Yes, we’re looking forward to it already, next year’s diocesan convention on Taiwan’s scenic east coast ~ St. Luke’s Church, Hualien here we come! We’ve just had this year’s convention online, for the first time ever, preceded by a day’s workshop held in person at the cathedral. We loved seeing everyone there but it was only a day, so here’s to next year!
Many years ago, we had a visiting bishop who came to speak at our diocesan convention / synod here in Taiwan. He described his experiences of visiting diocesan conventions elsewhere. In England, he said, where such events are called synods, they’re held mostly in a single day, usually in some cold and draughty church hall, with the wind and rain howling around outside. Coffee may be served, but there’ll be no lunch on offer – you have to bring your own – all of which is considered quite normal. In complete contrast, he described his experience visiting the USA, where such events are called conventions, and which often meet over 2 days in a 5-star luxury hotel with all meals provided, and all hotel amenities available for use; all at great expense to the church – but also considered quite normal.
And then he came to Taiwan, where we fit somewhere in-between – and he loved it! The friendly welcomes, the atmosphere, the dedication of our church members in attending such events. Our churches take it in turns to host the event. Many of our church members like to combine attending the convention with a visit to, say, relatives nearby or to some tourist attractions ~ but staying in a nice hotel, seeing all our friends again is the main reason why everyone is willing to come. The Taiwan Episcopal Church is after all much like a large family, everyone knows each other, and many are even related to each other or grew up together. The actual meetings – the reports, elections etc may be necessary but, well, let’s face it, they can be a bit of an endurance test. It was during the online meetings at our convention last week that I remembered that visiting bishop and his experiences in England, USA and Taiwan, and wondered to myself if online is the way to go for future conventions (I hope not!) – or just how do we get the balance right?!
Anyway, aware that people need to be encouraged to attend such events, often held far away – but also aware of the costs and the negative image of church funds being spent on extravagant hotels, so Taiwan’s convention is usually held at a hotel that is mostly 3 or 4 (or occasionally even 5) stars, but one where we’ve managed to get a large discount through our church members. The costs are further reduced by holding the opening service and initial meetings in the local church hosting the event. This year it should have been the turn of St. Luke’s Church, Hualien. Seeing as we were going so far, so our bishop, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang also decided to organize a ‘workshop’ for the day before the actual convention started, intended for our clergy and church members involved in youth and community outreach.
Then along came Taiwan’s latest and by far the biggest Covid surge so far. A month ago, cases started going up on a huge scale. With most people vaccinated, so the government has changed track from a zero-covid policy with lots of restrictions, to allowing normal daily life to continue on as much as possible. They’re trying to keep hospital beds available for only the most serious of cases by allowing home quarantine for everyone else. Apart from facemasks and quarantine rules for confirmed cases and their close contacts, Taiwan’s central government is no longer imposing strict rules and regulations on society as a whole, so it is up to individuals and institutions to make their own decisions. Numbers are now up to over 40,000 new cases per day and rising, and the virus is everywhere. During last week’s convention, two of our clergy had tested positive, and two others were in home quarantine due to their children’s contact with confirmed Covid cases. We face an uncertain time ahead as the country tries to gradually open up its borders while at the same time dealing with a major surge in cases. Fortunately, a few weeks ago, as the cases started to rise, Bishop Chang announced that the diocesan convention would be moved online, starting Thursday evening May 5 and lasting all day Friday, May 6, though the workshop would be held in person on Wednesday, May 4 at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei for those able to attend.
And so it was that most of us gathered last Wednesday at St. John’s Cathedral. The workshop was actually a day of worship, sharing, teaching and prayer, led by the Rev. Ian Liao 廖文華牧師, pastor in charge of Truth Church, Taipei, 基督教台北真道教會, a large, growing and very lively church in Wanhua, one of Taipei’s poorest areas and oldest red-light districts. Bishop Chang had invited him to come to share the experiences of their church in community outreach and youth ministry. He was specifically asked to share not just their successes, but also their failures, and what they had learned from their ministry that could help us. It turned out that Rev. Liao had studied for several years in the UK at Cambridge University, and while there had worshiped in a lively Anglican Church, so he was very familiar with our style of worship and liturgy. Living in Cambridge had clearly made a big impression on him, especially being surrounded by so many magnificent church buildings which had only a few elderly church members, or were even closed down completely and converted to bars and restaurants. He had also done a lot of research into our Episcopal churches in Taiwan, going on prayer walks circling around some of them and checking out nearby schools, colleges and other suitable places for outreach. In fact, their church used to be located very near our cathedral, but they had opted to buy a new building in Wanhua to better serve the people there. He was very well-placed to challenge us all about our outreach ministry.
This was the first time I had seen this kind of ministry event organized by the diocese as part of our diocesan convention and held in our cathedral. Rev. Liao had brought the leadership team from his church, who led the worship, and during the prayer times, they moved around praying with different people. It was very moving to see so many of our clergy and lay members respond to Rev. Liao’s call – and the moving of the Holy Spirit – to go to the front to receive prayer for their own children, those whose children no longer go to church or who have made choices in their careers or relationships which put them at odds with their parents. It was also very moving to see so many respond to Rev. Liao’s call to come forward to commit themselves to ministry among different groups of people, and later he specifically called several clergy and their spouses to the front to pray for them, sharing as led by the Holy Spirit.
