Tag Archives: Covid-19 in Taiwan

2022 Taiwan Diocesan Convention & Workshop: Next Year Hualien 明年花蓮!

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. 

Workshop

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?!  

Workshop

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. 

Workshop

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.    

Workshop Group Photo

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. 

Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang presents Rev. Ian Liao with a thank you gift

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.   

Workshop

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!

Opening Service: View from Advent Church

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!

Opening Service: View from Advent Church

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! 

Bishop Chang, Vivian Kuo & Rev. David Chee (TSCM dean)

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.  

Convention: Advent Church

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.

Convention

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! 

Convention

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!

Convention: Diocesan Office

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….

Clergy Group Photo, Holy Week 2022

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!

Easter Joy! ❤️🐣🌼

Easter Greetings to you all, if a little late! Christ is risen, alleluia!

Out today, lily down at the beach below St. John’s University!

Lent has felt extra-long this year, particularly because of the tragic war in Ukraine – now on its 54th day, but also the pandemic – with lockdowns in China and Hong Kong. Purple is always the colour associated with Lent, symbolizing repentance, royalty, shedding of blood. This is our local purple wisteria, always in flower at the beginning of April…

Here at Advent Church, we celebrated Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey as people lined the streets waving palm branches, shouting Hosanna, welcoming him as king. It was last Sunday, April 10 ….

We had a procession waving palm branches going from Advent Church around St. John’s University (SJU) main entrance…

During Holy Week, SJU students had their mid-term exams, so we rearranged some of our usual Holy Week activities. On Maundy Thursday we remembered Jesus celebrating Passover and sharing the Last Supper with his disciples, also washing their feet ~ so we had foot-washing, Holy Communion and then the stripping of the altar, ready for Good Friday ….

On Good Friday, we remembered Jesus’ crucifixion with midday prayers around the cross …

On Easter Eve, I was at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei for the Easter Vigil, when we lit the Easter fire and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a traditional and very meaningful time for baptisms, with the symbolism of new life, new creation. I was invited by my good friend, Sheerah to witness the baptism of baby Eva and her husband, Yu-Wei’s confirmation. Big brother Ethan kept us all entertained! There was one other child baptized and nine confirmed. Congratulations to them all ~ and thanks be to God!

Baptisms and Confirmations at St. John’s Cathedral, Easter Vigil

On Easter Day at the cathedral, after the English service, we had a rare treat of hot cross buns, kindly baked by one of the congregation, so delicious!

Meanwhile, here at Advent Church, our 3 Easter baptisms were held during the service on Easter Day. One was Mei-Chin, who came to study here from Malaysia some 8 years ago, among the first group of Malaysian students at SJU. She also took part in one of our short-term mission trips to Myanmar some years ago. Finally, she has made the great decision to be baptized, ah we are all so pleased! New life in Christ ~ thanks be to God!

Our Easter celebrations take place in the midst of a big rise in Covid cases in Taiwan. Today, Monday April 18, we have 1,390 new domestic COVID-19 cases, a new record high. Every day for the last 4 days we have seen a new ‘record high’ ~ but so far, the growth has not been exponential, it’s going up by about 100-200 a day. Today’s figures: New Taipei City (that’s us!): 500, Taipei City: 270, Taoyuan: 187, Keelung: 115, Yilan County: 68. That’s all the north of Taiwan. Taiwan also reported 90 new imported cases today, 63 of them travelers who tested positive on arrival in Taiwan. The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths remains at 854.

From New Bloom: “Taiwan is experiencing its second major COVID-19 outbreak. The first outbreak began last year in May, after more than a year in which Taiwan was largely COVID-free. However, Taiwan is currently transitioning away from the COVID-zero approach it maintained for most of the pandemic to date. This is partly to reconnect with the international world, for the sake of the economy, but also is carried out noting how efforts to maintain COVID-zero approaches indefinitely in China and Hong Kong have led to explosive spikes in COVID-19 cases recently.”

