SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — It seems like every five minutes someone beckoned her for a photo. Machiko Shiozaki obliged the requests each time. After all, it is not every day that the Church of Perfect Liberty (PL) has a 50th anniversary to celebrate.
“I don’t know how I came to PL. I don’t know how I became a church assistant. It was all very natural,” Shiozaki said. She joined the church 35 years ago and does not regret making the church a part of her life.
Members from the churches in San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., and Los Angeles gathered for the church’s milestone celebration. People who remember the church from its beginning in 1960 spoke about the small numbers and spreading the message about their faith while generations of their families sat and enjoyed their lunch in the South San Francisco Conference Center.
“I can’t believe it has been 50 years already,” said Koreaki Yano, the former reverend of the San Francisco church.
For some of those gathered it was a chance to reunite with people who they had not seen in years.
“I’ve known some of these people since we were little kids,” Grace Horikiri said. Her family has been a part of the church since 1960 and she was raised as a member of PL.
Hundreds of people gathered to hear a sermon and reminisce about their time in the church and how it changed their lives.
Shiozaki recalled her life before she joined the church, saying that she had a hard time as a young woman 35 years ago. As an art student in Berkeley, she was drawn to the church’s philosophy of life when her cousin mentioned it to her.
More importantly, she said, the church changed the dynamics of her family in such a positive way.
“My father was always very strict,” she said, explaining that his stern attitude strained the relationship she had with him.
“Through the church I learned that there is a different way to do things,” she said.
It was not easy, of course, and her family did not always support her decision to join a church of which they knew little or nothing.
As she reflected on the reactions her decisions received from those closest to her, Shiozaki recalled with a laugh that her sister once thought she was being brainwashed.
As time went, on her family began to not only accept her choice but they joined the church with her, including her father.
“Through PL, I learned how to get along with him,” Shiozaki said.
Across the room, what seems to have drawn people to the church is the fact that its teachings mirrored sentiments each of them felt innately. The church proclaims, among other things, that life is art.
“It was more in line with what I thought,” Regina Randle said. She joined PL 35 years ago.
Randle’s story about her introduction to the church is not as unwavering as her friend Shiozaki’s, but her faith in the church is just as strong. Surrounded by her friends and fellow members of the Oakland church, she recounted the events that brought her to the church.
She suffered from irritating skin rashes that she said could not be remedied despite her various attempts. At that time, her boyfriend’s mother recommended that she go to see a woman who was a member of the church. At this point, Randle felt she had tried everything else and thought that this could not make matters worse. The woman simply prayed with her.
“I woke up the next morning and they were gone. And so I didn’t go back because it scared me to death,” she said.
Randle’s reaction is not an unusual one for those unfamiliar with PL. Because most people are familiar with religions such as Christianity or Islam, they find it difficult to understand what this religion is about.
The sight of more than 100 people raising their hands toward their head in the shape of a circle while facing a circle of light may seem a bit strange to those unfamiliar with the religion.
“Sometimes when you don’t understand something, you have may just block it out,” Randle said.
Randle admits that she was not open to the church initially because she was from what she called a strong Christian background. However, after a trip to Japan with some of the church members, she changed her mind about the church without sacrificing some of the teachings with which she was raised.
Once a skeptic, Randle now has a group of 65 people whom she meets with and counsels as a member of the church.
For these two friends, the lessons of this church cannot be mastered overnight or even over a few decades. However, neither seems any less dedicated to the church’s teachings.
“It has become my life,” Shiozaki said.