Temperature checks ✓ hand sanitizer ✓ face-masks ✓ And so the 60th annual convention of the Taiwan Episcopal Church could begin!
This event was originally scheduled to take place from March 27-28, 2020 in St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung – in conjunction with St. Timothy’s 50th anniversary celebrations. But the pandemic caused a delay, and a new date was set for Saturday August 15 – also it was decided to limit it to a single day, and to relocate it to Advent Church at St. John’s University (SJU), Tamsui.
Advent Church Center is large enough to host a gathering of 80 or more people, and if we needed to reschedule again, it could be done more easily than if we had booked a hotel meeting room, which is usually the case. Also it is well-ventilated, spacious and often quite breezy, being near the sea.
Currently Taiwan has still managed to contain Covid-19, and although there have been a few unexplained individual outbreaks, so far there has been no widespread community transmission, so our annual convention could go ahead this past Saturday. Government regulations say that face-masks are mandatory at places of worship, so everyone wore theirs for the actual service. This is the masked group from St. John’s Cathedral….
Limiting the event to a single day meant the meeting had to be condensed and finished in half the usual time, so a lot more work had to be done in advance to make sure everything could run quickly and smoothly. And it did, thanks be to God! And, of course, thanks to Mr. Yang, the diocesan secretary and all the staff at the diocesan office. The opening service was at 10:00 am in Advent Church…..
The service was followed by group photos and lunch, then after a short break, we started at 12:30 pm for 3 sessions, each of about 1-2 hours. During the breaks, locally famous snacks from the Tamsui area were provided by Advent Church for everyone to enjoy. The meeting finished about 5:30 pm and everyone was given a box of sandwiches and cakes to eat on the journey home. All delicious!
Advent Church was sparkling for the occasion – church members and clergy had worked really hard to make sure everything was ready, including cleaning everywhere inside and out. Each visitor was presented with a small handmade bag, individually decorated with buttons and designs – this was a wonderful team effort led by Marge Tan, chair of our ladies group, using materials from their Tan T-shirt company and helped by talented members of our student fellowship – a 2-day project. I loved mine! Inside was a set of postcards of Advent Church, designed by our student fellowship graduates as part of their final-year project in the SJU Dept. of Creative Design. Beautiful!
On the day itself, all the Advent Church vestry members came along to help, plus a team from the student fellowship – they were there all day – thanks to them all!
For our new bishop, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, this was his first diocesan convention as bishop, and in his sermon, he was clearly delighted to be back in his old home of Advent Church for his first convention…
He started by showing his appreciation to the current leadership team at Advent Church, our lovely retired priest, Rev. Elizabeth F. J. Wei, SJU Chaplain Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu, and churchwarden Mr. Chen Ming-Chuan. All 3 are really great at encouraging church members to get involved and be part of the church ministry. Bishop Chang commented on how, as the regular cleaning person is sick, the church members have taken over the cleaning of the church, giving up their free time and spending hours and hours polishing, dusting, sweeping, washing and cleaning. He said how moved he was to hear that Ms. Shiao-Chien is bringing to the church the high standards she has at home for cleaning the church toilets, scrubbing the floors tile by tile, while 85-year-old Rev. Peter D. P. Chen is dusting and polishing the pulpit and choir chairs, while other church members and the student fellowship spent a whole Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago using high-pressure hoses to wash the white walls around the building, and clean all the windows.
Bishop Chang said that this year, 2020, 3 of our churches in the diocese celebrate their 50th anniversaries: St. James’ Church, Taichung, which celebrated on July 25, St. Timothy’s, Kaohsiung, which has postponed their celebration to September 19, and Advent Church. St. James celebrated the 50th anniversary of the actual church building, while St. Timothy’s and Advent Church are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment or official naming of their churches.
He said that for Advent Church, this is a very special 50th anniversary. Bishop James C. L. Wong, first Chinese Bishop of Taiwan (1965-70) was bishop for only 5 years, and yet in those 5 years, he accomplished so much, including the foundation of St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT) in 1967 (now SJU). On March 6, 1970, at the 10th annual diocesan convention, held in St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei, Bishop Wong formally announced that the new church / chapel to be built at SJSMIT would be named ‘Advent Church’. Only 3 weeks later, on March 28, at the Easter Eve Vigil at St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung, Bishop Wong was taken ill and admitted to hospital. He died on April 27, 1970, so he never lived to see Advent Church be built. Bishop Wong was buried on the highest plot of land at SJSMIT, and over the next few years, the new Advent Church was constructed over and around his grave, which became the site of the altar. The new church building was consecrated on February 17, 1973. Bishop Chang said that it was almost as if, as Bishop Wong died, so Advent Church was born.
