Tag Archives: Taiwan Episcopal Church

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!…

And on the Sunday I also went by bus all the way further round the northern coast to Keelung, the main centre for the Ghost Festival ceremonies, being held most evenings. These were the dragon lanterns down on the quayside….

I was there to visit St. Stephen’s Church, where our newly-ordained Rev. Chen Ming-You was preaching – Rev. Julia Shu-Hua Lin is the vicar. It’s a great place to visit! As I had left on the 6:00 am bus, I got there over an hour early. The seniors who gathered with me for a photo at St. Stephen’s Church were already there, they had all arrived over an hour early for the service too. I was most impressed!

Meanwhile, it still feels like we’re all circling round the still point of the turning world. As the seasons change slowly and summer turns to autumn, so the lazy hazy days of high heat and humidity come to an end and the school year starts up again. The church calendar progresses in its own stately way, while the lunar calendar brings its colourful noisy festivals (next one up is the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival in 2 weeks time) with long weekends and family reunions. And so we follow the rhythm of it all, day by day, week by week. That’s the turning world. But throw a pandemic into the mix, and it turns it all upside down. Thinking back these past few months of the Covid surge under Level 3 Restrictions, and moving from ‘Time Past to Time Present’, we’re all ‘wondering what might have been and what has been’. All the summer camps we had to cancel, all the trips we couldn’t take, the friends we couldn’t see, the places we couldn’t go. ‘Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind / Cannot bear very much reality.’ Too true. We move on, into Time Future, the start of a new school year, and yet not quite so smoothly. Uncertainty reigns. If these Covid clusters get out of control, we’ll be back in Level 3. How can we make plans if nothing is certain? How can we invite people to an event ~ and then face having to uninvite them if numbers need to be reduced? Who to uninvite? Or can we rely on some to uninvite themselves? Taiwan culture is deeply traditional at heart, and such decisions are difficult. Cultural conundrums indeed. And so we circle round the still point of the turning world, slowing down to look and reconsider, not daring to touch, not daring to breathe, because it’s not over yet.

Taiwan’s Minister of Health, Chen Shi-Chung at the daily Press Conference

Recently, down at the sea, before sunrise, there were fireflies along the beach, flying over the seashore, and later a kingfisher flying from rock to rock along the water’s edge. ‘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.’ Sometimes the sea and sky seem to merge into each other on the horizon, and the light is still. Time to breathe in wonder. But sometimes it’s wild down there. Today’s News reports say a strong typhoon is developing in the Pacific Ocean and heading towards Taiwan at the end of this week. It seems that Typhoon Chanthu (璨樹) has jumped from a tropical depression to a Category 4 typhoon within 24 hours. So much for a ‘still point’. Typhoons have a still point at the centre, with the gale-force winds circling around, but we don’t go out looking, that’s for sure.

‘At the still point, there the dance is.’ Maybe the fireflies have found the still point ~ the way they dance around is really lovely. And the kingfisher too, though not dancing as such. ‘But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, / Where past and future are gathered…’ Maybe the ‘dance’ is the joy and anticipation of the old people who gather an hour early each Sunday for the service at St. Stephen’s Church. Maybe the ‘dance’ is the act of serving those young student leaders through washing their feet that Bishop Chang and the other SJU alumni feel is so important that they gather to do so every year. Maybe the ‘dance’ is me getting to the top of the mountain after a hot and humid climb in a facemask, seeing the view open up below and stopping to breathe. Or enjoying early morning coffee with friends, having walked up with them to Chingshan Waterfall before breakfast. Or making it by You Bike to the diocesan office just in time for the morning service at 8:30 am, and enjoying the cool air of the AirCon and blowing fans. Maybe the ‘dance’ is the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, bringing love, hope, joy and peace.

And then again, maybe it’s just the way we look at things. The first 2 photos of this blog post of circular buildings with blue sky are just buildings I pass on my way to Taipei. You can do anything with a photo app these days. One is the Ministry of Communication and Transport, near the diocesan office in Taipei, the others are apartment blocks by the river in Tamsui….

Just shows that maybe the ‘still point’ can be found anywhere, as long as we keep our eyes and ears open, our senses alert. Anywhere in time or space, in fact. And then, if and when we find the still point, that’ll be where we find the dance. Thanks be to God! So keep searching, keep looking, keep wondering!

