The great city of Oxford, once romantically described as the ‘city of dreaming spires’ 🤨 is now more accurately a city of 650 fast-moving electric scooters, that zoom in and out around all the streets ~ trying hard to avoid people furiously peddling along on ordinary bikes or struggling to push themselves on ordinary scooters, all trying to keep up. They go so fast, I have yet to get one in a photo – only the ordinary bikes stay in focus! Such is Oxford’s morning rush hour as students head for lectures and others head for work. It’s busily bustling out there!
Last time I was in Oxford, in October 2018, I wrote this in my blog post, “I admit, I’m not an Oxford person. I can’t recognise any college or building or landmark, haven’t got a clue what the colleges are, nor why they’re famous, other than just being part of Oxford University. So all I can tell you is that the buildings and colleges are beautiful, and spires are many. Spires and steeples and towers and gargoyles and churches and chapels everywhere.” That much is still true.
And so today I ambled around Oxford looking at lots of old buildings, wandering here and there, trying to stay outside in the beautiful sunshine as much as possible and mostly avoiding anything that required me to pay to enter. So don’t ask me what any of these places are, just look at the photos!
The real reason for being in Oxford was to visit CMS (Church Mission Society) Headquarters, located south of the city in CMS House – it also lets office space to other mission agencies and church-related organizations. I was there all day yesterday, and, well, it rained most of the day. Hey, if the day is going to be wet, then the CMS office is the place to be, it’s so warm and welcoming! And by lunchtime, the rain was stopping and there was even a rainbow coming out….
Most of the people who work for CMS either work overseas, or if they’re based in Oxford, then since the pandemic, they work partly there and partly at home – so you never know who might be there in person on any given day. Ah, I love surprises! I took along my Taiwan teapots and tea, and was delighted to share them with all the people at CMS, along with a few smarties, chocolate money and a few other goodies – well I do want people to remember Taiwan and my visit 🤣🤣! I was so happy to finally get to meet Alastair Bateman (CMS CEO since May 2019) ~ he smiled all day long, he’s just so lovely!
And I saw lots of my other good friends at CMS too. These people are just so dedicated, cheerful, humble and kind, every single one of them. Some have worked there for years and years, and a few even worked in the London office before CMS moved to Oxford in 2007. Some I have only met on email, but now I realise who they are, wow, it’s so wonderful to meet them. My biggest encourager and supporter, Anne organized the whole day’s itinerary, arranged all the meetings, and kindly prepared a delicious lunch too. Thank you Anne – and thank you everyone!
After a morning of fun meetings, then at 1:30 pm I had 30 minutes to do a WOW ‘Window on the World’ session, sharing about Taiwan with pictures on a PowerPoint, and also with several people attending online ~ while CEO Alastair sat right at the front and wrote lots of things down as I spoke! 🤩 These are the action shots taken right at the start…
Meanwhile the online people could only gaze longingly at all those teapots and tea, and dream of the chocolate money and Quality Street as we munched away in Oxford! 🤣🤣
Thanks to Camilla for taking these photos – I discovered she’s often the person putting together my link letters, so I’m really grateful to her for so much! 😊😊
During yesterday’s meetings, I did invite Anne as Asia personnel manager to bring along her colleague to come together to visit Taiwan sometime in the next year or two. Neither of them have been to Taiwan, in fact nobody in CMS has come to visit for a good few years, so it’s about time! They were both so excited, and are making plans already ~ and since then Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang in Taiwan has sent me a message to welcome them to visit. Can’t wait! 😊 This was the WOW session…
Ah, it was such an amazing day! In the past, I have stayed at the CMS House in Oxford during my visit, but this time it was full. Thanks to recommendations from friends, I was able to stay instead at the guest house of the ‘All Saints Sisters of the Poor‘, located further along the Cowley Road. They have an amazing history of serving people in need, and within their grounds they have both a children’s hospice and nursing home. It’s an oasis of quietness and beauty in a busy area of the city.
The whole area around there is small narrow streets, which are now bollarded off, to stop cars going through, so although it’s much quieter, it’s also much more difficult to get from one place to another. Check out the local area…
There’s even a big mistletoe tree, looking spectacular, and located in the middle of the main roundabout there…
After my visit to CMS, so off I went to explore Oxford after dark….
