Cicada Summer: Update from Taiwan 😷

“Nothing in the cry of the cicada suggests they are about to die” やがてしぬけしきはみえずせみのこゑMatsuo Basho, Japan (1690)

Cicada

What a great attitude to have, and especially in the midst of a pandemic! Follow the way of the cicada. Live life as noisily, joyfully and enthusiastically as possible, even if you have no idea what tomorrow will bring. And even if you hate injections. Don’t look, just keep on pressing that camera shutter, and before y’know it, it’s all over!

There’s 4 of these photos, all slightly different, ha ha! 😂

Anyway, this haiku poem by Matsuo Basho really made me laugh, and it feels like it should end in an exclamation mark, cos it is just so true. Nothing, absolutely nothing in the cry of the cicada suggests they are about to die! The cry of the cicada is truly deafening, and it goes on from dawn to dusk, all summer long. On some nights, in the early hours, a sleepless cicada will call for a few minutes and wake up the whole neighbourhood. It sounds like a continuous loud buzz, and apparently can reach 90 decibels, which is a similar frequency to lawn mowers, hedge trimmers and food blenders spinning at top speed. It is the defining sound of summer, and here in Taiwan people say that summer only really starts when the cicadas appear.

This is 20 seconds of their sound I recorded a few days ago down by the sea below St. John’s University. Just listen….

Now in mid-July, the cicadas are coming to the end of their short adult lives. While the tree tops are still full of their sound, down below at ground level, dead and dying adults are starting to fall.

Otherwise they are very difficult to see, though one of our cherry blossom trees finds itself a gathering place (feeding / egg-laying?) for the cicada adults. They let out strong distress calls and take off if someone approaches too close, so I prefer to view them from a distance…

“Most cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts 2–5 years. After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig where she deposits her eggs. Both male and female cicadas die within a few weeks after emerging from the soil. Although they have mouthparts and are able to consume some plant liquids for nutrition, the amount eaten is very small and the insects have a natural adult lifespan of less than two months. When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground and burrow. Nymphs have strong front legs for digging and excavating chambers in close proximity to roots, where they feed on xylem sap. In the final nymphal instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then moult, shedding their skins on a nearby plant for the last time, and emerge as adults. The exuviae or abandoned exoskeletons remain, still clinging to the bark of the tree.”

Their abandoned exoskeletons do indeed remain, clinging to the bark of the tree trunks….

They seem like ghosts of time past, and only when you peer inside through their backs, can you see that each one is split open, empty, the body gone. And all around overhead come the calls of the newly-emerged adults shouting down to us to stop wasting our time looking at their empty shells, and instead to look up and see them buzzing around in the tree tops. We’re not down there, they seem to say, we’re up here. Alive and full of hope. Some say they are symbols of resurrection and immortality, the abandoned exoskeletons perhaps reminding us of the abandoned grave clothes in Jesus’ tomb. There are some similarities. But I prefer to think of them more as symbols of transformation, because the nymph, the body inside that abandoned exoskeleton, was not dead, but rather growing and maturing, changing, transforming into an adult. A bit like the caterpillar in the cocoon emerging as a beautiful butterfly.

Anyway, one thing is for sure, absolutely nothing in the cry of the cicada suggests they are about to die. They have such enthusiasm and passion for life!

It was Gandhi who said, ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever’. That’s our challenge!

In the plant world, it’s also coming to the end of the flowering season, with the lotus flowers fading and the seed pods ready for harvest…

And here in Taiwan, we also hope that we are coming to the end to this recent Covid surge. Our case numbers have been going down each week, and we’re now down to less than 30 cases a day, sometimes less than 20.

Overall statistics are 15,378 confirmed cases, of which 13,931 are domestic infections reported since May 15; and 763 deaths, all but 12 of them since May 15 when the current surge began.

As there is still community transmission happening, so the central government has announced that Level 3 alert (of a 4-tier system) continues for a further 2 weeks, but with some restrictions lifted, like the opening of the great outdoors, including parks and mountain hiking trails. Some indoor areas too are opening, like museums, cinemas and some gyms where numbers can be strictly controlled, though with no eating or drinking allowed. The central government also announced the opening up of indoor dining in restaurants, subject to strict guidelines, but all local governments (except for the island chain of Penghu), encouraged by the general public, are treading cautiously and have delayed that decision at the local level for another 2 weeks.

Throughout Taiwan, facemasks are still required outside the home and life continues to be based mostly at home or as local as possible. Facemasks are impossible when swimming, so swimming pools and beaches are still closed. Our local seaside area apparently doesn’t qualify as a beach, so it is spared, and the raised walkway is popular with our local neighbours first thing in the morning for fishing – and exercise. Me too, I’m going every day, usually soon after 5 am, when the sun comes up. Living on the west coast means that we are used to chasing sunsets rather than sunrises, but still, it is possible to get a good view if we get there early enough! These photos are taken from dawn to dusk….

The very good news is that Taiwan’s vaccination program has really moved along in the last few weeks with the arrival of millions of doses donated primarily by Japan and USA, plus some ordered and paid for directly by Taiwan. First dose rounds for the over 65s are more or less complete, and vaccination for the next age group, 50-64 year-olds launched today. I was there, very excited, in Sanzhi Junior High School!

It has taken Taiwan a long time to get to this stage in the vaccination program, and not because Taiwan is a poor country. The money is there to pay for vaccines ordered. But questions about Taiwan’s international status, with possible pressure from Mainland China on governments and on the vaccine companies have resulted in long delays. And with local vaccines now on Phase 3 trials overseas, so we continue to wait for them too. But now, Japan and the USA have each sent Taiwan several million vaccines, and smaller numbers have come from Lithuania and Slovakia, at least partly in response to Taiwan’s generosity last year in sending out donations of facemasks around the world. Astra-Zeneca (AZ) and Moderna are the only 2 kinds that have arrived so far, and for our age group only AZ is available for the next few weeks…

It is true that the USA has not authorized AZ vaccines for public use within the USA, and so is sending them all overseas, and while Japan has approved AZ for the over 60’s, the take up in Japan has been low, so they too are sending many overseas. There are plenty of other countries queuing up with their requests for vaccines, so it is good that Taiwan is high on their list. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’, as they say, so most of us are happy to take what Japan and the US don’t want, and people who are worried about the possibility of terrible side-effects are waiting for Moderna in a few weeks’ time. Having waited so long, and watched the rest of the world getting their vaccines months ago, so there is a certain air of excitement as everyone registers online, gets their text message to say to go ahead and book, then choosing the time and place for the appointment – plus show off the obligatory photos, taken before and almost after….

Yes, it’s a great feeling to be finally catching up with the rest of the world in the vaccination program. We have learned from this recent Covid surge that complacency is dangerous, and that we cannot just rely on strict border controls in the future. It is up to us all to do our bit, to work together for the good of society as a whole. Seeing everyone’s enthusiasm to sign up for vaccinations, even AZ vaccine with its famous side-effects, is really quite amazing. Hope is renewed.

