After a spring and summer of unprecedented adjustments, Keiro interviewed three religious leaders from our community ̶ Reverend Shumyo Kojima, Head Priest of Zenshuji Buddhist Temple; Reverend Kory Quon from Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple; and Reverend Kristin Ou from the Anaheim Free Methodist Church ̶ to explore how they and their organizations have adapted to the changes this past year.

Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

In March, all three leaders faced the challenge of transitioning how they offer services for their members. Among other things, their organizations worked to move services online, provide spiritual guidance to their members, and care for their older population’s wellbeing without being able to see them in person.

Reverend Kojima, Reverend Quon, and Reverend Ou took a look back at this shift and what has happened since then, sharing a few of the many ways that their communities have been able to create connections, support their older adults, and continue spreading faith through these shifting times.

Zenshuji Buddhist Temple: Spreading Dharma and Zoom Zen Aerobics

When religious centers began closing down, Zenshuji Buddhist Temple found creative ways to connect its members to their spiritual practice from home. Reverend Kojima and the other priests shared Dharma messages through the Rafu Shimpo and other community publications, and worked with the larger Soto Zen denomination to create shareable online resources. These resources included an educational video on how to practice meditation from anywhere, and a Zoom recording of monks from all over the world chanting the Heat Sutra in unison.

Zenshuji Soto Mission community members over Zoom

The temple also successfully moved its Zen Aerobics class from an in-person format to online, which was a service popular with many older members in the community. “We decided it was important to continue for health purposes, especially for those staying at home – and especially older adults,” Reverend Kojima explained. This class, which received support from Keiro’s Grant Program, now takes place live over Zoom once a week.

Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple: Dana Deliveries

At Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, a collective of members (referred to by Reverend Quon as the “Think Tank Group”) created the Dana Deliveries program to support their community’s older adults at home. Living up to the name’s meaning of “selfless giving,” Dana Deliveries has brought care packages of supplies to adults over the age of 70, with items donated by community members and organizations. These items include food, sanitary products, and personal communications like sermons from Reverend Quon and handmade cards from the local girl scout troop. They currently deliver to over 130 older adults.

Dana Deliveries from Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

During Obon season, the Dana Delivery even included a DVD of video footage from past Obons – which turned out to be a hit among its recipients. “People were calling me, they were very excited to see this,” Reverend Quon said. “They don’t really see Youtube videos of our Obons or anything, so for them to be able to have it as a DVD is huge.” He emphasized how this program came from the community as a whole, calling it a “total temple effort.”

Anaheim Free Methodist Church: A Call to Prayer

Reverend Ou shared how the church’s system of small groups has helped keep members connected since March. These pods of 5-10 people are part bible study, and part support networks within the church. Members are encouraged to contact their small group if they’re sick, so the others can help provide care – and they’re encouraged to share their positive news with one another as well.

Reverend Ou, along with the rest of the pastoral staff, began making periodic phone calls to church members in March̶ at first as a way to make sure everyone had their needs met, but over time it became a way to regularly check in with one another. These calls have been the main way that Reverend Ou connects with older members who may not be able to watch the online church services. She explained how this has created an opportunity to pray together and discuss faith, saying, “I listen and ask the question to our seniors: ‘How do you see God moving in your present circumstance?’ I encourage them to lean into God’s love.”

The Role of Faith in (and out of) a Pandemic

Reverend Kojima, Reverend Quon, and Reverend Ou each expressed their perspective on how their faith relates to living during a pandemic. Whether coincidence or not, they all shared that the nature of their practice remains constant both in and out of these times. “It is what it is; Buddhism teaches us there is no control,” Reverend Quon said. “The only control you have is over your mental state. We’re human beings, we’re not omnipotent ̶ just take care of yourself the best way you can if you’re going outside.”

Reverend Ou articulated her experience as, “Whatever I am going through in life, whether it be a pandemic, or something joyful, or anything in the spectrum between, I’ve always had the idea that God is present with us in whatever we experience.” Reverend Kojima shared a similar constancy of faith. “We human beings always carry challenges,” he said. “Even without COVID-19, we have such obstacles. But I think in handling such emotions, in terms of facing suffering ̶ faith does play an important part.”