So it was definitely a good 2 days in Oxford! And finally, today is a significant day, as I said a final goodbye to NatWest Bank after more than 4 decades – I’ve had an account with NatWest since I was 18. In July, NatWest notified all its customers who, like me, live overseas, to inform us that unless we are permanently resident in the UK, we have to close our NatWest bank accounts. 😭😭 This is a commercial decision, and even using someone else’s address is not permitted. 😢😢 If this affects you, then you have all my sympathy, because it’s not exactly easy to open a new bank account in this country, but finally it’s happened (thanks to CMS and all those who helped out!) and I was notified as I walked past this NatWest Bank in Oxford today that everything had now been transferred over. Fare ye well NatWest Bank!
And goodbye to Oxford tomorrow, as I set out eastwards for my next CMS church visit this weekend, taking with me so many happy memories of my visit to Oxford. It’s been great, and a big thank you to all in the CMS Oxford Office for your welcome yesterday and for all your hard work every day ~ and of course all the fun! 😊😊 And now, East Anglia here I come!
Ah Sedbergh, such a lovely town, where the streets are so empty early on a Sunday morning, and where the smell of bacon lingers in the air from all the delicious breakfasts on the go (which might explain the empty streets!) ….
and where the pubs and shops have wonderfully evocative names like the Dalesman and the Thirsty Rambler….
or Sleepy Elephant…
and where a classic car might just appear around the corner as you stand to take a photo in the main street…
and where the White Rose of Yorkshire flag flies at the end of town…
while up above the town are the real ‘sleepy elephants’, the Howgill Fells, gentle, grassy rolling hills that can be seen from far and wide, and are such a pleasure to walk on and climb up, especially appreciated after all the rock, stone and boulders of the nearby Lake District. This is the view of the Howgill Fells of all who arrive by car from Kendal, from the M6, from all points west….
And the view from the Howgill Fells of Sedbergh Town nestling just below…
Nestling is not exactly the right word for what Sedbergh does, because the wind is usually so strong that you more likely get the impression that the town is holding on by the skin of its teeth or the claws of its hands to the side of the fells that anchor it down so it doesn’t blow away. At least that was the case on Saturday, when I arrived in Sedbergh for my first CMS (Church Mission Society) Link Church visit of this home leave. It was a typically blustery day, with a cold weather forecast of high winds with sunny spells and showers ~ but how could I not go up those Howgill Fells? I was blown up or staggered up all the way via Winder, Arant Haw and Calders to The Calf 676 m (2,218 ft) and back ~ that’s all the way over the sleepy elephants, so named by Wainwright, and it so fits!
You will see from the panoramic photo below a new development of houses going up in a field on the west (centre right) side of Sedbergh. Like most towns in exceptionally scenic areas of this country, so many of the houses in Sedbergh are second homes or let as holiday homes, with the result that local people can’t afford to buy into the property market, and this new development is planned to help alleviate that problem. Fifty homes are going up, some for sale on the open market, some for rent via Housing Associations and some for sale to local people.
Sedbergh is a Book Town – so it’s full of bookshops, and even the old bus shelter is a book shelter…
And it has a famous public school, Sedbergh School, with its library, chapel, boarding houses, classrooms and playing fields scattered all over the central part of town ~ the school is the main source of employment, and of course the staff and pupils keep all the shops and businesses going too, a win-win for everyone.
Right in the centre of town, St. Andrew’s Church, Sedbergh is part of the Western Dales Mission Community, described on their website as ‘an ecumenical initiative in the Cumbrian part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park that brings together Anglican, Methodist, United Reformed Churches and our companions along the way’.
Since my previous visit in January 2019, they have a brand new vicar, Rev. Andy Burgess, who started in January 2022, taking over from Rev. Andy McMullon, who has moved to Belguim. Yes, Sedbergh Church is dedicated to St. Andrew and both present and past vicars are also called Andrew. The previous one to Andy McMullon, who I also knew, was Rev. Alan Fell, so it’s definitely the amazing A-Team at Sedbergh! They are all so lovely. This is Andy Burgess with Susan, one of the world’s most cheerful churchwardens …
My connection with Sedbergh goes back to 1996, when my parents retired and moved to Sedbergh, not far from my brother who lives in the Lake District. They stayed in Sedbergh for 18 years, and got to know lots and lots of really great people, many of whom are still friends even today. I must mention our wonderful next-door neighbours who I visited yesterday, and who recently celebrated their Golden Wedding – hence the pose! My mother, bless her, remembers them more than anyone else in Sedbergh, they were just fantastic neighbours, and so good to us!
