Briefly describe your experience in church governance.
Having been a part of this church since I was born has allowed me to see and experience this church in many ways, all of which make me feel incredibly fortunate and grateful. My interest in church governance was sparked early on by leadership opportunities I had at a young age through churchwide youth events such as the Provincial Youth Event for Province VIII and the Episcopal Youth Event. Also, my parents and grandparents, who were active in church governance, helped to build my perspective of the significance of governance in this church.
Since that time, I have served on my parish Vestry on multiple occasions as well as the Diocesan Council. My grandfather, Arthur Kusumoto, was a Senior Deputy to the House of Deputies and it was when his tenure at 2003 General Convention ended, that mine began in 2006. The 2022 General Convention will be my 6th General Convention. I have served on various Legislative Committees such as Program, Budget and Finance, Church Pension Group, and I currently chair the House of Deputies Committee on Dispatch. I have served on Interim Bodies such as the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons, the Joint Standing Committee on Program Budget and Finance, the Joint Standing Committee on Nominations, and the Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements. I was also one of the youngest deputies to be elected as Trustee to the Church Pension Fund and have had the honor to serve this church in that capacity for the past 10 years.
Finally, I would also include my involvement in advocacy as part of my experience with church governance. For most of my time as a General Convention Deputy, I have participated in meaningful advocacy with the Deputies of Color advocating for changes that allow everyone in this church to feel safe to worship in a way that honors their own past, culture, and expression of self. I am also the current Co-Chair of the Asian Caucus where we convene critical conversations with members of Asian descent.
Why do you want to serve as President of the House of Deputies?
First of all, I am grateful for the experiences, lessons, and relationships that this church has given me in my life, and I am dedicated to offer myself in service to the church and its mission. I want to serve as the President of the House of Deputies because the church plays an important role in the world we live. For many, the church serves as a model for how we live in communion with one another. A north star for how we love one another, care for this fragile earth – our island home, and how we wrestle with the challenges that present themselves. The President of the House of Deputies plays a critical part to help steer and guide the mind and heart of this church through its strategic direction and leadership appointments, to be in communion with one another. This church can be the bright spot for the troubles in our world. I want to serve as the President of the House of Deputies because together, we can bring change to the world.
I have discerned this role and how I could be effective for this church. I would be honored to serve this church as the President of the House of Deputies to bring diverse voices to the table to inform how we show up in this place and care for one another. This role plays a critical part in filling leadership positions for this church. My vision for this church is to honor the communities we live in and lift the values imbedded in the lands we walk upon from our indigenous ancestors. To do so, leadership positions need to represent the diversity that exists in our communities. I also hope to work with the polity of our church to create more opportunities for voices that have not been heard to be heard, for stories about our past to be listened to, and structures that are keeping people away to be brought down – so that we don’t just say “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”, but “The Episcopal Church Welcomed Me With No Exceptions”.
Also, I feel my experience in leading various organizations and working in the social service sector has provided me with the foundation to be considered as a candidate for the President of the House of Deputies. I see the challenges that people face and understand that walking along side of one another in grace, no matter our circumstance or differences, is a key part to what guides me. Finally, I hope that as a Deputy of Color, I can encourage more people who look like me to lift their unique voice to help grow the richness in this church. Words matter, symbols matter, character matters, and leadership matters. I would be honored to serve as the President of the House of Deputies, and I hope to lead by allowing diverse voices to help us move into the Beloved Community.
Describe your most meaningful experience in a leadership or legislative role, and explain its relevance to your candidacy. (This experience need not have taken place within the church.)
My life’s work has been working with bringing marginalized voices to the center and creating solutions. I hope to bring this same passion for the work I do for the community to the role of PHoD. I have lead a range of large mission-based organizations to small community-based organizations. I currently serve on nine corporate and non-profit boards. I have been a part of congregations of many sizes and participated in church leadership at multiple levels. I am truly grateful for each experience and all of them have guided my leadership roles.
Of those experiences, the one I would highlight that would give the House of Deputies a better insight on my leadership, is the body of work I do now at Parents And Children Together (PACT) – a statewide social service community-based organization. We serve 20,000 people every year and have 400+ employees. As the President and CEO for a large social service organization, my job is to ensure we focus on strategic initiatives relevant to our communities and the people we serve. This requires me to not only think of how our organization can best serve the community now, but also anticipate the needs and what we hope our organization will look like in the years ahead. Like the church, the organization’s role is to be there for people when they need us.
PACT deals with complex personal, community, and systemic issues. We help work through situations such as: domestic violence, child abuse, LGBTQIA advocacy, sex trafficking, early learning, mental health, immigration, poverty prevention, youth services, exiting the criminal justice system, and community building to name a few. Every day, people come to our organization possibly on their worst day.
Being there for all people and working as upstream as possible on complex and complicated issues is the foundation of my work. My role is to ensure that strategies are well-informed, well-executed, and systems are held accountable to the standards and the voice of the community. I believe to do this we must focus on:
- Advocacy: Be informed advocates to raises voices of the people to those who make key decisions
- Allies: Be allies to communities and individuals on the ground doing this work so that communities have everything they need to solve their own matters
- Model: Be a model for the community we want to see
People: Taking care of people who do this critical work every day from education to health and wellness.
Our church has a mission like the heart of the work I do at my organization. Episcopalians are called to save lives, free the oppressed, change unjust structures, and build a more humane world through Christ. The church is there for people in their time of need and looks to mend issues. The church has a critical role in improving conditions so that we may all live in the fullness of God’s love. The decisions made in General Convention impact the lives of thousands of people. As a north star, the church has a big part of helping make conditions good so all can thrive through God’s love. My work at PACT, as well as each role I’ve held before, has always been in alignment to the work of the church.
