Rinban Bob, Rev. Patti Oshita retire from Sacramento Betsuin

HEADING OUT — Rev. Patti and Rinban Bob Oshita are leaving the Sacramento Buddhist Church Betsuin after 32 years leading the congregation. photo by Cindy Kitade

HEADING OUT — Rev. Patti and Rinban Bob Oshita are leaving the Sacramento Buddhist Church Betsuin after 32 years leading the congregation. photo by Cindy Kitade

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After serving the Buddhist Church of Sacramento Betsuin for 32 years, Rinban Bob Oshita and his wife, the Rev. Patti Oshita, gazed at a banquet room full of more than 700 people on June 11 who had come together to celebrate the Oshitas’ retirement.

“As this event was being planned, I thought at first maybe 300, maybe 400, and then it seemed to grow and grow and I wondered ‘do we know 700 people?’” Rinban (head minister) Oshita said, creating a ripple of laughter throughout the banquet room.

Though the attendance number was large, it may not be a surprise as the Oshitas have impacted several generations of temple members. Current Board of Trustees Vice President Brian Hatano said that he has been a member of the church for more than 50 years, as he began attending as a baby with his parents. He called the Oshitas “the heart of our temple.”

“They married my wife and I 30 years ago and so I was hoping they’d be around long enough for my kids to get married by them,” Hatano said with a smile.

Buddhist Churches of America Bishop Kodo Umezu also seemed reluctant about the Oshitas’ retirement, as he pretended to rip the certificate he presented to them during the retirement celebration.

“I don’t like the idea of impermanence. (Oshita) always talks about impermanence. I want everything to be permanent; I don’t want them to retire,” Umezu said jokingly.

“Reverend Bob,” as he is more affectionately known, began his Buddhist ministerial career with the Los Angeles Betsuin in 1975, but said his time at the temple was sometimes frustrating and “not a good fit for me.” Oshita ended up taking a leave of absence from being minister for several years before requesting to be assigned to the Sacramento Betsuin, as it is most commonly called.

He came to the Sacramento Betsuin with Patti in 1984 and calls it one of the best decisions in his life.

“Looking back, I now realize that for the past three-plus decades, being here has allowed me the opportunity to fulfill a dream I did not know I had,” Oshita said during his last official sermon on May 29.

Sacramento Betsuin Board of Trustees President Gordon Nitta calls their retirement bittersweet. Nitta helped to find a new minister to take Oshita’s place, though it took long, late hours and “a lot of headaches.”

“We came to the conclusion that we’re not gonna find someone to replace Rev. Bob, but we wanted to find someone that would be a good minister to take the position,” he said.

The temple leaders chose the Rev. Dennis Fujimoto to fill Oshita’s place. Fujimoto is currently the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple minister and has visited the Sacramento Betsuin a few times as a guest speaker. Most recently, he delivered the sermon for the temple’s Gotan-e service on May 15. Fujimoto’s father, the late Reverend Hogen Fujimoto, was stationed at the Sacramento Betsuin, and his brother Ken currently serves as the Rinban at the San Jose Betsuin.

Former Sacramento Betsuin Rinban Kosho Yukawa, who first served the temple as a reverend in the 1960s and returned as rinban in the mid-1990s, said that the Oshitas have served the longest term out of the 30 ministers who served the Sacramento Betsuin in its 117-year history.

“Not only does their length of service top them all, but their contribution to the growth of Betsuin also far exceeds all other ministers who served the Betsuin,” said Yukawa, who delivered his speech with energy and humor despite having come down with a cold.

Oshita said one of his proudest accomplishments during his time with the Sacramento Betsuin is the growth of the Dharma School Program. He said that it grew gradually, but so much that for the temple’s Centennial Building Project, they increased seating capacity in the hondo (main hall) to seat 500 people.

Many temple members credit the Oshitas’ focus on the youth as the leading factor for the its growth over the years.

According to six-year Minister Assistant Kelvin Mark, who has been invited to tokudo (recognition of minister assistants as Buddhist ministers) this summer, Dharma school attendance grew from 75 children to 425 at one point during the Oshitas’ term.

Minister Assistant Koichi Mizushima said Oshita’s sincere connection with the youth is “something he invested in from day one.”

“He didn’t plan it, it’s just his natural charisma,” he said. “He likes kids, he likes young people, and I really think that’s the turn around.”

Mizushima joined the church as a young middle school Boy Scout around the same time the Oshitas arrived. He took a 10-week religious course taught by Oshita and became involved with the temple ever since. He has been a minister’s assistant since 2002.

Hatano said he attended a Metta scouting class session, which teaches Cub Scouts the fundamentals of Buddhism, with his son and said Oshita has a tender spot for kids that has always impressed him.

“Sitting in that class with my son when he was 9 years old, I learned more about Buddhism than I learned going to Sunday school and going to anything else just because he took such an interest in the kids,” Hatano said.

Oshita has taught the Metta program and the Padma program (for Girl Scouts) to 960 Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, mentored 30 ordained ministers and trained 130 youth minister assistants.

Two-year Youth Minister Assistant Ty Coloma, who will be starting his freshman year at California State University, Stanislaus this fall, said the Oshitas helped him grow.

“They’ve helped me see things differently in life — a whole different take,” he said. “Now after going to the (YAC) retreat and being with them for so long, just having an open mind and kind of thinking similar to how they think, (life is) a lot nicer and a lot more meaningful.”

Oshita said that what he is most proud of is seeing their older Dharma school students return to church from college or from being away for a long time.

“Perhaps what is most flattering is when they call to ask for advice when confronted with difficult issues,” he said. “It is just very special to be remembered by the kids who have grown up here.”

In addition to their commitment to the youth, the Oshitas have been praised for not only being able to remember each of the temple member’s names, but also key aspects of their lives.

Yukawa said Oshita often whispered to him the names of members he could not remember.

“You made a constant effort to remember the people you met each day,” Yukawa said during his speech. “Behind your talent is your dedicated effort and hard work.”

Two-year Youth Minister Assistant Haley Arakaki, who will be a sophomore at Arizona State University this fall, said that the Oshitas’ open-heart and guidance helped her and they continued to welcome her “as if I wasn’t even gone.”

Sherman Iida, former board of trustees president and current chair of the temple’s annual bazaar, said Oshita’s emphasis on the youth and his efforts to genuinely get to know them has helped develop the temple.

“Getting to know each and every Dharma school student by name is a huge undertaking,” he said. “He makes the effort to get to know them and I think that creates life-long relationships that will bode well for our temple in future years.”

Oshita said the other best decision he made in his life was marrying Patti.

“I told her a number of times ‘I don’t know what my life would have been like without you in it. I’m sure it would have been more relaxed, but I don’t think I would have gotten very much done either,’” he said affectionately, utilizing his signature sense of humor.

Oshita’s wife of nearly 30 years not only taught Dharma school classes, she is also credited for leading the temple’s Girl Scouts program and the minister’s assistants, among many other things, in addition to knowing each temple member as well as her husband does. The Oshitas are often called “a great team” by members.

Since Fujimoto will not be able to come to the Sacramento Betsuin until August, the Oshitas plan to stay at the temple until he arrives and will be there to help with his transition if needed. The Oshitas’ official retirement is at the end of August and they intend to stay in Sacramento.

As for retirement plans, Oshita said they plan to do some light traveling, help to care for elder family members and maintain as minimal a schedule as possible. Oshita also hopes to lose around 20 pounds and develop a healthier lifestyle.

Comments

  1. Ruth Seo says

    Great article. More informative than most and input from many different people adds interesting perspectives. I like your writing style, Heather.

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