Taiwan Episcopal Church Diocesan Convention ’23 台灣聖公會第63屆教區年議會

St. Luke’s Church, Hualien, on Taiwan’s scenic east coast, was this year’s setting for the Diocese of Taiwan’s annual convention and workshop, held from May 9-12, and what a setting it was!  Of course, the scenery in Hualien is spectacular, with mountains, sea and sky in abundance, but the warmth of the welcome we received from the vicar, Rev. Antony F. W. Liang and his wife, Anita, plus diocesan seminarian / postulant Mr. Shawn Y. H. Wang 王彥軒, brothers and delegates Mr. Yang Jie and Mr. Yang Ming (pictured below), and all the church members was just as moving.  Thank you to everyone at St. Luke’s Church!

Mr. Yang Jie and Mr. Yang Ming

Under the guidance of the Bishop of Taiwan, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, the clergy and church members of St. Luke’s Church spent months in preparation, including the clearing out and complete renovation of the large church basement below the church, so that we could use that space – their hard work and attention to detail was much appreciated by us all! 

St. Luke’s Church, Hualien

Bishop Chang invited former Methodist Bishop Kwan-Wah Pong to lead a workshop for us all on Wednesday May 10, so he and his wife also joined us in Hualien.  Bishop Pong is already well-known in the diocese due to his involvement in the Methodist Graduate School of Theology, where he currently works, and as bishop, he was one of the signatories to a historic agreement of cooperation signed with our diocesan Trinity School for Christian Ministry (TSCM) in November 2021 (see that report here). This is Bishop Pong (left) with the TSCM dean, David Chee (right)…

Bishop Chang also invited the Asia Pacific Partnership Officer for The Episcopal Church, Rev. Canon Bruce Woodcock to join us for the week; this was Bruce’s first visit to Taiwan since Bishop Chang’s consecration in February 2020, delayed due to the pandemic. 

Bishop Chang with Rev. Canon Bruce Woodcock

Bruce arrived on Monday May 8 from New York and I met him at Taoyuan Airport. Waiting at the airport means there’s plenty of time for taking photos of all the quirky animals on display as well as watching the plane arrive from the observation deck. Ah yes, a big welcome to Bruce and all our visitors!

On Tuesday May 9, many of us from the Taipei area met at 7:30 am in Taipei Main Station, and set off for the 2-hour-plus train journey to Hualien, part of which runs down the east coast, passing Hualien’s famous Taroko Gorge on the way. 

On arrival at St. Luke’s Church, we were warmly welcomed with coffee and then an opening service in the newly-renovated church basement, led by Rev. Antony Liang…

Then followed big excitement as we set off for our outing to visit Taroko Gorge. Such a great way to see the scenery and catch up with all our old friends on the way! The day was cloudy which only added to the atmosphere at Taroko Gorge.  What a stunning place!

On the way back, we visited Qixingtan Beach….

And after dinner, so eventually we got to the hotel where we stayed for 3 nights, with its amazing views and garden. And yes we did have one free evening for swimming in that lovely pool!…

On Wednesday May 10, over 70 of us gathered at St. Luke’s Church for a diocesan workshop, held in the basement, and led by Bishop Pong on the theme of “Opportunities for Traditional Churches in Modern Day Society”.  Many said they found it really helpful and interesting, and Bishop Chang in his sermon at the opening service of the convention the following day spoke of how inspired he was listening to Bishop Pong’s lectures and sharing his experiences.  Some clergy said how much they learned about the importance of discipleship training for their church members, and another said he really appreciated hearing Bishop Pong emphasize how our faith is not dead, but living – and even though the ancient liturgies and practices of the church can sometimes seem so out of place and irrelevant in our modern world, yet they are deeply meaningful, life-giving and can lead us closer to Almighty God.  Another spoke of how he was moved to hear Bishop Pong talking about the Third Order of monastic life for lay people, and how following a disciplined rule of life can be beneficial for those who have become Christians from a similarly devout and disciplined Buddhist background but who often find it hard to adapt to being a Christian in daily life. 

Also during the break in the afternoon of the workshop, Ms. Chu Ju-zi 朱菊枝 from St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung arranged for us to try her special sweet nian-gao – it was very delicious, and all cooked on site!

Among the 70 of us gathered in Hualien for the workshop, there is no doubt that the most popular person there was none other than baby Enoch, son of our seminarian, Yu-Lin 鄭喻璘 and her husband, San-Yuan. He was hugged and cuddled and oohed and aahed over by everyone, he posed for more photos than anyone else, and added a great deal of joy to the workshop proceedings!

We finished the workshop with a very beautiful and moving Taizé service, very special indeed.