Frangipani

It all takes me right back to the cicadas and their enthusiasm to celebrate life, even though they are soon about to die. I guess they don’t worry too much about that. Once they break out of those old exoskeletons and fly off to the tree tops, transformed, so they leave behind all the old stuff that contained and restricted them for so long. For just these few weeks, they are free to fly around and fill the world with their cries as they try and find a mate, and so start the cycle again. For us, the transformation may be less physical. After all, much as we might like to break out from all that contains and limits us under Taiwan’s current Level 3 Restrictions, it is impossible. For one thing, everywhere we go, even in the high humidity and 35°C temps of summer, and even in the remotest place, like the newly-opened-up mountain trails, we still have to wear a facemask. And if people don’t, then we worry about getting too close to them. So, any transformation for us will have to happen in our minds and hearts.

Maybe that’s where faith comes in, as we pray for God to release us from our fears, worries and despair about the pandemic, even as it continues to worsen for our friends in neigbouring countries of Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam. May God transform our fears and worries into faith, and our despair into hope and joy. And may we celebrate with the cicadas the joy of just being alive here and now, filled with hope in this present moment!

Advent Church Centre & Labyrinth

Thank you again for your ongoing concern and prayers, all much appreciated ~ and if I have any side-effects from today’s vaccine, I’ll let you know next time. Until then, enjoy this photo of dawn breaking over Advent Church at 5:00 am this morning….. it was such a stunning sight!

(With the exception of the first cicada photo, which I took last year, all photos were taken this month in or around St. John’s University, Taiwan)

PS Updated July 18, 2021: I have since been reminded by my Taiwan friends of the phrase, ‘金蟬脫殼’: 1) lit. the cicada sheds its carapace (idiom); fig. to vanish leaving an empty shell 2) a crafty escape plan. Wikipedia describes it thus: “The cicada symbolises rebirth and immortality in Chinese tradition. In the Chinese essay “Thirty-Six Stratagems“, the phrase “to shed the golden cicada skin” (金蟬脫殼) is the poetic name for using a decoy (leaving the exuviae) to fool enemies.” More food for thought!

‘The Meaning is in the Waiting’: Update from Taiwan 😷

“Moments of great calm, / Kneeling before an altar / Of wood in a stone church / In summer, waiting for the God / To speak; the air a staircase / For silence; the sun’s light / Ringing me, as though I acted / A great role. / And the audiences / Still; all that close throng / Of spirits waiting, as I, / For the message. / Prompt me, God; / But not yet. When I speak, / Though it be you who speak / Through me, something is lost. / The meaning is in the waiting.” (‘Kneeling’ by R. S. Thomas)

What a great poem for a pandemic! Though R. S. Thomas was hardly the most cheerful of poets, some of his more melancholic poems, like this one, ‘Kneeling’, seem fitting for a time like this. Like everything else, our church here is closed – so we’re not kneeling in a church as such – but the sentiment remains, many of us searching for meaning as we wait for this pandemic to run its course.

‘The meaning is in the waiting’. Well perhaps, anyway. But really we have little choice but to wait, and so we do just that, wait. And hope. And pray. And wonder about the meaning of life in pandemic times.

Taiwan has now been on Level 3 restrictions since May 15, the day that Taiwan’s recent Covid-19 surge really began. We’ve been more or less grounded in our local areas ever since. The first 3 weeks of the surge were fairly chaotic, but by the beginning of June, things seemed to be calmer, and numbers started to stabilize and then fall. From a height of 535 daily cases on May 17, the general trend in numbers is steadily downwards; we’ve now had several days in a row with less than 100 cases. Today the reported figures are 54 confirmed cases and 8 deaths.

Current overall statistics are 14,748 confirmed cases, of which over 13,300 are domestic infections reported since May 15; and 643 deaths, including 631 since May 15. The vast majority of cases continue to be in the Greater Taipei area, and virtually all of the Alpha Variant. So far, the Delta Variant has appeared only in a cluster of 14 confirmed cases in the far south of Taiwan, but fear of it spreading and / or coming into the country with arriving passengers has led to increased travel restrictions on arrivals from 7 countries where Delta is a major problem, including the UK.

Level 3 restrictions are now scheduled to last until July 12. The government has extended it by 2 weeks each time, so we expect another announcement a few days before July 12 as to what will happen next. Vaccines are slowly arriving, donated so far by Japan, USA and Lithuania, with others ordered through COVAX and direct from vaccine companies. Some have been delivered, but the political and logistical problems are immense, so each actual arrival of vaccines is a cause for much rejoicing. The vaccination program has a clear list of priority groups and is strictly administered, currently they are vaccinating frontline workers, care home residents and those over 75 with their first dose. Vaccination Statistics: Total doses given: 1.93 million, people fully vaccinated with 2 doses: 36,700, which is 0.2% of the population. Clearly we have a long way to go. Thankful for progress so far, the rest of us wait for more vaccines to arrive, then another wait for our turn in the line.

In other good news, there’s been lots of heavy rain in the last few weeks in central and southern Taiwan, and reservoirs are being well replenished. Our worst drought for over 50 years may well now be a thing of the past. The typhoon season is already here, so we hope for more rain this summer. We’ve had rain up here in Greater Taipei as well, it’s so refreshing. And there’s been rainbows too, lots of them! It’s also the lotus season. Check out these nearby fields of delicate pink lotus flowers…

With the end of the school year, so our university campus is very quiet. Much is cordoned off, including our basketball nets and footpaths, gates are locked and there are signs all over with instructions for what to do and what not to do. Usually at this time of year, our student fellowship along with Advent Church members would be busy preparing for our annual summer camps for local children, but for the first time ever, they’ve all been cancelled, so it’s even quieter than usual. Our students have now gone off to find summer jobs, but with all the local restaurants closed, many are finding it difficult. For those in financial need, we are providing meal coupons to keep them going over the summer.

St. John’s University Campus

It’s high summer, with temperatures in their 30’s all day, top 20’s all night and high humidity all the time. Today it says it’s ‘32°C, feels like 40’. This comes just after sweltering our way through the hottest month of May since 1947, average temperature 27.8°C. All that sun means our solar panels, which cover almost every flat roof on the campus, are put to good use…

High summer also means we are inundated with cicadas, famously the world’s noisiest insects. From sunrise to sunset they make their presence felt, it is truly deafening! Inside, I have all windows open to let the breeze through, with electric fans blowing in all directions, rather than relying on air-conditioning. With cicadas chirping and fans blowing, a ‘quiet’ campus is definitely a misnomer. Very nice though to see a kingfisher here a few days ago, enjoying a quiet early morning visit to the pond.

