Anglicans ordain first Japan woman

by William Hollingworth

LONDON (Kyodo) Ikuko Williams has made history by becoming the first Japanese woman ordained as a minister in the Church of England.

The Rev. Williams, 48, was recently made a deacon at an ordination service at Ripon Cathedral in Yorkshire, northern England.

She is thought to be only the second Japanese national ordained into the Church. It is believed a Japanese man was made a priest several years ago in the north of England.

The Church of England is the largest church in Britain and has Queen Elizabeth as its head. It is also the mother church of the Anglican Communion of churches around the world, with 70 million adherents.

Williams said she decided to enter the ministry after she felt a calling from God and was encouraged by friends to take up the role.

As well as carrying out her day-to-day duties, she hopes to further promote reconciliation between former wartime enemies and spread the Christian message in Japan.

After being accepted by a panel, Williams underwent three years of theological training before her ordination.

She will now spend four years serving as a deacon at two churches in Leeds, northern England, where she will assist the vicar.

She will work on an unpaid, part-time basis, spending the rest of her time teaching Japanese at Leeds University. Williams will be able to conduct ordinary church services, weddings, baptisms and funerals.

Some time over the next four years, she may be made a priest. This would mean she could conduct Holy Communion. Ultimately, she would like to become a priest at a university.

Williams comes from a family of Christians who are members of the Presbyterian Church — like the Anglicans another part of the Protestant family that broke away from the Catholics in the 14th century.

Her great grandfather, Toshio Kawasaki, was baptized by an Anglican missionary and served as a Presbyterian minister in Oita and Saga prefectures. Her grandfather, Yoshitoshi Kawasaki, was a minister in Kagoshima, Nagasaki and Fukuoka.

Her parents, Kosuke and Michi Handa, who are Presbyterians, traveled from Japan to attend her ordination ceremony and are happy with their daughter’s decision.

Williams originally hails from Tokyo and has retained her Japanese nationality. She was a member of the United Christian Church of Japan, which follows a Presbyterian tradition.

She continued her faith in the Presbyterian church while studying and working in Japan and the United States, and 18 years ago she moved to Britain with her husband, who is a professor of Japanese studies at Leeds University.

It was there she went to her first Church of England service and initially felt like “a bit of a stranger.” In contrast to the Church of England, Presbyterian services involve much less ritual. The priest wears no robes and there is usually a longer sermon.

But after awhile, she said, “much to her surprise” she found herself as “truly a part of the worshipping community.”

Williams said her understanding has widened as a result of joining the church and she has never felt her nationality to be a barrier.

Given her family’s religious heritage, it was always in the back of her mind that she might one day become a minister. However, she thought the job was too big and she was being presumptuous by even contemplating taking up the role.

Her change of mind began when a bishop asked her in 1998 to consider getting ordained and after much prayer she gradually felt the call to enter the ministry.

Throughout her time in the church she has worked hard to promote reconciliation between former Japanese prisoners of war and their one-time enemies, and wants to continue that work.

“On the basis of Christ’s forgiveness and reconciliation, I would like to offer my service, in humility, to work toward the healing for all those who have suffered from what happened throughout the war,” she said.

“People on both sides have suffered and, as a consequence, there’s a need to acknowledge how people have suffered and that acknowledgment is necessary for the process of healing and reconciliation,” she said.