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!
This Advent season is a good moment to pause and listen to Mary’s proclamation. Do we sometimes think we are insignificant? Listen to Mary’s affirmation that God is deeply interested in us. Do we wonder what we should be doing with our lives? Listen to Mary’s words as she explains what God wants to do with this world of ours.
Then we need to be ready to proclaim this good news to others. Although Christmas can be a moment of joy, many people are missing someone they love, struggling to make ends meet, and afraid about the future. The invitation from Mary is to see oneself as a person connected with God—a God that seeks to use us to further a future that is different and hopeful.
Advent Church, Christmas Eve 2020.
Advent is over for another year, and so are these #AdventWord meditations, along with my photos of events in Taiwan in 2020. It has not been an easy year for the world. Many are suffering. Taiwan continues to do well in handling the pandemic, although the long run of 253 consecutive days of no local transmission ended a few days ago with one case, traced to a infected pilot who has caused much worry for the country ~ and has since been fired for his dishonesty in neither revealing his contacts nor his travel details. As it is, we are grateful that our Christmas continues as ‘normal’, which for Taiwan means work and school; we have no Christmas holiday or time off. Y’know, it’s actually good, there are so many opportunities for outreach, and many of our students and former students came to our Christmas Eve Service this evening ~ and stayed for the delicious refreshments afterwards. Tomorrow’s main event for Christmas Day will be at 7:30 am when we all gather to go to our neighbouring junior-high school to wish all the children and staff a Merry Christmas. 🎅⛄ 🎄
Thank you all for your Christmas cards and messages. I didn’t really send any Christmas cards this year ~ please accept this as my Christmas greetings for 2020. I am very grateful to you all for your support and prayers this past year, Wishing you all joy and peace this Christmas time!🎄🎄
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
Mary sang in praise of God: And holy is his Name. Gracious God, what is our song, Now in this time of weeping? In our night of pain and grief, Faithful voices rise toward starry skies: In you, O Holy One, we put our trust. Can we find once more your promise of mercy? A new light shines in the darkness – Together, we wait and rejoice.
The Nativity Scene here at Advent Church, Tamsui, Taipei
Wishing you all a good start to the new year! If you’re going to read this blog post all the way through, then I suggest you first stop and brew up, it’s a long read, but hey it covers everything! My own drink of choice for such activity is Vanilla Tea – kindly supplied by our good friend, Alice who arrived recently from Mauritius bearing 2 large packets of it – it’s really good!
Let’s just rewind a little, to the point where I realized that as the termites had eaten all my Christmas decorations a year or so ago, then a new strategy was called for in 2019. Yes, the time had come to move the decorations out of the house ~ and to just wear them all instead. And so it was that I spent much of Advent covered in tinsel, Santa glasses, reindeer antlers, Christmas trees – carrying with me an abundant supply to give out to those who appreciate such things ~ like Bishop Lai and all those in the diocesan office in Taipei…
Professor Mei-Mei Lin had been waiting for me to come on down to the diocesan office to celebrate her birthday on December 7 ~ I got there a week late, but hey, we had a very lively time! Newly-retired from Dong-Hua University, Hualien, Mei-Mei is now dedicating all her time to publishing a book and papers on the history of the Taiwan Episcopal Church; she’s a real character and there is never a dull moment! We will miss Bishop and Mrs. Lai when they retire in a few months time, but they kindly presented us with an artillery shell cross each, and Bishop Lai welcomed all the diocesan office staff to choose one of his own calligraphy carvings – with words from the Bible. Thank you Bishop and Mrs. Lai!
Meanwhile, here at Advent Church, our Advent 2019 celebrations kind of started at the end of November with our ‘Happy Ending Christmas Party’ to mark the end of 10 weeks of English Classes this semester. This is a community outreach of Advent Church – beginner’s English on Tuesday evenings and intermediate English on Monday afternoons – and a combined party on November 26. Yippee! I am very blessed to have some wonderful assistants, Xiao-Chien and Marge, without whom the party and the classes wouldn’t have gone anywhere near so smoothly. Some of the group brought their families, everyone was welcome!