Sunrise from St. John’s University with the solar panels on the library building in the foreground

Just outside the campus on the road to the sea, the abandoned buildings, like this old factory, add to the silence, reminders of times gone by….

while down at the sea, below the campus, the rhythm of the day is decided by the tides as much as by the sun. At one end of the small bay is an abalone farm, where the abalone are kept in tanks of bubbling water under black mesh…

and at low tide, the workers go along to the other end of the bay to collect up the seaweed which they then feed to the abalone.

I had no idea what an abalone even was until I came to Taiwan, but they are served here at banquets for Chinese New Year and wedding receptions. It’s a kind of sea snail, with the most beautiful mother-of-pearl shell, with a row of 9 little holes in the shell. The small abalone grown in Taiwan are known as Jiu-Kong 九孔 lit. nine holes (Haliotis diversicolor). It takes months for these small abalone to mature, and then it’s all over in about 30 seconds, the time it takes to eat one at a banquet. What a life for a poor abalone.

Also down at the sea are several old pillboxes, part of the original coastal defence system. Now no longer in use, one of them has been painted up. I wonder how those soldiers coped, stationed there all year round on lookout duty, guarding the coast, really just waiting in case something happened, always hoping that it wouldn’t. You really gotta wonder how they found any meaning in all that waiting.

I’m preparing a sermon for this coming Sunday, and I’m struck by Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 12. After appealing to God 3 times in the midst of his suffering, he hears God saying to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Those words gave Paul a completely new perspective on life, and gave him the strength to face all the terrible things he was going through, knowing that ‘whenever I am weak, then I am strong’. So relevant for us too today. May God give us grace to endure in this pandemic and beyond.

My second cousin, Kate and her husband have formed Sweet Talk Radio, and just released their latest video. I love it! Written during lockdown in Los Angeles, it kinda fits here so well. Take a listen…

For now though, my focus is on this coming Sunday, when the university has announced a major power cut to last most of the day. Now that’s a challenge. Normally I have a choice of 18 online services to keep me busy on a Sunday morning, and that’s only those of the Taiwan Episcopal Church. But this Sunday, there’ll be limited battery life, no Wi-Fi, no iced coffee from the fridge, no electric fans or AC, and of course no other place to go where it might be a bit cooler, since we’re generally grounded. God give us grace to endure indeed!

And now I’m off for my daily prayer walk round the labyrinth. Walking is more my thing than kneeling. The meaning may be in the waiting, but it’s also in the praying too. Thanks for all your prayers for us, and please continue!

(Photos all taken locally in or around the campus of St. John’s University, Taiwan in the last few weeks)

🐛 The Very Hungry Caterpillar ….. and other news from Taiwan 🦋

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf. One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar….” 🐛 So runs the opening of one of the world’s most famous children’s books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

“He started to look for some food. On Monday he ate through one apple. But he was still hungry…”

It’s been in the news these past few weeks because the author, Eric Carle sadly died on May 23, aged 91.

And what a book it is! The art work in The Very Hungry Caterpillar is spectacular, with layers of brightly-coloured collage arranged in irregular shapes, with holes in the paper where the caterpillar eats through different fruits each day. I’ve read it hundreds of times to children in at least 4 different schools on 3 different continents, and they all love it, as do parents and teachers the world over!

At its heart, this is the story of the life cycle of a butterfly 🦋 but along the way the children learn all sorts of other things, like the days of the week, colors, numbers, names of fruits and exotic things to eat. They even learn about healthy eating, and what happens if you’re greedy and eat too much – because after 5 days of eating nice healthy fruit, the caterpillar then spends Saturday gorging himself on chocolate cake, ice-cream, pickle, cheese, salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake and watermelon. Not surprisingly, that night the caterpillar has a stomach ache. The next day, Sunday, he eats a nice green leaf and feels much better. Even the adults smile at that bit. After all, who of us can honestly say we haven’t been there, done that? Yep, we can all identify with that Very Hungry Caterpillar!

When Eric Carle was asked about the story, he said that as a child, he was scared of growing up. Aren’t we all? But like the caterpillar, we will all grow up in time. Our childhoods are left behind and we become adults. So it is a book of hope. Growing up is something of a transformation, and what better symbol of transformation than a butterfly. When asked about the inspiration for all the bright colours in his art work, Eric Carle talked about his childhood in wartime Germany where the only art permitted was that sanctioned by the Nazi party, used in propaganda. He never saw bright colours until his high school art teacher showed him his forbidden collection of Impressionist paintings. It changed his life and determined his future.

“With many of my books I attempt to bridge the gap between the home and school. To me home represents, or should represent; warmth, security, toys, holding hands, being held. School is a strange and new place for a child. Will it be a happy place? There are new people, a teacher, classmates – will they be friendly? I believe the passage from home to school is the second biggest trauma of childhood; the first is, of course, being born. Indeed, in both cases, we leave a place of warmth and protection for one that is unknown. The unknown often brings fear with it. In my books, I try to counteract this fear, to replace it with a positive message. I believe that children are naturally creative and eager to learn. I want to show them that learning is really both fascinating and fun.” (Eric Carle)

Here we are in the middle of a pandemic, and currently in Taiwan, along with many other countries in Asia, we are in the middle of a major Covid surge. Many of our family and friends in the USA or Europe have already been through what they hope is the worst of it all, and now some of them are using the same language as the butterfly, as they talk about emerging from their cocoons of lockdown and isolation. Some have emerged as beautiful butterflies, but many have faced sickness, grief, financial problems, family breakdowns, depression, loneliness, hatred, even death. Some feel grateful to be alive and appreciate their new freedoms and experiences, others have lost so much and cannot move on. Many are angry with society, neighbours, colleagues, government leaders, even with God, for letting them down. Some have lost their faith; some have stopped feeling part of a church or fellowship group. From afar, we have watched this happen to those we know personally and those who share their thoughts and feelings for the world to see. Are we ready if it should happen to us?

While many countries were in lockdown, we in Taiwan were living the life of the caterpillar, eating, drinking and enjoying ourselves. Life was so relatively ‘normal’ for us this past year – we could have meals in restaurants, coffee with friends, classes, church events, outings, hiking trips, holidays, family gatherings. Taiwan was so safe, nobody felt the need even to be vaccinated. But now we find ourselves having to stay home – and restricted in what we can do, where we can go and who we can meet. Our social events are all cancelled for the foreseeable future, we can only meet online with friends and family. It’s almost like we are being forced into our own cocoons. Could this be our time for transformation?

This is only our 4th weekend under Level 3 restrictions (of a 4-tier system) to try to get the Covid surge under control. In that time, it’s become clear that some were very well-prepared and the transition has been smooth. Kudos to Taiwan state schools, teachers, parents and children, who were given one day’s notice to close and move all classes online, and they’ve done it. Children may be going goggle-eyed with so much online study, but they are busily occupied all day long and learning important things. My neighbour tells me that PE class for her 10-year-old son last week consisted of him helping with the housework – and taking a photo to send to the teacher to show what he’d done. Ha ha, that’s my idea of PE too! It’s much more of a challenge for our church kindergartens and others like them, given that kindergarten style of teaching is less intense and children learn so much from play and discovering things for themselves, rather than spending all day long online in different lessons. Our teachers are making videos and sharing activities for the children to do, but the challenges will increase over time if school fees are not paid. Some government help is coming, but like most things, it’s never quite certain until it’s actually arrived.

