The Chapel Left Behind

In Spring 2019, as I was tidying up the office soon after I started working at the church in Gifu, I found in a manila envelope the Consecration of the Chapel Certificate dated October 18, 1908 for Gifu Sei Ko Kai signed by Bishop John Mckim and a one-page, B4-sized Order of Transfer by the Governor of Gifu Prefecture dated April 25, 1945.  

The Order of Transfer, based on the air defense law, ordered the four church buildings be transferred to Gifu Prefecture within 10 days by May 5, 1945.  As I was pondering this might be a valuable document, I coincidentally received a phone call from a citizens’ group, “Gifu Air Raids Historical Record Group.”  There were planning an exhibition of peace records hosted by the city of Gifu and were looking for exhibits from the time of the air raid.

The Gifu Air Raid was on July 9, 1945 shortly after 11pm.  More than 10,000 bombs were dropped on the city of Gifu by the U.S. military, and it killed approximately 900 people.  Around this time every July, Gifu holds an air-raid related exhibition.  It seems that the situations of shrines, temples, and churches at the time of the air raid have been chosen to be depicted as a special feature that same year.      

When I spoke about the Order of Transfer, they soon came to the church to have a look at it.  It was decided to display a copy of the document, and the information was relayed to various quarters.  A university researcher knowledgeable about the air defense law, which is the legal basis of the order, had contacted and told me that this was something unprecedented and valuable nationwide.  Gifu Newspaper reporters came for an interview, and the news was filled on the front page and in the city news page of Gifu Newspaper.  

It was an order of eviction to demolish the building to create fire-fighting facilities to prevent the spread of fire in the city by the air raid.  As a result, Reverend Shigeji Ogasawara (he later became the diocesan bishop), who was doing pastoral care at that time, evacuated to Mino-Ota of Gifu Prefecture, and services were held in homes of church people within Gifu City. 

Fire-fighting facilities were not something that could prevent the spread of fire during the actual Gifu air raid.  The current chapel of Gifu St. Paul’s Church is a post-war relocation of the chapel of Ogaki St. Peter’s Church, which had existed since the pre-war era.

The once chapel which had been consecrated by Bishop McKim, being built through the prayers and services of the people.  Many had listened to the Word.  The children of church-affiliated Gifu Myodo Kindergarten sang the hymns lively.  The chapel where the students of Gifu Sei Ko Kai School for the Blind, also a church operation, prayed must have been engraved with precious memories along with stories of each one who had gathered there.  However, this order of eviction destroyed these memories as if repainting them all.    

Lord Jesus calls each of our names and listens to our unique stories, just as shepherds call and take out their sheep.  Such works of Jesus are of total opposite from the Order of Transfer, a one-sided deprivation from above.

There may be times when we talk about our missionary work as if looking at people’s movement from beyond the clouds.  However, I feel we should rather listen to each one’s story standing on the ground.

Deacon John Taro Aihara
Gifu St. Paul’s Church