In 2008, the then Bishop of Taiwan, David J. H. Lai and his wife, Lily, along with Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and his wife MaryJo visited Sedbergh before the Lambeth Conference. Many Sedbergh people still remember their visit (including Susan the churchwarden, above) and even yesterday they were talking about how they had been asked to drive them around and where they had taken them, and all sent their greetings to Taiwan. Charles Chen particularly loved Sedbergh, and always said it was his idea of paradise!
Rev. Andy Burgess and his wife Joy both come from Kendal so it’s lovely to hear a local accent, they went through the local schools in Kendal too, and they’ve been warmly welcomed to Sedbergh, it’s clear that everyone loves them to bits! They have their hands full with 4 small children, including a new baby, but they kindly invited me and some of the church members to their home on Saturday evening for a meal. So kind, and it was all so delicious! Actually, that very morning, Andy had been in Carlisle Cathedral at a ceremony when Heather Fraser, from one of the remotest churches in his area of the Western Dales at St John’s Cowgill, received her ‘CMS Certificate in Pioneer Mission‘. Among other things, they report how they have 10 children meeting regularly there for outreach activities. That is incredible, Cowgill is about as far from anywhere as it is possible to be! Yesterday afternoon, they had their Harvest Festival and Apple Picking at Cowgill, and Andy has an article and photos of the event here. Do read it – and please pray for them! Cowgill is so remote that it’s not even signposted in Sedbergh ~ it’s up way beyond Dent…
Since September, St. Andrew’s Church has changed the time of its main Sunday service from 10:30 am to an hour earlier, 9:30 am, so that Andy can get up to Dent for the service there at 11:15 am. Fortunately, he has a whole team of wonderful people who help out with services and running everything, everything seems to work so well! The church was looking lovely too, having just had Harvest Festival last week….
The church has a small and very interesting sculpture called ‘Christ of All Nations’, cold cast bronze by Ruth Pavla Davey, 2012: “This sculpture of Christ expresses a timeless quality which combines contemporary simplicity and rough textures with memories of icons and Romanesque stone carvings. Although its pose retains a traditional sense of authority, it also suggests a possibility of friendship and deep emotional and spiritual connection. The inclusiveness of Christ’s message is very important in the Twenty-First Century, and here He belongs to no specific time, place or race. His multi-national features contribute to the idea of an accessible universal image. Initially modelled in clay, the figure’s movement and energy flow upwards from the earth towards heaven, and outwards to us in a gesture of loving welcome. His strong bare feet remind us of Christ’s earthly life, and time spent in the desert, and of the human suffering which he shares compassionately with us” …..
Yesterday, I gave the sermon at the main Sunday service at Sedbergh, and while the vicar went off to Dent, so we continued on with coffee and refreshments while I showed some photos and shared about Taiwan. No time to grab everyone for photos, but I did try, honest!
Thanks to everyone who came and listened to my sermon and talk and asked so many good questions! 😊😊 The church also had a collection in the main service for my support at CMS, and raised £200, which will be added to their 2022 donation of £150 and sent off to CMS. I’m so grateful to everyone, and to Almighty God! A special shout out to my wonderful and generous hosts, the Dentons, who kindly welcomed me to stay with them, and to the Copes who are so friendly and charitable in every way, as neighbours, friends and ecumenical supporters! It was such a great weekend, and special thanks to Andy Burgess for organizing everything so well, through phone calls and emails (all 10 of them, I counted!) and for his warm welcome. Please do pray for him and his family as they continue to settle in Sedbergh, for the church – and their vision and plan to reorder the back of the church to give more space for ministry, and for the wider Western Dales Mission Community and their outreach into the local community.
