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.
December 2020 flashed past in a whirl of activities, but when I read last year’s blog post of Advent & Christmas 2019, this year seems so quiet in comparison. December 2019 was jam-packed full! This year things were quieter, partly because of the pandemic ~ so there were less large activities and fewer parties, no visitors and less travel, but also because St. John’s University (SJU) has been downsizing, so there’s far fewer faculty, staff and students – and, let’s face it, far less money to spend or donate. Many of our local businesses are suffering too from our downsizing, and people are being more careful with their money. With non-stop rain, strong winds and cold temps in this area of Taiwan for most of December, it’s the time of the year when everyone needs a bit of Christmas cheer ~ and here we are at the SJU main entrance wishing the guard a Merry Christmas! 🎅🎅
Covid-19 update: Since an isolated locally-transmitted Covid-19 case a few days ago (traced to a pilot who didn’t follow quarantine rules and then wouldn’t reveal his movements and contacts; he’s since been fired and fined), the Taiwan government has further tightened restrictions. With the UK Covid variant spreading around the world, there is high alert and extra restrictions on people coming from the UK. This includes them all being quarantined in government facilities for 14 days on arrival, rather than in registered quarantine hotels of their own choice, and each one having to test negative before being released from quarantine. Flights to and from the UK will be cancelled altogether from January until the situation improves ~ and in the last few days, the Taiwan Post Office has also announced the temporary suspension of all postal services to the UK. Some of our churches have cancelled parties and celebrations, others continue on. Ours mostly continue on, and school and work continues as normal, which means we’re all still here – in our offices and classrooms. No break for Christmas, but we do have January 1 off, and then we’ll have about 3 more weeks of term until the Chinese New Year holidays start.
These are a few highlights of our activities here at SJU and Advent Church this past month, starting with lighting candles on the Advent Wreath each week in each of SJU main offices. Bishop Chang also came with us one week. The above photo is SJU President Huang lighting the Advent candles for Week 2 ~ and in our offices below….
A few days before Christmas, we went out around the campus and across the road to the shops to share the good news of Christmas with our neighbours…
We did a similar thing at church member’s homes, and at 8:00 am on Christmas Day morning, we went to share the good news of Christmas and to give out small gifts to the children at Xian-Xiao, our neighboring junior high school. They are so lovely!
Every year during Advent, the church and university combine to raise money for charity, and despite the economic downturn due to the pandemic as well as the downsizing of SJU, this year we decided to continue the tradition, and chose ‘Cathwel Service’ (‘Cathwel’ is short for ‘Catholic Welfare’) 財團法人天主教福利會, the Taiwan branch of the US Catholic Relief Services. They came to give a talk about their work, which is mainly to provide care and help for disabled children, disadvantaged women and their children, and all those who struggle to take care of their families; they are one of the few organizations in Taiwan legally registered to arrange adoptions, both in Taiwan and overseas. For our fundraising, mostly we rely on individual direct donations, but for our students, they give their time and energy to help run a large bazaar. This involves collecting and selling second-hand goods, as well as making and selling lots of food, helped by church members and SJU staff, organized by the SJU Chaplaincy. The event was held on December 16, and Bishop Chang and his wife came along too. Ah, it was fun!
This year our aim was to raise NT$ 200,000, and thanks be to God, the total amount raised was about NT$ 250,000. We will be visiting the charity centre in Taipei for a formal presentation on January 8, so watch this space for photos! (It turned out to be a big day with lots of photos taken, so the next blog post is dedicated to the visit). This is the presentation!
As Christmas is not a national holiday, so we hold our main (or only) service in the evening of Christmas Eve. The congregation who come along is always affected by what day of the week it falls on. This year, Christmas Eve was on a weekday so our students could be there, but many church members were working, so unable to come. Some of our former students return every year for this service, it’s great! The service was beautiful, all candlelit at the start as we sang ‘Silent Night’ ~ very moving.
St. John’s Day was marked on Monday December 28 this year, and we had a service for about 60 people, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Advent Church. At the end of the service, there was a presentation of 2 cheques, firstly a cheque for NT$ 100,000 presented on behalf of Advent Church by Ms. Marge Tan to SJU President Huang to cover the cost of repairs, maintenance, utilities and cleaning of the church during this year. The other cheque, for NT$ 4,366,705, was presented by Bishop Chang to SJU President Huang on behalf of the diocese. In August, at our diocesan convention, Bishop Chang had shared his vision, that with the many problems facing SJU of seriously falling student numbers and therefore a large financial shortfall, it would be inappropriate for Advent Church to put on an expensive and elaborate 50th anniversary celebration. Instead we would raise money to donate to SJU in thanksgiving and to show our love and support. Most of this money was collected from individual donations made to the diocese, and it also includes a donation of NT$ 515,429 from a annual trust fund of The Episcopal Church for the SJU Library. The original aim was to raise a grand total of NT$ 500,000, but that has been vastly exceeded, thanks be to God ~ and to all those who have donated!
