March 2021
Formation for the Missionary Church

A New Gathering for Asian Pacific American Spirituality

The Gathering – a space for Asian Pacific American spirituality – is a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles that seeks to provide opportunities for Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) to gather, pray and learn together, as well as to engage in and mobilize for initiatives for peace and social justice, explore spirituality in an APA context and foster community among APAs in the Diocese. At the same time, non-APA allies are welcome to come and learn about APA spirituality through the Gathering.

Ministry of the Gathering started in 2017 as a ministry to the fast-growing Asian Pacific Americans in Los Angeles and was successful in drawing non-immigrant, multi-generational populations who are not attracted to the existing immigrant-focused, language-specific Asian churches. Many were looking to talk with other APAs who face similar realities and challenges, and what we found was that many young APAs are looking to belong to communities that are both spiritual and actively engaging social issues like race, culture, sexuality, immigration and other inequality issues. There are very few progressive/inclusive APA Christian worshiping communities in the United States that celebrate being APA, provide a safe space for APA stories to be told and encourage engagement in theology and activism, all rooted in APA spirituality and prayer. Also, many have expressed how the Gathering has helped them to reconnect with their “Asian-ness,” so that they no longer have to check their identity at the door upon entering the Episcopal Church.

Low overhead and theology- and practice-based formation builds adaptability

One of our biggest assets has been our agile financial structure. Our overhead is low, and we don't own a building. Ours is a moveable feast, and we have begun expanding out of Los Angeles into Orange County – another major growth area for Asian Americans in the Diocese. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our gatherings have all been online since March 2020. Despite the challenges, this change has actually helped expand our reach. As a community, we were very nimble and quick to adapt to the digital format and we changed our gathering themes to address issues that are immediately relevant to the APA spiritual community.

When we start a new ministry, we are quick to jump to the five W’s – who, what, when, where and why. We want to know exactly what the new ministry will look like and how it is going to unfold. Our everchanging realities make us vulnerable and having to change (or completely discard) well-thought-out initial plans can be a daunting task. However, as long as the “why we are doing this” is based on our theology and Christian practices in our constant formation – my personal formation, formation of the leadership team and of the community – the ministry will be able to adapt to our shifting realities.

The Gathering was able to pivot quickly at the time the pandemic hit. As a community, we adapted to the digital format right away and focused our gathering themes to address issues that are immediately relevant to the community.

  • Our community now includes APAs and allies who do not reside in Los Angeles area. We have returning attendees at our events because the immediate geographical areas of these attendees do not offer such a space.
  • Our key resources have expanded as well, because our speakers and panelists are no longer limited by geography. We have also planned joint digital events with groups outside the diocese, something we could not have done before.

This is not to say that we figured it all out. Similar to our parochial siblings, the Gathering community continues to look for new ways to engage and expand our APA community reach in our new digital reality.

Rooted in theology and constant in assessing what works and what the needs are

Looking back on our journey, two things are important to note. First, it is important to find ourselves rooted in our theological identity. That identity is not a one-time meeting agenda, but a continued effort of formation and discussion that asks why we are doing this and checks that what we do and what we say are in alignment with what we believe. Second, it is important to constantly monitor what works and what does not. Our online events since the beginning of the pandemic have reflected an increase in attendance and reach because we were quick to reevaluate the need of the community and to increase our online presence through our website, YouTube channel and regular Zoom gatherings. We adapted a prayer/litany format which provided a space for people to join in a communal sense of the loss and pain resulting from the pandemic. From our experience, we have learned of the need to maintain both in-person and online community, even when we are able to meet again in person.

With no in-person events, we experienced challenges and opportunities. Yet in a way, it freed us to think more creatively and to expand our work. Like many Episcopal communities, we are working out what community-building looks like in a virtual setting and what it will look like in the future.

In short, adaptability, flexibility and a willingness to consider the tender hearts around us, have provided an opportunity to respond and not react to the consequences of our situation. Our strength is in our willingness to respond to the conditions of our environment. That has allowed us to better serve our immediate community and to provide a reasonable outcome to what was needed, rather than what we thought was needed. Moving forward, we will continue to keep our ears to the ground, listening to the voices that tell us how we can meet the calls of largely underrepresented, but very deserving, communities.

The Reverend Yein Kim is the rector of St. Albans Episcopal Church, Westwood. She is one of the co-founders of the Gathering, a space for Asian American Spirituality, and serves on the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She also serves as the vice-chair of the Worship Committee for the 80th General Convention and is on the Board of Directors at Episcopal Womens History Project (EWHP) and Episcopal Community Federal Credit Union. She lives in Redondo Beach, California, with her husband, the Rev. Nickolas Griffith, who serves as the rector of the Mutual Ministry of St. Andrews, Torrance and Christ Church in Redondo Beach.

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This article is part of the March 2021 Vestry Papers issue on Formation for the Missionary Church