The Heart of a Community

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By NANCY WADA-McKEE

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Endings are inevitably bittersweet, but perhaps none more than the final service at West Adams Christian Church on Feb. 12. Fewer than 20 members of the congregation remain, and their average age is about 85. Sale of the church is pending.

The closing of West Adams marks the end of over 60 years of worship in a building built through the tenacious leadership of Issei pioneer Rev. Kojiro Unoura and by the hands of his congregation. Building a new church in 1950 became necessary after their return from the internment camps of World War II, because they were prohibited from worshiping together as a Japanese American congregation in their former building. Families filled the new church during the 1950s and ’60s, exemplified by the 200 children in attendance at the time.

Neighborhood demographics changed in the ensuing years and families moved from the area. Young people left for college and never returned. Issei and Nisei members passed away. Yet West Adams continued to be the heart and center of a community of remarkable members. My mother, Mariko Wada, is the last remaining original member of West Adams, having contributed to the sweat equity needed to construct the church. She has served as the organist for 62 of her 87 years; she will miss the Baldwin dearly, as much as the members will miss her music. A common lament is that “churches these days just don’t play the old hymns.”

Mariko Wada, the last remaining original member, plays the organ. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Mae Ozeki, Mary Karatsu, Sachi Kaneshiro, and Mat Katagiri serve double duty as board officers and as regular liturgists, as have Sam Kawata, Mitzi Nagano, and Amy Nakano in the recent past. Hoover Ushiyama and Alice Genda join them as ushers and welcome the occasional visitor. Dorothy Kuwaye, Tom and Kinu Shishido, Esther Kawata, Ko Muraki, Mihoko Saito, Ralph Tanioka, Jeanette Bhang, and Kaz Yoshigai attend faithfully each Sunday. And well before every service, 93-year-old George Kametani can be seen sweeping outside the church — a labor of love.

A young Hispanic congregation is purchasing West Adams with the promise of serving future generations in the neighborhood, and current members are happy about the prospect of children and families filling the sanctuary again.

The interim pastor of West Adams, Aki Kawamata, is moving to Tucson with his wife Mandy to take his first permanent position as a head pastor. It is a time of new beginnings as well as sad farewells.

The faithful members are grateful for the enduring sense of community and spiritual life they have experienced together. On Sunday, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” will resound through the sanctuary and the members will close their hymnals together for the last time.

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