“It was never an issue of maintaining COVID-zero forever, but what proves concerning for Taiwan is that first dose vaccination peaked just past 80%, with elderly individuals remaining hesitant to get vaccinated. In March, only 75.5% of individuals above 75 had one dose of vaccination, 69.9% had two doses, and 50.1% had received booster shots….. The Tsai administration has spoken of a “new Taiwan model” to transition back to normalcy. The CECC has also sought to emphasize that its goals are no longer “COVID-zero” but “zero COVID” for serious cases, with priority on avoiding overburdening Taiwan’s hospital system. As such, home quarantine rules have loosened to allow for home quarantine for light and mild cases under 65.”

Most of our church events for Holy Week and Easter went on as planned, though with fewer people due to this sudden surge, but future events are less certain. The good news is that despite 25% of over-75’s being unvaccinated (and many confined to their homes for that very reason), very few people in the active population aged between 12-75 are unvaccinated. With cases increasing relatively slowly, the government is encouraging everyone to continue on as normal, with facemasks and distancing. Many people are quite relaxed about the situation – but schools are not. They are very worried about rising infections leading to more cancelled classes and postponed activities, and are making plans for all eventualities. Here at SJU, this should have been our 55th anniversary celebration week of events, but most have been cancelled or postponed ~ better safe than sorry. Fortunately, many events are just moving online rather than being cancelled altogether. The good news is that tomorrow we can go to visit our local junior high school to distribute Easter eggs (actually hard-boiled salted duck eggs) to the children and teachers, sharing the joy of Easter with our neighbours. We’re making the most of every opportunity to share our Easter joy!

Thank you for all your Easter greetings, cards and messages. Please continue to keep us in your prayers, as we pray for you too.

St. John’s Cathedral Easter flowers

Easter Joy! ❤️🐣 🌼 Thanks be to God!

‘Easter Advent Calendar?!’ Update from Taiwan: Surviving Lent, Looking to Easter!

Screenshot

Yes, ‘Easter Advent Calendars’ are all the rage – and there’s lots available, as you can see above. This is your chance to forget the dreariness of Lent and its grim associations with fasting and penance; instead we can have a fun 24 days leading up to Easter. But get yours quick, as the 24 days have already started!

Lent feels extra long this year, and we have Tomb-Sweeping Festival coming up this weekend, plus tons of rain and miserable weather, so we need some good news to look forward to ~ and so what better than to focus our sights on Easter. Even the cherry blossom, which looked beautiful for a brief few days, has now given up waiting for the sun to return. Petals cover the ground ~ the season is nearly over for another year….

These were the moody skies along Taiwan’s northern coast at Fuji Lighthouse, LaoMei and along to Yehliu Geopark just after the rain stopped a few weeks ago. See the people queueing to take their photos with ‘The Queen’s Head’ rock?!

It’s not all bad news weather-wise, and we had a few weeks of sunshine earlier this month, and a few hiking trips up to Yangmingshan – see the sea of clouds in the distance….

And views from Guanyinshan …

While for those more interested in staying in the city, in Taipei’s Da-an Forest Park, there’s a series of water fountains that are powered by pedal power…

We’ve had nice views of Advent Church from the offices on the 5th floor too…

But then last week the rain started again, and it’s been raining more or less since then. Good job we’re all mostly indoors with the new semester well and truly underway – and my English class too….

And diocesan office February and March birthday celebrations ….

Yes, facemasks can come off for photos! Taiwan continues to do well in the pandemic, though there are still cluster outbreaks in different places, with yesterday’s headline being ‘Domestic COVID-19 cases spike in Taiwan as clusters grow’. Yesterday, there were 83 new domestic cases in 6 clusters, the highest number since last June, today there’s another 34 added to the total. One cluster of 39 is in Keelung, linked to a karaoke bar, spread to the police force and resulting in even the city’s mayor now being quarantined after he had contact with an infected police officer. Another cluster of 63 is among Thai migrant workers working on a power plant in Taoyuan. There were also 120 imported cases yesterday, 93 today. Even though a negative PCR test is required to travel to Taiwan, testing is also done on arrival at Taoyuan Int’l Airport, and a surprising number always found to be positive – 55 today. Total COVID death toll is 853.