On Thursday May 9, it was the official start of the annual diocesan convention. Some of those attending only the workshop had already left, and new people had come specifically for the convention, particularly those who couldn’t take more than 2 days off work.  We had 94 people at the convention, and the event started with registration by QR code and then the Opening Service at St. Luke’s Church.

This is now the beginning of Bishop Chang’s 4th year as bishop, and according to his plan for his 7 years of ministry (until he reaches mandatory retirement at 72), years 1 and 2 were years of preparation, including the renovation of church buildings and training of church members etc, ready for the ‘action years’, which started last year and onwards.  On being asked to summarize Bishop Chang’s sermon at the opening service in just a few words, one person said, ‘Action Year!’, and yes, it’s a good summary!  Bishop Chang emphasized in his sermon our diocesan vision and development plan to expand our ministry, to reach out into new areas and establish churches.  He encouraged the church members to complain less and reach out more, pushing the clergy out of their offices into the community for outreach and encouraging the clergy to take the church members with them.  As part of the vision and plan to eventually expand into our own province, he explained the need for there to be 3 dioceses in Taiwan in order for this to happen.  To further this process, our 2 current deaneries of north and south Taiwan will in the future become 3 deaneries, with the addition of a central deanery.  This motion was later passed at the annual convention.  Bishop Chang also shared the good news about St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi, which has been preparing for many years to be upgraded to a parish but has been delayed by slower-than-expected growth of the congregation due to the pandemic. Now, at this convention, this proposal has also been passed.  Thanks be to God!

At the end of the service, presentations were made to the three seminarians graduating this year from our diocesan Trinity School for Christian Ministry (TSCM).  On hand to make the presentations of certificates were the retiring TSCM dean, Rev. Canon David Chee, and the new dean, Tim Pan, who was dressed resplendently in his beautiful academic gown of blue and green!

RetiringTSCM dean, David Chee (left) and new TSCM dean, Tim Pan (right)

Ms. Christina Hai 海小燕 and Mr. Alex Tso 左心泰 (who have both done theological training elsewhere) each received a Diploma in Practical Theology…

And Mr. Shawn Wang 王彥軒 received his Master of Divinity, the first person to ever graduate with a TSCM MDiv degree.  Congratulations to TSCM and all three graduates!

After the Opening Service, group photos and lunch, there was a small graduation party for the TSCM graduates….

And a celebratory toast to Alex Tso…

Then we said goodbye to St. Luke’s Church and set off back to the hotel for the start of our official convention meetings.   The whole event was magnificently led by our convention secretary, Mr. Timothy Liu 劉宜頌 along with Ms. Lisa Huei-Ling Hsu 許惠苓, the diocesan office manager.  They both worked so hard to make this convention a success, and everything went so smoothly!

Mr. Timothy Liu and Ms. Lisa Hsu

Mr. Yang 楊景儂 who has held the diocesan secretary role for many years also came along with his wife, they have so much valuable experience and offer helpful advice.  Here they are with former chair of the standing committee, Mr. Richard Hu….

The diocesan treasurer, Ms. May Shu-Chun Hsu 許淑羣, came with 2 of the diocesan finance staff, Huei-Yu 王蕙玉and Huei-Ying 許惠瓔 to present the financial report.  I’m not the only one to have noticed that of the 4 finance and admin girls working in the diocesan office, 3 of them have the same sound for the first character of their names, Huei-Yu, Huei-Ying and Huei-Ling. The sound ‘Huei’ in Chinese also means to be able to do something, so we always joke that between them, everything will always get done!

Diocesan treasurer, Ms Hsu (centre) with diocesan finance staff, Huei-Ying (left) and Huei-Yu (right)

Special thanks to our diocesan chancellor, Ms. Amy Chin 金文悅 and her husband, Mr. Gary Tseng 曾國烈, chair of the diocesan standing committee, who both worked so hard throughout the convention. Mr. Tseng is pictured here with baby Enoch, ah they got on so well!…

Thanks also to Mr. Yun-Hung Di 狄運亨, chair of the diocesan evergreen (seniors) committee, who came with his wife..

And Ms. Su-Er Yang 楊淑娥, chair of the ECW, Episcopal Church Women – we sat next to each other for the meetings…

Also Mr. Jin-Lung Huang 黃錦隆, chair of the diocesan property management committee, and his wife, who soon became known as our most photogenic couple!..   

And Mr. Wei-Jun 魏 駿, who takes over as the new person in charge of the diocesan Youth and Training Committee. 

And many others, too many to mention by name!

The afternoon and evening (see photos above) were taken up with the church reports, each church being given 10 minutes to share their progress report on their 1-, 3- and 5-year plans.  The highlight was this short video prepared by the Diocesan Youth and Training Committee to welcome people to the Taiwan Episcopal Church. Actually, it was filmed and produced by Vicky Tze-Wei, my former colleague in the St. John’s University Chaplaincy.  It’s really good – and all set to music, so you don’t need to worry if you can’t understand Chinese!  Please do check it out here….