陳銘佑會吏按立會長聖職典禮 Congratulations to Rev. Chen Ming-You 陳銘佑 on his Ordination as Priest!

And what a great day it was!

Newly-ordained Rev. Chen Ming-You

Rev. Chen Ming-You 陳銘佑 was ordained priest by the Rt. Rev. Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, Bishop of Taiwan, at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei on Friday August 6, 2021, the day the church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration. Thanks be to Almighty God!

Ming-You was ordained deacon by the Rt. Rev. David J. H. Lai, then Bishop of Taiwan, at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei on Saturday January 18, 2020, just a few weeks before Bishop Lai retired (for that report and photos see here. As you will see, it was definitely winter and we were all in our warm clothes!) Ming-You’s ministry is as a Non-Stipendiary priest, serving at weekends for the last 4 years at St. Stephen’s Church, Keelung, under Rev. Julia Shu-Hua Lin, who preached very powerfully at yesterday’s ordination service.

The ordination service was originally scheduled for Friday June 11, St. Barnabas Day, but due to Taiwan’s Level 3 pandemic restrictions, which came into force on May 15, all religious events and gatherings of more than 4 people were prohibited, so the service was postponed. Bishop Chang stressed the importance of all the clergy in the diocese being able to participate in-person at the ordination service, and so they decided to delay the service until that was possible, however long it might take. On July 27, Taiwan lowered the alert level from 3 to 2, and under level 2 restrictions, indoor gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed, as long as there is social distancing, with compulsory facemasks, temperature checks, name registration and hand sanitizer in use for all. With only 50 people allowed to attend, so a list was drawn up, and everyone else was invited to watch the livestream on YouTube….

Thanks to the wonderful Livestreaming Team, working behind the scenes! This is Linda on the left, wife of St. John’s Cathedral Dean, Philip Lin, and Pin-Huei, on the right, daughter of Rev. C. C. Cheng…

Due to there still being community transmission of Covid-19, Bishop Chang requested that all clergy coming from the south and east of Taiwan should preferably drive to Taipei, rather than use high-speed rail or train, and he offered to provide accommodation for those needing overnight stays. Actually most of our clergy have relatives in Taipei, so they were pleased to visit them, others did the round-trip in one day, and a few did take the high-speed rail, which they said was virtually empty because of the pandemic – and the rain. ☔

Back in May, we were still praying for an end to Taiwan’s drought, the most serious in over 50 years. Now in August, we have had so much rain in the last 2-3 weeks that there’s serious flooding and landslides in some areas, including a rockslide that has cut off the high-speed rail line in Miaoli, reservoirs are having to release water, and southern Taiwan has closed schools and offices today due to the torrential rain alerts. The rains started with Typhoon In-Fa the weekend before last, then the typhoon gave way to more continuous rains, and now we have a tropical storm working its way north up Taiwan’s west coast, bringing flooding to the mountains and coastal areas. Our in-person church services only just restarted again last Sunday, but some had to be canceled due to the rains, and it’s likely some will have to cancel again tomorrow as well. Fortunately the ordination service could go ahead, though it was certainly very wet outside. The other precaution, advised due to the pandemic, was that it was not possible to serve wine during the Holy Communion, nor any kind of meal after the service. Instead, the cathedral kindly provided us with boxes of breads, cakes and desserts for us to take home. Thanks to St. John’s Cathedral for all their hard work to make us so welcome!

The Dean, Philp Lin and St. John’s Cathedral friends

Ming-You tells me that he comes from a very traditional Taiwanese family, and as the only son (with 2 older sisters), so he grew up well-aware that it would be his responsibility to take care of his parents as they grew older. In fact, he and his wife, their 2 sons (aged 12 and 15) and his parents all live together in Longtan, Taoyuan, just south of Taipei. His parents are retired, and Ming-You and his wife run a computer business during the week, which leaves them free at weekends to serve at St. Stephen’s Church, about an hour’s drive on the other side of Taipei. His wife says that even before they were married, he would talk about his calling to be a priest, though it took many years of part-time study and training for his calling to become a reality.