Spider Tree aka Sacred Garlic Pear (Crateva religiosa)….

While many people are working from home, many more could be working from home if their employers would trust them enough, and if employees didn’t feel obliged to prove their loyalty by willingly going into work, even if it means traveling on public transport across the city. Many workplaces have divided into 2 teams, with half coming in one day, the other half the next. Not surprisingly, Taiwan’s work culture has come in for a lot of scrutiny.

Although Greater Taipei is by far the worst affected area of Taiwan, the hotspots are all in the densely-populated inner city and suburban areas. Out here in the countryside, although officially part of Greater Taipei, it’s much better – so far anyway; we shall see. There are now QR codes to scan for everything, from entering convenience stores, supermarkets, banks and workplaces to going on any form of public transport: either scan the QR code, use a pre-registered card, or write out your name and contact details. Every place has obligatory temperature checks, and of course facemasks are compulsory outside the home. But even with so many precautions, there are still some very vulnerable places and weak spots, like the traditional markets that are all still open – though numbers of stall holders and shoppers are controlled, then there’s the large care homes dotted along the coast, and the student / migrant worker dormitories. Our student classes are all online, so most of our students have returned home for the summer, but the overseas students are still here, plus some whose homes are in downtown Taipei – their parents tell them to stay here where it’s safer.

Living on a university campus means we still have access to fresh air and exercise, and just 10 minutes’ walk down the hill brings us to the sea. While all the famous beaches further north up the coast are closed off, our modest little seaside area (it hardly qualifies as a beach, but still) is accessible, and ideal for early morning walks before the sun comes up. The government has done a lot to discourage people from going out unnecessarily, like closing off footpaths, trails, parks, school campuses etc., and allowing eateries, restaurants, convenience stores etc. to only sell takeout meals. So we do go out, but wearing a facemask discourages strenuous exercise, as it’s so hot. Fortunately the rainy season has come upon us this past week, and it’s a bit cooler – grateful that it will help to bring some relief to our serious drought.

Also well-prepared for the sudden Covid surge and the move online were our churches. Level 3 restrictions for the Greater Taipei area – and the cancellation of all religious events, with no more than 5 people meeting together indoors, 10 outdoors – were announced on Saturday May 15, so there was not much time for our clergy to prepare for the following day, Sunday. A few days later and Level 3 was imposed throughout Taiwan. By Pentecost, May 23, all our clergy had put together a plan for their congregations to worship online, either livestreaming their own service or joining one of the others. By last Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we had 16 livestreamed online services happening around the diocese, and I watched them all. Yep, all 16! Well OK, I watched a part of them all, and took screenshots as each service progressed…

For today’s service, well I watched myself, giving my usual First-Sunday-of-the-Month sermon at St. James’ English Service, Taichung, which was pre-recorded. Actually, the first part of this blog post, the bit about The Very Hungry Caterpillar, was adapted from today’s sermon. This is me in action – OK, next time I’ll slow down! We followed it by virtual Coffee Hour.

At 2:00 pm each day, there’s a press conference by the government’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to announce the previous day’s confirmed cases (domestic & imported), deaths, numbers of cases in each city / county, and updates about the vaccine situation. So far, the daily confirmed cases is fairly stable, usually 300-500, and 10-40 deaths, with the vast majority of cases in the Greater Taipei area. The original hotspot in Taipei continues to be the old red light area of Wanhua, spreading outwards from there.

Current figures: “Taiwan has confirmed a total of 11,298 COVID-19 cases, of which over 9,900 are domestic infections reported since May 15, when the country first recorded more than 100 cases in a single day. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the country has risen to 260, including 248 since May 15, CECC data shows. As of Thursday, Taiwan had administered 621,322 vaccine doses, all of the AstraZeneca brand, for a country of 23.57 million people.”

A large donation of vaccines arrived on Friday from Japan, more are coming from the USA, plus there’s the locally-developed vaccines that may be ready in the summer. While people are fairly united in tackling the pandemic situation on the ground, they are not united when it comes to expressing opinions about government action (or inaction) in this present surge, plus the vaccine shortage. Politics is so very divisive. Please continue to pray for us. Thank you!

And wishing you all a Happy Dragon Boat Festival for next weekend!

(All photos in this post were taken in the last few weeks at St. John’s University, Taipei – or down at the sea just below the campus)

The Soul Trembles 顫動的靈魂…. Update from Taiwan

‘The Soul Trembles’…

This is us, facing a new situation in Taiwan, our collective soul trembling as a Covid-19 surge in Greater Taipei has suddenly wrenched us from our complacency that all was well. These last few days have seen the biggest community transmission numbers so far, and suddenly we find ourselves facing the reality that all of you elsewhere in the world have been dealing with for over a year.

Our little Covid-secure bubble of 23 million people has finally burst, the virus finding a way in through the Achilles Heel, namely airline pilots and crew, who were required to do just 5 days’ quarantine, rather than 14 days like all other arrivals. Living in our little bubble for so long has led to a false sense of security, so even those eligible for vaccines didn’t take up the offer, and the expiry date loomed. Now the rush is on; let’s hope many more of the 20 million doses ordered from overseas will be delivered soon. Meanwhile, Phase II trials of locally developed vaccines are nearly complete, and should be available in July. Until then, vulnerable is the word. It’s no wonder Taiwan’s soul is trembling.

The Soul Trembles’ is also the name of a new exhibition at the Taipei Art Museum, officially running from May 1 until August 29. Well it would be running if it was open, but only 2 weeks after opening, so it had to be closed, along with all other public buildings, under Taipei’s new restrictions. (Update July 13: the museum is now open for pre-booked visitors, and the exhibition has been extended to October 17)

The exhibition is by Japanese installation artist Shiota Chiharu (塩田 千春), based in Berlin. The title, ‘The Soul Trembles’ means for her, the ‘emotional stirrings of the heart that cannot be put into words’. She says, “In today’s contemporary age, everything changes at a rapid pace, and value systems are in constant flux: it can seem as if the firm and unyielding beliefs that society as a whole has relied upon are themselves being lost”. Seems fitting for Taiwan’s current situation. She specializes in using thread, representing links and connections, which she weaves all around the room in a huge web-like canopy. Her most amazing installation is called ‘Uncertain Journey’, a vast net of bright red woven threads coming from black metal frames of boats. Truly stunning.