Fast forward 50 years, and while Advent Church is thriving, unfortunately SJU is possibly at its lowest point in all those 50 years. Our new SJU president, Dr. Huang Hung-Pin, who took over on August 1, 2020, is determined to turn things around and has already implemented huge cuts to faculty and staff, and is introducing many new ways of working. The priority is to stabilize the financial situation, increase student enrollment and improve academic standards. The finances are desperately low, and Bishop Chang announced that he has started a big fundraising campaign for SJU. He said that, after discussion with the Advent Church leadership team, that Advent Church would be celebrating their 50th anniversary, not by spending money on a big celebration, but by raising money to present as a gift to SJU. His goal is NT$ 500,000 (about US$ 17,000); to be presented to SJU on St. John’s Day, December 28, 2020, and he has invited all clergy, churches and church members to contribute. He also said that for SJU alumni and friends in the USA who would like to contribute, we are grateful to The Episcopal Church for their help in channeling donations to the Diocese of Taiwan. This is SJU President Huang giving his speech at the convention….
Bishop Wong was a true disciple of Christ, who saw the great importance of reaching out through his life and witness to share the Gospel, so fulfilling his motto of ‘Transforming lives through Christ’. Bishop Chang encouraged everyone to follow Bishop Wong’s example ~ not to just sit there in church waiting for people to come, but to go out into the world ~ and share the good news of Christ!
The Taiwan Episcopal Church has 8 kindergartens, and in his sermon, Bishop Chang also said very strongly that the purpose of the kindergartens is to help and support the local community, and for outreach among the kindergarten children and their families. He emphasized that our kindergarten ministry is not just for making money, and the church must stop relying on them for income – and must rely on the church members instead. Later in the meeting, Mrs. Liu, chair of the kindergarten committee talked about how a group of our kindergarten principals, supervisors and teachers had visited church kindergartens in the Province of Hong Kong last year and how moved they had been to see so many Bible verses decorating their buildings, and how they have resolved to do the same here in Taiwan. Children will now learn 5 Bible verses a semester, and small cards with the verses have been printed out and distributed to all our kindergarten children. Mrs. Liu produced statistics that show, in total, our 8 kindergartens have 1,103 children, of whom 94 (8.5%) come from Christian homes. We have a total of 140 full-time teachers and staff, of whom only 30 (21%) are Christians; and 101 part-time teachers and staff, of whom 19 (18.8%) are Christians. So we have a huge amount of work to do sharing the Gospel with the teachers, children and parents. Bishop Chang also emphasized the importance of the kindergarten supervisors being church members of that particular church, and being active in outreach to the parents, getting to know them, inviting them to events and sharing the Gospel with them. This is Mrs. Liu (second left) with the delegation from St. John’s Cathedral, including her son, standing next to her…
Much of the actual meeting-time was taken up with procedural matters, discussions of financial reports, elections to the different committees etc. However, a few other items of note:
1) Rev. David Chee, assisted by Rev. Antony Liang, is now officially starting work on re-establishing the Trinity Hall Theological Center, based at the diocesan office, but running primarily online to all our different churches. This ministry will include developing theological courses for church members, interns, seminarians and clergy. They will focus on strategic planning for each of these groups, which will then help the diocese to have a clearer long-term plan and set realistic goals. This is Rev. David Chee – with Ms. Shiao-Chien, they’re great friends, both involved in the music ministry at Advent Church and though not related, both have the same surname…
2) St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung has a church building that, when it was constructed in 1964, was considered an amazingly innovative design for modern church architecture – it is shaped like a tent with a roof that goes down almost to ground level. However, that same roof leaks very badly and the other church buildings on the site – which house the kindergarten and meeting rooms – are also in a bad state of repair, and becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. The vision of the church is that the whole site could be re-developed, with a new church built. However, the local government is now assessing whether the church should be classified as a historic building, in which case, there will be huge restrictions on what can be done on the site in the future. The vicar, Rev. Cheng Chen-Chang asked for prayer and for any legal experts who might be able to offer their assistance.
3) The newly elected chair of the Diocese of Taiwan Standing Committee is the Rev. Lily L. L. Chang, Rector of St. James’ Church, Taichung. Please pray for her, and all the different committees as they continue the work of the diocese. This is Rev. Lily Chang below, with newly-ordained deacon Rev. Stoney Wu and the delegation from St. James – with and without their face-masks!
4) The next diocesan convention will be – as originally planned for this year – hosted by St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung, possibly over the first weekend of March 2021 – to be confirmed.
Thank you for your prayers for the convention. And to all those involved in the running of the event, thank you! Special thanks to the churchwarden of Advent Church, Ming-Chuan and his wife, Meng-Chen who have spent months preparing for this great occasion – and posed especially below. We love them to bits, and are truly grateful that everything went so smoothly under their care and direction.
And thanks be to Almighty God ~ and please do continue to pray for Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang and all in the Diocese of Taiwan!