Ming-You and his family with Bishop Chang, and Regina Chang (far right)

By serving as a non-stipendiary priest, he is able to fulfill his traditional duties of ‘filial piety’ towards his parents, while also fulfilling his calling to serve in the Taiwan Episcopal Church. He talks about the freedom to be able to do both, and the joy of serving God both in his family and in the church. Others might feel weighed down by taking on so many responsibilities, but instead, Ming-You thrives on the freedom and joy of being the person God has called him to be. Fortunately, a few years after Ming-You and his wife were married, his parents became Christians themselves, and belong to a local church near their home; praise God that they are fully supportive of Ming-You’s calling and ministry.

Ming-You serves his father Holy Communion

Ming-You was born in 1975, and became a Christian through the witness of the student fellowship and chaplaincy at St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT), Taipei, (predecessor to St. John’s University SJU), while studying on the 5-year program in electronic engineering. Towards the end of his time at SJSMIT, he was baptized in Advent Church by the then chaplain, Rev. Samuel Ying-Chiu Lin, who later became dean of St. John’s Cathedral, and where many of the students later worshiped after graduation, including Ming-You.

Quite a few SJSMIT student fellowship members from that era have since gone on to be ordained, and many others serve in the church in lay ministry. In yesterday’s service, one of their student fellowship, Regina Chang (張沁杏), member of Christ Church, Chungli and also on the diocesan Standing Committee, sang a beautiful solo, titled ‘Beloved Lord, Please send me’. Ming-You was visibly moved, and later recounted how he was reminded, as she sang, of how Regina and other older fellowship members had shared the Gospel with him as a younger student, and how far he has traveled since then, particularly these last 10 years as he followed God’s call towards ordination. He said that God has been so faithful to him, and he found it hard to contain his tears. It was really moving!

Regina singing the solo, accompanied by Mr. Lu on the piano

Since Bishop Chang’s consecration in February 2020, Ming-You and his wife have been busy helping the diocesan office putting in a whole new computer system, video-conferencing and meeting room, plus setting up our new email addresses for the Taiwan Episcopal Church clergy and churches, plus our new website at https://episcopalchurch.org.tw/ Having a professional computer person always on hand is very wonderful for us all! Every weekend, Ming-You, his wife and sons spend much time at St. Stephen’s Church, where they help run outreach programs in the local community with Rev. Julia Shu-Hua Lin, who is already well past usual retirement age and looking to step back a little from all her many church responsibilities.

Rev. Julia Shu-Hua Lin and Ms. Su with Ming-You’s family

Julia has really built up the ministry at St. Stephen’s over these last 10+ years, and is widely respected in the local community. The church is in a largely disadvantaged area with many problems of poverty, family breakdown, addiction, suicide, unemployment, domestic abuse and more. The people are struggling even at the best of times, and much more so in this pandemic, plus the spiritual oppression from the local temples and shrines is much in evidence in people’s lives. Ming-You clearly loves the people there, and fits right in; he says that many similarities with his own family background have helped in developing relationships.

Ms. Huang and Ms. Su from St. Stephen’s Church with me, we’re all in black and white!

The ordination service – getting ready….

The service started at 3:00 pm….

Part 2 of the service starts with Ming-You introducing his family…

The blessing….

And then photo-time!

The service all went so smoothly, and Ming-You celebrated his first Holy Communion so professionally that it looked like he had been doing it for years! The readings, as set for the Feast of the Transfiguration, were read by Mrs. Marjorie Kuo from the cathedral, Ms. Huang Min from St. Stephen’s Church, and our deacon, Rev. Stoney Chia-Kuei Wu read the Gospel.

After the service, Rev. Lily Chang, as chair of the diocesan standing committee, officially welcomed everyone and thanked the cathedral for hosting the service, she was followed by Mr. Gary Tseng, cathedral senior warden who also gave us a warm welcome on behalf of them all…

Ming-You with Mr. Gary Tseng, cathedral senior warden and his wife, Ms. Amy Chin, our diocesan chancellor

We give thanks to Almighty God for Ming-You and his family, and we pray for him as he settles into his ministry as priest, serving at St. Stephen’s Church, and as he tries to balance his time between his business, family and church ministry. He joins a great group of clergy, all pictured here at the ordination service. Thanks be to God for them all!