Border controls are still strict, and the country is still closed to tourists and those without visas ~ although hotel quarantine for all arrivals is now reduced from 14 days to 10, followed by 7 days’ home quarantine. The government is saying that there’ll be some sort of quarantine requirement for the rest of this year at least. The general public continues to widely support these measures, even though individuals who need to travel overseas of course find them very inconvenient. But given the choice between these strict pandemic restrictions for arrivals, or opening up like other countries have done, and risk huge numbers of cases – so far, I have not yet heard anyone say that they think we should change track. Most of us have just had our booster shots in the last 2 months, and daily life continues more or less as normal. Wearing face masks gives us the freedom to do so much without worry, and they come in all styles and colours. Check out our ‘Stand with Ukraine’ facemasks from the Taiwan Presbyterian Church….

I just spent the weekend at St. James’ Church, Taichung. The main topic of conversation there was last Tuesday night’s series of earthquakes (the biggest 6.6 but very deep) centered on Taiwan’s east coast, which shook everyone wide awake at 1:40 am and then continued through the night. Me too. No more sleep from then on, and like most people, I was distinctly bleary-eyed for the rest of the day. People living up in high-rise buildings had by far the worst of it, but here in Taipei, it seems more people were amused to be woken by the very noisy beeping of the earthquake text alert, rather than by the actual earthquake. Anyway, things have quietened down since then. Until next time.

I was there at St. James to do the sermon at the English service. Mostly, I like to speak on the Bible readings and link in with the News if it’s relevant, but both have been hard in recent weeks. On February 20, the Gospel reading was Jesus telling us to love our enemies. Ironically, only 4 days later, on February 24, came the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lent started on March 2, with a sermon the following Sunday on Jesus’ temptations – check out the one of power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world, so relevant to the Ukraine war. Then we had Jesus and the barren fig tree last week, with all those questions about suffering.

Elephant Apples growing at St. John’s University

There is so just much suffering in the News. In Ukraine, we see the awful suffering caused by the Russian invasion, the terrible bombing of hospitals and residential buildings, the thousands of refugees trying to escape the war. In Mainland China, we see the authorities trying to halt the recent Covid surge with lockdowns of whole mega-cities for weeks at a time, while in Hong Kong, there’s been overflowing hospitals and empty supermarkets, with the world’s highest death rates. And in Australia, we just saw the worst floods ever recorded in New South Wales, thought to be directly related to climate change. Plus ongoing crises in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, S. Sudan, Haiti and more. Plus plus plus, there’s so much more each of us could add. And all this is bad enough, but then we see governments paralyzed by political wrangling, inaction, and incompetence. It’s easy to feel frozen in horror at it all.

The war in Ukraine has had a profound effect on Taiwan, completely unlike any other war I’ve seen in recent times. The phrase, ‘Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow?’ is much quoted in the media as a warning that Taiwan could be next. And interestingly, in response, Taiwan seems to be undergoing something of a transformation, as we watch with amazement the way the Ukrainian people have stood firm and defended their land. The Taiwan government has come out strongly in support of Ukraine, and in the last few weeks, we’ve had hugely successful donation drives, marches, rallies and prayer services. Everybody is talking about Ukraine, even small children at school. Taiwan has also watched with amazement the way the world has come together to impose sanctions on Russia. While many young people in Taiwan say they would defend Taiwan if attacked, older people, on the whole, have always been of the opinion that we don’t stand a chance and should just surrender. But now, watching the courage of the Ukrainians and seeing the world unite against the aggressor, has given Taiwan a boost that maybe that same courage and support might be forthcoming if we are next. The government is busy capitalizing on this momentum of change, and among other things, military training is already being upgraded and increased in both quantity and quality.