It’s been quiet on the waterfront at Bowness-on-Windermere this week, as the Lake District starts to show signs of autumn, with cooler mornings, early morning mists lingering over the lake, and darker evenings. After a summer of endless visitors, many of whom, come rain or shine, could be found eating ice-cream on the Windermere waterfront at Bowness, suddenly the waterfront seems emptier. The new school term has started, so there’s fewer families, but those who are still here seem quieter. It’s been that way now for several days. Since the queen died last Thursday, the tone is more sombre, serious, subdued.
Just next to the Windermere waterfront is the local parish church, St. Martin’s, where the Union Jack now flies at half-mast. Lots of people visit this church on any normal day, and since the queen’s death, the lady on duty in the church told me that there’s been even more visitors than usual. People coming in to offer prayers, light a candle, bring some flowers, write their condolences or just sit awhile. She was offering leaflets in a variety of languages, including Japanese. Windermere has become a very international tourist destination in the last few years, and people from all countries and all faiths can be seen walking along the main street, queuing for boat trips, shopping, eating and enjoying the sights and sounds of the Lake District.
Last Tuesday, I was in the nearby village of Grasmere, famous for being the home of William Wordsworth and his family, they’re buried in the churchyard. Many people were visiting that day, including in the church, while outside they were lining up to buy the famous Grasmere Gingerbread from the old school next door….
On Saturday, two days after the queen’s death, I was there again, and the village seemed eerily quiet. The outdoor cafes and coffee shops were open and had people in them, but there wasn’t the lively atmosphere of people on holiday enjoying themselves. The Union Jack on the church was at half-mast, while inside the church was a steady stream of visitors coming in to sign the condolence book at the front.
The last time I remember being in the UK for a period of mourning for one of the royal family was when Princess Diana died, 25 years ago, on August 31, 1997. I can still remember where I was when I heard the news, and the sense of shock and bewilderment that lasted for weeks afterwards as the country tried to come to terms with her sudden death. Like many of my friends of the same age and background, I’m fairly ambivalent about the role of the monarchy ~ as the elite of the land enjoy all the benefits of power, prestige, wealth and glory, the rest of us have to live with what’s left, resulting in huge inequality, injustice, poverty, discrimination and more.
In 1997, I had just returned to the UK having spent 7 years working with the Church Mission Society (CMS) teaching in Anglican Church-run primary schools in Tanzania, and was fairly convinced of the evils of the British Empire, which in reality was one big power grab but portrayed as intended to bring development and civilization. Being associated with CMS it’s difficult to avoid our historical connection to the British Empire, but as in all things, it’s never quite so black and white ~ and the Anglican Church in Tanzania was (and is) clearly doing much valuable outreach and mission work, including through their primary schools.
Though we grew up in 2 different worlds, Princess Diana and I were both born in the same year, 1961, so we grew up at the same time, in the same country, and when her marriage to Prince Charles started to fall apart, it was impossible not to feel some sympathy for her. She had so much media scrutiny, so much criticism from the royal family, and then her death robbed those 2 boys of their mother at such a young age, in such tragic circumstances, their every step and every emotion so publicly watched by millions. The royal family did not come out of it well, and I’d had more than enough of them.
But us women of the world must unite, and there’s no denying the queen herself was an incredible woman, serving the country for 70 years with grace, humility and a devotion to duty that is hard to find fault with. When we saw images of the queen seated alone at the funeral of Prince Philip last year, it was painfully hard to accept, and yet thousands of other people had to endure the same. The pandemic brought Britain to its knees, and since coming back from Taiwan 2 months ago, I’ve listened to stories first hand from those who suffered and are still suffering. There is still so much pain and anger, much of it directed at the government. This previous government leadership may have taken credit for the vaccines and for providing financial support during the pandemic, but then came news of partying at No. 10 the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, as No. 10 totally disregarded the rules which they had set and which the rest of the country, including the queen and royal family, were expected to follow.
So, although I’m not entirely happy with the monarchy as such, I also know the appeal – and therefore the danger – of electing charismatic populist leaders who make wild promises they can’t fulfill and end up bringing division and instability to the nation. And so I find myself asking would it really be any better if we had a president instead?