🐛 The Very Hungry Caterpillar ….. and other news from Taiwan 🦋

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf. One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar….” 🐛 So runs the opening of one of the world’s most famous children’s books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

“He started to look for some food. On Monday he ate through one apple. But he was still hungry…”

It’s been in the news these past few weeks because the author, Eric Carle sadly died on May 23, aged 91.

And what a book it is! The art work in The Very Hungry Caterpillar is spectacular, with layers of brightly-coloured collage arranged in irregular shapes, with holes in the paper where the caterpillar eats through different fruits each day. I’ve read it hundreds of times to children in at least 4 different schools on 3 different continents, and they all love it, as do parents and teachers the world over!

At its heart, this is the story of the life cycle of a butterfly 🦋 but along the way the children learn all sorts of other things, like the days of the week, colors, numbers, names of fruits and exotic things to eat. They even learn about healthy eating, and what happens if you’re greedy and eat too much – because after 5 days of eating nice healthy fruit, the caterpillar then spends Saturday gorging himself on chocolate cake, ice-cream, pickle, cheese, salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake and watermelon. Not surprisingly, that night the caterpillar has a stomach ache. The next day, Sunday, he eats a nice green leaf and feels much better. Even the adults smile at that bit. After all, who of us can honestly say we haven’t been there, done that? Yep, we can all identify with that Very Hungry Caterpillar!

When Eric Carle was asked about the story, he said that as a child, he was scared of growing up. Aren’t we all? But like the caterpillar, we will all grow up in time. Our childhoods are left behind and we become adults. So it is a book of hope. Growing up is something of a transformation, and what better symbol of transformation than a butterfly. When asked about the inspiration for all the bright colours in his art work, Eric Carle talked about his childhood in wartime Germany where the only art permitted was that sanctioned by the Nazi party, used in propaganda. He never saw bright colours until his high school art teacher showed him his forbidden collection of Impressionist paintings. It changed his life and determined his future.

“With many of my books I attempt to bridge the gap between the home and school. To me home represents, or should represent; warmth, security, toys, holding hands, being held. School is a strange and new place for a child. Will it be a happy place? There are new people, a teacher, classmates – will they be friendly? I believe the passage from home to school is the second biggest trauma of childhood; the first is, of course, being born. Indeed, in both cases, we leave a place of warmth and protection for one that is unknown. The unknown often brings fear with it. In my books, I try to counteract this fear, to replace it with a positive message. I believe that children are naturally creative and eager to learn. I want to show them that learning is really both fascinating and fun.” (Eric Carle)

Here we are in the middle of a pandemic, and currently in Taiwan, along with many other countries in Asia, we are in the middle of a major Covid surge. Many of our family and friends in the USA or Europe have already been through what they hope is the worst of it all, and now some of them are using the same language as the butterfly, as they talk about emerging from their cocoons of lockdown and isolation. Some have emerged as beautiful butterflies, but many have faced sickness, grief, financial problems, family breakdowns, depression, loneliness, hatred, even death. Some feel grateful to be alive and appreciate their new freedoms and experiences, others have lost so much and cannot move on. Many are angry with society, neighbours, colleagues, government leaders, even with God, for letting them down. Some have lost their faith; some have stopped feeling part of a church or fellowship group. From afar, we have watched this happen to those we know personally and those who share their thoughts and feelings for the world to see. Are we ready if it should happen to us?

While many countries were in lockdown, we in Taiwan were living the life of the caterpillar, eating, drinking and enjoying ourselves. Life was so relatively ‘normal’ for us this past year – we could have meals in restaurants, coffee with friends, classes, church events, outings, hiking trips, holidays, family gatherings. Taiwan was so safe, nobody felt the need even to be vaccinated. But now we find ourselves having to stay home – and restricted in what we can do, where we can go and who we can meet. Our social events are all cancelled for the foreseeable future, we can only meet online with friends and family. It’s almost like we are being forced into our own cocoons. Could this be our time for transformation?