Taizé Service for Ukraine

And so to yesterday’s sermon, on the theme of reconciliation (lit. ‘bringing back together’) from the Gospel reading of the Prodigal Son. Last Saturday, I helped a Filipino migrant worker traveling on a bus with a lot of luggage, who was transferring from one factory job to another. She’s been in Taiwan for 3 years, and in all that time, has not seen her children. Her 2 daughters, aged 10 and 6, live in the Philippines with their grandmother. Can you imagine being separated from your children for that long? It was Mothering Sunday yesterday, and while not celebrated in Taiwan on that day, still it’s pretty heartbreaking to imagine what it must be like to be a family in that situation. But the good news is that in her new job, she’ll be able to live together with her husband, who is also in Taiwan. They work in different companies, but now they’ll be in the same area, so for the first time in many years, they can live together.

The next day, I was in Taipei visiting friends who live on the 17th floor of an apartment complex with a view over Taipei. One of those very tall and narrow buildings, that looks like the wind will blow it over, was built 5 years ago – but so far nobody lives there, all due to a family dispute between 2 brothers. Sigh.

And later that evening, last Sunday, I attended a Taizé service run by the National Council of Churches of Taiwan, to pray for Ukraine. It was held in the Jinan Presbyterian Church in central Taipei, and also attended by Taiwan’s former vice-president, Chen Chien-Jen 陳建仁, a Roman Catholic, plus other government representatives and church leaders. That day was the 25th day since the war started, and the service started with the bell tolling 25 times, once each for those 25 days.

Taizé Service for Ukraine

A Ukrainian girl read Psalm 140 out loud in the Ukrainian language. It is subtitled as a ‘Prayer for Deliverance from Evil Men’ and she read it with the expression, passion and anger that it deserves. Taipei’s Greek Orthodox priest was there in all his robes, and he led a prayer for peace. An R.C. priest read the pope’s prayer for peace in Ukraine, and one of our clergy prayed the prayer for Ukraine written by the Archbishop of Canterbury. We all lit candles and prayed for peace and justice, and an end to this terrible war.

Reconciliation. So difficult but so necessary.

There’s an interesting article below published in ‘Christianity Today’ about Taiwan churches and everyone’s willingness to pray for Ukraine, but otherwise differing responses to speaking out and getting involved in politics generally. Sums up the situation pretty much: ‘Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow’? Island’s Christians Warily Watch and Pray

This coming weekend, we’ll have a 4-day weekend for Qing-Ming aka Tomb-Sweeping Festival, when families come together to visit their family graves, cleaning them up and making offerings. In connection with that, I was at our local elementary school on Friday for a day of learning about ‘My Family Tree’. Never an easy subject for families divided and broken. Actually, it is easier to learn about the Family Tree in English than in Chinese. In English, we happily classify everyone as an aunt, uncle or cousin irrespective of which side of the family they’re on, and regardless of whether they’re older or younger than us, but not so in Chinese. Every category of relative has its own distinct title. Anyway, I wore my ‘Lee’ outfit and showed a few photos of my Lee grandparents, and the kids brought photos too (photos below courtesy of the school). Ah, it was fun!

My next sermon is not until Easter Sunday, oh so wonderful! This Lent has gone on a long long time, so I’m counting down the days. But somehow the thought of an ‘Easter Advent Calendar’ doesn’t do Lent justice. Much as most of us don’t like all that penance and fasting stuff, still a bit of self-reflection and prayer during Lent does put it all in perspective, and fits the national mood as well as the world as a whole. We can’t just ignore all the suffering and pretend otherwise. Fluffy chicks and bunnies and chocolate eggs have their place. But not yet. We still have Holy Week to come. Keep going, we’ll get there before too long!

Mini Toffee Apples & Tomatoes on sale at Jinshan

I’m grateful to our bishop who emphasized on Ash Wednesday that Lent lasts 40 days, but does not include Sundays, which are days, he said, for ‘celebrating Jesus’ resurrection’. Celebrating. Jesus. Resurrection. YES! Keep going, yep, we’ll get there before too long!