We were honoured that so many clergy, church members and representatives of SJU were able to be at the service, including clergy who came especially for the occasion from Hualien and Kaohsiung. At the end of the service we had lunchboxes, supplied by a restaurant run by one of our church members. Simple but delicious!
We had plenty more activities in Advent, far too many to mention here, but I will finish with photos of a happy day I spent at Xingren Elementary School 興仁國小, on December 18, where I told the story of Santa Claus / St. Nicholas, set in Turkey in the year 300 AD. The older children, grades 3-6, recycled the pictures of my old Christmas cards, sent in past years mostly from the UK, to make pop-up cards of their own. The younger children made Christmas tree pictures with stickers and the letters of Merry Christmas. These photos below are all downloaded from the school facebook page – if you’ve sent me a Christmas card in the past few years, then know that it was put to good use. Thank you!
Thank you all for your Christmas wishes for 2020, and your prayers and support throughout the past year. Here’s to the New Year 2021, stay safe and well, and wishing you all a blessed and peaceful year ahead! 🥂
Stop Press: Just announced today is the news that from January 1, 2021, our SJU chaplain, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu will also become rector of Advent Church, serving in both roles. Please do pray for him, it is a big responsibility!
Yes, our 10 weeks of community English classes for adults – running on Tuesday evenings for beginners and Thursday afternoons for the more advanced (each class 90 minutes) – are now over for this semester, and last night we brought both groups together for a ‘Happy Ending’ Party! Ah, it was so much fun! Friends, families and a large group of our student fellowship turned up too and added some extra energy to the occasion.
Each of the English class members brought along some yummy food, I prepared some games and our good friends Marge and David provided the sharing and entertainment. We all danced along to the ‘Playing for Change’ YouTube video of ‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong, and as everyone in that video is wearing different brightly-coloured T-shirts, so Marge and David gave each one of us a T-shirt from their T-shirt company. Thank you!
We played Musical Chairs….
And Musical Statues with animals – check out the photos below and you can see penguins, elephants, giraffes, frogs, snakes, spiders, crocodiles, pigs and more. We even had the same 2 winners as for the Musical Chairs, the 2 ladies – one in red and one in yellow with me above – they really got into the drama below, so real!
Special thanks to the most important person in these English classes ~ Shiao-Chien, one of our church members – formerly our senior warden – and retired military officer here at St. John’s University. She and Marge are founding members from years ago, they both come to the Thursday afternoon class, and Shiao-Chien also comes every Tuesday evening to help with the beginner’s class, many of whom are her friends and neighbours. Marge often helps out if Shiao-Chien needs a week off. Shiao-Chien organizes everything – it’s all so wonderful! Every week she also prepares 5 minutes of faith-sharing / Bible teaching (in Chinese) at the end of each class, while the Thursday afternoon class currently has the first half of the class devoted to a Bible Story. This is part of the outreach ministry of Advent Church, everyone is welcome – of whatever faith and none, and classes are free – with lots of fun!
We finished with a prayer…
And of course a group photo!
Thanks to everyone who came along, and to our SJU Chaplain Rev. Wu for taking most of the photos. These classes had to be cancelled in the spring semester earlier in the year as a precaution against Covid-19, but with no domestic transmission since Easter, we are so pleased they could take place in this autumn semester. Thanks be to God for his many blessings ~ and here’s to the next semester of English classes, starting, we hope, after Chinese New Year!
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” (Henry James)
Yes, think glamourous Victorian ladies enjoying their delicate cucumber sandwiches and creamy fruit scones at Fortnum & Mason or the Ritz or wherever, drinking tea served in floral china tea-cups, talking about the weather – and just a bit of gossip – and there you have it, that’s Afternoon Tea, English-style. Well, that’s kind of the impression we all have, me too!
