R.I.P. Janet Tan 譚瑾姊妹追思禮拜 Funeral Service @ Advent Church, Taipei

Well over 200 people gathered at 2:00 pm today, Sunday, at Advent Church to give thanks to God for the life and witness of our close friend and beloved church member, Janet Tan 譚瑾姊妹, who sadly died on June 25. Hers was a life lived to the full, she never wasted one single moment, and all of us who knew her were touched by her kindness, love, self-effacing charm, endless optimism and interest in everything and everyone. All the photos used in this post below bring back many memories, but the top photo above shows Janet with Bishop Lai in 2014 at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, and that’s how I remember her, always with a smile on her face!

The Tan family have long been the party-family of Advent Church, and until Tan Mama and Tan Baba both passed away last year (see my report of Tan Mama’s funeral here), we regularly gathered at their home to celebrate and enjoy delicious food and great company, whether it was birthdays, Christmas or other festivals, the returning home of one of the grandchildren or welcoming visitors coming – whatever and whenever, it was the Tan family who always knew how to host a great party. Tan Mama was in charge, but somehow it was Janet who made it all happen!

Janet went to high school in Taipei, and after leaving Christ’s College, Guandu, she traveled the world with Cathay Pacific for 10 years or so – she used to tell so many stories of her backpacking adventures! Later she worked in the USA, then at the family T-shirt company in Taipei City, and finally moved with all the Tan family to the coast at Baishawan, just north of Advent Church, where she and her parents took care of the Tan family pets: 7 horses, about 15 famously noisy dogs, a host of cats and a whole gaggle of geese. In their Taipei days, Janet had had a whole pack of Dalmatian dogs, all white with black spots, and she had clothes to match ~ plus the car and the family factory were all painted in white with black spots too ~ ah, she was just so special!

In the countryside at Baishawan, Janet learned how to renovate derelict houses, grow vegetables and live off the land, while also taking care of her beloved parents, and all the pets. Visitors were always welcome! And thus it was that I’ve been to the family home many times for early morning breakfast, other times for lunch, and even more times for late evening parties. Tan Mama was always just getting warmed up at 9:00 pm when most 90-year-olds were well gone to bed!

And when the party was over, often getting on for 11:00 pm, then somehow I had to get home, and that’s when the fun started ~ Janet would offer to drive me the 5 miles or so – only 5 miles but it would take absolutely ages! Tan Mama, fearing that Janet would fall asleep driving, would insist on coming too, and Tan Baba didn’t want to miss out on a car trip, so all 4 of us would then launch forth into the night, pile into the car and head down the hill and along the road in the darkness, going very slowly. The only way to keep Janet awake was to sing loudly and get her to join in too, and so that’s how we got home. Being a kindergarten teacher, I know endless children’s songs, and we sang them all, over and over again ~ ‘Jingle Bells, Happy Birthday, The Wheels on the Bus, Incy-Wincy Spider, If you’re happy and you know it’ every verse, over and over! By this time, Tan Mama and Tan Baba were both fast asleep themselves, and Janet and me were having a great singalong all the way home. It was hilarious. Visitors would join in too, ah such amazing memories!

Janet and her parents also came to every social event in Advent Church. They rarely came on time, and sometimes not even on the right day, but hey, they always came, often right at the end, just in time for the food. One time they called me and asked could they visit. When they arrived, they came with a huge plate of watermelon chunks, enough for about 20 people. The 4 of us munched our way through all that watermelon. It turned out they had thought it was a social evening at Advent Church, and had turned up very late – only to find the church closed. After a quick phone call, they discovered they were a week early, it was on the following week instead. So rather than go home, hey they just brought the watermelon to my house for a watermelon party instead!

When the then-Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori came to visit Advent Church many years ago, she also visited the Tan family and met the horses. Then when the Episcopal Church House of Bishops came to Taiwan in 2014, Janet was on hand to renew her friendship with Presiding Bishop Katharine and her husband, Richard – here they are having lunch!

