Celebrations are meant to be festive and memorable.
During this unprecedented time of the coronavirus pandemic, ideas to conduct such festivities have been challenging.
In late 2020, the Buddhist Temple of San Diego (BTSD) began plans to commemorate its 95th anniversary. Earlier this year, the temple added the pending retirement of its resident minister, Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, to its program when he announced his intention.
Everything seemed to go according to schedule for the in-person event slated for October until the calendar was ready to flip from August to September.
With the October 10 celebration just less than two months away, increasing concerns of the pandemic and the delta variant were throwing a curve with the well-planned party.
With the likelihood of having to cancel the in-person event along with notifying the Sangha, entertainment performers and final publicity in the Bussei Script newsletter to be announced, the anniversary committee faced a huge dilemma.
Could the months of hard work and planning be scrapped?
The committee scrambled and decided to cancel the in-person gala, changing the occasion to a combined virtual and contactless drive-thru event.
Committee members moved quickly to modify as much of the original program as possible, while maintaining a semblance of a celebration atmosphere.
Not meeting at the temple to celebrate a historic occasion, the 95th anniversary was presented virtually and Rev. Kenji and Karen Akahoshi’s retirement appreciation party was part of a drive-thru send-off.
The anniversary and celebration festivities began with a Zoom service beginning at 9:30 a.m. It provided a combination of live and pre-recorded presentations. The service was officiated by Rev. Maribeth Smith. Rev. Marvin Harada, Bishop of the BCA, shared a pre-recorded Dharma message.
“May I congratulate all of you on your wonderful celebration on the 95th anniversary of the Buddhist Temple of San Diego,” Rev. Harada said as he began his Dharma message.
Following the service, pre-recorded entertainment included a performance by Matsumae Kai minyo group, led by temple member Yoshiko Monji. In addition, the BTSD Dharma School sang their hit song “95” and the thunderous sounds of the temple taiko group capped off a wonderful program.
Congratulatory gifts were presented to Kenji Sensei and Karen Akahoshi from the Dharma School, Buddhist Women’s Association, Taiko Group and the Buddhist Temple.
“The outpouring of good wishes and wonderful gifts have made the reality of our retirement hit home,” Karen Akahoshi said following the presentations.
Bishop Harada took a moment to acknowledge Rev. Akahoshi and Karen for serving BTSD for eight years and how Kenji Sensei helped Jodo Shinshu grow in America.
“Rev. Kenji is one of our oldest ministers (in the BCA), but in my mind is one of the most innovative,” Rev. Harada said. “Rev. Kenji presents Jodo Shinshu in simple expressions that anyone can relate to and that resonates with new people.”
At the conclusion of the service, Rev. Akahoshi announced that Rev. Gregory Gibbs, Resident Minister of the Pasadena Buddhist Temple, would serve as BTSD’s Supervising Minister. Minister’s Assistants Rev. Maribeth Smith, Rev. Laverne Imori and Rev. Noriko Kawai will assist. The certified MAs will be assisted by Yukari Williams, Arturo Rubio and Sharon Sasaki, who are Minister’s Assistants in training. Rev. Harada provided Minister’s Assistant certification to Bill Teague. MA Kaytee Sumida will become certified in 2022.
“The Dharma is very much alive in San Diego,” Kenji Sensei said in his appreciation to the Sangha.
At the conclusion of the 90-minute virtual presentation, activity moved to the temple for the live in-person “stay-in-your-vehicle” drive-thru celebration.
Gates opened at noon for cars to enter the parking lot.
Vehicles stopped at the first station and received a commemorative 95th anniversary pen. Attached with the pen was a card explaining a brief history of the temple and description looking ahead to the 100th anniversary in 2026. Patrons were asked to keep in mind and share memories of the temple as it prepares for the next celebration.
Donations of more than 100 stuffed animals and monetary gifts of $200 were received at station two for the Scouts’ toy drive. All donations were delivered to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
As vehicles approached station three, a “Happy Retirement” canopy was adorned with “Thank You” banners, “Off the Clock” streamers and lanterns. Folks rolled down their windows to see the guests of honor. Kenji Sensei and Karen were able to spend a good amount of time with well-wishers from the Sangha and community.
Vehicles then proceeded to station four to pick up delicious bento lunches. Before heading home, everyone was able to see the newly painted main building, part of the anniversary’s capital improvement project.
Approximately 60 vehicles streamed through the parking lot for the two-hour gala.
With obstacles averted, a successful and unique anniversary and retirement celebration all are now part of BTSD’s storied history.
What’s in store for BTSD’s centennial in 2026? The planning is underway.