I am moved by my friends in the Taiwan Episcopal Church, including the diocesan youth leaders, many of whom have shared photos on social media since the queen’s death, exhorting us to pray for Queen Elizabeth II and her family. Several have also shared in detail about the role of the queen as the supreme governor of the Church of England. To be part of the Anglican Church worldwide is to acknowledge the historic role of the kings and queens of England in the church through the centuries. My Episcopal friends in Taiwan know far more than I do about Henry VIII and the problems of his succession that led to the establishment of the Church of England. I just try to remember all 6 of his poor wives, 3 of them called Catherine, and most of whom met an untimely end just because they couldn’t produce a son and heir. What a legacy for a church to inherit.
So while, historically, the strength of the Anglican Church worldwide can in part be attributed to its association with the British Empire, that doesn’t apply in Taiwan. Taiwan was never part of the British Empire, instead it was a colony of Japan from 1895-1945, and the Japanese Anglican Church in Taiwan at the time was only open to Japanese people, not the Taiwanese. You might have thought that all that association with empire would have put Taiwan people off from joining the Anglican Church. Apparently not. And you might have thought that all that association with empire would have reduced the size and importance of the Anglican Church in those countries that were once part of the British Empire. Certainly, when I visit such countries, it is difficult to know what to do with all that colonial guilt and shame that sometimes hangs in the air if I say I’m from the UK, or work for CMS. Let’s hope and pray that our new king, Charles III, plus world leaders and coming generations face up to the challenges, get on with bringing out the truth and start to right the wrongs of the past.
In Grasmere Church this past week, I was struck by the fact that on the church bookstall, apart from books about local history, the only other books on sale were a series that included one called ‘Sayings of the Buddha.’ If I tell my Taiwan Episcopal Church friends this, I know they will ask me why. Why, indeed? In Taiwan, where so many follow Buddhism, Taoism and folk religion, many do indeed take comfort from the sayings of the Buddha and try to live their lives accordingly. We respect all religions, but we also have many in our churches in Taiwan who have become Christians from a Buddhist background, and they talk about finding hope and joy in the promise of eternal life through Christ. Many, moved by attending Christian funerals, see the difference that the Christian faith makes when facing death.
On Thursday afternoon last week, I gave the first talk of my home leave to a group of retired people in Troutbeck, including showing them some photos of our Taiwan Episcopal Church ancestor memorial liturgy, and I talked about our eternal hope in facing death. Only a few hours after the talk was over, we heard the sad news of the queen’s death. Since then, many church leaders have spoken of that promise of eternal life to all who follow Christ as an important part of the queen’s own deep personal Christian faith.
Who could not be moved by the events of this week, as we watch the royal family and the whole country grieve the loss of a much-loved mother, grandmother and queen; hers was a life of dedication, duty and humble service right to the end. One local business owner told me today she would be closing her shop on Monday for the queen’s funeral, not because she is a royalist, but out of respect for a woman who took up the role given her and poured her whole life into serving her people, right up until the very end. In her shop window is Paddington Bear, who has also appeared much on TV in the past few days, in a lovely sketch with the queen made for the Platinum Jubilee earlier in the summer. In honour of the queen, therefore, I am taking marmalade sandwiches up the fells with me each time and thinking of her – and Paddington – as I eat them.
As we remember Queen Elizabeth II in this national week of mourning, let us give thanks for her life, faith and service to others, including the times when she made us smile. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
‘Majestic’ is a word not just used of the queen, but also of Britain’s national tree, the oak, chosen as a symbol of endurance and strength. This one is in Grasmere….
And as it’s autumn so the oak trees here are now covered in acorns – containing the seeds – symbols of the next generation.
Our next generation of the royal family need our prayers too, for wisdom, discernment, courage and strength. The responsibilities they face are huge, with the whole future direction of the monarchy and that of the Commonwealth at stake. And so we pray for King Charles III, Princes William and Harry, their wives and children. And we pray too for ourselves, our nation and all nations, and our world. From the leaflet published by St. Martin’s Church, Bowness-in-Windermere in honour of the queen’s death, “Help us to work together so that truth and justice, harmony and fairness flourish among us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.
Updated Sunday September 18, 2022: These are 2 other churches in the area, Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria’s largest parish church – and one of the widest churches in England with 5 aisles, where people have been laying flowers outside the church as well….
And St. Paul’s Church, Grange-Over-Sands, where the town flag flies at half-mast next to the church….