The following day was our annual St. John’s University (SJU) Coming-Of-Age Ceremony for all students turning 18 years old this year, of which there were 290+, all wearing their new school ties. Not really an Advent activity as such, but this year it was held much later than usual, so close to Advent in fact that it felt like it was! This ceremony – with a theme of looking back in thanksgiving and moving forward into all the responsibilities of adulthood – has been highly praised by the Ministry of Education and involves each student drinking a small cup of wine, presentation of gifts to parents and teachers, lighting of candles, prayers and speeches. It’s run by the SJU chaplaincy office, assisted by the student fellowship…
For Advent Sunday, December 1, I was in St. James’ Church, Taichung for the sermon in the English service, but went there early in order to celebrate in advance the 60th birthday of my good friend, A-Guan (4th left, back row, in the photo below), whose birthday is December 20, plus our other good friend, Jhr-Mou (second left), older son of Rev. Charles C. T. Chen, who turned 60 on December 22 ~ so we kind of celebrated both birthdays together… 🎉🍰🎈 St. James’ people just love parties!
The official launch of Advent at SJU was on December 3 at 4:45 pm, just as it was getting dark – with a short service and the switching on of the Christmas tree lights by SJU President Ay…
Every Advent, Advent wreaths are distributed to each department and admin office in SJU, and we go on a 3-hour walkabout each week, gathering everyone in each office together, lighting the relevant candle, sharing a reading, praying and singing. This is a selection of photos from Week One, when we prayed by name for each person attached to each office, going through the names of all those working at SJU …
On Thursday December 5, our student fellowship held their Christmas outreach event, and what a great occasion it was! There were games, singing, dancing, drama, testimonies and prizes. The highlight was the drama, long-practiced and really well-performed. I’ve persuaded them to put the drama on YouTube for your benefit, so please check it out…
We had over 70 people there in total, really good numbers and lots of happy students….
On December 6, we invited visitors from this year’s charity, Tszai Education and Nursing Institute, 財團法人天主教會台中教區附設台灣省私立慈愛殘障教養院, to come and share about their work. Every year, SJU and Advent Church work together to raise money for a charity through our Christmas bazaar (held on December 18) and donation-drive. This year we chose a Roman Catholic charity who run a residential centre in Changhua for disabled people ~ they want to upgrade their facilities to provide ceiling fans in each room. Despite the heat, in summer they do not put on the A/C until it reaches 28°C, so these fans will help a lot. Such is the pollution and declining air quality in central and southern Taiwan, that opening the windows becomes a risk to those with sensitive health conditions. Previously upright fans have been used, but they are an obstacle to safe movement in the rooms. Ceiling fans are out of reach, and they also move the air around all over the room rather than just at ground level. The charity’s director, Mr. Chang (in the blue and white checked shirt in the centre) came to share about their work – and we all gathered to listen, and to advertise our fund-raising!
Advent Week Two at SJU started with our weekly walkabout….
Then on December 10, our group of 20 international trainees from Haiti had their closing ceremony – in French and Chinese, in the church centre. This is the second group to participate in this project, of 11 weeks of training in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, under a Taiwan ICDF program. This group used French, our previous group used English. The only problem was that the group were then delayed by a whole week due to the strike in France affecting flights!
As part of that ICDF project, Camille and Jun-Hong came to work at SJU, Camille with the French / English / Chinese translation and administration, and Jun-Hong with the engineering classes and as general assistant. Their contracts finished on December 20, and both are much missed, thank you guys! We all wish them well as they move on elsewhere ~ here we are at our farewell lunch!
Saturday December 14 ~ and a trip to St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi for the very joyful wedding of Isaac Chen Wei-Chieh 陳瑋杰 and his beautiful bride, Ya-Hsin 羅雅馨, see that blog post here….
The next day, December 15, I was at St. John’s Cathedral for the sermon in their English service, followed by a lively pre-Christmas potluck celebration, complete with roast ham and all sorts of delicious goodies! Thank you everyone for a really good party!
And so to Advent Week Three at SJU, which started with our weekly walkabout, lighting candles in each office…
At lunchtime on Wednesday December 18, we held our charity bazaar in aid of the ceiling fans at Tszai ~ the bazaar always takes weeks and months of preparation, but it’s all in a good cause. After several weeks of sunshine, the rain started, but it didn’t dampen spirits! Our student fellowship were busy for days beforehand collecting and sorting lots of second-hand goods to sell, while our church members were busy in the kitchen cooking up delicious food for people to buy for lunch. Some of our former colleagues in the university also came back to visit and help, a great reunion for us all. The idea is that everyone can buy their lunch at the bazaar plus a few extra snacks – all yummy!