Life is indeed one long uncertain journey. On Good Friday, we had a major rail disaster on Taiwan’s east coast with 49 people killed, over 200 injured. Taiwan’s centre and south are facing their worst drought in over 50 years, with big water and power cuts, threatening crops and Taiwan’s vitally-important semiconductor industry, the world’s largest. Internationally, we are all concerned about rising anti-Asian hate in the USA, UK and Europe. Seemingly contradictory headlines such as the 2020 global crime report that placed Taiwan as the world’s second safest country contrast greatly with The Economist’s front cover for May 1, 2021, declaring Taiwan to be ‘The most dangerous place on Earth’ (listed under ‘Superpower politics’, subtitled ‘America and China must work harder to avoid war over the future of Taiwan’). More soul-trembling food for thought.

Given all this, it’s really quite remarkable that Taiwan people are so calm and upbeat. And ready. Within a week, since 7 cases of community transmission were announced last Monday, rising to 29 on Friday then suddenly to 180 on Saturday, so everyone has retreated inside their homes, while all schools and religious groups have moved their activities online. For our churches, we remain grateful that we have got this far through the pandemic and only now have to cancel our Sunday services. I happen to be writing this in the 10-day period between Ascension Day and Pentecost, which in itself is a time of transition in the church calendar, reflecting the timing of events after the resurrection. It makes me realise how the disciples themselves had plenty of soul-trembling experiences on their own uncertain journeys of faith.

As I write this too, I realise that my own uncertain journey of faith started 60 years ago today, May 20, 1961, when I was baptized, all of 6 weeks old. In gratitude to God, family and friends!

Taiwan schools were still open last Friday, and I spent the day at our local elementary school. We played the game, ‘Twister’, where you put your hands and feet on different colours on the mat without getting all twisted up and falling over. I played too, it was such fun! One thing the children quickly learned was that if everyone on the mat is facing the same direction, it is so much easier, the game lasts longer and it’s more enjoyable. Cooperating together, making way for others, and keeping yourself balanced are the key. It works in life too.

Even if we don’t know how this current Covid surge is going to develop, and even if Christians in Taiwan cannot gather in person to worship this coming Pentecost Sunday or for the foreseeable future, still we can look forward to a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit as we step out once again in faith to continue our spiritual journey. We are sent out into the world to share the good news with our family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and those we meet on the way, and even if we cannot go physically, we are still called to action, which includes praying for each other. As we have prayed for you throughout this pandemic, so we also ask for your prayers for us all in Taiwan at this time.

Thank you, and may God go with us and be with us every step of the way.

The above is my draft ‘link letter’ that I sent to CMS yesterday, but as it takes about 2 weeks to process, so they have kindly agreed to me posting the draft here. Check back here for the pdf when it’s ready.

Updated June 2, 2021: Just published…

I first came across Shiota Chiharu’s art installations in the chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2018, and immediately declared her to be my ‘new favourite artist’! These are the other installations in her current exhibition at the Taipei Art Museum….

Wishing you all a blessed Pentecost this coming Sunday!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Earth Day Vibes!

Green is the colour for Earth Day, of course! So here I am at our local elementary school all in green, for a day of fun and games with all 6 classes of children (photos taken by the school for their website). We were reusing empty plastic water bottles, and trying to get them across to the other side of the room by any means – but without touching them. It’s much harder than it looks, I can tell you!

Earth Day Vibes are not all fun and games for everyone however, and down in central and southern Taiwan, the earth is far too dry, and the drought is turning out to be extremely serious, the worst for over 50 years. Check out this very good BBC report here. Water is now cut for 48 hours a week in Taichung and all places south, so it’s a nightmare for those affected. Taiwan can claim to be the world’s most mountainous island, terrain is so steep that reservoirs are few, and water just seems to run straight off. There are very few long meandering rivers down south ~ the rivers are mostly short, and water goes directly into the sea. The reservoirs there are running out of water. Up here in the north, we have plenty of rain, but we’re praying for rain in the centre and south. It’s a bit ironic really seeing as we’re a small island surrounded by vast deep oceans on all sides. Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink….

The Deep Sea World by 許自貴 Hsu Tz-Guei, Taichung Art Museum

Like much else in Taiwan, water is heavily subsidized by the government and apparently we have the second lowest water prices in the world. Sounds good, but of course it leads to a lot of wastage, plus much of the infrastructure is old, and 14% of water is lost through leaking pipes. Now the government is subsidizing famers not to irrigate their land to grow rice, so that the water will be available for local industries. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: it’s a big challenge for governments too.

But not all is bad news down south. Yuanlin 員林 is a small town in central Taiwan and the government there has a Hollyhock Festival this month. Ah, it’s beautiful! On a weekend, the place is full of people coming to take photos and buy things at the local stalls. It really lifts people’s spirits to see all the flowers, and especially in the midst of this terrible drought.

Both the drought and the deadly train crash on April 2 on Taiwan’s east coast have dominated the domestic news recently, with public transport safety reviews and much discussion on cultural attitudes towards safety issues. Taiwan has done a really excellent job so far in keeping the country safe from Covid-19 (1,097 confirmed cases, 12 deaths), mostly through strict border and quarantine controls, testing and tracing, but in many other areas of safety, much still needs to be done.

Hydrangea chinensis 華八仙 in bloom on Yangmingshan

Taipei is blessed to have something the other cities in Taiwan don’t have, and that is a long meandering river that goes right through the heart of the city, from the mountains in the east westwards to the sea at Tamsui. And all along the river on both sides are bicycle paths. So if I need to go to Taipei, and the weather is good, then my idea of fun is to ride one of the shared bicycles, ‘You-Bike’ from Tamsui to Taipei along the riverside bike paths, starting very early in the morning. Takes 90 minutes or so each way, and can be very hot, but hey, it’s definitely worth it – and the roads once I get into the city are not too bad. These are some of the Earth Day Vibes from recent trips in the last week or two…..

I usually like to end the bike ride at Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf….

That’s also the terminus for the new Danhai light rail system. The trains are full of children’s book characters and fun art. Hey, we do things differently in Taiwan, there’s always something to make you smile! I took these photos at the terminus before everyone got on the train. Check them out!

Meanwhile down on our local ‘beach’ below St. John’s University, much work has been done by the local council upgrading the walkway. It’s now becoming a major place for sunset walks and gatherings, and it’s also where we did our fun run last week.

Looking back from the far end….

