The Mainichi Daily News (1961/5/29)

90 Years Of Kobe Union Church (III):

Trials Of Growth And War 1904 – 1942


Following the pastorate of Rev. E.A. Wicher, who retired in 1904 because of ill health, services at Kobe Union Church were conducted by missionaries, either residing in the neighborhood or visiting the port. Dr. J.L. Atkinson as acting pastor was followed by Dr. J.C. Newton. Finally, in 1908, a regular pastor was again acquired.


He was Rev. J.B. Thorton who arrived in Kobe, with Mrs. Thorton on January 18, 1908 and was installed as pastor on Sunday, February 9. A Graduate of Illinois College, he had served in India. He had an excellent reputation as an able preacher and as a believer in what he preached. He could chastise the misbehaver and still love him dearly. Following him, were ministers of the Methodist, Congregationalist, and Baptist denominations.


Besides devoted pastors, contributing a variety of devoted personalities, were members, men and women, who did the same. The church on Akashi-machi (opposite the present Daimaru store) was a center of Protestant activities for the English and German people of Kobe. For German language services were also being conducted regularly for the Germans as well as the English-speaking Services. It was a church home for merchants, and missionaries, for consuls, and teachers, for travelers, and sailors, for bankers, and beachcombers. Not a single Sunday passed without a service. During the time that Roy Smith attended there, from 1909 to 1927, says Professor Smith, there were two services each Sunday, besides Sunday School, mid-week prayer meetings, bazaars, weddings, and funerals. There was no pretense at grandeur or greatness, but there was a deeply-warm atmosphere of worship.


By 1927, however, the business quarter of the growing city had almost engulfed the Church. Indoors, church services were being seriously affected by the noise of Sunday shoppers and by the noise of taxi-cabs, growing more numerous and more vociferous by the week. In addition, the building, which could seat only about 125, was becoming too small. Outdoors, the Mitsubishi Bank, which owned the lot next door and which had become the financial heir of Mr. Bradfield, the original donor of the church lot, wanted to expand. A legal arrangement was made whereby the Mitsubishi Bank would supply ¥110,000 for a new church building if the present members would move out and allow the land to revert to the Bank.


On November 28, 1927, the agreement was signed and the Church acquired the premises at 34 Ikuta-cho, 4-chome, the present building. On February 28, 1928, plans for the new building were approved by the pew renters. On July 7, 1928, Takenaka Construction Company began work on the building, Mr. Vories was the architect. In an open air meeting on November 25, 1928 the cornerstone of the new building was laid, and on June 9, 1929, the completed church was dedicated with appropriate services. Professor Smith was a member of the Church Committee at this time.


For ten years the new church literally sailed along. In 1938, when the great cloudburst and flood devastated Kobe, the archway entrance of the new church was several feet deep in sand and debris. The church itself, however, stood firm and strong, a symbol of a building not constructed entirely by human hands.


On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the fateful day of Pearl Harbor arrived. Just after this tragedy on that very morning the pastor of the church, Dr. Harry W. Myers – who had been a great influence in the conversion of Toyohiko Kagawa to the Christian Faith – was arrested and imprisoned. During the War, many of the members of Allied nationality were interned; but a few were not. Upon the arrest of their pastor, the English-speaking membership turned to Rev. Liemar Hennig, a German national of Kyoto, to serve them. He had recently returned from Union Theological Seminary in New York.


Rev. Hennig preached twice a month at Kobe Union Church – in the mornings to a large group of German-speaking people who overflowed the sanctuary; in the afternoons to a bare handful of brave, enduring, and faithful English-speaking folk. This staunch group included Professor Smith (until he was repatriated in 1942); Miss Mioko Kadota; L.H. Bartholomew, an Indian Christian; Herbert Strauss, product of a German father and Japanese mother; Carl F. Hansen, a Danish engineer; and Masanosuke Taniguchi, a Japanese business man, and his wife, a Finnish woman. Their behavior in these times demonstrated far more than gifts and pledges an heroic devotion to the Christian cause.

(To Be Continued)