An added bonus at this year’s bazaar was to welcome Tunshan Elementary School, whose kindergarten class came along with their parents and teachers – they had their own stall selling food, toys and postcards that they had made. They were full of energy and fun, and really brightened us all up on a gloomy day!
On Thursday December 19, the day started with me visiting a very small and remote (but local) elementary school, Xing-Hua, at the foot of the mountains, where the children made their own Christmas cards by recycling my old ones. If you’ve sent me a Christmas card by post in the last few years, chances are it is now recycled into a new Christmas card, all covered in glitter and stickers by the children. Thank you everyone!
In the evening, our student fellowship went carol-singing around the SJU campus in the rain, including to the student dormitories, to our neighbours and to President Ay’s house, where we were warmly welcomed by him and his wife for refreshments…
At 7:30 am the next morning, we gathered at the SJU Chaplaincy to walk to our neighbouring junior high school, Xian-Xiao, to bring them our Christmas greetings at their school assembly, followed by lighting all the candles of the Advent wreath with the principal, staff and some of the parents. Always great to see them all!
In the evening, Advent Church and SJU student fellowship members went to share the good news of Christmas in the local community. We sang ‘Silent Night’ on the doorstep on each home and then wished everyone a Merry Christmas. We started in the Japanese Ramen restaurant above the Carrefour Supermarket, run by Mr. and Mrs. Wu from Advent Church, which was warm and dry…
And then we went in 4 cars, a motorcycle and a minibus northwards up the coast to Baishawan, where we received a wonderfully warm welcome from the Chang sisters, who took us on a tour around their neighbours singing to them all. Whereas the Ramen Restaurant had been very light, very warm and very dry, now it was completely dark, cold, bleak and absolutely pouring with rain. They live right by the sea, in an remote area where many of the houses are either ruins or look like they’re struggling to stay upright, and where the wind and rain make winter a challenge for everyone. But hey, when the going gets tough, the tough get going! Our carol-singing tour – with some of our older church members in their mid-80’s – was full of joy, and we enjoyed soup and red bean tang-yuan dessert along the way. It was too wet for me to take photos, so I have taken these from facebook. Advent Church is certainly an ‘Advent-urous’ Church!
On Saturday December 21, off I went to Shuang-Lien Elderly Home to wish my very lovely friend, Mrs. Hsu a Merry Christmas. We gathered in the coffee shop with some of the other residents, their Filipino helpers and other staff ~ it was very lively! And then we all clapped 91 times in celebration of Mrs. Hsu’s upcoming 91st birthday 👏👏😊 YES!
Fast forward to Christmas Eve ~ and our final walkabout during the afternoon to light all the candles on each Advent wreath and to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! We also passed by 2 beautiful displays in the Creative Design dept done by members of our student fellowship….
In the evening at 7:30 pm was the Advent Church Christmas Eve service, and we welcomed old friends and new, including a group of students who came to church instead of their regular Wednesday evening class, along with their teacher, Dr. Wang, our SJU Vice-President. And our church choir wore their brand new robes for the very first time ~ their first new robes for 20 years!
Christmas Day is a normal work and school day in Taiwan, so at 7:45 am off I went for my early morning English class at Xian-Xiao Junior-High School….
We had a small Christmas Day service at 10:00 am in Advent Church. It was a beautiful sunny day, what a change from a few days ago when it was so wet and cold! The view from Advent Church of the SJU campus on Christmas Day morning…
The service was attended by SJU faculty, staff, students and church members. The rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, presented a cheque for NT$ 100,000 on behalf of Advent Church to SJU President Ay as a donation to cover the costs of repairs, maintenance, utilities and cleaning that are carried out by SJU for Advent Church throughout the year. Another cheque, for NT$ 50,000, was presented by the SJU Alumni Association to the fund run by the SJU chaplaincy that provides meal coupons for students from disadvantaged families, one of whom received the cheque. Thanks be to God!
The service was followed by a light lunch for our students who receive meal coupons, for my group of students who normally meet on Wednesday lunchtimes for an English Bible Study, plus some church members. We had 5 dishes ~ fried noodles, fried rice, 2 vegetable dishes and fizzy juice with fruit, all very good, and a really good way to spend Christmas Day ~ before we went back to work for the afternoon!