On Friday May 12, at the morning session of the convention meetings, Bishop Chang spoke about the 15-year diocesan development plan for establishing new churches, based on proposals already made 25 years ago, and how the churches and areas would be distributed into the future deaneries and dioceses.  He also applauded the courage of Rev. Simon Tsou and St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi as they upgrade to become a parish.  Both these motions were passed, and the plan is that next year’s convention will be held at St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi, to celebrate their becoming a parish and also their 60th anniversary.  The second part of the meeting consisted of the election of new members of the Standing Committee (all done by QR code – and so quickly completed!) – and we finished with lunch and the train journey back to Taipei. 

Our final photo was originally just with the young people of the diocese, but as more and more people wanted to join the group, so we welcomed everyone, young or old!

It was also particularly lovely to welcome some of the St. Luke’s Church members to the final lunch, including Mr. Chien Hong-Ren and his wife, he is the younger brother of our former Bishop John C. T. Chien, and long-time member of St. Luke’s Church, Hualien. 

Baby Enoch had spent the actual convention away from the meetings with his father, but we were all pleased he came to see us for the meals and to say goodbye. He is just so lovely!

And this is Huei-Ling collecting up all the name bags ready to re-use for next year’s convention in Chiayi!

Grateful thanks to Rev. Antony Liang and all those at St. Luke’s Church, Hualien for their wonderful hospitality. This is Antony, his son, and diocesan intern, Mu-chi, recovering with a bit of shoulder massage! Thanks also to Bishop Chang, his wife, Hannah, all at the diocesan office, and everyone for such a successful convention. And most of all, thanks be to Almighty God! And see you all next year at St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi!

PS: The pose of the day must go to Anna and the 3 lovely dogs, taken at the back of St. Luke’s Church – aren’t they all so lovely?!

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2023!

The start of the Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse

When life gives you mountains, as they say, put on yer boots and hike. Don’t just stay home looking at ’em from a distance and dreamin’. GO! Get out there. And especially if you live in a big polluted city like Taipei, built in a river basin surrounded by mountains on 3 sides, and especially when the public transport system is so good, and the weather obliges. Make the most of it. If you go with friends, that’s great. If you go on your own, that’s great too. I often like to go hiking on my own, that way I can walk at my own speed, go where I want to go and stop when I want to stop. It’s fun! The mountains are calling, and we must go. So GO!

Mt. Qixing from the Balaka HIghway, heading to Mt. Datun

Just north of Taipei City are the Yang-Ming Shan 陽明山 mountains, and the ones that are open to the public are a long ridge of 10 summits, volcanic in origin, mostly very steep and some oozing sulfur from the fumaroles (that’s what you can see in the above photo ~ the sulfur smell is very strong)! All 10 are within the Yang-Ming Shan National Park 陽明山國家公園, with well-maintained paths and the summits all marked with posts. On the top of each post is a Chinese character in metal which can be rubbed with a pencil (like a brass rubbing) or photographed, and together the 10 characters form the phrase: ‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ translated as ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse Activity’. This is the official name of the hike, and Saturday was the day! The photo below shows the 10 posts, in order from east to west, left to right, with 2 extra posts, one of which is the post on top of the highest mountain on the traverse, Mt. Qixing, 1120 m.

The other extra post is Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 which was part of the traverse until 2019, when the cattle at nearby Qingtiangang 擎天崗 attacked someone so the authorities enclosed the cattle and so closed off Mt. Zhugao, and relocated the summit marker to Jixinlun 雞心崙, where it remains until now. Mt. Zhugao is beautiful, and now that the path is reopened, I like to include that summit too ~ that way, it feels more like 10 real mountains, and the views are stunning on a clear day, so do include it if you can!

The view from Mt. Zhugao towwards Qingtiangang and Mt. Qixing

The 10 Chinese characters on the summit markers are Mt. Ding (“陽”), Mt. Shiti (“明”), Jixinlun (“山”), Mt. Qixing East Peak (“東”), Mt. Qixing Main Peak (“西”), Mt. Datun Main Peak (“大”), Mt. Datun South Peak (“縱”), Mt. Datun West Peak (“走”), Mt. Miantian (“活”), and Mt. Xiangtian (“動”).