So last week was officially our annual celebration week for St. John’s University (SJU) 54th anniversary. Most of the large formal events were cancelled as a precaution in the pandemic, but one event that did go ahead was the 3.5 km fun run. Always the highlight for us every year! Our chaplain, staff and students wore our light blue student fellowship T-shirts, then we received yellow T-shirts as prizes. All first and second year students had to take part, plus we had others in fancy dress or indigenous outfits, along with some seniors from our community classes – in total over 600 people. A few staff joined in, with T-shirts available for the first 5 men and 5 women. The weather was perfect, and we ran round by the sea too. I was asked by our SJU reporter to take some photos as I ran, and she used some of them in her article (see here). Ah it was really fun, and check out the photos to see how we all did. Ha ha!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle also applies to my birthday celebrations which have been going on for the last month. With the global pandemic, Tomb-Sweeping Festival and Easter weekend, plus the train crash and now the drought, so I had other things to focus on and therefore reduced and delayed somewhat. Thanks to Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and his family, plus good friend A-Guan and all those in St. James’ Church, Taichung for the delicious birthday meals…

And we had a good time celebrating April birthdays in Advent Church, SJU Student Fellowship and the diocesan office too. Special thanks to Mei-Mei Lin for the huge birthday cake and candles…

Then a few days ago, we lost one of our beloved church members, Huei-Wen. Although she had been ill for a while, she didn’t want anyone to worry, and so, even in her last few weeks, didn’t want anyone to know. She didn’t want anyone to be sad or mourn either, and in our rector’s sermon today, he shared about how she continued to be joyful right to the end, always smiling at the nurses and showing her appreciation to them. We remember how she always came to church meetings with tea-eggs and tofu snacks for us to enjoy, how she ran the schools outreach work from Advent Church, and how she took such good care of her small grandsons. And how she made me laugh always wearing high open-toed sandals, even in the middle of the coldest winter! We give thanks to God for her life and deep faith, and pray for her family. May the joy of Christ that filled her also fill each one of us, and may we always be ready to share that joy with all those around us.

So belated greetings to you all for Earth Day 2021, and hope you’re working on how to reduce, reuse and recycle in your own home and community ~ and how you can push the government and elected officials to make this a priority. Y’know, those children were having such fun playing with old plastic water bottles that some said they were going home to practice. They loved it! Bringing joy, fun and happiness to others, and especially children, doesn’t need to cost a whole lot of money, and the burden of saving the earth can be shared with others in our community ~ so let’s go!

Easter Joy in Troubled Times

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Right in the middle of our 4-day Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping) weekend, so we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Just as so many in Taiwan were at their family graves and tombs remembering their dead, so we celebrated new life; the joy of Easter filling us with hope once again.

Yet, we are so aware of the pain and suffering all around us. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown, isolation, deaths and illness have affected millions worldwide, though here we remain almost sheltered from the worst, in our own Taiwan bubble, as if watching from afar. But sheltered as we are from the pandemic, last Friday’s train crash on Taiwan’s east coast in Hualien County shook us all to the core. Fifty people were killed and over 200 injured when the Taroko Express Train No. 408 from Shulin, Taipei to Taitung crashed into a construction truck that had fallen onto the track from a road above, dragging the truck into a tunnel and derailing, with deadly results. The east coast train line is well-known for its dramatic cliffs, stunning scenery and long tunnels; I myself have done that trip many times. Taiwan’s population of 23 million may seem large, but the island of Taiwan is small and densely populated, so we are all affected. The whole of Taiwan was in shock.

All weekend, we saw nothing but news reports of death, grief and suffering on our TVs and cellphones. We saw people grieving the loss of their children, spouses, relatives and friends. We saw the Taoist priests and wailing mourners calling out to their loved ones to return home. We saw the tragedy of Rev. Chang, a retired Presbyterian pastor from the Indigenous Amis Tribe in Yuli, Hualien, whose 56-year-old son and 2 grandchildren, aged 22 and 20 were killed in the crash. His grief-stricken daughter-in-law survived the crash with only minor injuries, reporting that they had missed an earlier train, for which they had seat tickets, so had bought standing tickets for the next train instead, the ill-fated Taroko Express 408. It’s impossible to imagine losing your husband and 2 adult children all in one terrible tragic moment. We heard everyone around us asking ‘Why?’ Why indeed? How could this happen? Why so much suffering? Why so much pain? For Christians, at our Good Friday services held later that same day as this news was still coming in, we heard again the words of Jesus on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Words heard on repeat, literally or in essence, throughout the whole weekend. Poignant words of sadness, of desperation and despair, echoing our own sense of shock and grief. It was indeed a sombre weekend in Taiwan.

And yet on Easter Eve, when we lit the Easter fire on the steps below Advent Church at the start of the Easter Vigil, we saw again that light has conquered darkness, love has conquered death, hope has once again come into our world. We had a baptism too, a sign of light, hope and courage. Our faith is not meaningless, void and empty, even if we do question ‘why’ in the dark times. But we were challenged afresh on Easter Day, when we heard in the sermon about how many of us still seem to approach our faith as if we are going Tomb-Sweeping rather than meeting with the risen Christ. For Christians, the tomb is empty, Christ is risen; yet so often we cling to the past, to our memories, rituals and traditions, instead of to the risen Christ and the new life and hope he brings.

Tomb-Sweeping Festival is a busy time for many families, paying their respects to the dead, often to both sets of parents and grandparents, and involving several trips to graveyards or to the huge columbariums up in the mountains where the urns of ashes are stored. It’s always the same date every year, April 4-5 with a weekend attached. Usually I go away with friends, and this year yes, I had originally planned to do something else for the long weekend – but then we discovered it coincided with Easter, so we all rearranged our plans to be here instead. In Taipei it was foggy, smoggy, muggy and overcast all last week, which added to the sombre atmosphere of Holy Week. Up in the mountains, lots of people were out hiking, but mostly there were no views, just the odd peak struggling to appear out of the swirling fog. Relief came early on Sunday, with rain and wind all morning, blowing away the fog and clearing the air.

Monday was bright and sunny, and I went round the northern coast to Jinguashi to climb the Teapot Mountain Trail and Mt. Keelung. Essential for this is good weather – and gloves for the ropes. In the Japanese era, 1895-1945, Jinguashi 金瓜石 had one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, with over 600 km of tunnels running deep into the mountains. Those mountains certainly conceal a whole array of terrible secrets, not least the remains of the old Kinkaseki Prisoner of War Camp down in the village, of which only one original gatepost and wall remains. The rest is a memorial garden, with plaques detailing the history of how the prisoners (many from the USA, UK and Commonwealth countries, captured in Malaya and Singapore during World War II) were put to work in the most dangerous parts of the mine, mistreated and starved. Death was never far away, the suffering unimaginable. So much tragedy.

These days, Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park is a museum and a popular place for a day out from Taipei. Hundreds go up to the Teapot Mountain 茶壺山 (580m). It’s fun ~ and from certain places the Teapot really does look like a teapot!

The trail goes up into the actual teapot, and out the other side. Then up to Mt. Banping 半平山 (713m) and along the ridge to Mt. Canguangliao 燦光寮山 (739m).

The views are across to Mt. Keelung (588m) ….

There are steps up Mt. Keelung, also a popular hike with lots of people. The most exciting part of the whole trip is to walk along the top of the ridge to the East Peak. It’s steep, and those ropes are something else, but the views were amazing.