And that’s what I was doing at Xingren Elementary School (新北市淡水區興仁國小) last Friday, November 20. Starting at 8:30 am, all 6 classes, Grades 1-6, each came for 40 minutes each, all dressed up in their best outfits (me too!), and we drank tea together from dainty little tea cups and had chocolate biscuits. Fortunately Carrefour in Tamsui sells PG Tips and McVities chocolate digestives (labelled “Imported from the UK”), so it’s perfect. No cucumber sandwiches or cream scones, but hey, it was great! Such a simple thing to do, but such fun, and everyone was so happy – and the kids were so well-behaved! The principal came for one of the classes too. We learned how to sit and not slouch, to stir and not slop, to sip and not slurp ~ ladies and gentlemen in the making! And we learned a whole lot of English too, like, ‘Would you like some milk?’ ‘Is the tea good?’ ‘It’s delicious!’ ‘Would you like some more tea?’ ‘Yes, please’ and ‘No, thank you’.
Xingren Elementary School is our local school to St. John’s University, just 2 bus-stops down the road towards Tamsui. Many of the children who come to our summer camps here at Advent Church are pupils there, and Advent Church members go there each week to teach character education classes. The school has 91 pupils, ranging from 12 pupils in Grade 6 (although 7 of them had gone to a sports event at another school that day) to 19 in Grade 5, and all others in-between.
In May 2015, we went along to Xingren to help the children celebrate their Sports Day, and in October 2016, we went to help them celebrate their centenary, and we also went a few years ago for Christmas carol-singing. This is the first time I’ve been invited by the principal, academic supervisor and English teachers, and with the support of Bishop Chang, to give a little input as a real live foreigner. Rosa from Advent Church kindly came with me to help. Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome and their appreciation!
It’s just so easy for children (and adults!) to be weighed down by spelling, grammar and vocabulary when learning English, sigh ~ it is such a nightmare! I mean who invented this crazy grammar whereby a word like ‘go’ changes to ‘went’ in the past tense? Why can’t verbs just stay the same, like they do in Chinese? And all those complicated tenses that we have in English, sigh and groan! English Tea-Time provides a little light relief, something to encourage the children to keep up with their English, and to use it in a fun way, and learn a little about international culture at the same time ~ plus the Taiwan government is pushing for more and more English in schools and this is one good way of achieving that aim.
Thanks to the English teachers, Ariel and Sophia for all the photos ~ they were posted on the school facebook page, linking to their photo album here. And special thanks to all the children for a great day!
Regarding Tea-Time at Xingren in a time of Covid-19, Taiwan continues its long run of no domestic cases since April, and is running normally as far as work and school is concerned. Temperatures are checked on arrival at school, and facemasks are required for entry at the school gate. Once inside, masks are not compulsory, but as from December 1, new winter regulations will come into force, so changes are coming.
Next month, I hope to return there for a class about Christmas. Watch this space, and in the meantime, sit yourself down and have a nice cup of tea and chocolate digestive biscuit!
Mr. Zong-Yi Chou 周宗毅 (aka Shiao Yi 小毅) & Ms. Yi-Ru Chiang 江依洳 (aka Ya-Zi 鴨子) are married! YES!
Many congratulations to Shiao Yi 小毅 and Ya-Zi 鴨子 on their wedding, held at 2:30 pm, Sunday September 27, 2020 in Advent Church @ St. John’s University (SJU), Taipei!
This is a day we’ve all been looking forward to for a very long time ~ and finally they’re married! 💕
And these are former members of the SJU Student Fellowship moving everyone to tears by their singing…. 😂😂
The events started with make-up and hairstyling in the small chapel at the back of Advent Church, and preparations in the main church..
The service began with the bell ringing ~ and the wedding procession moved down the aisle, the gorgeous bride being escorted by her father (and if you’re wondering about face-masks for the service, they were optional). It was certainly a wonderful wedding!
After the blessing, the bride and groom gave flowers – and hugs – to both sets of parents….
The couple left – and came back in again for photos ….
Shiao Yi and Ya-Zi first met each other in their first year as students here at SJU when they started to come to the Student Fellowship, and a year later became boyfriend and girlfriend. That was 9 years ago! They were both baptized together at Advent Church by Rev. Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, who was then SJU Chaplain, and since graduation 6 years ago they’ve been coming to Advent Church most Sundays. They had planned to get married last year, but had to postpone when Ya-Zi’s grandmother died, so we’ve all been waiting a long time, and they’ve been very patient! Here’s the parents of the bride and groom…
This is the first wedding in Advent Church taken by our SJU Chaplain, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu, and also the first wedding in Advent Church with Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang giving the wedding blessing, while our chaplaincy staff, Shu-Jing and Yu-Lin served as witnesses and helped to organize everything. 😇
We were delighted that so many former members of the SJU Student Fellowship could come to the wedding, and sing so movingly for the occasion. There’s plenty more of the student fellowship planning their own weddings ~ and the girl who caught the bride’s bouquet is Chung-Hsien’s girlfriend, and he’s already proposed!💕
It rained nearly all day, but the weather didn’t stop everyone turning out and enjoying the celebrations. After the service, there was a tea-party in the Advent Church Centre, part of a whole weekend of celebrations – this was only one part!