On Christmas Day afternoon came the other really good news of the day ~ we had reached our target in the SJU and Advent Church charity fundraising drive 2019 for the Tszai Education and Nursing Institute in Changhua! Thanks be to God! At lunchtime we were still over NT$ 60,000 short, and we had asked people to pray and to give – and then to pray and to give some more! We are deeply grateful to our good friend, Dr. Christopher Chih-Yung Chen, son of Rev, Charles C. T. Chen and professor here at SJU, who came to our rescue by asking all his colleagues to donate, and he came to our chaplaincy office just before 5:00 pm with the money he had collected that day: NT$ 87,000 in cash, which brought our grand total to well over the target. Our deadline was Christmas Day – and so the target was reached just in time! God is good, and we are very grateful! This is us celebrating in the SJU Chaplaincy office with Christopher: 感謝上帝 Thanks be to God!
On Friday December 27, our SJU Chaplain, Rev. Wu Hsing-Hsiang took a group of us to visit the Tszai Education and Nursing Institute, 財團法人天主教會台中教區附設台灣省私立慈愛殘障教養院 (link here to their website / facebook – their facebook page has lots of good photos of their activities) in order to present our donation and to have a short tour. The drive to Changhua in central Taiwan took 3 hours, and we were warmly welcomed by Mr. Chang, the director and his staff – for coffee, lunch and a tour of the premises. The main building on the compound was built 20+ years ago and houses 124 residents with varying degrees of disability (another 20+ come on a daily basis and return home at night). All residents are recommended for admittance by social services, and families pay a certain amount each month, but for low income families, the government helps out and nobody is turned away. Some come from loving homes, others have little contact with their families. They all find a warm welcome at Tszai!
On the same compound, next to the main building is the original building, which was built many years ago by the Maryknoll Sisters to take care of leprosy patients. As the number of leprosy patients deceased, people were other disabilities were admitted. But space was limited, so the new building was added 20 years ago, and now both are in use. This is the original building in the foreground, the one at the back with the cross is the very famous Changhua Christian Hospital.
The vision of Mr. Chang, the director and his team to install ceiling fans in each of the 60 twin-bedded dormitory rooms, has first been tested by installing fans in 2 of the bedrooms, including this one below. They proved such a success that they decided to fund-raise to fit out the remaining rooms. Each fan costs NT$ 4,800 x 60 = NT$ 288,000….
We thank God that we were able to hand over our donation of NT$ 344,250! It was a great day indeed, and we are grateful for God’s grace and the generosity of all those at SJU and Advent Church😊😊
Sunday December 29 was the nearest Sunday to St. John’s Day (Dec. 27) and tradition has it that the SJU Student Fellowship take leading roles in the Sunday service on that day – leading the singing, readings, offerings, as much as possible. Lots of former student fellowship members also came back to join the celebrations, and in the afternoon they had a great Christmas party ~ here they all are after the service. It was really great to see them – but hey I had no time to stop, we were off the airport to pick up our VIP visitors!
And so to the final big event of 2019, and the long-awaited visit of a group of 22 very lovely family members of the late Bishop James C. L. Wong (1900-1970), the first Chinese Bishop of Taiwan (1965-70). It was an action-packed 30-hour visit, the highlight being a very moving Thanksgiving Service on Monday December 30 in Advent Church, during which Rev. Charles C. T. Chen gave the sermon, sharing many inspirational stories about Bishop Wong. Another highlight was for the group to meet up with Bishop Lai, senior clergy and church members who had personally known Bishop Wong. And in-between were gift presentations, photos and delicious meals galore. Here’s the extended Wong family ~ and you’d never know from their smiles and enthusiasm that it hardly stopped raining the whole time they were here!
Bishop James Wong achieved more in his 5 short years in Taiwan than most of us do in a whole lifetime, including founding this institution, St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT – now St. John’s University), setting up the diocesan office in Taipei and establishing a companion diocese with the Diocese of Upper South Carolina in the USA, thereby raising a huge amount of money which was used to build many of our churches. As Rev. Charles C. T. Chen said in his sermon at the Thanksgiving Service, Bishop Wong inspired a whole generation of clergy through his motto of ‘Transforming Lives through the Life of Christ’, encouraging them to raise funds to build their own churches and to reach out and help the less fortunate ~ the result of which can be seen today, for example in Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and St. James’ Church, Taichung raising money to build 12 churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines from 1998-2012 (for more details of that project see my blog post here) ~ and in Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, rector of Advent Church here at SJU, raising the funds to build our Advent Church Centre, for ministry on the campus and in the local community.