PS: The Taizé service to pray for Ukraine is on YouTube…

Lighting a candle, praying for Ukraine

The Soul Still Trembles …. CMS Link Letter #84

Accumulation – Searching for the Destination

Published today by the Church Mission Society, my latest link letter, click on the link below…

The title, The Soul (Still) Trembles is taken from the exhibition by Shiota Chiharu running at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum until Sunday October 17. Accumulation – Searching for the Destination is the title of one of the exhibits, as mentioned in my link letter…

Accumulation – Searching for the Destination

But the link letter already needs updating! Since I wrote it 2 weeks ago, things have improved further in Taiwan’s pandemic situation, most notably new rules that say facemasks are no longer required outside in ’empty open spaces’, like beaches and mountains. Yippee! Two more countries, Israel and Indonesia have just come off Taiwan’s list of high-risk countries facing enhanced quarantine rules, which now leaves only 3, India, Myanmar and the UK. More good news is that the number of people who have received their first Covid-19 vaccine has now reached the milestone of 60%. The rollout of second vaccines has just started too, though it’s not easy to get a booking locally – I had to go into Taipei on Tuesday for mine, coinciding with Typhoon Kompasu passing by. It was very very wet. #SoakedButVaccinated is the new hashtag. #VaccinesNotWarships could be another, as related to my link letter. Grateful anyway. Peering at the hospital through the rain ……

It’s the time of the year when the Asia-Pacific region has its annual military exercises, plus Mainland China and Taiwan each celebrate their own national days this month with displays of military might and patriotism, so there’s a lot of tension, as you will have seen in the international news. Thanks to all who have sent messages of concern. Taiwan has also been in the international news today after a deadly fire last night in a high-rise residential building in Kaohsiung, at least 46 people known to have died. Such a tragedy. One of our students lives in the same street as that fire, and watched it all happen. Really terrible.

It’s also the time of the year when we have our annual earthquake, tsunami and WanAn air-raid drill, receiving a text message for each event ….

Actually this year’s WanAn air-raid drill was held on the day we were all at the diocesan office in Taipei for our monthly birthday celebration lunch, kindly hosted by Bishop Chang for the diocesan office workers, plus others. In past years we would have to stay put for the 30-minute drill, due to restrictions on movement outside, but this year, due to the pandemic, there were no such restrictions. Anyway we had a wonderful lunch! Thanks to all these lovely people in the photo who helped everything go smoothly at recent church events: Rev. Chia-Kuei Wu’s ordination service, Yu-Lin and San-Yuan’s wedding and Rev. Samuel K. L. Liao’s Memorial Service.

I had cycled to the diocesan office that morning ~ and back in the late afternoon too. It’s such a fun way to commute to Taipei, along the riverside paths and into the city at the Dadaocheng Wharf, passing the RC Cathedral ….

Anyway, back to the typhoon, we had another typhoon a few weeks ago too, also with lots of rain, but not so much wind. Still, a few trees fell down on our St. John’s University (SJU) campus and the sea was rough for days afterwards….

The bank had covered up the SJU ATM machine as a precaution…

Otherwise, in-between typhoons, the SJU campus and the sea down below have been looking beautiful!

Last week, we joined the local junior-high school children from Xian-Xiao on a beach clean-up. The weather was stunning….

And over at the local elementary school, we celebrated Taiwan’s success at the Olympics (photos supplied by the school)….

And we also celebrated the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival with a 4-day weekend. Great chance for mountain climbing – and we went last weekend too. It’s the silvergrass season up in the Yangmingshan Mountains, while elsewhere, like Guanyinshan, its the citrus and chili season, plus spiders galore!

And finally, we all need a good book to read on a long trip to a vaccination centre in a wet and windy typhoon, and I recommend the latest in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series… it’s so lovely!

Thank you all so much for your support. The soul may still be trembling with all that’s going on in the world, and in this region particularly, but your prayers are most appreciated.