And so there I was, on Saturday April 29, 2023 setting off at 5:20 am heading for the Yang-Ming Shan Mountains. Living in Taipei City, I can now get to the bus stop at Jiantan MRT Metro Station – opposite the new performing arts centre (see photo below) – in time for the M1 (市民小巴1) minibus that leaves at 6:30 am going up to Fengguizui 風櫃嘴, for the start of the walk at Fengguikou 風櫃口. The bus was packed out, and I was nearly the last person on, so I had to stand all the way up that very steep and very winding road – the road was full of very energetic cyclists. Don’t miss that bus – the next one is 10:10 am, so if you miss it, the only real alternative option is to get a group together for a taxi.

New performing arts centre opposite Jiantan MRT Station

That early bus is the reason why I’ve never before even tried to do this traverse from east to west, I’ve always done it west to east. When I lived out on the NW coast beyond Tamsui, the buses there didn’t start early enough to get me to Jiantan for that M1 bus at 6:30 am, it was just too early. So all my previous experience of this hike is from west to east. My reports here (in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021) all start from the western end at Qingtian Temple 清天宮 and end at the eastern end at Fengguikou 風櫃口. Ending at Fengguikou you have the challenge of getting through the hike in time for that last bus from Fenguizui down to Taipei at about 6:00 pm – if you miss it, you’ll have to walk another 2 km further down the hill to Shengren Waterfall bus stop. In contrast, the S6 (小6) bus from Qingtian Temple down to Beitou MRT Station in Taipei runs far more frequently and until late in the evening, so it feels a bit less pressured to do the hike from east to west.

Lining up to get on the 6:30 am M1 Bus at Jiantan MRT Station

The weather forecast for Saturday was sunny in the morning, clouding over in the afternoon with possible thunderstorms and rain moving in overnight. In the event, there was no rain, it was just overcast in the afternoon – which was great. This hike is best done in spring or autumn because of the weather, the summer is too hot, and winter can be too wet, so a sunny day in April is ideal! And just a note about the pandemic, Taiwan has lessened its restrictions considerably, and as from today, May 1, Taiwan has downgraded the legal status of Covid to that of a less serious disease and disbanded the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), with its daily press conferences, resulting in some adjustments to the country’s Covid policies. The only places now where facemasks are compulsory are in ambulances, hospitals and care homes, but as the use of facemasks is a health issue here rather than a political one, so many many people are still wearing them, certainly on public transport, in schools and at work, and quite a few even outside. Some were hiking in Yang-Ming Shan this past Saturday wearing facemasks – they will say it’s now become a habit, and there were lots of people on the trails, and that even outside there is still a risk of catching Covid. Just to say, facemasks are here to stay for the time being anyway, that’s just the way it is.

We started walking from the bus stop at Fengguizui – 7:00 am was the time the bus got there, and we all took off from there. Many on the bus were doing the whole traverse, and we kept seeing each other all day long at different places en route. The hike officially starts at Fengguikou (see marker post above), about 20 minutes walk up from the bus stop. An hour later, at 8:00 am, I got to the first summit, Mt. Ding 頂山 (768 m)…

And about an hour after that, at about 9:00 am, so I got to the second summit, Mt. Shiti / Shitiling 石梯嶺 (865 m). What a beautiful day!

This is the area where the famous Yang-Ming Shan cattle live, and we saw quite a few. There are 2 kinds, water buffalo and Tajima cattle (distinguishable by their horns, buffalo have large curved horns in a crescent shape, Tajima have smaller, straighter horns) and they’ve been living up there since the days of the Qing Dynasty. They are now semi-wild, managed by the National Park authorities. The sorry saga in 2020 of how the cattle had become such a tourist attraction over the years that trouble was inevitable – and when someone was attacked and killed by one of the cattle, so the authorities decided to enclose them behind fences. But the space they were given was clearly not large enough and the grass provided insufficient nourishment that an unusually high number of them died that year. So now, there’s a different management policy that has reopened areas to the public, but with large safety notices, bollards to help you escape from any charging cattle, and a big education program to make people aware of the dangers of approaching too close.

Cattle safety bollards

Another hour later, at about 10:00 am, and I arrived at summit No. 3, Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 (830 m) which is now fully open to the public, but the summit marker has no Chinese character on the top! The big round thing in the photo is one of many in that area, originally built for military defence, like a pillbox. The views are amazing, all over Qingtiangang 擎天崗. This is the first section of the hike completed, yes!

The hike continues to Jixinlun 雞心崙 (763 m), the highest point on the Lengqing Path that leads from Qingtiangang to the Lengshuikeng Visitor’s Center 冷水坑遊客服務站. There were several cattle alongside the path…

The path is very very popular and there were lots of people enjoying a day out in the fresh air. The only thing that would dampen their spirits is that the coffee shops at all the Yang-Ming Shan Visitor Centers are currently closed while they try to find new people to run them all. The visitor centers have water machines for hot and cold drinking water, also toilets and some soft drinks machines, but no food – so take all you need with you.