Many churches, including Grange are holding their own special commemorative services…
In Jesus Church, Troutbeck, we sang the first verse of the National Anthem, ‘God save the King’ at the end of our Sunday service today. It has been quite a week, and we pray for the Royal Family and the whole country preparing for the queen’s funeral tomorrow, and especially for King Charles III as he takes over his official duties and responsibilities as king.
Mrs. Aline Y. L. Ma 馬蕭亞麟 (Ma Siao Ya-Lin) died peacefully on June 18, 2022, the beloved wife of Professor Herbert H. P. Ma (馬漢寶 Ma Han-Pao), Canon Chancellor of the Taiwan Episcopal Church. Mrs. Ma, always known affectionately as Ma Mama, was a gracious, kind and warm-hearted friend of all in the Taiwan Episcopal Church.
Her memorial room has been set up in St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei, and the family are on hand every afternoon from June 23-29 to welcome visitors wishing to pay their respects. The private cremation service will be held on June 29, followed by the memorial service on Saturday August 20 at 10:30 am, which will also be live-streamed from St. John’s Cathedral. The long gap between these events will, along with fulfilling Taiwan’s quarantine requirements, enable the grandchildren to come from overseas and the Bishop of Taiwan, Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang to return home from the Lambeth Conference. At this sad time, please do remember Professor Ma and all the family in your prayers.
Professor Herbert Ma is a well-known figure in Taiwan, having taught law at National Taiwan University (NTU) for 52 years and served for 12 years as a Grand Justice of the Constitutional Court. In his retirement, he has kept in touch with many of his former students, including politicians, professors, judges and lawyers who count it an honor to have been in his classes. In pride of place in the Ma family home are 2 photos of Professor Herbert Ma with one of his former students, former president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-Jeou 馬英九, who was among the first visitors to pay his respects at Mrs. Ma’s memorial room yesterday.
Mrs. Aline Ma was born in Shanghai, China in 1930, but her mother died when she was very young. Her father, a banker, feared for the safety of his only child due to the war with Japan, so at the age of 7, he sent her with relatives to Germany. The relatives were based in Berlin, studying at Berlin University; and the young Mrs. Ma went to live with a Prussian general’s family in Brandenburg City, where she always liked to say she learned ‘order, discipline and punctuality’, characteristics which stayed with her throughout her long and incredible life. The Prussian family had Chinese connections in Beijing dating from before the Boxer Rebellion, but they could not speak Chinese, and on arrival, Mrs. Ma had no German language. By the time her father visited her a year later, her German was fluent, but unfortunately she had forgotten all her Chinese, and only remembers sadly being completely unable to communicate with her father. That was to be the last time she saw her father, as war and civil war intervened and they remained apart for the rest of his life. He later remarried and had 3 more children, all of whom Mrs. Ma got to know in later life.
The young Mrs. Ma spent the whole of World War II in Brandenburg City, suffering along with the German people, but in 1945 she and her relatives escaped the Russian occupation and fled to Switzerland where she was sent to boarding school. After graduation, she had no resident permit to continue living in Europe, and so in 1955, unable to return to China, she travelled alone to Taiwan. Although she could speak German, French and English, she could not speak Chinese, which initially made it difficult for her to find a job. She later taught herself to speak and read Chinese, but German always remained her first language.
It was, in fact, her inability to communicate in Chinese that brought Professor and Mrs. Ma together, as they found they could communicate perfectly with each other in English. Their fathers had known each other in Shanghai, and the young couple met for the first time at a wedding reception in Taipei hosted by mutual friends. The Ma family had moved to Taiwan in 1947, and the young Professor Ma, then a student, was invited by Episcopalian neighbors to attend worship services in their home. Apart from his brother-in-law who had been baptized in China, this was Professor Ma’s first direct contact with the Christian faith. The services (which expanded to become the cathedral congregation) were led by a pastor from the China Inland Mission, Yang Yong-Jing 楊詠經, who later baptized the young Professor Ma. Mrs. Ma was baptized after her marriage, and eventually Professor Ma’s parents became Christians too, and all played an important role in the development of the Taiwan Episcopal Church.