感謝上帝 (Gǎnxiè Shàngdì) Thanks be to God

Circling Around @ The Still Point of the Turning World: Update from Taiwan 😷

“Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past… / Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind / Cannot bear very much reality. / Time past and time future / What might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present…

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; / Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, / But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, / Where past and future are gathered…

After the kingfisher’s wing / Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still / At the still point of the turning world…”

A few extracts from T. S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton (1935), part of Four Quartets ~ to set the scene for this update from Taiwan…

‘Circling Around @ The Still Point of the Turning World’ kind of describes what it all feels like. After our recent Covid-19 surge that arrived with a bang in mid-May, so Taiwan managed to contain the spread over the summer, and case numbers have gone way down to single figures, and on several days to zero. Having spent until the end of July under Level 3 Restrictions, we are now on Level 2, with facemasks compulsory everywhere outside the home, only taken off for eating and drinking. So life now proceeds with considerable normality, and we’ve got used to all the mandatory temperature checks, QR codes, facemasks, social distancing, hand sanitizer and crowd controls. Most people are still staying local, but hey, there’s still plenty to do locally. Over the last month, swimming pools and beaches reopened, indoor dining restarted, restrictions on national parks and mountain areas mostly lifted. In fact, the last full week of August, we had a week off, and so I was able to go to our local mountain areas, Yang-Ming Shan, Guan-Yin Shan and Chingshan Waterfall. Plenty of fruits, fungi, flowers, butterflies and views….

Although Taiwan as a whole is under Level 2 Restrictions, and gradually opening up, some areas up here in the north are seeing cluster infections, and further restrictions can / are / may suddenly be reimposed with immediate effect. Taoyuan has one Delta cluster – centred around 3 pilots, that has infected the teenage son of one of the pilots, but so far seems contained. Unconnected to that group is a different Delta cluster in the Greater Taipei area, centred on a kindergarten in southern Taipei (part of ‘New Taipei City’) with 23 confirmed cases so far. As a result, New Taipei City has today just announced ‘Enhanced Level 2 Restrictions’. Sports centers and places like libraries are to close for a week, and indoor dining is suspended. Yesterday they announced that 50 is now the max number of people allowed to gather inside, 100 outside, down from 80 / 300. This affects us, not only our Sunday services, but also St. John’s University (SJU), which started ‘Freshers Week’ (well, 3 days rather than a week) today, so adjustments to the program have been necessary. The training program for the student leaders for Freshers Week took place these past 2 days, assisted by our student fellowship. It finished with a ceremony in Advent Church yesterday, part of which included Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang (as chair of the SJU trustees) and some of the alumni taking part in foot-washing, as they washed the feet of the student leaders…

Schools have been closed since mid-May, when classes moved online for 6 weeks or so, and then the school holidays began. The new academic year began on Wednesday September 1. Back to school has overlapped with Ghost Month, the 7th lunar month, which only ended on September 6. Many school principals, teachers and parents were worried about starting school in Ghost Month during a pandemic. Double trouble. Some schools held ‘bai-bai’ ceremonies in honour of the ghosts, to reassure parents and children of a peaceful return to school. These photos are taken from the facebook page of one of our local schools:

September 1 was also the day I returned for my first visit to the diocesan office in Taipei City since mid-May, cycling by You Bike from Tamsui. Starting out very early, though it was already 30°C, it usually takes about 80-90 minutes, first along the river to the historic Dadaocheng Wharf, and then into the city, joining all the commuters on their motorcycles….

By the time I came home mid-afternoon by a slightly different route passing the art museum, it was 36°C….

