A recent visit to my parents in Tokyo enabled me to make contact with the members of the Association for the Apostolic Ministry in Japan (AAMJ) to exchange information and offer mutual support. The Holy Catholic Church of Japan or Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK), as the Anglican Church is known, is a small church, roughly the same strength as an average English diocese in a nation of 125 million and much religious pluralism. Like any other part of the Anglican Communion, it has been rocked by the creation of women priests in other provinces and currently a lively discussion is going on about the possible change in legislation. Being a small church, with the advantage (or otherwise!) of everyone knowing everyone else, the debate is said to be friendly and charitable, but one gets the distinct impression that there is always a sting in the tail when liberals are involved!
The AAMJ was formed 3 years ago and has a membership of around 100. The Primate, Bishop James T Yashiro of Kita Kanto, is a member alongside 6 other bishops, four of them retired. About 15% of the clergy also belong, while among the laity the membership is small but increasing.
As far as I can gather, the current situation and the possible scenario go something like this. At the last meeting of the biennial General Synod in May 1994, a motion from Tokyo Diocese (whose bishop is a leading supporter of women priests) was submitted. In a cunning move to introduce women priests through the back door, it proposed dropping the word `male’ from the canonical requirement for priestly ordination. (Japan has had women deacons since 1969). The debate was adjourned until the next session, scheduled for May 1996. In any event, a constitutional change requires a two-thirds majority in each of the House of Bishops and the combined House of Clergy and Laity, and the AAMJ is hopeful that with four episcopal members publicly pledging to oppose any change, any move will be blocked for the foreseeable future. But there is a dark cloud on the horizon, as several opposing bishops reach retirement in the next five years and, given the fact that bishops are elected, their replacements are likely to be pro-women priests.
Meanwhile, the `softening-up’ process by the protagonists of female ordination continues. Already several women priests and some women bishops have been to Japan and with the blessing of sympathetic bishops, have celebrated the Eucharist during their visit. On one notorious occasion, the Bishop of Tokyo concelebrated with Barbara Harris amidst great publicity, which at least elicited a polite reminder from the House of Bishops about the need to respect canon law. All the horrors of English-speaking liberalism like inclusive language and female imagery of God have their Japanese equivalents, though for cultural reasons sexual deviancy has little support. For some time now, theological education and ordination training have been firmly in the hands of liberals, so it was good to see that the AAMJ has produced a steady stream of theological papers, widely circulated, putting forward the traditionalists’ viewpoints.
My meeting with members of AAMJ and Sunday visit to the parish of its Secretary, Fr Emmanuel Kinoshita, gave me ample proof that traditionalists are in good heart and trying to set the agenda for the difficult times ahead. Because of their feeling of isolation as a minority within a minority faith, they particularly value their link with Forward in Faith and US traditionalists. I will watch out for developments in Japan with great interest.
Masaki Narusawa, the author of this letter, is Vicar of St Mark with Christ Church, Glodwick in the diocese of Manchester