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Lions Roar : September 2018
BCA bookstore. Here, the church offers programs for ministers, dharma school teachers, and others. Students and ministers of all backgrounds, ages, and identities roam the building attending services and classes, sharing meals in the cafeteria, and hosting groups in the dormitory. Akiko Rogers spends a lot time in this building. When Rog- ers felt lost as a teenager, she found herself studying Japanese, then enrolling in a Buddhism course at the temple she grew up attending in Orange County. Feeling the need to experi- ence her ancestral culture and religion at a deeper level, she spent three years in Japan teaching English. She then decided to embark on a new life path—to study to become ordained as a minister in the BCA. Rogers says her family’s connection to the BCA definitely influ- enced her choice. “The way that my grandparents and great-grand- parents lived Buddhism in their daily life—clearly they found value in it. Even if they didn’t talk about it, you could tell that was their source of strength, making sense of the world, but also helping them get through whatever they were going through. They were clearly trying to pass it on to the next generations.” Akiko Rogers will be part of a generation in which female ministers in the BCA are a more common occurrence. The modern-day BCA, points out Rev. Kobata, is becoming more culturally and ethnically diverse. “There’s a noticeable increase of nontraditional members—people who were raised in another or no particular tradition. And there’s a lot of what we call inter- marriage—intercultural, interracial, even interfaith marriages. So that’s reflected in the membership.” Even so, Kobata says the BCA, like many religious organizations, is facing decreasing interest among younger generations, and declining mem- bership. “In order to ensure survival and growth, we’re trying to provide religious activities of interest and benefit to a broad, diverse commun- ity,” he says. “This includes formal sitting meditation and mindfulness, something that’s more common here, whereas in Japan, we do more ritual chanting and recitation of the Buddha Amida’s name.” “There’s a consumerist approach toward religion in America,” says Scott Mitchell. “I can go to church on Sunday, but I can also go to yoga, meditate at a temple, whatever. This stands in contrast to previous BCA generations, where there was an obli- gation to help support your temple at an institutional level. There’s definitely a way to talk about Jodo Shinshu as an individual path, but that’s embedded in this hundred-year-old institution, which is organizationally quite different from, say, a Zen or meditation center.” Yet many young Japanese Americans still turn to Shin Bud- dhism when it comes to navigating big life events. “The BCA’s strength is that it has a system of dharma schools where you can take your children and teach them in an age-appropriate way about Buddhism,” says Mitchell. “They have Buddhist weddings and funerals. Human beings need some sort of connection to a community. At some point on the individual quest for enlight- enment, you gravitate back to a ritual or ceremonial commun- ity aspect that is often glossed over in other places.” Akiko Rogers feels the BCA, which was part of her child- hood, will provide an important framework as she ventures into adulthood. “I’m really grateful to my grandma and my great-grandma for teaching me about Buddhism. Somehow it did sink in, even though I got away for a while,” she says. “There was something solid there when I was having my difficulties with life. Somehow the answer, or at least a way to get beyond where I was at, was calling to me. The way was in hearing the dharma and following their path. And when I went back to the temple that my grandmother and my Mom grew up attending, I knew I found the right path for me—because it felt like going home.” ♦ Akiko Rogers found a sense of herself when she returned to the BCA, where she is joining the growing number of women ministers. Here she receives her Minister’s Assistant certificate from Rev. Kodo Umezu. PHOTO(L)BYKEITHKOJIMOTOPHOTO(R)BYYUMIHATTA LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2018 49