God Talks: Interview with Rev. Terry Yasuko Ogawa

God Talks: Interview with Rev. Terry Yasuko Ogawa

In a recent God Talks video conversation, Executive Conference Minister the Rev. Darrell Goodwin interviewed Rev. Terry Yasuko Ogawa, Area Conference Minister for the Northwest Region. They talked about Rev. Ogawa's call to ministry, including the challenges of serving as a woman of color in a predominantly Eurocentric denomination.

Rev. Goodwin begins the interview by expressing his appreciation for Rev. Ogawa's ability to fully be present with whomever she is conversing.

"When Terry is talking to you, when she's present with you, you are the focal point. And I think so oftentimes a ministry when we're trying to build a connection with someone in a very distracted world, we are craving that sense that 'I matter in this moment,' and I've just been so impressed," he said.

Rev. Goodwin said Rev. Ogawa has demonstrated her presence in the questions she has asked since coming on the staff a year ago about how the Conference setting can carry out its ministry impactfully.

Rev. Ogawa said it's been important to determine how to focus the ministry "so we're not all over the map, and we're being as effective as possible."

"I'm a really data driven person, so I want to know. I know that this whole Conference is an experiment of boldness that has really been formed by thoughtful folks thinking about how are we going to do this well and differently in this moment. And I suppose there is always an air of playfulness in what I do. Part of what I learned to do as a chaplain was to get through some of the hardest times with humor, but I hope never at the expense of understanding the seriousness of a moment."

Rev. Goodwin asked Rev. Ogawa to talk about her discernment process that brought her to this ministry role at this time. 

"If I'm wondering a way to go, I think it's really easy to get caught up in one's own head or heart about either the emotional reaction or trying to puzzle it out," she said. "But if I'll pause for a moment and really ask the divine: 'where would you call me to go in this moment?' That's a whole different way of being. And I think that's what discernment is: trying to live into those questions and trying to listen for God's answers in the best ways that you can and then, you know, going that way."

Rev. Ogawa also talked about how it's okay to take the wrong path sometimes, since you can always come back to that place of discernment to try the next one.

Rev. Goodwin asked Rev. Ogawa about what it was like to serve - as a woman of color - in an overwhelmingly white, traditionally male-dominated institution. She explained that growing up at the Circular Congregational Church in Charlestown, SC, she saw many different women speak in the pulpit. She said the senior pastor at the time was part-time, and so a series of women would come straight out of seminary to co-pastor.

"They didn't stay very long, but it was really cool to see them take the pulpit. They had short hair, huge earrings, or they wore fabrics that they had gathered from overseas, and they would just interpret the Bible in some amazing ways," she said. "So I at least could see women in the pulpit in Charleston, South Carolina. In the early eighties, that was not very common, I think."

One of those co-pastors invited her to apply for a United Church of Christ program in which she travelled with three other young adults through the US, Canada, the Philippines and Germany. There, she said, she saw the breadth of who was serving in the pulpit.

Rev. Ogawa ministered for 10 years in Hawaii, which she said in some ways is the further thing from Western Massachusetts, but in some ways not.

"It's that sort of island mindset that everyone is connected, how you are all related to each other, if not by blood, then by kinship in a different way," she said. "I really do get it. And yet I know I have so much yet to learn about this place and this culture."

Rev. Goodwin asked Rev. Ogawa about who has built bridges or created paths for her, and one person she mentioned was the Rev. David Hirano, who served as the Conference Minister in Connecticut from 1990 to 1994. She said she met him when she was 19, taking part in that international UCC program.

"He was there as an executive from the World Board and he was just there to meet us," she said. "And I think there was just a us, an immediate connection because you know, there's not a whole lot of us carrying Japanese heritage and especially mixed-race Japanese heritage, like his kids are, in the UCC. And we have just followed each other over time. And just talking to him, about how difficult it was for him to try to be in leadership in the national setting, carrying the cultural ways that he did. It's not sort of that western white male aggressive way of leading - it's much more collaborative. And it was difficult."

Rev. Ogawa said that she was fully aware that - after having studied the impact of missionaries on native Hawaiian culture - she was coming to the seat of that legacy by coming to southern New England. 

"There are ways that that story gets told that it's this wonderful, beautiful moment of sharing the Gospel and of bringing written word and all of those things there. There's also the story where it never really got divorced from capitalism and western hegemony," she said. "And I think being able to, to come here after spending time studying that and really just being with churches to see, okay, how do you interpret that culture and that history? How are we living into that?

"And the churches may not want to," she said. "A lot of them are just wondering, are we going to survive?  But I think part of surviving is owning our histories and understanding how they impact us, how they impact others. And moving forward into this moment that I think really is asking of this nation to own its histories. I think that's a powerful place to minister."

Watch the full interview here:



tiffany vail cropped.jpg
Tiffany Vail

Tiffany Vail is the Director of Media & Communications for the Southern New England Conference.

Subscribe to our emails
Massachusetts Office

1 Badger Road
Framingham, MA 01702

Connecticut Office

805 Old Main St.
Rocky Hill, CT 06067

Toll Free Phone: 866-367-2822
Fax: 866-367-0860
General Email: friends@sneucc.org