This is only our 4th weekend under Level 3 restrictions (of a 4-tier system) to try to get the Covid surge under control. In that time, it’s become clear that some were very well-prepared and the transition has been smooth. Kudos to Taiwan state schools, teachers, parents and children, who were given one day’s notice to close and move all classes online, and they’ve done it. Children may be going goggle-eyed with so much online study, but they are busily occupied all day long and learning important things. My neighbour tells me that PE class for her 10-year-old son last week consisted of him helping with the housework – and taking a photo to send to the teacher to show what he’d done. Ha ha, that’s my idea of PE too! It’s much more of a challenge for our church kindergartens and others like them, given that kindergarten style of teaching is less intense and children learn so much from play and discovering things for themselves, rather than spending all day long online in different lessons. Our teachers are making videos and sharing activities for the children to do, but the challenges will increase over time if school fees are not paid. Some government help is coming, but like most things, it’s never quite certain until it’s actually arrived.

Spider Tree aka Sacred Garlic Pear (Crateva religiosa)….

While many people are working from home, many more could be working from home if their employers would trust them enough, and if employees didn’t feel obliged to prove their loyalty by willingly going into work, even if it means traveling on public transport across the city. Many workplaces have divided into 2 teams, with half coming in one day, the other half the next. Not surprisingly, Taiwan’s work culture has come in for a lot of scrutiny.

Although Greater Taipei is by far the worst affected area of Taiwan, the hotspots are all in the densely-populated inner city and suburban areas. Out here in the countryside, although officially part of Greater Taipei, it’s much better – so far anyway; we shall see. There are now QR codes to scan for everything, from entering convenience stores, supermarkets, banks and workplaces to going on any form of public transport: either scan the QR code, use a pre-registered card, or write out your name and contact details. Every place has obligatory temperature checks, and of course facemasks are compulsory outside the home. But even with so many precautions, there are still some very vulnerable places and weak spots, like the traditional markets that are all still open – though numbers of stall holders and shoppers are controlled, then there’s the large care homes dotted along the coast, and the student / migrant worker dormitories. Our student classes are all online, so most of our students have returned home for the summer, but the overseas students are still here, plus some whose homes are in downtown Taipei – their parents tell them to stay here where it’s safer.

Living on a university campus means we still have access to fresh air and exercise, and just 10 minutes’ walk down the hill brings us to the sea. While all the famous beaches further north up the coast are closed off, our modest little seaside area (it hardly qualifies as a beach, but still) is accessible, and ideal for early morning walks before the sun comes up. The government has done a lot to discourage people from going out unnecessarily, like closing off footpaths, trails, parks, school campuses etc., and allowing eateries, restaurants, convenience stores etc. to only sell takeout meals. So we do go out, but wearing a facemask discourages strenuous exercise, as it’s so hot. Fortunately the rainy season has come upon us this past week, and it’s a bit cooler – grateful that it will help to bring some relief to our serious drought.

Also well-prepared for the sudden Covid surge and the move online were our churches. Level 3 restrictions for the Greater Taipei area – and the cancellation of all religious events, with no more than 5 people meeting together indoors, 10 outdoors – were announced on Saturday May 15, so there was not much time for our clergy to prepare for the following day, Sunday. A few days later and Level 3 was imposed throughout Taiwan. By Pentecost, May 23, all our clergy had put together a plan for their congregations to worship online, either livestreaming their own service or joining one of the others. By last Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we had 16 livestreamed online services happening around the diocese, and I watched them all. Yep, all 16! Well OK, I watched a part of them all, and took screenshots as each service progressed…

For today’s service, well I watched myself, giving my usual First-Sunday-of-the-Month sermon at St. James’ English Service, Taichung, which was pre-recorded. Actually, the first part of this blog post, the bit about The Very Hungry Caterpillar, was adapted from today’s sermon. This is me in action – OK, next time I’ll slow down! We followed it by virtual Coffee Hour.

At 2:00 pm each day, there’s a press conference by the government’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to announce the previous day’s confirmed cases (domestic & imported), deaths, numbers of cases in each city / county, and updates about the vaccine situation. So far, the daily confirmed cases is fairly stable, usually 300-500, and 10-40 deaths, with the vast majority of cases in the Greater Taipei area. The original hotspot in Taipei continues to be the old red light area of Wanhua, spreading outwards from there.