What are the most significant challenges facing our church and how do you propose to address them?
The most significant challenge in our church is that there are still parts of this church where justice is not for all. In our quest for communion, unfortunately some in this church are bound to one another by the common acts of hatred and the destructive power of actions and words. Systemic racism and discrimination exist, and the experience of this church is not the same for everyone. We have systems that fundamentally do not work for everyone. We have to do better. It starts with honoring that we are all God’s children, no matter our differences, and we have a right to feel safe in every place we call our church. Every Episcopalian is called to do the work of equity, equality, and dismantling racism. We are all called to bring the Beloved Community to life.
For us to do better, I would work on the following:
- Truth-telling: We must take bold steps to hear the voices and stories of marginalized communities. We must do better on telling the truth and not sweep it under the rug. It doesn’t just go away or resolve itself. We need to tell our stories and find ways to heal. It is clear to me that the solutions lie in these stories and that our ties to indigenous lands and values can lead us to a place where no one is left behind.
- Responsibility: In Hawaiian we call this “Kuleana”. It means responsibility but it’s deeper meaning is, “what is your privilege of the responsibility you have?” We must move away from just providing checkbox type solutions to these issues. Racism and discrimination have been amongst us for generations, and it will not undo itself by a 3-hour training on the topic. The church needs to commit to evaluating structure and polity to ensure that we understand where structures and rules are keeping communities and individuals from being in full communion with one another.
- Personal Accountability: Individually, we need to continue our work to understand where our biases play a role in how we interact with one another; where we are a part of marginalizing individuals and communities from this church. We must understand and seek deeply within ourselves the parts that are not well and try to heal them. A Bishop once said to me, “you cannot get well if you don’t know you are sick.” We must educate ourselves more to find the places we need to reconcile. This will take more time, but as a body, we must remind ourselves that we are all connected and if one amongst us is left behind, we are not whole.
Another challenge for our church is to be better prepared for our future. While scripture and tradition lay the foundation for much of our polity, reason and the voice of our church need to help us better understand where we might go. In the work that I do now, I always believed if we centered our decisions around our youth and our elders (if we truly took care of our youth and took care of our elders) we would be okay as a society. I believe that for us to look toward our future, we need to center our decisions on these two groups. For our kids, what church will be there for them? We need to center our work around children. We have a kuleana to do so. The Japanese call this Kodomo No Tame Ni – for the sake of the children. It means whatever we do, however we do it, we have a direct responsibility and accountability to our children that leaves things better than we had it. For our elders we have to do the same. For this challenge I would work on the following:
- Youth Caucus: This office should establish a youth caucus that provides a voice to the issues and concerns that the youngest members of our church express. It would be a place to listen to their hopes and dreams. I hope that this collective voice will continue to be used for the House of Deputies to help this body be informed of the vision our future leaders have for this church we love.
- For our elders, I would like to work with the Church Pension Group and parishes across our various provinces to lift up stories that help us address the needs of our knowledge keepers and pass down vital information they can share for us to grow from and to ensure that everyone can see a church that will welcome them.
If we center the two, we will build a church that is designed for the future and one that honors the good work of those who helped get us there and prepare us for the world ahead.
Are there specific changes you would like to make in the way the House of Deputies functions or the role the president and vice president play in the wider church?
I would like to see the role of the President of the House of Deputies help to be a wider conduit for more stories of the lived experience of this church. We cannot get to the beloved community without more truth-telling of our past and honoring of the ties to our land and the native values imbedded in it. There are also many Jesus stories happening around this church that need to be told. This past March, I had the privilege of visiting Good Shepard in Montgomery, Alabama. Their mission is powerful and centered around the community. There are stories like churches here in Hawai’i such as St. Elizabeth’s in Kalihi, O’ahu that focus on new immigrants and partnering with community to help individuals and families thrive.
Another way I think that we could operate better is to seek more opportunities as a body to engage between General Conventions. We are a body that is bound by our common prayer to design a church we hope to see but most of us are strangers to one another. There are ways for us to build more community amongst each other besides the two weeks we spend every three years. We also learned from the pandemic that we can leverage technology to do this. Interim bodies and the Executive Council will continue to do their governance related work, however, the body as a whole can spend more time learning from one another in sessions in between General Conventions.
Is there anything else voters should know about you?
I am grateful for this church. It is a foundation to my origin story and will continue to be a foundation for all my actions. Every part of my life has been touched from my involvement with the church and helped bring me closer to God: as a father of two daughters, as a social service leader, as a hula dancer, and as a member of our global community. The church has helped me grow and center all my actions.
In Hawai’i we have a saying, “Mohala I Ka Wai, Ka Maka O Ka Pua”. It means, “flowers thrive where there is water, just like people thrive when conditions are good.” I believe that my life’s work is to continue to work together to improve conditions so that all people can thrive and that all people can live in the fullness of God’s love. I believe The Episcopal Church is a model and ally in helping our divided world thrive on goodness and God’s love. For that, I am hopeful, because despite the challenges we see, this church stands as a bright spot for many in this world.
Finally, I am grateful for the other deputies who have discerned to put their names forward for the President and Vice President for the House of Deputies. My prayers and gratitude go out to all those who are moved to offer their gifts and Aloha to this church for these two roles. As you consider who the next PHoD and VPHoD I offer you insights to my leadership to decide if I align with what you feel we need. It would be an honor to serve our church in this way and am humbled by the consideration.