama. The church took an active role in helping Yokohama rebuild as members remained faithful to the various tasks for which they had come to Japan. Japan’s appreciation is reflected in the fact that four members – D.H. Blake, Julia Crosby, Clara Converse and Gideon Draper were decorated by the Emperor for service in Japan.
The place of worship needed rebuilding, but so did the life of the congregation. The Rev. Harold Schenck and his wife spent nine years helping the church renew and continue its ministry to both the foreign and Japanese population of Yokohama. The peace and tranquillity that they may have felt vas soon interrupted as World War II approached. It became evident that the World War I slogan,”the war to end all wars” was not an accurate one. The last Christian service vas held in Japan in 1940 and in the Summer of 1941 the Union Church was closed. It remained so throughout the war years but this did not spare it from the devastation of the war. On May 29, 1945, several hundred American B – 29 bombers leveled 42 percent of Yokohama. The Community House was shattered by a direct hit during this fire bombing. The caretaker’s quick action to contain the blaze saved the manse, but the Community House was gone. Once more the Yokohama Union Church’s building lay in ruins, as did Yokohama around it.
After the war, during the American occupation of Japan, returning members of Yokohama Union Church and others who had come to assist in the rebuilding of Japan joined in the worshiping fellowship of the U. S military chapel center. The interests of Yokohama Union Church were looked after by a committee of missionaries and businessmen. The manse was rented to American families. An effort was made to resume worship as a Union Church in 1961. With the availability of the military chapel and the legal difficulties caused by the post-war confusion, this didn’t prove feasible at that time. From 1962 on Mr. Walter Schmidt, Ms. Miyo Sugiyama and Ms. Yasuko Koga kept the property intact as that of the Yokohama Union Church, and other members of the church kept the embers of faith, hope and love -key elements of any church- alive until they could be re-ignited in 1976.
In the years of uncertainty, the members of Yokohama Union Church, though worshiping in other places, still remembered the interdenominational and international flavor of Union Church. They longed to worship once more in this church with its rich history. In an effort to revitalize the Union Church, a meeting of the Board of Elders was scheduled on September 12, 1976 at the Yokohama Chapel Center.
Rev. Karl Karpa served as chairman of the Board, Mr. Roi Koike as treasurer (later replaced by Mr.Takamitsu Ito) and Ms. Miyo Sugiyama as secretary, positions they would hold for the several critical years following. Some of the others who provided leadership during this time were C.A. Weisel, Sam Park, Reggie Mettler, Helen Zander, J. Davis, Ted and Mary Flaherty, Helen Zander, Rev. Russell and Eleanor Norden and Rev. John Scott.
All through these years the church had been struggling with some major obstacles – the legal status of the property , financial assets of the church, providing a place of worship on the property (restricted by not having shukyo hojin status), remodeling of the manse and revising the church constitution. To aid the church in handling these problems an agreement was made between the church and Standard Chartered Bank and Tokyo Union Church allowing the title to the property to be held by the Bank until such time as the church received government recognition.
When the remodeling of the manse had been completed, the congregation began holding occasional Sunday afternoon worship services there conducted by missionary pastors. This gave the church new life on its old site so that by 1979 weekly afternoon worship services were possible. Efforts were made to increase attendance by advertising at the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club and the Union Supermarket. The Board was also discussing what percentage of their mission offerings should be for mission outreach.
The upper level of the manse was rented to Ferris for two years to house American college students who were teaching English at Ferris. This helped the church to become self-supporting. In February of 1983 the Board began to have dreams of hiring a retired pastor and spouse to serve the developing congregation. Upon Rev. Karpa’s resignation from the Board, Mrs. Eleanore Norden became chairperson, providing equally strong leadership. The Board continued to strive to meet the numerous qualifications required for shukyo hojin status. There was an effort to expand the church’s program to include weekday activities. The Rev. Tina Pinnell, a resident of Japan, was hired on a part-time basis to coordinate these activities. She started a women’s study program and a Thursday night Bible Study along with the Good News newsletter.
The dream of having a pastor, who had already reached retired status in his/her home country, continued and funds were requested from the Tokyo Union Church and the Reformed Church in America. Both agencies pledged three years funding, for 1987 to 1990. Susan Kendall, a Seminary student at Tokyo Union Seminary, replaced Rev. Pinnell as part-time minister in April, 1986. Susan started an Ecumenical Bible Study for women held weekly at the Union Church. She helped establish monthly Sunday School classes for children . In addition, she assisted the church in developing a job description for a part-time pastoral team and supervised the refurbishing of the manse for this proposed team.