Current figures: “Taiwan has confirmed a total of 11,298 COVID-19 cases, of which over 9,900 are domestic infections reported since May 15, when the country first recorded more than 100 cases in a single day. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the country has risen to 260, including 248 since May 15, CECC data shows. As of Thursday, Taiwan had administered 621,322 vaccine doses, all of the AstraZeneca brand, for a country of 23.57 million people.”

A large donation of vaccines arrived on Friday from Japan, more are coming from the USA, plus there’s the locally-developed vaccines that may be ready in the summer. While people are fairly united in tackling the pandemic situation on the ground, they are not united when it comes to expressing opinions about government action (or inaction) in this present surge, plus the vaccine shortage. Politics is so very divisive. Please continue to pray for us. Thank you!

And wishing you all a Happy Dragon Boat Festival for next weekend!

(All photos in this post were taken in the last few weeks at St. John’s University, Taipei – or down at the sea just below the campus)

What’s in a name?

It’s Holy Week, and of course, this coming weekend is Easter. One of Christianity’s best kept secrets; unlike Christmas, it seems few people in Taiwan have any idea what Easter is, and certainly no idea that it’s coming this weekend. Probably far fewer people than usual will be in church to celebrate too, as this coming weekend is also Taiwan’s Tomb-Sweeping Festival (Qingming), Women’s Day and Children’s Day all combined into one long 4-day weekend.

For young professionals and families in Taiwan’s cities, it’ll be a holiday weekend away from their high-pressured office jobs, enjoying some spring weather before the heat of summer, with trips to Taiwan’s outlying islands, up to the central mountains or beach resorts. Covid-19 restrictions for overseas travel mean that everyone is holidaying in Taiwan these days and domestic tourism is booming. For our students here at St. John’s University (SJU), they’ll be in demand for part-time work either near their homes or in our local restaurants, cafes, beaches and tourist sites lining Taiwan’s northern coast, like Laomei and the Fuguijiao Lighthouse…

Laomei’s famous Algal Reef – taken last weekend

One things for sure, wherever we go, there’ll be major traffic jams all weekend!

The Lighthouse Cat guards Fuguijiao Lighthouse, on Taiwan’s northern tip

The good news is that we got off to a good start for Holy Week with a celebration of Palm Sunday at Advent Church and SJU….

Otherwise, March has been a much quieter month than most years, with activities considerably reduced due to concerns about Covid-19, though daily life continues mostly as normal. Fortunately, Taiwan currently has no known community transmission, with 10 deaths and 1,024 confirmed cases, all contained by strict border and quarantine controls. Imported vaccines have resulted in health workers and Olympic hopefuls receiving their first shots in recent weeks, but for the general population, we await final trials of local vaccines, the government eager to proceed at a safe and normal speed of vaccine development. This weekend Taiwan’s very first carefully-monitored travel bubble is starting with the tropical island paradise of Palau; their new president is currently in Taiwan for the official launch, returning home on the first official bubble flight tomorrow.

Common Jester Butterfly (Symbrenthia Lilaea Formosanus) at Yangmingshan…

Spring is here, and with it has appeared the cherry blossom, azalea and wisteria, all looking spectacular. I’ve counted up to 7 crested serpent eagles circling on the thermals above our campus, while down here below we have frogs, lizards, snakes and butterflies all enjoying the sunnier weather (photos / videos in this post were all taken in the last few weeks, some locally, others up at the mountains of Yangmingshan).

11-second snake video: False Taiwan Habu 擬龜殼花

I’ve had 2 sermons to write this month for 2 different English congregations, and in both, I’ve used the same story as an illustration. Some sermons generate more comments than others, and this was one of them. In the light of so much division, separation and isolation in this world – in the church as well as in society as a whole, it seems good to share this story here, with thanks to Rev. Samuel C. L. Liao who originally included a paragraph about this in a piece he wrote for the ‘About Us’ section for our upcoming new website. For once, this is a happy story of 3 church / mission groups plus 2 bishops who put aside their differences and decided to work together for the sake of the Gospel and the people they served. And it all happened in the mid-19th century, when egos and self-interest played just as large a role in decision-making as they seem to do today.

