Luke Ken-ichi Muto is invested as primate of Nippon Sei Ko Kai by his predecessor, Nathaniel Uematsu

By Mark Michael

Primates for the Anglican churches of Japan and Korea, small but venerable provinces in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, were elected in recent weeks. In both provinces, primates are elected to relatively short terms from among the church’s diocesan bishops, and they continue in local ministry alongside their churchwide responsibilities.

The Rt. Rev. Luke Ken-ichi Muto was elected as the 19th primate and archbishop of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, Japan’s Anglican church, at a meeting of the church’s General Synod held October 27-29. The synod, which was held online because of pandemic restrictions on large gatherings, elected him to a two-year renewable term. Muto succeeds the Most Rev. Nathaniel Uematsu, Bishop of Hokkaido, who has served as primate of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai for seven consecutive terms.

Muto has served as Bishop of Kyushu, a diocese which encompasses the whole of Japan’s third-largest island, since December 2012. He was installed as archbishop at a service held November 5 at St. Mary’s Church in Toyama, which was attended by all 11 of the church’s diocesan bishops.

Anglican mission work in Japan was a joint effort of the Church of England’s Church Mission Society and the Episcopal Church, with missionaries being dispatched to the country shortly after it was opened to the West by American commodore Matthew Perry’s famous 1853 expedition to Tokyo. The Rt. Rev. Channing Moore Williams, a Virginian, was consecrated as Japan’s first Anglican bishop in 1866, the same year he baptized his first native convert, a samurai named Shōmura Sukeuemon,

The Nippon Seo Ko Kai (the Holy Catholic Church of Japan) was formed in 1887, when disparate Anglican mission congregations were united into one autonomous church. The church’s first Japanese bishops were consecrated in 1923, and since the 1930s, when most Western missionaries were forced to withdraw from the country, the church has been mostly led by native Japanese, who are prepared for ministry at the church’s two seminaries. The Nippon Seo Ko Kai has about 300 churches and 32,000 members.

Peter Kyongho Lee

Separately, the Rt. Rev. Peter Kyongho Lee, Bishop of Seoul, was elected archbishop and primate of the Anglican Province of Korea at a recent meeting of the church’s General Synod.  Lee, who has served as Seoul’s bishop since 2017, succeeds the Most Rev. Moses Nak Jun Yoo, Bishop of Busan, who had become primate in 2018.

The Anglican Church in Korea was founded by Church of England missionary bishop Charles Corfe, who was sent to Seoul in 1890 with the support of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. A traditionally Anglo-Catholic province, missionary efforts in Korea relied significantly on religious orders, especially the Korean Missionary Brotherhood (later the Society of the Sacred Mission) and the Society of the Holy Cross, an order of nuns founded by the Community of St. Peter of Kilburn.

The province originally was a single diocese, with much of its mission efforts concentrated in the North. Christianity has been actively persecuted for decades in the North, and all of its congregations have been in South Korea since the country was divided in the 1940s.  The Anglican Church of Korea divided into two dioceses, Seoul and Daejeon, in 1965. The Diocese of Busan was formed out of the latter diocese in 1974. In 1993, the Anglican Church of Korea became an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. The church has about 120 parishes and missions and 65,000 members, as well as four monastic communities.