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Story and Photos by Asian Avenue Magazine
Simpson United Methodist Church (Simpson) has a long history of fellowship and worship within the Japanese American community in Colorado. The church began in a small boarding house for Japanese immigrants in 1907 and has expanded to be a multicultural congregation deeply rooted in the Japanese American culture and experience. As a church, Simpson believes in a loving God who is near to everyone, and that God’s love comes through one’s personal encounters each day.
Simpson has always served as a safe haven for those who face racial prejudice. Church leaders recognized the importance of the Japanese American community to gather in support of each other, develop leadership skills and create networks. During and after World War II, church leaders supported and heralded Governor Ralph Carr’s efforts to allow Japanese and Japanese Americans to find refuge in Colorado.
Ministries at the church have enabled its members to forge lifelong friendships and relationships over the decades. In the late 1940s, a basketball team was formed that played in the Colorado Nisei Basketball League. A Little League baseball team was then formed, followed by the Simpson Bowling Team which continues to this day. Celebrating Japanese culture is also a critical and meaningful component of Simpson. Many cultural events presented by the congregants are still thriving. Hina Matsuri is a doll festival and celebration of Japanese culture, including a tea ceremony, ikebana display (floral arrangements), martial arts demonstrations and musical entertainment. It occurs the first weekend in March – this year on March 7 and 8 from 11:30 am to 4:00 pm each day. The Annual Asian Food Bazaar takes place the first weekend in May (May 2, 2020) and the Arts and Crafts Showcase occurs in October. All of these events proudly share Japanese and Japanese American traditions with the community. Pastor Leah Coleman and church leaders recognize the congregation’s passion for honoring and embracing its rich Japanese heritage and culture. Says Pastor Leah, “The Japanese American culture and history are relevant to today’s society and the stories of the past must never be forgotten.”
As Simpson celebrates its 113-year history, the congregation has reflected on the many changes that have occurred in the life of the church. In 2019, the church faced the reality that has befallen many churches in the nation: namely, a multitude of competing priorities in people’s lives. Simpson was faced with a choice: be the stewards of a declining church or take action and embark on a committed, proactive plan to sustain and grow the church. Simpson congregants and Pastor Leah chose to be proactive.
"Our church is at a crossroads that presents us with a unique and exciting challenge. The challenge is to pledge our many talents and energy to the survival of our beloved church. We are so fortunate to have so many devoted and faithful members that are unwavering in their support for our existence and our place in the greater Japanese American Community."
- George Kawamura, Simpson Ad Council Co-Chair
After much self-examination, the church volunteers developed and implemented a comprehensive Strategic Plan for the revitalization of Simpson. A planning team of twelve church members was brought together along with two volunteer consultants. This team constructed a planning document that was then reviewed and approved by the leadership of the church.
The Strategic Plan is rooted in Simpson’s vision statement, "to be a vibrant spiritual community that honors our Japanese American cultural heritage, welcomes involvement from a dynamic membership and builds a sustainable legacy for future generations." The plan also identifies four priorities to carry out the vision: (1) “To expand our presence and outreach to the neighborhood and the broader Japanese American community,” (2) “To enhance and expand the Japanese culture within our church and to extend this pledge to the larger Japanese American community,” (3) “To actively sustain and grow our membership” and (4) “To stabilize and build a foundation for the financial security of our church.” Dedicated and enthusiastic congregants have brought energy and grace to the hard work of implementing the Strategic Plan. It is fortunate that Simpson has time to be thoughtful and flexible about implementing the plan. Due to the generous and gracious gifts of past and present members of the congregation, the financial future of the church is secure for the near future. However, without the current proactive efforts to implement the Strategic Plan, the decline of the church would be inevitable.
Simpson United Methodist Church has many gifts to offer its congregants and the Colorado community. It has embarked upon a Sacred Journey and welcomes all who wish to join them. “There is always room at the table.”