Azalea Season

First a disclaimer, I am not particularly interested in Anglican / Episcopal Church history, hierarchies, titles and governance as such, but I am interested in the background story of how the Taiwan Episcopal Church got its Chinese name. Knowing only the basic facts, I acknowledge that there could be a whole lot more to discover deep in the archives. Sadly, church history got way too complicated when Henry VIII started knocking off all those poor wives with names the same as mine, so a little church history goes a very long way. But what I have also discovered is that most of our church members here also know very little about this story – but, like me, they are interested.

It’s fair to say that most countries where the Anglican / Episcopal Church has been established have just adapted the ‘Anglican’ part of their name into something acceptable in their own language while still being recognizable as the word ‘Anglican’, so in Rwanda for example, the church is known as ‘Eglise Anglicane du Rwanda’, in Brazil as ‘Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil’.

But this is not so in places like Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan…

Oldham’s Azalea, growing up in the mountains

First a bit of background: the word ‘Anglican’ means ‘English,’ denoting the country where the Anglican Church was originally founded. In England, the Anglican Church is just known as ‘The Church of England’ because it’s the national church. The American Church, which originated in England, uses the title, ‘The Episcopal Church’; ‘Episcopal’ means ‘bishops’. One of the main differences when The Episcopal Church was established was that while bishops in England were appointed by the crown, not so in the USA, where they considered themselves free from English rule, so US bishops were – and still are – elected instead of being appointed.

Here in Taiwan, we call our branch of the Anglican Communion by the name ‘Taiwan Episcopal Church’ because we belong to the US-based Episcopal Church. We’re part of Province VIII, officially established in 1954. The Chinese name for the Taiwan Episcopal Church is 台灣聖公會 (Taiwan Sheng Kung Hui). There are 3 Chinese characters in the church part of the name: Sheng 聖 means ‘holy’, Kung 公 means ‘catholic’ (meaning ‘universal’), Hui 會 means ‘church’. So how come the Chinese name of the Taiwan Episcopal Church translates in a way that is completely unrelated to the English name? It’s clear that there’s no word in the Chinese name that can be translated as ‘Anglican’ or ‘Episcopal.’

So the story goes like this. The US Episcopal Church started their evangelism in Mainland China in 1835, and in Japan in 1859; they were followed soon after by CMS and SPG (now USPG) Anglican mission societies from England, and much later (1888 in Japan) by the Anglican Church of Canada. But working together was not easy, each church and mission society had their own style of mission and their own style of worship. In 1866, aged 37, US Bishop Channing Moore Williams was consecrated to serve as ‘Episcopal Bishop of China and Japan’, largely based in Japan. Twenty years later, in 1886, aged 36, UK Bishop Edward Bickersteth was consecrated to serve as ‘Missionary Bishop of the Church of England in Japan,’ (succeeding Bishop Arthur W. Poole, 1883-1885). Wrap your mind around that bit of history – that’s how they did things in those days.

Cherry Blossom at SJU

Anyway, surprise, surprise, these 3 groups in Japan: the US church, CMS and SPG, led by these 2 bishops – 20 years’ difference in age – agreed to work together and unite their missionary efforts into one autonomous national church. The first Japanese synod, instigated by Bickersteth and presided over by Williams, was held in Osaka in 1887. At that meeting, the Japanese church (then with a membership of about 1,300 and with lay delegates sent from every church) decided to take part of the Nicene Creed, ‘We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ and from that phrase to adopt ‘The Holy Catholic Church’ (聖公會, 聖: holy, 公: catholic, 會: church) for its name, pronounced in Japanese as ‘Nippon Sei Ko Kai’ (NSKK), the ‘Holy Catholic Church in Japan’.

In 1912, the Anglican / Episcopal church in China also decided to call their new church, ‘Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui’ (CHSKH) 中華聖公會, the ‘Holy Catholic Church in China’. From that came ‘Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui’ (HKSKH) 香港聖公會, the official title of the Anglican Church in Hong Kong. And some of the CHSKH members who later moved to Taiwan became founding members of the Taiwan Episcopal Church (Taiwan Sheng Kung Hui) 台灣聖公會 in 1954. We are really the ‘Holy Catholic Church’ in Taiwan.

And guess what, we’re not totally unique in the Christian world ~ other churches also chose Chinese names that are totally unrelated to the original, most notably the Roman Catholics – but that’s a whole other story. And we’re nowhere near unique in having a history of mission societies and church groups in conflict with each other in the same country – just think of East Africa, but that is also a whole other story. Ah, church history, sigh!