Bishop Wong is buried here, under the altar at Advent Church ~ in fact the church was built around his grave. He had 4 children, and the group of 22 who came to visit included all the direct descendants of Bishop Wong’s oldest son, Francis, who died last year in his 80’s. In fact, Francis was born on December 30, 1929, so it would have been his 90th birthday on the day of our Thanksgiving Service. It’s meaningful to think that on that very day 90 years ago Bishop Wong and his wife became parents for the first time! Francis Wong’s 5 children (standing in the photo below with Bishop Lai, Rev. Charles Chen, Rev. Lennon Chang, Rev. Wu and President Ay) and their families had gathered from Australia, New Zealand, UK and Brazil in Hong Kong for Christmas, and extended their time to come to Taiwan, most visiting Taiwan for the very first time.
The group arrived at Taoyuan Airport on Sunday December 29 early afternoon. We brought them to SJU, where they spent the night, and Advent Church hosted a welcome dinner that evening. Then the Tan family and church members arrived at 6:00 am on Monday to cook them a really fantastic breakfast, all laid out with table-cloths, flowers and even background music….
On Monday December 30, we held the Thanksgiving Service at 10:00 am, all in English, in Advent Church, to remember Bishop Wong ~ and we invited alumni from the first SJSMIT intake from 53 years ago, clergy and church members, as well as SJU President Ay, faculty and staff…
Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, rector, led the service, Rev. Charles C. T. Chen preached and Bishop Lai gave the blessing; the family also gave a speech and presented beautiful books of old photos of Bishop Wong and their family. There were also gift presentations from President Ay on behalf of SJU and from Professor Mei-Mei Lin, who spent most of the past month putting together a special booklet in honour of their visit, all about Bishop Wong’s legacy and significance for the Taiwan Episcopal Church.
In the afternoon, we took the Wong family group to Taipei where we held a sharing time at St. John’s Cathedral, giving the family a chance to listen to our beloved Canon Chancellor Herbert H. P. Ma and Rev. Michael T. H. Liu share their memories of Bishop Wong, and the family also presented them with photo books. Mr. Yang, our diocesan secretary and a group of church members who had been confirmed by Bishop Wong had brought their confirmation certificates to show! Bishop Lai presented each family with an artillery shell cross, and later that evening, Bishop Lai hosted a dinner on behalf of the diocese.
It was really wonderful to welcome Bishop Wong’s family to Taiwan for this short but very significant visit (for the Christian Tribune report of their visit in Chinese, please see the link here). And if their fun way of posing for photos takes off in Taiwan (as in the photo below) it’ll become another part of Bishop Wong’s great legacy – established by the 3rd and 4th generations of his family! 😂🙃😂
Thanks be to God for a very lively and meaningful Advent and Christmas 2019, and thank you all for your Christmas cards, letters, messages and gifts! There was certainly a lot going on, and above is but a small selection of events. We give thanks for God’s mercy, for His light shining in the darkness, for the gift of eternal life. As 2019 draws to a close, may we continue to be thankful for God’s grace throughout this past year, and, under God’s leading, prepare to face the exciting challenges of 2020! Happy New Year to you all!
PS Updated on January 1, 2020: Today Bishop Lai invited all clergy and their families plus diocesan workers who are based in northern Taiwan to St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei for a Christmas and New Year Thanksgiving Service, followed by lunch. Here we all are in the cathedral after the service shouting out altogether ‘新年快樂’ ‘Happy New Year’ to you all!
The end of 2018, and I’m here in the UK’s Lake District for Christmas and New Year, and looking at mountains and lakes and spectacular scenery. People pay thousands of £ € ¥ $ to come here on holiday, and, well, here I am, enjoying it all, courtesy of my family who live here. So far, the weather has been mostly grey, often foggy, sometimes frosty, but mainly mild. On Christmas Eve, we had a day of brilliant blue skies and sun, all day. The above photo is Ullswater on Christmas Eve. Pretty nice, eh?
In case you’re wondering, yes that big stained glass window is all in Pre-Raphaelite style, designed in 1873 by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris who used to come up to Troutbeck for fishing. The window even has 4 trout depicted in 4 small separate windows. I know, cos I counted them this very morning. Love it or hate it, it’s kind of famous.
