Today we gathered in Keelung for a Thanksgiving Service at St. Stephen’s Church to celebrate and give thanks to God for these past 10 years ~ 10 years of amazing grace, wonderful blessings and faithful witness!
This was St. Stephen’s Church Welcome Team all ready!
And so many clergy, friends and supporters….
And all the clergy together!
Keelung is unfortunately known in Taiwan as the ‘City of Unhappiness’, and in the outlying Chungshan District, there have long been particularly high levels of unemployment, poverty, alcohol addiction and mental health problems. In 2007, Rev. Richard R. C. Lee and members of Trinity Church, Keelung had a vision to reach out to the people of Chungshan District, where there were no other churches at the time. After much prayer, and with the support of Bishop David J. H. Lai and the clergy of the northern deanery of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, outreach was started, first in the local community center, then they started to rent a building nearby as a church. It was that church (at St. Stephen’s first ever worship service) that was consecrated by Bishop Lai on May 18, 2008, exactly 10 years ago today. In 2010, a timely grant from the United Thank Offering of US$ 50,000 helped towards the purchase of the present building, which is really a ground-floor apartment, converted into a church. The basement is huge and extends out under the road, and is also owned by the church; it’s used as a classroom for the outreach program to the local community. Today it was used as overflow seating. This is the Holy Communion….
These are 4 of the key people in the development of St. Stephen’s Church: from left, Rev. Richard R. C. Lee, Mr. Yei 葉錦地, the local community leader (li-zhang 里長), Rev. Julia S. H. Lin and Bishop David J. H. Lai….
St. Stephen’s is a non-stop, very busy, very active, very joyful and happy place. There are so many activities going on all day long, all part of the community outreach program for children, teenagers, families, women, men and seniors. It was the community program for children that was so welcomed by the local community leaders when the church was first started. The community leaders have provided huge support ever since, and many of them came along today! Without them, it would have been much more difficult to gain the trust of the local people, but with their support, the church has been welcomed, and gained access into people’s lives – and hearts. Lives are being transformed, step by small step.
Rev. Julia Shu-Hua Lin 林淑華牧師 has been assigned to St. Stephen’s since it was established, and is helped by many local people who have made St. Stephen’s their spiritual home. Ms. Huang Min 黃敏 (on the far left in the above photo) moved from Trinity Church to help support St. Stephen’s from the beginning, and is one of the pillars of the church. These days, St. Stephen’s has a core of committed Christians on the leadership team, and many more helping run the different outreach programs. One of our diocesan evangelists, Mr. Felix Ming-You Chen (right in the photo below, next to Rev. Joseph M. L. Wu) is also assigned there at weekends. There is so much really worthwhile ministry going on, thanks be to God!
Today, being a Friday, meant that most of the participants in the Thanksgiving Service were adults, as the children were all in school. But we were blessed to welcome a group of children who formed the music group for the service, they came from St. Luke’s Church, Hualien with Rev. Joseph M. L. Wu, they did so well – even if they were squeezed into a corner and difficult to photograph!
The other group who sang were the St. Stephen’s Church senior group. Oh, they were so lovely ~ and so expressive!
The service started at 10:00 am. All of our clergy from northern Taiwan came along, plus quite a few from the south, and lots of church members too. It was wonderful to see Rev. Richard Lee returning to visit from St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung, here he is with Rev. Lily Chang. Why are they laughing? Because there is such a height difference between them that this is a rare occasion when Lily is taller than Richard!
Many clergy from other denominations in Keelung came too, plus representatives of the different social welfare organizations who support the outreach ministry at St. Stephen’s. All the St. Stephen’s people were wearing special new T-shirts commissioned for the occasion, they gave us as gifts when we left. Plus wooden key rings etc, made by social enterprise foundations locally.
The readings were Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication of the Temple from 1 Kings 8: 22-30, Psalm 84: 1-12 and 1 Peter 2: 1-5, 9-10 ~ and the Gospel was from Matthew 21: 18-22 about the fig-tree, finishing with, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Bishop Lai referred to these in his sermon in the context of the history and testimony of St. Stephen’s Church. All glory be to God!
Photos from the service today….
After the service, we had 2 birthday cakes, one on each floor, the one cut by Bishop Lai was provided by one of the church families, whose child also has a birthday today. We also had lunch boxes, and lots of fruit and dessert.
And we finished with a presentation from Bishop Lai to Rev. Julia Lin (and St. Stephen’s Church) of one of Bishop Lai’s homemade wooden artworks, saying in Chinese, “God’s mercy endures forever.”
Today’s Thanksgiving Service was such a great occasion, really special. For me, this is one of THE churches that I always try to take my very special VIP visitors from overseas who may be interested in frontline mission. St. Stephen’s Church has such a testimony, transformation is happening in that area of Keelung, and real hope is being given to the whole community. May God continue to bless St. Stephen’s Church and all who serve ~ and are served there. Thanks be to God!