Dr. John and Mrs. Ann Piet who were serving the Protestant Congregation of Kathmandu, Nepal accepted a call to serve as pastor and Christian Education Director of the Yokohama Union Church. Dr. Piet had previously served as a missionary in India and as a Professor of English Bible and Missions at the Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Ann had had a career in nursing and had done much volunteer work in local churches. The Piets began their ministry in Yokohama on September 6, 1987.
Several people who had been a part of the afternoon worshiping congregation were waiting to become members of the projected newly – organized church . However, it was necessary to also spread the word that the church existed and would be having regular morning worship. This was done through personal contacts and by canvassing the community. A new constitution was drafted and approved by the Board for the functioning of the church and the reception of members: by confession of faith or reaffirmation, by letter of transfer or by declaring affiliation with the church as associate members . The first official members were received on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1988.
Along with the existing women’s programs, Ann Piet conducted a ministry to single women and their children. New Children’s Church curriculum material was introduced on Sunday mornings.
A project which impacted the broader community was the compilation by the Thursday night Study group of an annotated text for the Japan International Volunteer Centerts annual benefit presentation of the Messiah.
The Piets concluded their ministry at the end of August 1989.
A call was extended to Rev. Del and Mrs. Trudy Vander Haar to continue the ministry that the Piets began. The Vander Haars came to Union Church after twelve years in pastorates and twenty-nine years in denominational ministry including youth work, family life ministry and stewardship and mission development. In addition to sharing some of these ministries, Trudy Vander Haar had worked in secular and religious education. Having worked as a team throughout much of their career prepared them for accepting the team contract offered to them by Union Church. The Vander Haars arrived in Yokohama at the end of September, 1989.
One of the early tasks under the new pastor was the writing of the following mission statement: “The mission of the Yokohama Union Church is to provide a church home for the ‘expats’ in the Yokohama area and to reach all the English-speaking community in Yokohama with the good news of the Gospel, to nurture them and disciple them so that they may be effective witnesses for Christ in their daily lives here and throughout the world.”
A new logo in keeping with the mission statement was designed . The logo, with its simple lines, incorporates the cross superimposed on two concentric spheres. They can be interpreted as representing the church in Yokohama and in the world. The blue and white logo also contains a series of wave lines to symbolize water, an acknowledgment of the church’s presence for more than 120 years in the port city. The logo has a very open feeling, a reminder that everyone is welcome at the cross of Christ. The ongoing and difficult task of seeking shukyo hojin status was strengthened through the Board’s engagement of the Hayasaka Tax Accountants. In view of the fact that progress was being made, the Board voted unanimously to ask the Vander Haars to extend their contract for another year, which they did. Informal verbal approval of Yokohama Union Church’s application was received on October 13, 1991. The good news of the approval of the formal application was received on April 2, 1992. Efforts were made to enable the congregation to become self-supporting. Previously, financial support had been solicited from other sources. After two very successful bazaars and because of some members commitment to tithing, the treasurer reported at the end of 1991 that the balance on hand had increased by approximately 500,000 yen.
The ministry to children and adolescents grew and served as a model for other churches in the community. Because of the mobility of foreigners to Japan, the Church School is always changing, but for part of this time there were three classes meeting. This greatly strained the church’s facilities with classes meeting in every room of the Vander Haar’s apartment.
The lower level of the manse has become a very attractive sanctuary with the addition of pulpit furnishings during the ministry of the Piets and later, during the Vander Haar’s ministry, with paraments, draperies and other decorative touches. However, although there is seating space for about seventy – five persons, this space has been insufficient at times, particularly at Christmas and Easter when as many as 130 people have crowded into any available space including entry, kitchen, study and the stairway leading to the second floor.
With the movement of people in and out of Japan, Yokohama Union Church’s ministry is directed towards the needs of persons rather than church structures. The church is a place of Christian fellowship for people from many different countries. It strives to meet their varied needs, whether they are lonely, perplexed, distressed or confused about their faith. The Women’s Ecumenical Bible Study which meets weekly at the church has become a very strong support group for foreign women living in Japan.
All those who have been a part of the body of believers that make up Yokohama Union Chruch have helped it continue its long and sometimes perilous history into its 120th year. It is with a knowledge of this history and the strength that comes through the fellowship of believers past and present that the Yokohama Union Church looks to the challenges of the future with hope and faith in God’s love and mercy.
1992 has been declared a year to “REMEMBER AND CELEBRATE”. It is a time to remember the 120 years that have passed since the first eleven believers formed the Union Church in 1872. It is also a time to celebrate God’s goodness as the Yokohama Union Church has, Iike the city of Yokohama, been able to overcome many difficult trials and build for the future. Upon attainment of shukyo hojin status, the church will be better able to plan its future for an expanded ministry.