I’ve been in the Lakes since I came back from a weekend in Anglesey (that’s it, above, with the mountains of the mainland in the background). What a beautiful island! I kind of like islands, and Anglesey is one special one. Google told me that 2 of the most famous places to visit on Anglesey are Menai Bridge and Beaumaris, so knowing the weather forecast for that weekend was going to be terrible, I went there on the Friday afternoon. Then off to visit a friend, and we spent a wet weekend putting up Christmas decorations and worshiping at her church at Llanfaelog. Wales can be wet, but wonderful!
And then there was my visit to the Wirral, en route to Anglesey. One of the highlights was a short visit to Port Sunlight, home of Sunlight Soap factory and a model village set up by the Lever brothers to house their workers in the 1880’s, and it’s really lovely. There’s even an art gallery and museum with an amazing collection of stuff. Definitely needs lots of time to see it all. Fascinating place.
My friends in the Wirral, Nigel and Linda, kindly took me for a delish Christmas lunch at the local college, cooked by students in the catering section. Here we are. Note the new Christmas jumper and my chubby cheeks – too many Christmas dinners ha ha ~ diet will commence on January 1!
And before the Wirral, though it was some weeks ago now, I also visited Chester – it’s the same area, in fact the Wirral is in the Diocese of Chester. That was actually over Remembrance Sunday, and we went to the Chester City Remembrance events outside the cathedral…
And then across the Peak District, to Buxton, where the Methodist Church has solar paneling in the shape of a cross. Imaginative or what?! And a whole lot of other beautiful buildings. Loved it all!
And I called in at Eyam, the plague village in the Peak District, really fascinating!
And so to Sheffield. This was the first time I think I had ever visited the Cathedral…
Loved that stained glass artwork in the ceiling!
Plenty of street art in Sheffield around the university area and the newly-renovated section of Parkhill Flats, home of Yasmin Khan from the new Doctor Who series – plus there’s even a green tardis, in the form of a police box in the centre of Sheffield. Impressed, I was. Sheffield could rapidly become one of my new favourite cities.
And somewhere on my travels, there was a Catherine Street. Always love a good name for a street! This one was in Chester.
This photo, below, is one of my favourite photos of 2018, taken here at Lake Windermere. It’s a black-headed gull in winter plumage with the moon reflected in the water. When people ask me what I miss about England when I’m in Taiwan, this is my answer. Seagulls. They are so much part of UK life everywhere I seem to go, and although Taiwan has a lot of sea, it doesn’t have many seagulls. In Taiwan we have egrets, but they’re just not the same. Seagulls can be a great nuisance, especially herring gulls. But when you don’t have any seagulls, it’s oh so quiet without them. They have a huge amount of character, make a whole lot of noise and bring a bit of excitement to the place. Appreciate them, dear people of Britain!
So there you go for another year. Grateful to you all for all your support over 2018. Thanks be to God for another year of many blessings. And wishing you all a Happy New Year for 2019!
SJU is definitely a happening kind of place during Advent and Christmas! Taiwan doesn’t have any holidays for Christmas, so apart from weekends, the students are here in classes all over Christmas, the office staff are working all over Christmas, the professors are teaching all over Christmas (and this year our engineering faculty / college had an OFSTED-style inspection starting on December 25!) so we just get on and make the most of it!
During Advent, every department and main office in St. John’s University has an Advent wreath on display, and every week the St. John’s University Chaplaincy Team and student fellowship walk around the university campus visiting all those offices in turn, starting with President Ay’s office.
We invite one of the staff of each office to light the Advent candle(s) and read a Bible verse, we sing a carol or say a prayer, share greetings, and move on to the next office. It takes 3-4 hours to complete the circuit. One day we also included our new class of Vietnamese students, who gathered in a large group and joined in…
As there’s about 30 offices on the campus and we visit each office 4 times over the course of Advent, hey that’s quite a few candles being lit and prayers being offered!
Our students and church members have been busy for weeks preparing a Christmas drama, this year it actually included the Bible story of Christmas. We had 2 teams rehearsing, one of students and one of church members – with some overlap; during Advent, we took the performance around the community to different places. The students performed the drama during their evangelistic outreach event early in December, and on Saturday December 16, the church members performed the drama for our children’s Christmas party ~ it was fast-moving and thrilling to watch!
