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But Ono has spent more of her adult energies on extraecclesial commitments. Besides her work with AT&T, she has been involved with the Kimochi, a Japanese-American lay organization that helps feed elderly shut-ins; the Japanese Cultural and Community Center; and the politically powerful Japanese American Citizens League, where Ono is a board member.
And like many of her generation, Jodo Shinshu has not inspired much religious passion for Ono.
"I like the philosophy of Jodo Shinshu," Ono says. "It's not something I think about every day. When my mother passed away, it made me think about being reborn -- you know, birth, death, all this."
But when she needs meditative silence -- the soul-centering restorative calm a Jodo Shinshu temple is supposed to provide -- Ono stays home and disconnects the phone. She describes her religious solipsism as a byproduct of upbringing during the me-generation.
"You're looking out for number one. That's what we were raised to do in the '70s: Be yourself; don't worry about everybody else, not be part of a family," she says. "I told the ad hoc committee [on the BCA centennial]: 'It's very nice that you guys selected me. But you realize I haven't been to church in a long time.' They said: 'Well, hopefully this will bring you back.' "
Let's hope. Meanwhile other sansei are finding spiritual homes in other faiths. One such home is Japantown's Pine United Methodist Church, a 110-year-old mission to the Japanese-American community. Pastor Gary Barbaree says Pine was once 100 percent Japanese. But since the late '60s, "the Japanese community is becoming more diffuse," says Barbaree. "Over time [they] have had broader contacts with people who are not of Japanese descent. So what it means to be Japanese-American includes people who may not have all four grandparents who were born in Japan."
Depending on whom you talk to, half to three-quarters of the sansei are marrying non-Japanese spouses. Because of the "outmarriage" phenomenon, many ex-Buddhists are moving into Christianity or Judaism -- or defaulting into agnosticism -- from traditional Japanese religious settings like the BCA.
"About half of the members who start coming to Pine Church had a Buddhist background growing up," Barbaree says.
Meanwhile, the BCA has not sought non-Japanese members with equal vigor.
"It's a real challenge for them I think," Barbaree says. "The number-one reason why they're not doing it is that they don't want to do it," he says. "Even if they did want to do it, it would be hard to do."
Alfred Bloom, retired dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, links the BCA's resistance to recruiting Caucasians to the humiliating memory older members carry of their internment during World War II. If the BCA recruited non-Japanese members -- an option favored by BCA temples in the East and the Midwest -- the nissei would fear losing control of their religious establishment.
Such reluctance doomed the ambitious 1984 plan to recruit 200,000 new members, says Bloom. Though a resolution was adopted, the plan died the death of the proverbial tree that topples anonymously in the remote, old-growth forest.
"They're really ambivalent about wanting members from other ethnic backgrounds," Bloom says. "It comes down to a matter of control."
Control is at the heart of recent sweeping changes that a conservative phalanx of sansei ministers has undertaken.
In the last year, they have elected as bishop the Rev. Hirofumi Watanabe, minister of the San Mateo Buddhist Temple, who takes office next summer. Though Watanabe has been a BCA minister for nearly 30 years, both in California and in Utah, he struggles to speak English.
"This is after two bishops who are very articulate in English and actually are both bilingual," says a Northern California minister.
That could make it difficult for Watanabe to provide leadership in a church that needs to broaden its appeal to highly assimilated Japanese-Americans. But several ministers say Watanabe's administration will benefit from his wife's close family ties to the Kyoto temple's leadership. Together, they will bring the BCA more squarely into the orbit of its Japanese mother temple.
According to a BCA official in San Francisco who spoke on condition of anonymity, conservatives "find Rev. Watanabe to be willing to go along with their plans. [His wife's] family relationships in the Hongwanji organization in Japan provide a smooth way of going around and getting accomplished what you need getting accomplished."
But liberals criticize Watanabe's election as the product of a "rigged" vote during last year's annual church meeting.
Says another Northern California minister: "We are beginning to play power politics. ... We are putting authority in the hands of a gang of ministers" rather than developing "a religious institution that's well-considered and well-reflected. ... It's kind of a microversion of playing the Vatican game."
Bishop-elect Watanabe outlines a straight-laced agenda.
He says he will support moves by ministers to bring more traditional ritual practices to their temples.
"Third-generation ministers want to [bring] Japanese old tradition for ritual to United States," Watanabe says. Under traditional "Americanizing, Westernizing" tendencies, "Buddhist churches become just like Christian church, you know. Even the hymns or songs -- we call gatha -- Christianity call hymn, right. From now on, they want change to our old, old style, you know, tradition."