Just as those 2 bishops decided to work together to try to resolve their differences, so we need to continue to preserve our unity today. Our diocesan motto this year is ‘Working together as one in Christ to build the church’, and that was one of the themes of our diocesan convention held a few weeks ago in Kaohsiung. What does it mean for us to ‘work together as one in Christ?’ Partly it means not being divided by our differences, old and young, traditional and modern, high church and low church, liturgical and non-liturgical, hymns and choruses, informal and formal, Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese, urban and rural, liberal and conservative, online and in-person – and more. All these things have the potential to divide and separate us – or to bring us together, depending on which way we choose to go. Let’s try putting ourselves and our own agendas on one side this Holy Week, Easter and in the future, and find ways to work together – for the sake of the Gospel and each other.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Wisteria Season

Children sometimes do better at this than adults, putting aside their differences that is, and Children’s Day on April 4 is a way to celebrate. At our local Xingren Elementary School (photos below are taken from their website), we celebrated Children’s Day recently by making paper people and each child choosing 4 countries that have some meaning for them – many children in Taiwan have mothers from other SE Asian countries, and Japan, Korea and USA are always popular choices. Gotta love the row of monsters on the back wall too! The fun song to sing for this is on YouTube: Hello to all the Children of the World – check it out, you’ll be singing it all day!

Meanwhile yesterday we distributed salted duck eggs around SJU to wish everyone a Happy Easter…

And to you all too ~ wishing you all a meaningful and blessed Holy Week, and a joyous and hopeful Easter!

Taiwan Episcopal Church Diocesan Convention 台灣聖公會第61屆教區議會 2021

The Taiwan Episcopal Church Diocesan Convention 2021 was held last weekend, March 5-6, at St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung…

View from St. Timothy’s Church balcony

As Covid-19 in Taiwan continues to be contained through strict border and quarantine controls, so we are grateful that our convention could go ahead in-person as planned. Pandemic precautions were in accordance with government guidelines, with temperature checks and hand sanitizer on entry, and face-masks in use for the service and during meetings. We really only took our face-masks off to eat, drink, and for group photos…

Taiwan Episcopal Church Clergy Group Photo

Just to set the scene, Kaohsiung is south Taiwan’s largest city and Taiwan’s main port. It’s extremely hot and sultry all summer, and very mild and muggy all winter. Pollution is a major problem and the air quality over the weekend was terrible – and with no breeze, so there was haze in all directions. Famous for its shipbuilding, steelworks, heavy industry, oil refineries, port and manufacturing, it doesn’t sound like a very attractive place. These were the air quality readings for last Friday…

But Kaohsiung does have a lot of interesting history – with an old British Consulate (built 1865) up on the hill at the entrance to Kaohsiung Harbour, and nearby at Sizihwan 西子灣 is where James Laidlaw Maxwell (1836–1921) worked as a doctor, most famous for his treatment of leprosy and malaria. He established the first Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (also in 1865) and this month there are commemorations for the centenary of his death. Though he was from Scotland, he was actually sent to Taiwan in 1864 with the then Presbyterian Church of England. The old houses of Sizihwan have mostly gone, but in one place there’s an NGO working to preserve the few that remain. Nearby is Pier 2, where all the old port warehouses are now being transformed into a huge art, shopping and heritage area, with its own light rail and with hazy views of downtown Kaohsiung. There’s lots going on! There’s also the stunning wall murals at Weiwuying, where there’s always something new to see. That’s where a huge new performing arts centre has opened recently too, but as it’s white and grey in colour, so it blends in with the haze, so you can hardly see what’s what – I’ve spared you all the hazy photos!

Most of us coming to the diocesan convention from the far northern and eastern corners of Taiwan arrived in Kaohsiung a day earlier, on Thursday last week. Those of us from Advent Church, Tamsui (including Meng-Rung and Hsiao-Yen on the left below, who are also both diocesan theological students) had a bit of time for sightseeing on Thursday afternoon…

And on early Friday morning at 6:30 am with friends from Trinity Church, Keelung, we were taking photos at Weiwuying. Can’t waste a single minute!