Table of Contents
A community founded by Japanese immigrants...
Epworth Church, founded 1893
Japanese immigrants first arrived in Oregon at the turn of the twentieth century. They brought with them a boundless optimism, hope, and faith in the promise of what the United States could offer. These early Japanese pioneers built a community in Portland, Oregon united not just by a shared cultural heritage, but by a civic belief that the United States was a country where they could pursue their God-given potential and worship freely.
A community faced with discrimination...
Though many Japanese Christians immigrated to the United States seeking a country with greater religious tolerance, they faced a society in the United States that was not always willing to welcome them with open arms. Though some Americans embraced the new Japanese immigrants, many did not, and the religious community at that time was still segregated by race. For the Japanese Christians at the time, the task of finding a worship space proved difficult. These early immigrants eventually established the Epworth Methodist Church in 1893 as a refuge where they and other Japanese people in the Portland area could worship freely and openly.
A community in crisis...
Discrimination against Japanese immigrants intensified as political tensions between Japan and the United States increased throughout the 1930s, especially after Japan invaded China, an American ally at that time. Yet Japanese immigrants and their Japanese American children sought inclusion in American society and many strongly opposed the militarist government in Japan. Indeed, many Japanese Christians in particular were victims of persecution by the Japanese government they left behind. When the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the longstanding tension between Japanese Americans and white Americans boiled over; Japanese immigrants and their Japanese American children became frequent victims of overt violence, vandalism, and hatred.
The following year, the United States government forcibly removed all Japanese immigrants and their children on the West Coast of the United States from their homes, dispossessed them of their property, and made them live in makeshift camps, first on the outskirts of cities, and then in remote locations further inland, often in deserts, swamps, or other inhospitable locations. In total, the United States government's prison camps housed about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. The government targeted us for no other reason but our ancestral origin.
Yet the Christian community at Epworth persisted despite imprisonment in camp. Our faith in Christ and our faith in the promise of what America could be when people lived up to its ideals kept us going.
Signs instructing Japanese Americans to report to assembly centers where the government would send them to prison camps in the desert
A community resilient...
After the war ended, many Japanese immigrants and their children returned to their pre-war locations. Many also did not. In the post-war era, many people found their former communities openly hostile toward them and moved to other parts of the United States, such as Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York.
The Epworth Christian community largely returned to Portland and re-established their church. The church served as a temporary shelter for many after the war when finding housing was particularly difficult. In the 1950s most of the first generation Japanese immigrants naturalized and became American citizens. The Epworth Methodist Church persists to this day and continues to serve the Japanese and Japanese American community in Portland.
A vision for the future...
We honor our Japanese roots through our traditions. We honor the sacrifices of our Japanese ancestors while also remaining mindful that the ancestors of many other Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans today suffered horrific abuse under Japanese colonial rule during and before World War II. And though we remain committed to our heritage, we also welcome people of all backgrounds. Our faith in Christ informs a solemn commitment to serving people affected by systemic oppression: people at various intersections of oppression including those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; people of color and other marginalized communities. Our vision for Christianity is an inclusive vision where all people can experience the love of Jesus Christ.
In the COVID-19 era, we have had to move our services online, but you can still attend by signing up on this website! We look forward to meeting you!
For more information on our history, check out this page at the Oregon Historical Society.
Our Epworth Community in modern times