And only Janet could have pulled off a group photo on the steps of Advent Church with her in the front row with all the bishops!

Today’s service was a fitting tribute to Janet’s life, and also to her witness of her deep and very real Christian faith. She always made the most of every opportunity to share her faith with others, particularly in the context of her simple rural lifestyle, depending on God to supply everything they needed – and over this past year of declining health, she has always remained grateful and appreciative of God’s grace, mercy and love. When Tan Baba died last July, Janet was not able to be at his funeral, she was already receiving treatment for cancer – however she kept as active as she could right to the end and in this last semester, she came along most weeks to my community English class, including the one only a week before she died. We loved having her, she was a real blessing to us all.

Today’s funeral service was led by our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, who was with Janet in the days and hours leading up to her death, and he also led her cremation service on July 1. Her death was a shock and the whole church has been in mourning for weeks; Janet was too young and died too soon, only a year after both her parents, and yet she would not have wanted us to be mournful – but to rejoice with her that she is now with her Lord in heaven, where there is no more suffering and pain, and where she is reunited with her beloved parents. The reading was from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15, most appropriate. The funeral service in a packed Advent Church….

After the service, we had a tea party in the church center, which the family had decorated with flowers, and Dalmatian-style tablecloths! There were gifts of memorial books and T-shirts. On the T-shirts, designed and made by the family in their own factory, were the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1, headlined with the song, ‘Turn, turn, turn’: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” So beautiful.

Janet’s 3 older brothers shook hands and thanked everyone as the service finished. We offer them and all the Tan family our condolences and prayers. The brothers and their families are looking after all Janet’s horses and dogs, cats and geese, and also trying to complete some of her building projects, like the huge cross that she wanted to make on the flat roof of the horses’ stable, so that as the airplanes pass by overhead on their flight-path to the international airport, so they can look down and see the cross outline all lit up. Janet had so many ideas and so much vision, she was brimming with creativity and imagination for what was possible. You can see from her outfits she wore that she always dressed as creatively as she could. Janet really brightened up our lives, and was a great friend to so many of us. I thank God for the privilege of having known her.

Fondly remembered. May Janet rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

Prayers Requested for the Diocese of Taiwan Bishop Election This Coming Weekend!

Happening this very weekend, on Saturday August 3 is the election of the new diocesan bishop of Taiwan. Prayers requested please!

The mandatory retirement age for bishops in the Episcopal Church is 72, so our current diocesan bishop, Bishop David J. H. Lai 賴榮信主教 must retire before March 3, 2020. Bishop Lai is the 5th diocesan bishop of Taiwan, he was consecrated on November 25, 2000 as coadjutor, and then installed as diocesan bishop in 2001 on the retirement of Bishop John C. T. Chien 簡啟聰主教. So we are electing our 6th diocesan bishop as Bishop Lai’s successor. The date of consecration, ordination and installation is provisionally set as February 22, 2020.

We have 3 official nominees, seen in the photo below with Bishop Lai, all are from within the Diocese of Taiwan. From left: Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang 張員榮牧師, rector of Advent Church, Taipei, Bishop David J. H. Lai, Rev. Lily L. L. Chang 張玲玲牧師, rector of St. James’ Church, Taichung, and Rev. Joseph M. L. Wu 吳明龍牧師, vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung.

The 3 nominees were confirmed at our diocesan convention in March, then in April, May and June, there were 3 very well-attended public forums, one each in the north, central and south Taiwan. It was a chance for the nominees to share about themselves, their vision for the diocese, and an opportunity to ask and answer questions.

We are pleased to welcome Rev. Canon Bruce Woodcock, coming to Taiwan for the election on behalf of the US-based Episcopal Church, of which Taiwan is an overseas diocese, part of Province VIII.