Guests were invited to sign their names and thumbprints…
There were also plenty of mementoes of the occasion, cookies and cards…
And the official photo album – many of them taken in Advent Church
Ah yes, many congratulations to the happy couple, Shiao Yi and Ya-Zi, and God’s richest blessings on their future together! 💕💕
Yes, Advent Church Summer Camp 降臨堂兒童喜樂營 2020 (Kids Games) has been happening this week, on the theme: “Guardians of the Earth 地球防衛隊” ~ and a great time was had by all!
Every summer, for the first 2 days of Taiwan’s primary / elementary school summer holidays, Advent Church holds a children’s non-residential summer camp (aka holiday club), and for many children, as well as our student leaders, it’s one of the main highlights of the whole year! Last year, we had 80 children and 35 student leaders, and the theme was ‘Be Brave’ (see that report here). This year, we had 60 children and about 35 student leaders, and the theme was ‘Guardians of the Earth’. Every activity was about protecting this planet – and learning about litter, pollution, recycling, the effect of plastics on ocean animals, preserving the environment, taking care of God’s creation and much more. We had drama, singing, dancing, games, team-building activities, lunch, rest, sharing time and of course plenty of water fun to finish!
The student team was led by Tze-Wei, our wonderful colleague in the St. John’s University (SJU) Chaplaincy, who is now into her third year as camp leader. She was assisted by a whole group of student fellowship members past and present, plus some who attended the camp in the past as children and now come as leaders, and a few friends and church members too. We are especially grateful to Ming-Chuan, our senior warden, who supported us throughout…
There was a lot to prepare and practice, but the student team were amazing, as always, and have dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to the camp, in fact they all arrived on Sunday for 3 days of preparation first. Several are SJU student fellowship graduates who have used up nearly the whole of their annual leave from work to take part. Of the 35 on the team, 10 are from Malaysia, all SJU students or graduates, and one is from Hong Kong. Five came from St. James’ Church, Taichung, and they will use the same theme and materials for their own summer camp this weekend at the Church of the Leading Star, Taiping, led by Stoney Wu – who will be ordained deacon on July 25. And we were well-supported by Advent Church clergy, including Rev. Wu, here he is with some of the team, all masked up ready for the children arriving…
As we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, so we are well aware that most places in the world have had to cancel their summer camps this year or move them online. Ours could go ahead because Taiwan continues to do really well in keeping the coronavirus at bay. Taiwan’s official figures for Covid-19 currently are 454 confirmed cases, 440 recovered and 7 deaths, and no domestic transmissions since April 12. Taiwan’s borders remain closed to all visitors, so a church group from Hong Kong who were originally scheduled to join us for the camp sadly had to cancel. The silver lining to the borders being closed is that some of our overseas students who may normally have gone home for the summer, could stay in Taiwan and take part in the camp instead. As you can see from the photos, it was great fun for everyone!
Normally all government-run elementary schools in Taiwan break up on June 30 for 2-months summer holiday, but as schools were delayed by 2 weeks starting their new semester after Chinese New Year due to Covid-19, so they made up for it by extending the semester for 2 weeks until July 14. Our summer camp is usually July 1-2; this year it was held July 15-16. Because there was always a concern that we might have to cancel at the last minute, so we did not order any T-shirts like we normally do – which then also made it cheaper for the children. Some wore their T-shirts from previous years, as we did also ~ check out Mr. ‘Be Brave’ below after an onslaught of water!
We did take other precautions too: usually we would allow up to 80 children to take part – but this year we reduced the number to 60; face-masks were to be worn inside, except for leaders who were singing, dancing or speaking from the stage; there were temperature checks and hand sanitizer at the main entrance, frequent hand-washing throughout the day, and parents were asked not to send any children who were unwell. Actually all this is standard procedure now in Taiwan, and children are well-used to wearing masks, though some found them hot and later took them off. We even had 2 sets of group photos, one in masks and one without…
Thanks be to God, everything went really well, and yes, I took a lot of photos!