By Neva Rae Fox and Richard J. Mammana Jr.
April 23 marked a major milestone for Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK), the “Holy Catholic Church in Japan,” a province of the Anglican Communion, when the Rev. Maria Grace Tazu Sasamori became Bishop of Hokkaido.
“My understanding is that the people of the Diocese of Hokkaido did not elect me because I am a woman,” she wrote to TLC via email. “According to the regulations of the Anglican Church in Japan, there is no self-nomination for the episcopate, and an election is only by recommendation of the diocesan house. My election as the first woman to have a bishop’s post in the NSKK was not about me as an individual.
“On the other hand, I understand that this consecration is a great and hopeful event not only for the Diocese of Hokkaido but also for many Japanese and other Asian Anglican clergy and congregations. I want to cherish the realization that fulfilling my duties as a bishop is a sign of joy for them.”
Sasamori recognizes that some members of the NSKK oppose women’s ordination. “In this mixed situation, the carrying out of my duties is sometimes painful or sad. Nevertheless, I hope that the community gathered as the family of God will continue to walk together, praying together while being filled with the new breath of the Holy Spirit. I also hope to pray for the will of God to be discerned by those who may be losing hope in the places where there is no women’s ordination yet.”
Her demeanor reflects her faith and inner spirit. “I am strongly attracted to the spirituality of Hildegard of Bingen, which I also promote in my own teaching,” she shared.
The bishop’s convictions are expressed in her mission work. “We believe that our faith is the driving force behind the transformation of the world,” she wrote. “The love of Christ is so deep, so high, and so wide towards the world. This is what I confess to the world as our faith. I feel great joy in being given the mission to serve God and his people. I am also very grateful that I have the opportunities to hear the stories of believers and clergy during my parish visitations.”
Citing the prayer book service for the consecration of a bishop, she vowed, “As a bishop I will take on these duties personally, as a colleague, and within the community.”
She noted that the NSKK is undergoing an extensive reorganization, and her goals are based on hope and collaboration. “We are trying to move toward missionary collaboration with neighboring dioceses, as well as the merger of some parishes and the establishment of new parishes,” she said.
“The Diocese of Hokkaido is about to establish a missionary collaborative relationship with the neighboring diocese, and then set out on the road to reorganization. We hope that in these important years of major change, we will not lose the joy of evangelism. We hope we will be able to work with parishioners in new directions with hope.”
She is looking forward to the Lambeth Conference this summer. “I may be the most recently consecrated bishop at the Lambeth Conference, so I am looking forward to meeting many senior bishops.”
Sasamori concluded with a vow regarding her missionary work. “The Diocese of Hokkaido is both the coldest and the largest diocese of the Anglican Church in Japan. We are in the midst of nature’s harshness, and in a current demographic situation where the total Christian population in Japan is under 1 percent of the country’s population. Despite all of this, I am very much looking forward to being able to carry out missionary activities in Hokkaido among parishioners who have continued to protect their faith since the very beginning of Japan’s modern history.”
NSKK became a province of the Anglican Communion in 1972. There are more than 300 churches and chapels in the 11 dioceses of the NSKK, as well as educational, medical, and welfare organizations. The diocese, which includes 32,000 members, covers more than 145,000 square miles.
Neva Rae Fox is a TLC correspondent. TLC Archivist Richard J. Mammana Jr. worshiped and sang in choirs in the NSKK dioceses of Kobe, Osaka, Tohoku, and Tokyo between 1990 and 1998.