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!