Jiufen 九份 is the nearby town where most of the miners back in the day spent all their money – in its heyday, Jiufen was known as Little Shanghai. From a distance it looks like a large town, perched on the side of the mountain, but closer up, it’s clear that a whole section of what look like houses are actually graves. They do look like small houses, that’s for sure.

And 40 minutes down the mountain at Keelung Harbour, a cruise ship was setting sail – off for a tour of Taiwan’s islands. Amazing really that Taiwan still has cruises going on, while the rest of the world is at a standstill.

And there was a display of children’s art work called ‘Keelung Rain’ – these are all supposed to be raindrops. Keelung is famous for its terrible weather – it’s all wind and rain, so it’s kind of appropriate. Sadly, this year there’s been nowhere near enough rain down in central and southern Taiwan, and water rationing has already started in Taichung, along with the closure of all public swimming pools as they try to conserve water. With no typhoons last summer, and not much rain since, so the reservoirs are very dry. It’s a worrying situation.

Just to add to the events of this last weekend, it was also Children’s Day on Sunday (with free entry for children to many attractions), and my 60th birthday was on Easter Eve. Thanks to those who sent me birthday wishes, there were lots! Celebrations are delayed until next weekend in Taichung and even later, though we had a celebration for April birthdays in Advent Church on Easter Day….

And we’ll have one at the diocesan office next week, along with Bishop Chang whose birthday was the day before mine. One of our students did take a birthday photo on Saturday after the Easter Vigil. I was in pink with a pink face-mask! And here’s to the next decade…

Wishing you all deep Easter joy and peace in these troubled times. Thank you for your prayers for Taiwan, and for your Easter greetings. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

‘It is finished’: Maundy Thursday & Good Friday @ Advent Church

Today’s tragic news is of a train accident early this morning in a tunnel in Hualien County, on Taiwan’s east coast, with many killed and injured. News is still coming in. We mourn and lament such terrible loss of life on this the first day of the Tomb-Sweeping Festival. Please do pray for all the victims, and for all those in shock and grief.

Today is also Good Friday. We hear the words again of Jesus on the cross, ‘It is finished’.

Last night we marked Maundy Thursday at Advent Church with a service which included foot-washing. This year, we did things differently and lined up to take part. It was wonderful to see so many of our students involved. Such a meaningful service.

After Holy Communion, the altar was stripped and all the crosses covered over. In the darkness, we read the words of Psalm 22, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

This afternoon we had a very meditative Good Friday service from 2-3 pm, which finished with prayers around the altar.

We stayed on to pray and left in silence. In prayer, we remember the victims of the train crash, and we pray for God’s mercy and grace for all those affected.

What’s in a name?

It’s Holy Week, and of course, this coming weekend is Easter. One of Christianity’s best kept secrets; unlike Christmas, it seems few people in Taiwan have any idea what Easter is, and certainly no idea that it’s coming this weekend. Probably far fewer people than usual will be in church to celebrate too, as this coming weekend is also Taiwan’s Tomb-Sweeping Festival (Qingming), Women’s Day and Children’s Day all combined into one long 4-day weekend.

For young professionals and families in Taiwan’s cities, it’ll be a holiday weekend away from their high-pressured office jobs, enjoying some spring weather before the heat of summer, with trips to Taiwan’s outlying islands, up to the central mountains or beach resorts. Covid-19 restrictions for overseas travel mean that everyone is holidaying in Taiwan these days and domestic tourism is booming. For our students here at St. John’s University (SJU), they’ll be in demand for part-time work either near their homes or in our local restaurants, cafes, beaches and tourist sites lining Taiwan’s northern coast, like Laomei and the Fuguijiao Lighthouse…

Laomei’s famous Algal Reef – taken last weekend

One things for sure, wherever we go, there’ll be major traffic jams all weekend!

The Lighthouse Cat guards Fuguijiao Lighthouse, on Taiwan’s northern tip

The good news is that we got off to a good start for Holy Week with a celebration of Palm Sunday at Advent Church and SJU….

Otherwise, March has been a much quieter month than most years, with activities considerably reduced due to concerns about Covid-19, though daily life continues mostly as normal. Fortunately, Taiwan currently has no known community transmission, with 10 deaths and 1,024 confirmed cases, all contained by strict border and quarantine controls. Imported vaccines have resulted in health workers and Olympic hopefuls receiving their first shots in recent weeks, but for the general population, we await final trials of local vaccines, the government eager to proceed at a safe and normal speed of vaccine development. This weekend Taiwan’s very first carefully-monitored travel bubble is starting with the tropical island paradise of Palau; their new president is currently in Taiwan for the official launch, returning home on the first official bubble flight tomorrow.

Common Jester Butterfly (Symbrenthia Lilaea Formosanus) at Yangmingshan…

Spring is here, and with it has appeared the cherry blossom, azalea and wisteria, all looking spectacular. I’ve counted up to 7 crested serpent eagles circling on the thermals above our campus, while down here below we have frogs, lizards, snakes and butterflies all enjoying the sunnier weather (photos / videos in this post were all taken in the last few weeks, some locally, others up at the mountains of Yangmingshan).

11-second snake video: False Taiwan Habu 擬龜殼花

I’ve had 2 sermons to write this month for 2 different English congregations, and in both, I’ve used the same story as an illustration. Some sermons generate more comments than others, and this was one of them. In the light of so much division, separation and isolation in this world – in the church as well as in society as a whole, it seems good to share this story here, with thanks to Rev. Samuel C. L. Liao who originally included a paragraph about this in a piece he wrote for the ‘About Us’ section for our upcoming new website. For once, this is a happy story of 3 church / mission groups plus 2 bishops who put aside their differences and decided to work together for the sake of the Gospel and the people they served. And it all happened in the mid-19th century, when egos and self-interest played just as large a role in decision-making as they seem to do today.

Azalea Season

First a disclaimer, I am not particularly interested in Anglican / Episcopal Church history, hierarchies, titles and governance as such, but I am interested in the background story of how the Taiwan Episcopal Church got its Chinese name. Knowing only the basic facts, I acknowledge that there could be a whole lot more to discover deep in the archives. Sadly, church history got way too complicated when Henry VIII started knocking off all those poor wives with names the same as mine, so a little church history goes a very long way. But what I have also discovered is that most of our church members here also know very little about this story – but, like me, they are interested.

It’s fair to say that most countries where the Anglican / Episcopal Church has been established have just adapted the ‘Anglican’ part of their name into something acceptable in their own language while still being recognizable as the word ‘Anglican’, so in Rwanda for example, the church is known as ‘Eglise Anglicane du Rwanda’, in Brazil as ‘Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil’.

But this is not so in places like Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan…

Oldham’s Azalea, growing up in the mountains

First a bit of background: the word ‘Anglican’ means ‘English,’ denoting the country where the Anglican Church was originally founded. In England, the Anglican Church is just known as ‘The Church of England’ because it’s the national church. The American Church, which originated in England, uses the title, ‘The Episcopal Church’; ‘Episcopal’ means ‘bishops’. One of the main differences when The Episcopal Church was established was that while bishops in England were appointed by the crown, not so in the USA, where they considered themselves free from English rule, so US bishops were – and still are – elected instead of being appointed.

