HAWAI'I: Diocese welcomes Micronesia with greetings of 'ohana'

Bishop notes historic roots between churches
November 9, 2009

Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick said ohana -- the Hawaiian word for family -- describes the way his diocese received news that oversight for the Episcopal Church in Micronesia (ECIM), had shifted to the Diocese of Hawai'i after the 76th General Convention.

"There is an historic tie between the bishop of Hawai'i and the Church in Micronesia," said Fitzpatrick in a Nov. 6 telephone interview, adding because several churches as well as St. John's School in Tumon Bay, were founded in Guam during the episcopacy of Missionary Bishop Harry Kennedy (1943-1969).

"It's been over 15 years since Guam was part of our system, and it was heartening to me that the leadership of the diocese would say, 'of course, let's do this.' There's a strong sense of support from the people of the diocese, a sense of ohana -- that this is family and of course they're supposed to be reconnected to us. Many felt that, in some ways they always were," Fitzpatrick said.

"I'm very grateful to the diocesan council and the standing committee and the people of the diocese of Hawai'i for being willing to take this on again," he added.

The Missionary District of Hawai'i originally included the Hawaiian Islands, Guam, Okinawa, Taiwan and Kwajalein. It became the Diocese of Hawai'i in 1969 and now consists solely of the Hawaiian Islands. ECIM now includes three congregations and a school on Guam and a congregation on Saipan and represents about 130 Episcopalians, Fitzpatrick said.

With the planned May 31, 2010 retirement of Bishop George Packard, bishop suffragan for federal ministries for the Episcopal Church, who previously had exercised oversight, "it was a good time to shift it back," Fitzpatrick said.

Geographically and logistically, it makes sense that ECIM be included in Province VIII, added Fitzpatrick, who emphasized that while he has oversight, ECIM "is not becoming part of the Diocese of Hawai'i."

"I'm asking the diocese to help support their ministry, since they have no diocesan infrastructure," he added. It will mean that clergy, like the Rev. Irene Egmalis Maliaman, vicar for the four congregations, will be canonically resident in Hawai'i and that diocesan commission on ministry will also have oversight for potential candidates for ordination, he added.

Maliaman, who had recently returned to Saipan from the diocesan convention in Honolulu said the ECIM feels very hopeful about the new arrangement. "It was wonderful to meet other clergy and to get to feel part of a bigger church, to really connect with the diocese," she said in a telephone interview from her Saipan home. "So often we've felt isolated here."

She described the church as "a diversity of Asian cultures" including Filipino contract workers, and Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Sri Lankans and others. In Saipan the church offers such services for contractor workers, from Korea and the Philippines, as a credit union and functions as a homeless shelter.

"The church is a shelter for those with no place to stay, who've lost their jobs" in a tough economy, she said.

Two deacons, the Rev. Lisa Pang, and the Rev. James Moore, assist with the three congregations on Guam: St. John the Divine, Tumon Bay; St. Andrew's Church, Agat; and St. Michael and All Angels, Dededo.

Maliaman, who became vicar three years ago, divides her Sundays between Guam and Saipan, she said.

St. John's School is "college preparatory and the pride of the Pacific," said Packard. He described the ECIM as "the best kept secret in the Episcopal Church" albeit one with many of the challenges accompanying poverty.

But, he added that it's full of "hearty, wonderful people" with thriving churchmanship. He recalled celebrating the Eucharist under a tent in Saipan and said he hoped his successor would also have a chance to visit, given two military bases located on Guam.

Recently, the military announced plans to transfer about 18,000 enlisted and civilian employees from Okinawa to Guam, within the next five years.

One of his goals was to reconnect the ECIM with Hawai'i and to make sure they got the support they needed, as well as representation at General Convention, Packard added. "The Diocese of Hawaii is ready to receive them back," he added.

The ECIM congregations have a combined average Sunday attendance of about 150. Fitzpatrick said he hopes to use Skype and other teleconferencing to participate long-distance in St. John's school board meetings and to keep in touch with ECIM.

"I'm doing it with the islands here anyway, so we can just extend it to islands a lot further away," he said.

For ECIM, engaging Province VIII activities will also be easier, logistically. Province VIII includes congregations in the dioceses of Alaska, Arizona, California, Oregon, Hawai'i, Idaho, Nevada, Navajolands Area Mission, Washington, Taiwan and Utah.

He also intends to visit twice a year "and offer ministry support two other times a year from here."

Fitzpatrick said the renewed connections are just "another example that the Episcopal Church is a worldwide church. I'm trying to make a conscious effort to remind people that one of the ways to get from the mainland to Guam is to fly here, so they can physically begin to make those connections, too."