At Advent Church, we have said thank you and goodbye to Rev. Michael T. H. Liu, who after about 5 years of monthly preaching at Advent Church is finally retiring, at nearly 80 years old. This was his last Sunday with us on December 10 – so we all gathered for a group photo. Thank you Michael!
My monthly visits to Laomei Elementary School (an extension of Advent Church ministry) also continued through December, with our theme of Christmas trees. Ah, the kids are so much fun – these are the younger ones!
Our combined SJU and Advent Church Christmas Charity Bazaar is held every year on the Wednesday before Christmas. This year it was December 20, and everyone was busy for weeks beforehand getting ready. This year’s charity is Taiwan Xi En 希恩之家 in Kaohsiung, which was founded originally to provide a way of helping mothers who might otherwise decide to have an abortion, and the charity’s home helps take care of babies and small children up to the age of 2 years old. Our aim was to raise NT$ 250,000 and it looks like we might exceed that, thanks be to God! Most of the money is actually raised from direct donations, but the bazaar gives the students a chance to do their bit to help, giving of their time and buying their lunch that day at the bazaar. The day of the actual bazaar was dry weather – for the first time for many years! Not only that, but the weather continued dry and even sunny throughout the whole Christmas weekend. Possibly a first – YES!
The following day, Thursday December 21 was the Christmas carol-singing and final Advent walkabout, lighting all the 5 candles, and also visiting the student dormitories and our local neighbours. We had also visited Xian-Xiao (our neighbouring junior-high school branch) a few days earlier for carol singing and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
Then on Friday evening, our church members joined with the student fellowship and we extended our carol singing to cover the whole area from Tamsui up to Sanzhi. I joined the group that was singing outside the new ramen noodle shop run by our church members in northern Tamsui….
And then all the different carol-singing groups met up to visit SJU President Ay’s home here in his university accommodation. We had such a warm welcome!
On Christmas Eve, we held our evening service at 7:30 pm, starting in candlelight, and wonderfully supported by our choir, who as always, sang beautifully.
We had 2 baptisms that evening, Mr. Huang, brother of one of our former students who was baptized himself here a few years ago, and the other was our good friend, Jasmine Yu, in charge of Xian-Xiao School….
Jasmine invited 12 members of her family to come and witness this momentous event. These were virtually all people I know from the mountain-climbing trips we have done together over the years. Apart from one of her cousins who is a Christian, Jasmine is the first Christian in her family, and yet they all came along to support her. What a great testimony, and praise God! Please pray for them all!
Christmas Day, being a Monday, was a normal work and school day here in Taiwan. We had a short service on Christmas Day, and then we had another one today, December 27, for St. John’s Day – patron saint of SJU…
And last night, December 26, we had a wonderful Christmas Party for my combined community English class groups. Normally I have 2 adult English groups, one meeting on Monday afternoons, and the other (a new class this term) on Tuesday evenings. Actually the Monday afternoon group are mainly church members, and they took on the responsibility of running the party for the Tuesday evening group, who are mostly not. Everyone brought food, wore red and we all had a great time. Ah, I love red!
And just check out the fruit animals, made by Ms. Cho, one of the students!
We danced, ate, played Bingo, musical chairs and musical animal statues and it was all so funny, I could hardly take photos for laughing so much. Spot the penguins. And the lions. And plenty of other animals. Just my kinda party!
SJU has a brand new set of LED lights along our main campus boulevard, strings of blue and white lights hanging from all the banyan trees, and looking very splendid. The students are so impressed they are all taking and posting photos of themselves in the lights. This was last night, the grand opening was tonight!
Non-stop all month, and more to come lol. For now though, this is it. Christmas is well and truly upon us!
Belated Christmas greetings to you all!
Updated on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2017:
This morning in Advent Church we celebrated the First Sunday of Christmas. As it comes only days after St. John’s Day on December 27, so our SJU student fellowship were responsible for leading the worship, doing the readings, the notices, collection etc. They all did a great job!
We also welcomed Bishop David J. H. Lai for a confirmation service…..
Seven people were confirmed ~ ranging in age from 17 to 90!
Congratulations to everyone ~ and what a great way to end 2017!
Wishing you all a Happy New Year 2018 ~ and I’m off to write my new year resolutions!
St. John’s University and Advent Church is THE place to be for Christmas, and especially when Christmas falls on a weekend ~ last week we had a whole week of Christmas activities in the university and local community, and now we’ve just had a whole weekend of activities in the church. It’s all non-stop action ~ and it’s back to work and classes tomorrow as usual!
