Ikoi no Kai for Japanese American Older Adults
By Lisa Jean Hoefner
For many reasons, too many older adults face years without knowing the secure strength of faith, the companionship of others, and opportunities to express themselves in ministry and service. Epworth United Methodist Church of Portland, Oregon, has found a way to address these human needs through collaboration with the Japanese Ancestral Society. Together, they offer a setting and vibrant spirit that has become an intentional entry point into the church community for many senior adults. As you read their story, think of alliances that might be possible in your setting, where shared values and mutual support could deepen the impact of your ministry in ways yet to be discovered.
With roots reaching back to 1893, Epworth United Methodist Church has a long history of serving as a sanctuary for the Japanese community. The Japanese Ancestral Society, formed in the early 1900s to assist the Issei (first-generation Japanese) in their new environment, is one of the oldest Japanese-American organizations in Oregon. Today, the Epworth United Methodist Church and the Japanese Ancestral Society work closely together to meet the needs of senior adults in the Japanese-American community.
One of the most successful joint efforts is the Ikoi no Kai meal program held at the church. Originally an offshoot of Meals on Wheels, Ikoi no Kai (which loosely translates as “a place of rest”) serves Asian food four days a week. Ikoi no Kai is run by volunteers and has been serving primarily second- and third-generation Japanese Americans for more than forty years. In the kitchen, chefs from the community plan and prepare bento boxes filled with classic Japanese dishes like okonomiyaki and miso-marinated salmon and other traditional Asian dishes like Thai khao man gai and Chinese mapo tofu. Once a month, volunteers package and deliver meals for homebound seniors.
Ikoi no Kai has become a community hub that brings in folks of all faith traditions. Each day that food is served, there are wellness programs offered, too. These programs include chair yoga, Mah Jong, sing-alongs, mindful movement classes, blood pressure checks, and knife sharpening. Ikoi no Kai has become a place and time in the week to learn about Asian community events, be invited to opportunities to deepen one’s spiritual life through all that Epworth offers, enjoy meaningful conversation and amazing food, check in with one another, and take home some free bakery bread.
“Many of the people who gather at Ikoi no Kai have known each other for a long time. Everyone values the supportive environment offered here,” Pastor Melissa Harkness said.
Epworth United Methodist Church is intentional in hosting Ikoi no Kai because shared meals create a sacred haven—a place of rest—for all who seek not just physical sustenance, but genuine connection and celebration within the Christian community.
Rev. Dr. Lisa Jean Hoefner is the Older Adult Ministries Coordinator for Discipleship Ministries. She has served as a pastor of churches and director of camping ministries in the New York, Susquehanna, Upper New York, Oregon-Idaho, and Cal-Nevada Conferences from 1975 to 2020.