Of course, more important than any building is the spirit of fellowship and service shown by its members. In this respect Yokohama Union Church is certainly larger than the building it currently meets in . The congregation, composed of many different nationalities, holds spiritually enriching services for adults and children every Sunday along with weekday activities which are open to anyone who wishes to feel the joy of fellowship with Christ’s believers.
One of the major strengths of the church today is in the continuity of its pastoral leadership. The Vander Haars are scheduled to leave in July of 1992, but the Rev.Eugene and Mrs.Joyce Vander Well have been called by the church to continue this ministry beginning in August. They come with spiritual gifts as well as experience gained from having served the International Church of Taipei,Taiwan for seven years.
If the Vander Wells, indeed any interested person, wished to gain a sense of the spirit of the church and its congregation, a spirit that has marked it since the beginning, they could learn it from the following quote.
“The work of the Yokohama Union Church has always been unique. The membership is continually shifting; each year some go on furlough, others leave for business or family reasons or on short notice. The guest book shows visitors from all climes and of all nationalities. Former members, who recall with gratitude their fellowship in this church, are still living in all quarters of the globe.
The church rejoices in the fact that it is interdenominational and international in spirit and membership. It stands as a ‘light on the hill’ to welcome strangers and to offer homelike hospitality. Its adherents believe that their membership represents an investment in international goodwill and in the kind of Christian unity that is prophetic of the future of the church universal. All credit and praise to those who continue their interest, support and service.”(The Yokohama Union Church, Fisher, p. 24)
These words were written in 1932, on the church’s 60th anniversary, but they are just as appropriate in 1992 on the church’s 120th anniversary. They are an expression of the church’s present character and its mission in the future, as it strives to extend the work of building God’s Kingdom and serving as his witness to the people of Yokohama, Japan and the world.
We have come together today as members and friends of Yokohama Union Church to give thanks to God for the past, entrusting the future to Him. Thanks be to God!
References: My heart and My Flesh Cry Out was prepared by Del and Trudy Vander Haar for the 120th Anniversary celebration of the Yokohama Union Church. Material was gathered from the following resources:
With the opening of the port of Yokohama to the outside world, many merchants, entrepreneurs, professionals and adventure seekers arrived from the West. Many were devout Christians who desired to worship together. Soon, Yokohama saw the births of Japan’s first Protestant, English-speaking, Interdenominational, and International Church (Yokohama Union Church) and the first Japanese Protestant Church (Kaigan Church, Nihon Kirisuto Kokai).
On March 8, 1863, Yokohama Union Church elected its first officers, with Rev. S. R. Brown its temporary pastor. They worshipped at the US embassy, with 36 in attendance, and started Japan’s first Sunday school with six children. The founders wanted to be a congregation from many church denominations and countries who worshipped as one body of Christ. Therefore, the chose the name “Union Church.” In 1872, after the founding of Kaigan church, Yokohama Union Church redefined its mission to serve foreign residents in Japan.
In 1906, YUC purchased the property at 49 Bluff, and on the weekend of October 16, the new building was dedicated with a service on Saturday and three on Sunday. In the next decade, the church became a place of influence in Yokohama.
At 11 a.m. on September 1, 1923, 78,646 houses and 26,623 human lives were destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake and fires that struck Tokyo and Yokohama. The church building was devastated, and the caretaker and his little son died. YUC was rebuilt on another site.
On May 29, 1945, several hundred American B-29 bombers leveled 42% of Yokohama. Yamate was to be spared, but the Sanctuary building was shattered by a stray fire bomb. The caretaker saved the manse, but the church building was again destroyed.
From WWII until the 1960’s, YUC did not hold services, then dedicated individuals from the Yokohama Chapel Center reopened YUC for worship. At first, worship was held on Sunday afternoons in the caretaker’s home and later at the Pink House, which today is now painted Green and is located next door to the current church.
YUC began meeting on Sunday mornings again in the 1980’s and called several part-time pastors. In 1988, the church was re-chartered. After the dedicated work of many individuals, the church received Shukyo-hojin (religious non-profit) status in 1992. Many different options for rebuilding the church were considered before the spring of 2002, when the congregation voted to sell the Pink House in order to build on the current site.
The first worship in the new building was a joyful and thankful celebration on November 30, 2003, the first Sunday of Advent. Since that time we have continued to worship as a community of faith with Jesus Christ as our foundation. We trust and have faith that God will continue to provide as we follow Him into the future.
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