The election of the new bishop takes place this coming Saturday, August 3 at St. James’ Church, Taichung, starting at 10:00 am with a service, followed by the actual election. Most people are traveling there for the day from our various churches throughout Taiwan. We pray for safe travels and good weather, a smooth election and a clear result. Please join us in prayer!

Chilling up on Yang-Ming-Shan 陽明山: 🐍 Taiwan Habu / Brown Spotted Pit Viper / 龜殼花蛇!🐍 Or is it?

It’s high summer in Taiwan, exhaustively hot and humid, and the best outdoor place to escape the heat is up in the mountains, where there’s a breeze and some shade. So, up to Yang-ming-shan National Park 陽明山 (the mountains above Taipei) we all go ~ there’s a range of 10 mountains up there to choose from, and endless trails and places to walk, meet, chill, relax and enjoy the breeze.

And today on Mian-tian-shan 面天山 (Mt Mian-tian: 977 m) there was a s.n.a.k.e.😨 🐍🐍 😨 Snakes are common in Taiwan, but they usually move very fast, and, well, nobody hangs around long when a snake is on the move. This one was a very cool, calm and collected snake, all chilled out and all coiled up by the side of the path. So cool, calm and collected that I’d passed it by before the gathered crowd told me to look.

This could be a Brown Spotted Pit Viper, known locally as a Taiwan Habu, and in Chinese as 龜殼花蛇 (translates as ‘turtle shell pattern’), and in Latin as Protobothrops mucrosquamatus. Turns out to be highly venomous, and is the same species of snake as appeared on a Taiwan TV News report recently when one was spotted among the drinks on a delivery man’s motorbike in Taipei City. Certainly caused a stir!

So, things I have learnt today about the Taiwan Habu: it’s very common throughout Taiwan up to 1,000 m in altitude, occurs all over Asia, belongs to the same family as rattlesnakes (now there’s a thought!), mostly nocturnal, the most fearless of the common venomous snakes in Taiwan, can be aggressive – attacking shadows and moving objects, and especially in rural areas – even the smallest medical facilities carry Habu antivenom.

But since then, someone has told me that this might not in fact be a Taiwan Habu, it might be a False Taiwan Habu / False Viper 擬龜殼花 Macropisthodon rudis because its head is not as triangular as it should be. If so, it is only (!) mildly venomous, occurs only in south China and Taiwan, mimics the real Taiwan Habu in colours and patterns, and “when irritated and excited, it may make every effort to act or appear as a venomous snake: the head and neck, or the entire body, may be flattened as the snake coils up in defense; when flattened, the oval head may take on a strong, definite triangular shape in an attempt to mimic vipers.”

Isn’t nature amazing?

😉 Good job I didn’t know all that when I took the photograph! 😉

Advent Church Summer Camp 2019 降臨堂兒童喜樂營!

‘Be Brave!’ was the theme of this year’s summer camp, run by Advent Church in cooperation with St. John’s University Student Fellowship ~ and it was a really great choice of theme, oh so relevant to children – and to all the leaders too! You’ve certainly gotta be brave to run a summer camp in searing heat in the height of summer, when thunderstorms are forecast and many people would rather be inside doing as little as possible 😊 As it was, we had 80 excited and very energetic children plus 35 equally excited and energetic student leaders ~ YES!

All the songs, games, activities, stories, drama and teaching were on the theme of courage, whether it was facing a barrage of water in the water fight, trying to hit a paper ball with a flip-flop, hitting your opposing team member’s foam shield with your rolled up newspaper, listening to stories of courage, or most moving of all, watching the drama. The students acted out 2 scenes of a story about facing bullies, drawing on strength and courage from God in prayer to know how to stand up to them and when to report what they’re doing. Many of the children had tears in their eyes, and so did I. Our students are really talented. They worked so hard to prepare and practice everything. The preparations have been going on for months, with an intensive weekend of training starting last Friday night right through to Sunday. The results were amazing….