Here in Taiwan, we call our branch of the Anglican Communion by the name ‘Taiwan Episcopal Church’ because we belong to the US-based Episcopal Church. We’re part of Province VIII, officially established in 1954. The Chinese name for the Taiwan Episcopal Church is 台灣聖公會 (Taiwan Sheng Kung Hui). There are 3 Chinese characters in the church part of the name: Sheng 聖 means ‘holy’, Kung 公 means ‘catholic’ (meaning ‘universal’), Hui 會 means ‘church’. So how come the Chinese name of the Taiwan Episcopal Church translates in a way that is completely unrelated to the English name? It’s clear that there’s no word in the Chinese name that can be translated as ‘Anglican’ or ‘Episcopal.’

So the story goes like this. The US Episcopal Church started their evangelism in Mainland China in 1835, and in Japan in 1859; they were followed soon after by CMS and SPG (now USPG) Anglican mission societies from England, and much later (1888 in Japan) by the Anglican Church of Canada. But working together was not easy, each church and mission society had their own style of mission and their own style of worship. In 1866, aged 37, US Bishop Channing Moore Williams was consecrated to serve as ‘Episcopal Bishop of China and Japan’, largely based in Japan. Twenty years later, in 1886, aged 36, UK Bishop Edward Bickersteth was consecrated to serve as ‘Missionary Bishop of the Church of England in Japan,’ (succeeding Bishop Arthur W. Poole, 1883-1885). Wrap your mind around that bit of history – that’s how they did things in those days.

Cherry Blossom at SJU

Anyway, surprise, surprise, these 3 groups in Japan: the US church, CMS and SPG, led by these 2 bishops – 20 years’ difference in age – agreed to work together and unite their missionary efforts into one autonomous national church. The first Japanese synod, instigated by Bickersteth and presided over by Williams, was held in Osaka in 1887. At that meeting, the Japanese church (then with a membership of about 1,300 and with lay delegates sent from every church) decided to take part of the Nicene Creed, ‘We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ and from that phrase to adopt ‘The Holy Catholic Church’ (聖公會, 聖: holy, 公: catholic, 會: church) for its name, pronounced in Japanese as ‘Nippon Sei Ko Kai’ (NSKK), the ‘Holy Catholic Church in Japan’.

In 1912, the Anglican / Episcopal church in China also decided to call their new church, ‘Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui’ (CHSKH) 中華聖公會, the ‘Holy Catholic Church in China’. From that came ‘Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui’ (HKSKH) 香港聖公會, the official title of the Anglican Church in Hong Kong. And some of the CHSKH members who later moved to Taiwan became founding members of the Taiwan Episcopal Church (Taiwan Sheng Kung Hui) 台灣聖公會 in 1954. We are really the ‘Holy Catholic Church’ in Taiwan.

And guess what, we’re not totally unique in the Christian world ~ other churches also chose Chinese names that are totally unrelated to the original, most notably the Roman Catholics – but that’s a whole other story. And we’re nowhere near unique in having a history of mission societies and church groups in conflict with each other in the same country – just think of East Africa, but that is also a whole other story. Ah, church history, sigh!

Just as those 2 bishops decided to work together to try to resolve their differences, so we need to continue to preserve our unity today. Our diocesan motto this year is ‘Working together as one in Christ to build the church’, and that was one of the themes of our diocesan convention held a few weeks ago in Kaohsiung. What does it mean for us to ‘work together as one in Christ?’ Partly it means not being divided by our differences, old and young, traditional and modern, high church and low church, liturgical and non-liturgical, hymns and choruses, informal and formal, Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese, urban and rural, liberal and conservative, online and in-person – and more. All these things have the potential to divide and separate us – or to bring us together, depending on which way we choose to go. Let’s try putting ourselves and our own agendas on one side this Holy Week, Easter and in the future, and find ways to work together – for the sake of the Gospel and each other.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Wisteria Season

Children sometimes do better at this than adults, putting aside their differences that is, and Children’s Day on April 4 is a way to celebrate. At our local Xingren Elementary School (photos below are taken from their website), we celebrated Children’s Day recently by making paper people and each child choosing 4 countries that have some meaning for them – many children in Taiwan have mothers from other SE Asian countries, and Japan, Korea and USA are always popular choices. Gotta love the row of monsters on the back wall too! The fun song to sing for this is on YouTube: Hello to all the Children of the World – check it out, you’ll be singing it all day!

Meanwhile yesterday we distributed salted duck eggs around SJU to wish everyone a Happy Easter…

And to you all too ~ wishing you all a meaningful and blessed Holy Week, and a joyous and hopeful Easter!

Taiwan Episcopal Church Diocesan Convention 台灣聖公會第61屆教區議會 2021

The Taiwan Episcopal Church Diocesan Convention 2021 was held last weekend, March 5-6, at St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung…

View from St. Timothy’s Church balcony

As Covid-19 in Taiwan continues to be contained through strict border and quarantine controls, so we are grateful that our convention could go ahead in-person as planned. Pandemic precautions were in accordance with government guidelines, with temperature checks and hand sanitizer on entry, and face-masks in use for the service and during meetings. We really only took our face-masks off to eat, drink, and for group photos…

Taiwan Episcopal Church Clergy Group Photo

Just to set the scene, Kaohsiung is south Taiwan’s largest city and Taiwan’s main port. It’s extremely hot and sultry all summer, and very mild and muggy all winter. Pollution is a major problem and the air quality over the weekend was terrible – and with no breeze, so there was haze in all directions. Famous for its shipbuilding, steelworks, heavy industry, oil refineries, port and manufacturing, it doesn’t sound like a very attractive place. These were the air quality readings for last Friday…

But Kaohsiung does have a lot of interesting history – with an old British Consulate (built 1865) up on the hill at the entrance to Kaohsiung Harbour, and nearby at Sizihwan 西子灣 is where James Laidlaw Maxwell (1836–1921) worked as a doctor, most famous for his treatment of leprosy and malaria. He established the first Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (also in 1865) and this month there are commemorations for the centenary of his death. Though he was from Scotland, he was actually sent to Taiwan in 1864 with the then Presbyterian Church of England. The old houses of Sizihwan have mostly gone, but in one place there’s an NGO working to preserve the few that remain. Nearby is Pier 2, where all the old port warehouses are now being transformed into a huge art, shopping and heritage area, with its own light rail and with hazy views of downtown Kaohsiung. There’s lots going on! There’s also the stunning wall murals at Weiwuying, where there’s always something new to see. That’s where a huge new performing arts centre has opened recently too, but as it’s white and grey in colour, so it blends in with the haze, so you can hardly see what’s what – I’ve spared you all the hazy photos!