We really kind of moved from Advent into Christmas starting on Thursday December 22 in the afternoon when we did our final walkabout around St. John’s University, lighting all the candles on the Advent Wreaths in each office, singing a verse of Silent Night, distributing Christmas cake and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Here we are at the office of our SJU President Peter Herchang Ay – wishing him a Merry Christmas!
Then on Thursday evening, a huge number of our student fellowship group and lots of their friends dressed up in suitable Christmas attire and off we went around the university campus wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, and singing and praying for the students in each dormitory. We chose Thursday night as many of our students go home for the weekends, so Thursday was the night! Despite gloriously hot and sunny weather all the rest of the week, Thursday was the day it rained ~ but we still had a great time!
Our first port of call was to Ms. Lu, our church member, former church cleaner and next-door neighbour to the campus ~ she invited us in and we had a great welcome! Then off to visit the 5 dormitories ~ and by 8:30 pm we were back at Advent Church to collect up our church members who were just finishing their drum class, and off we went to the university home of SJU President Ay, who welcomed us so warmly ~ we lit the candles on the Advent Wreath, sang some carols and enjoyed delicious tang-yuan, customary fare at the midwinter solstice. The tang-yuan was made by one of the lovely ladies who works in the university, and turns out to be one of my neighbours here, hence the photo of the 2 of us below!
Oh yes, and a special photo of President Ay with all the Malaysians in our student fellowship, eating tang-yuan together….
And a group photo of us all at President Ay’s home….
Back home at 10:00 pm and up early on Friday to get to Advent Church by 7:30 am where we gathered for our Christmas visit to our neighboring junior-high school branch, where the school principal, head of the parents association, the school branch supervisor and our good friend, Jasmine, and all the children and staff were waiting for us. We started in the ninth grade class, the oldest children, who that day were taking important exams ~ so we sang and wished them Merry Christmas and distributed sweets…. then off to the school coffee bar for lighting the Advent Wreath candles and singing Silent Night. Then at 9:00 am, our student team put on a performance of our Christmas Show, 超級好朋友 Supermaster and his Superfriends, for all the children in 7th and 8th grades….
Ah, such a friendly school, such caring teachers and staff, and great kids ~ such a fun morning!
For 4 days this past week, Mrs. Grace Chien, our good friend living nearby in Shuanglien Elderly Center, has had her lovely daughter and 2 grandchildren visiting from Canada, and they’ve been staying in my house ~ so on Friday lunchtime, our church members and old friends of the Chien family (also former president of our school, in the days when it was known as St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology), Andrew Chang and his wife Charlotte, along with our rector, Rev. Lennon Chang and his wife Hannah, kindly hosted us all to a very yummy lunch just up the road in Sanzhi…
And what is amazing is it turned out that the parents of the lady who owns the restaurant are my next-door neighbours…. ah, it’s a small world!
On Friday evening, I hosted an Advent Church gathering and also invited our community English class to my house for a short Advent service to light the Advent Wreath, sing and pray together, followed by a few refreshments. I was very honored that Tan Mama and Tan Baba both came, with their son and daughter-in-law, who had kindly made the world’s most delicious Tiramisu for us, it was fantastic! Sadly no photo of it cos it was all gone in record time!
And so to Saturday, Christmas Eve, yesterday ~ and at 2:00 pm we had our Advent Church Christmas Party for local children….
We had some games and songs, and then a performance of our Christmas Show, 超級好朋友 Supermaster and his Superfriends…. this acting team was mostly our church members, including our chaplain, Rev. Wu and his wife ~ for many it was their first and only performance, so of course it was brill!
In case you’re wondering, I got a new shirt from the Tan family, and wore it on Christmas Eve, all green and red stripes, see above!
Our Christmas Eve service was held last night at 7:30 pm, starting out with only candles ~ beautiful! The service included 3 baptisms ~ a former student, now living in Singapore but who came home especially for her baptism, a graduate student who is in our fellowship group and is extremely popular (as you’ll see from the photos below!) – so lots of former students also came back for the service, and a gorgeous baby – the baby is the 6-week old grandson of our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang. This time, I took the photos of the baptisms from outside the church. Tan Mama and Tan Baba were there too, dressed appropriately in red and green….