The summer camp was on Monday and Tuesday this week, July 1-2, the official start of Taiwan’s 2-months summer holiday. Yippee! The weather was cloudy, so it was a bit cooler. Distant thunder indicated rain was on its way, it started as we got to the water fight on Tuesday afternoon ~ then the rain came just as we finished and moved inside!

Thanks to all our student team, church and chaplaincy leaders, church members and visitors. Special thanks to Yu-Ru and Tzi-Wei for organizing everything, everything went so well! We were honoured to welcome our old friend, Sheerah from Malaysia. In 2010, she came to Advent Church as part of a team from the Diocese of West Malaysia, and she led us all in training for that year’s summer camp on the theme of ‘Kids Games’, which we’ve used every year since, including all the banners which they kindly donated to us. Last year, Sheerah left Malaysia and moved to Taiwan to get married, she’s now pregnant and she came to visit for the second day of our camp. We were delighted to see her! This is Sheerah with all 9 of our Malaysian student leaders on the camp….

And in August, our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang will lead a mission trip to the Diocese of West Malaysia, along with some youth from our companion Diocese of Osaka – so this photo is of our Malaysian students plus those from the summer camp student team who are going on that mission trip. Ah, see how much we all love Malaysia!

We finished the summer camp with a buffet meal last night at the church centre, and said our goodbyes ~ some of our students have graduated and are moving back home, including some back to Malaysia, while some graduated last year and are now at work, but managed to take 2 days off work for this camp, while others will look for summer jobs. Some of the helpers are still high school students and have summer classes coming up. They all leave with many happy memories – and a whole lot of new friends!

Next week our summer class programme at Advent Church starts for 30 children and 4 student leaders, lasting for 6 weeks through the summer holidays. Please pray for them all. We thank God for all the children who came this year to our summer camp, they were all so lovely – and they’re already looking forward to next year!

Thanks be to God for another amazing summer camp ~ YES!

Pentecost & Dragon Boat Festival 2019!

A bumper weekend here in Taiwan ~ with an extra day off on Friday for the Dragon Boat Festival. YES!

Today is Pentecost ~ the day we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem, 40 days after His resurrection and 10 days after His ascension. The colour associated with Pentecost is always red, and it so happens I just love red! Today at Advent Church @ St. John’s University, the 2 flame trees are still in flower (see the 2 photos above, taken on May 30) ~ and nearly everyone was wearing something red. And it looked beautiful! So beautiful in fact, that we had a group photo of us all, that’s the one at the top. We also had the Gospel reading in lots of different languages, which was a blessing, helped considerably by our Malaysian students who are very multilingual. And one of our Taiwan students, Zhong-Yu was baptized – he lives locally, so he also went to our local junior-high school next door, and he’s well-known to us all. Thanks be to God!

Meanwhile, out on the streets, the local townships of Tamsui and Sanzhi are celebrating Dragon Boat Festival this weekend with 3 days of parades of deities and gods. For followers of traditional folk religion, this weekend is a busy time of cooking and making offerings to the ancestors. It’s also a time for family reunions. Here at St. John’s University, 2 of our delightful church members, Ming-Chuan and Meng-Zhen spent all of Friday cooking a delicious dinner, and in the evening they invited our Malaysian students plus some of our chaplaincy staff to a wonderful gathering, & me too….😊😊😊!

The traditional food for Dragon Boat Festival is zhong- zi 粽子, made with sticky rice, filled with meat, eggs (or even red beans for a dessert) and wrapped in bamboo leaves or other large flat leaves, and boiled or steamed. But there was also plenty more – all yummy!

Taiwan is in the middle of the Plum Rainy Season, so the weather is always unpredictable, and for this weekend, it was mostly forecast to rain every afternoon in the mountains. On Friday it was 32°C, but ‘feels like 41°C’ said my phone. It was indeed very hot. Phew! I went up Guanyinshan 觀音山 (616m – but felt like triple that 😫😫😫!!) This is what the mountain looks like from Tamsui MRT Station, just a small pimple of a hill. But on a hot June day, feeling like 41 °C, it is massive! The trail starts just across the river, just above sea level.