On Friday morning, Rev. Liao appeared by video to give the opening sermon of the diocesan convention. It was a really excellent and very challenging sermon, and plans are already in hand here in Advent Church to show it to our vestry committee and church leaders too. He preached from Ezekiel 47, ‘the river from the temple’ and he talked about how the living water comes from the temple then spreads out from there. As we long for the living water of the Holy Spirit to fill our churches, so the living water will then pour out onto our local communities, bringing blessings to all. With this longing in our hearts and filled with the Holy Spirit, so we need to start out walking, and we will see God’s anointing on our ministry as we go. The deeper we go into our local communities, the deeper into the living water we will go, until, just as in Ezekiel’s vision, it covers our ankles, then knees, and shoulders, until we are swimming in this living water of the Holy Spirit.
In Ez. 47:8, the water flows to the Dead Sea and the salty water becomes fresh – so as we move out from our churches, lives around us will be changed and relationships restored. Their church has a ministry in Ximending helping children with their studies in after-school classes and giving them evening meals, thus helping families, as well as improving results for local schools, so local people no longer need to send their children to schools outside the area to get better results. In Ez. 47:10, ‘fish of every kind’ will fill the rivers and sea – so our churches will be filled with people of every kind, every age & background, rich & poor, indigenous and every ethnic group. Wanhua was ground-zero for last year’s Covid surge, and their “Church Can Help” project helped deliver relief packages to 4,000 families during Level 3 Covid Restrictions, and some have started to come to church. In Ez. 47: 12, the trees will bear fruit every month and the leaves will not wither, and their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing – so God’s blessings are ongoing every month, but he blesses us not to make us proud of our achievements, but for us to continue to bless others. That’s a brief summary!
In his sermon at the opening service on Thursday evening, Bishop Chang reviewed and commented on some of the lessons learned at the previous day’s workshop, and encouraged and exhorted all the clergy to spend less time in their church offices – and get out into the community, doing outreach and sharing the Gospel!
The opening service was held at St. John’s Cathedral, we watched it online. After the service finished, Rev. David Chee presented a graduation certificate to Vivian Meng-Rung Kuo, our first graduate of the Trinity School for Christian Ministry (TSCM), our newly-established diocesan theological college. Congratulations to her and to all at TSCM!
And so to the start of the diocesan convention online. The idea was that each church would host the online event for their own clergy and delegates, so everybody gathered at their respective churches – all that is except for those who were in Covid quarantine, who stayed home.
So what did I learn? Firstly, an online diocesan convention using zoom takes much longer than a meeting in person, especially elections for the different committees. This was done by scanning the QR codes, and although it mostly went smoothly, it seemed to go on and on! Normally our meetings run not just to time, but often finish early, but by lunchtime on Friday, we were running about an hour late. The fun thing was to check out all the different people and churches and how they were doing things there. Some had their group sitting very close in full view – they provided quite a lot of entertainment as they forgot the camera was so close, while others, like us here at Advent Church had ours set well back, so we could even walk around and nobody would notice.
On Friday afternoon, after all the formalities of the convention were over, each of our 15 churches had 10 minutes to do a presentation. This was really interesting, and each church presented a detailed vision and action plan for the next 1, 3 and 5 years. Our clergy tell me that this has been a really good exercise, sitting down with their vestry committee and praying and planning for the future. Most used PowerPoint to do their presentations. In my humble opinion, our Advent Church PowerPoint was the most beautiful, and our rector’s talk the most concise. We’re grateful to our chaplaincy team – to Yi-Ting for putting the PowerPoint together, and to Tzi-Wei , who was actually in the diocesan office all that day taking care of the zoom arrangements. We did have a bit of a PowerPoint (PK) competition with Christ Church, who have Yu-Lin, one of our former chaplaincy team based there, well-known for her design skills – and theirs was looking very stunning too, but Advent Church was, well, definitely the best! But Christ Church did win hands down on the yummy-looking snacks provided to their delegates, which were in full view of their camera. Ha ha, it’s the small things that matter! It so happened that all their group of 6 were wearing blue, so they looked really well-coordinated. St. Paul’s Church also had snacks available, we could see 2 bowls of fruit, including a plate of bright red tomatoes. Looked good! But the prize for overall colour coordination goes to St. Mark’s Church, who had large bright green divider boards set up to separate their meeting room from the actual church, and with these as a backdrop, so their PowerPoint also used that same bright green colour, and 2 of their delegates were dressed in bright green too – ah, l loved it! You can see them in these photos, check out the bright green!
And so ended our diocesan convention 2022, giving thanks to God that everything went smoothly, and to the diocese for all the arrangements made. St. Luke’s Church, Hualien had also prepared well for this convention, but then put all their arrangements on hold, so the plans are that this same time next year to actually hold the convention in person there on Taiwan’s scenic east coast. YES!
Please pray for the 18 clergy and 15 churches in the Diocese of Taiwan, that all will be filled with the living water of the Holy Spirit, and that we can all get out of our church offices and into our local communities to share the Gospel, bringing living water and changing lives!
Every year, we take a group photo at our diocesan convention, but it wasn’t possible this year. But we do have a group photo of our 18 clergy, taken during Holy Week at St. James’ Church….
Please also pray for Taiwan as we face this major Covid surge in the next few months. Although most people over the age of 12 are vaccinated, there are a large number of elderly people who decided against it, and many are now confined to their homes – they are a major concern. Our churches are facing many challenges not knowing what’s ahead, and whether services, activities, summer camps etc can go ahead or will need to be canceled or rearranged online. Your prayers are much appreciated. Thank you!