In the midst of all this so-called normal life, we have a huge vaccination program going on. Until now, virtually the only people in Taiwan who are fully vaccinated with 2 doses are medical workers, the rest of us are still waiting for vaccines to arrive, either donated by governments, or ordered by the Taiwan Government under the Covax scheme. In recent weeks, Taiwan’s own vaccine, Medigen has been released for use as well, but it’s come a bit too late for those who have already had a first dose of another brand and want the second dose to be the same. A total of 400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca (AZ) Covid-19 vaccine donated by Poland arrived in Taiwan on September 5, making it Taiwan’s third-largest vaccine donor, after Japan (3.4 million doses of AZ) and the United States (2.5 million doses of Moderna). Poland is also the 4th EU member state to have pledged vaccine donations to Taiwan, following Lithuania (20,000 doses of AZ), Slovakia (10,000 doses, unspecified) and the Czech Republic (30,000 doses of Moderna). Improving diplomatic relationships between Taiwan and Lithuania (thereby resulting in deteriorating relationships between China and Lithuania) are a developing story, affecting the wider EU.

And the effect of people’s own political views on vaccinations? Well, while almost everyone seems to be planning to be vaccinated at some point, which vaccine they choose can be determined by their political views. For political reasons, Chinese vaccines are not available in Taiwan. Suffice it to say that those supporting Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-Wen and the DPP, who are more strongly Taiwanese, and include a lot of younger people, they are far more likely to get the locally made vaccines, like Medigen ~ in fact many already have. I would have done too if it had been available earlier. Those supporting the opposition KMT, who may also be protesting against the government’s focus on what they see as developing local vaccines at the expense of importing overseas vaccines, are far more likely to be waiting for a vaccine approved by the American FDA or at least one that they hope can allow them to travel freely overseas, like Moderna. The good news is that second vaccinations of AZ for seniors should start next week, and the following week, Taiwan will begin vaccination of 1.25 million young people, aged 12-17, with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, all free and all voluntary of course. So far 44.96 % of Taiwan’s 23.5 million population have received one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only 4.1 % have had the two doses needed to be fully vaccinated.

Today’s figures announced at the daily 2:00 pm press conference were 7 domestic cases (including 6 connected with the kindergarten cluster) and 2 imported cases, with zero deaths. The 9 new cases bring the total in Taiwan to 16,056, of which 14,393 are domestic infections reported since May 15, when the country first recorded more than 100 Covid-19 cases in a single day. To date, 837 people have died of Covid-19 in Taiwan, including 825 since May 15.

The Taiwan Episcopal Church runs 8 kindergartens, scattered from north to south, with a total of about 1,000 children and staff. The one I know best is St. James, Taichung, where I was based for the first 7 years of my time in Taiwan. Please do pray for them all. Our kindergartens also serve as daycare centres for children aged 2½ – 6, open all day and all year long, and have after-school classes for elementary school children in the afternoons and early evenings too. They are busy places, and as we are seeing in Taipei, they are also vulnerable to cluster infections of Covid-19. It is a worrying time for parents, teachers and children. Extra worrying because the birth rate is falling dramatically, so kindergartens are competing with each other for pupils, and the last thing kindergartens want is a Covid-19 cluster and the negative attention it will bring. Records and predictive modeling show that “Enrollment at elementary schools is to decline by 16,000 students per year, falling to fewer than 1 million by 2029 and to 923,000 by 2036.” That’s a challenge for all. And further up the age groups, for higher education institutions like St. John’s University too. About 70 new students are expected for this Freshers Week, which does not include overseas students, they’re still awaiting visas and quarantines, so may come next semester instead. As a comparison, when I first came to SJU over 10 years ago, we would have 1,500 new students attending Freshers Week. Bishop Chang, SJU trustees, SJU President Huang, faculty and staff are constantly in consultation and working on downsizing, readjusting and realigning. Your prayers are appreciated for SJU too.

Three weeks ago, as part of our week off, I took off on the You Bike as dawn broke (already 30°C) and rode up the bicycle path that winds north around the coast, then on the coast road past the northern tip of Taiwan, the nuclear power stations, Dharma Drum Mountain, Juming Sculpture Park, and plenty more – all the way along to the Yehliu Geopark, where the rock formations are stunning. The most famous is the much-admired and closely-guarded Queen’s Head….

Queen’s Head, Yehliu

though her neck is getting thinner and thinner due to erosion. Ah, it was a great day out!…