The trail to the main peak is called the Ying Han Ling trail (硬漢嶺步道) or the “Tough Guy Peak” – because it’s where the police used to do their training. But that’s not all. Coming along the ridge to the left are another 6-7 smaller humps, all very steep, and all either with steps or ropes going up and down. It’s hard on the legs and hands (take gloves!) but it’s great fun. Difficult to photograph, cos it’s really steep ~ and a little hot, but it’s worth it all…

The whole trail took 5½ long, hot hours, and the highlight was seeing the view at the top…

And the hydrangeas, in full bloom all over….

And this is Taipei down below…

On Saturday, I decided the best way to beat the aching limbs was to go up another hill – and this time off I went to Xiangshan, Elephant Mountain, over on the other side of Taipei, up behind Taipei 101 ~ plus the range of hills behind it, which lead up to Jiuwu / 9-5 Peak 九五峰 (402m) and Muzhi mountain 拇指山, on the same trail. The weather was mostly cloudy, so it was a bit cooler, and after Guanyinshan, this walk was really a piece of cake. Only 3½ hours to complete the whole trail – normally it’s hard work in the heat with all the steps, but hey, compared with the day before, it was easy!

And now back to sea-level, recovering from all those exertions, and the weekend would not be complete without sharing with you a few photos of what’s going on locally, well, in Sanzhi. The fields are full of water bamboo, seaweed is drying in the sun, the waterwheels are busy, and the sun is shining!

And the lotus flowers are out all over Sanzhi too. I took these on Thursday early morning last week….

And then there’s lots of the Singapore Daisies (Sphagneticola trilobata) or wedelia, which unfortunately are on the “List of the world’s 100 worst invasive species” – which is a great shame, cos they are stunningly beautiful, and look great covering up old walls!

A great big thank you to all who made our Dragon Boat Festival so special, and thanks be to God for good weather, welcoming friends, delicious food, beautiful countryside, spectacular mountains, and lots to see and do. May God’s Holy Spirit continue to fill us each day. Wishing you all a happy and blessed Pentecost 2019!

台灣聖公會台南天恩堂60週年感恩禮拜 Grace Church, Tainan 60th Anniversary Celebrations ~ Thanks be to God!

Yes, we all gathered on Saturday May 11, 2019 to celebrate – and to give thanks to God for his many blessings to Grace Church, Tainan over the last 60 years!

(taken by Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu)

Tainan 台南 is Taiwan’s ancient capital and oldest city, located on Taiwan’s SW coast, and “initially established by the Dutch East India Company as a ruling and trading base called Fort Zeelandia during the period of Dutch rule on the island. After Dutch colonists were defeated by Koxinga in 1661, Tainan remained as the capital of the Tungning Kingdom until 1683 and afterwards the capital of Taiwan Prefecture under Qing Dynasty rule until 1887, when the new provincial capital was moved to Taipei”. The city is famous for having a huge number of temples (incl. the Confucius Temple, built in 1665), forts, museums, churches and Tainan Theological College, plus its food – it’s THE place to go for delicious everything!

Not surprisingly it’s also where quite a few of our retired clergy have settled, and when our current Bishop of Taiwan, David J. H. Lai, retires early next year, then they will also move back to Tainan. Bishop Lai studied at Tainan Theological College, his wife, Lily is from Tainan, her sister and family are there, and Bishop Lai was vicar of Grace Church, Tainan from 1986-2001, from where he was elected as bishop. So they know the city well, their friends are all there and they look forward to returning home!

Grace Church 天恩堂 was established in Tainan in 1959, initially in rented buildings, then in 1981, under the then-vicar, Rev. Michael T. H. Liu, a piece of land was bought, and they moved to the present site on the east side of the city. Much of the land in the area was owned and run by the Taiwan Sugar Corporation as sugar-cane plantations and with a processing plant. These days, Taiwan’s sugar is nearly all imported, and the land is now mostly used for housing, schools and parks.

At the beginning of the 1980’s, there was no mains water supply at Grace Church, and life was very basic. Grace Kindergarten was built on the site, with the plan being to build a church building on the same site at a later date. So far, that hasn’t happened, and the church congregation continues to worship in one of the kindergarten rooms. The plot of land for the church building is currently part of the kindergarten playground area, covered in grass. There is some money in a diocesan fund for building the church, but much more will be needed; and the promise from the diocesan standing committee is that the process can start once the church is full each Sunday for worship. A great challenge for everyone! Nothing daunted, the current vicar, Rev. Philip J. L. Ho has increased the congregation considerably in the almost-3 years he has been there, with large numbers of youth coming along. Average Sunday attendance in 2018 was 40 people ~ so the congregation are becoming hopeful that a new church building is on the horizon! This is Philip, and one of the young people…

On Saturday, we celebrated the 60th anniversary with a service at 10:00 am ~ I counted about 120 people in the main group photo and they came from all corners of the country, though of course mainly the centre and south. It’s quite a way from Taipei to Tainan, even by high-speed rail, and most had traveled there the night before to be ready on time. I traveled there with folks from St. James’ Church, Taichung in their minibus, and as it was we left at 7:30 am from Taichung. We arrived at Grace Church just in time for me to rush along the street, buy some coffee and get back again in time for the service to start! At the main gate on ‘welcome duty’ was Clark, son-in-law of retired priest, Rev. Samuel Liao….

Clark’s wife, Ms. Liao Sung-Jen was inside, playing the organ to a packed church…

And Clark’s mother-in-law (Ms. San Su, Rev. Samuel Liao’s wife), was in the choir, and they all sang so well and so joyfully, in their beautiful blue choir robes, and wonderfully led by churchwarden, Mr. J. L. Lin on his guitar… Hey, Grace Church Choir are really good!

Meanwhile back outside at the entrance, and we had special gift packs to take home and friendly people there to welcome us!

During the service, there was a gift presentation to former clergy in charge of Grace Church, 3 of them were there in person, and the other 3 were collected on their behalf …

taken by Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu

The children meanwhile had activities planned for them in the vicarage front room, led by Kathy, daughter of Rev. Philip Ho. Nancy, Philip’s wife was also in action organizing things and taking photos…

from ‘台灣聖公會天恩堂 The Episcopal Grace Church, Tainan, Taiwan Diocese’ Facebook Page

And so to the service….

After the service we had a buffet at Grace Church, and I tried to get photos of all the dishes before people started to eat. So much to eat and all so delicious. See, Tainan is truly Taiwan’s food capital!

And we had lots of photo-taking with lots of good friends. Firstly, the family of Rev. Charles C. T. Chen – he and his wife are currently in the USA, but their 2 sons, 2 wives, 3 of the children and one mother-in-law were there for the anniversary celebrations – and also to celebrate Mother’s Day, which was the following day, Sunday!

This is retired priest, Rev. Luke H. S. Chen (second left, in green) and his wife, brother and some of his family…

And a group from St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi…

Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu is an ardent photographer and also senior warden at St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung. He kindly sent me some of his photos to use here, including the group photo of us all in the church, posted at the top. Here he is, with his wife (left) and church member, Lynn (right)!

And lots and lots of everyone else!

And check out these happy people enjoying their meal together, mostly from St. James…

A big thank you to Rev. Philip Ho and all at Grace Church, Tainan for a wonderful celebration event, and especially to Almighty God for His faithfulness these past 60 years. And in God’s grace, we pray for the next 60, for all the outreach, especially among young people, and for the building of a new church, all to the glory of God!

Yes to God, Yes to Mission, Yes to Taiwan!