Professor and Mrs. Ma were married in 1957 in St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei, and their 4 children were born between 1959-64, Gabrielle 佑敏, Mason 佑聖, Vera 佑真 and Beatrice 佑遠. The family lived with Professor Ma’s parents, 3 generations under one roof. Mrs. Ma first taught German at the German Cultural Center and then for 30 years at NTU. As well as supporting her extremely busy husband, she also took care of their 4 children and her parents-in-law, and for some years led the cathedral ECW (Episcopal Church Women) and later the diocesan ECW. In her retirement, she continued to inspire and support her family and church, welcoming visitors and sharing her warm hospitality. Many of us count it an honor to have visited her home to listen to the story of her extraordinary early life, which has since been published in German and Chinese. At every major church event, Mrs. Ma would be at her husband’s side, smiling and caring for everyone who came to greet them. Throughout their 65 years of marriage, Mrs. Ma has been a tower of strength and support for her husband, and Professor Ma has always acknowledged how blessed he has been to be married to such a great woman.
Since the pandemic started, Professor and Mrs. Ma have largely remained in the safety of their home, participating in church services and events online. A few months ago, Mrs. Ma suffered a stroke and had been in hospital since then. The most recent major church event they attended in person was the consecration of Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang as Bishop of Taiwan on February 22, 2020 at St. John’s Cathedral. At the end of the service, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry paid tribute to Professor Ma, presenting him with a letter of thanksgiving in recognition of his ministry, constancy, wisdom and faithfulness over the past 65 years to the Taiwan Episcopal Church. By his side, as always, was his beloved wife, Mrs. Ma, smiling and content. A great woman indeed, and she will be much missed by us all.
We fondly remember Ma Mama at this time, giving thanks for her long life of dedication and humble service to her family, her church and to Almighty God. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
Updated Saturday, August 20, 2022: Ma Mama’s Memorial Service:
As you’ll have read in my link letter above, I’m preparing for my ‘home leave’ in the UK, so I’m busy saying goodbye to friends, schools and churches here in Taiwan. Last week, I said farewell to the 8th grade in our local junior high school…
Also said goodbye to St. John’s Cathedral English Congregation, where I’ve been going once a month for the last few years, helping out by doing the sermon. It was a joint celebration to say goodbye to Rev. Antony Fan-Wei Liang and his family – he’s in charge of the English congregation and moves in the summer to become vicar of St. Luke’s Church, Hualien. Everyone loves him so much! Thanks to the congregation for such a huge and delicious cake – the yellow is actually flakes of white chocolate!
We’ve also been celebrating graduation for members of our St. John’s University Student Fellowship, with a farewell party recently for them on the theme of Old School Graduation …
And on the day of the actual graduation (which was held online due to the pandemic), lots of students still came by, and we had photos in Advent Church…
In between all the celebrations, the pandemic continues. Although this current Omicron surge – which really got going only just after Easter – seems to have peaked and numbers are not as high as they were a few weeks ago, we are still seeing 50,000+ new cases and about 100-180 deaths per day. The total number of deaths from Covid now stands at 5,651, all but 850 or so occurring in this present Omicron surge – most have underlying conditions, about half unvaccinated.
Vaccination rates are now about 90%, and they’re about to start vaccinating children above 6 months. Borders are gradually opening up, and quarantine for all arrivals is now 3 days in isolation, followed by 4 days of self-health management, which can be done at home if requirements are met. That’s a vast improvement from not so long ago when it was 2 weeks of hotel quarantine for all arrivals. But many activities have been canceled or postponed or rearranged online and all with reduced numbers. Our summer camps are going ahead but numbers are about 1/2 to 2/3 of what we would normally expect. Economic hardship continues for many. Advent Church has responded to the diocesan ‘Love Your Neighbour’ Project (as mentioned in the diocesan Friendship Magazine, published in the previous post) to reach out to help those affected by Covid. For our students who are isolating due to Covid, we’ve been giving out small care packages…
And to those students who are receiving meal coupons, and our local junior high school students affected by Covid (as mentioned in my link letter), we gave out zong-zi for the Dragon Boat Festival at the beginning of June…
Then we had a fundraising project in Advent Church to raise money to provide care packages of basic essentials to local families affected by Covid…
We delivered 17 of these care packages to our local elementary school for them to deliver to children’s families. The principal and the chair of the parents’ committee were moved to join in and made financial donations themselves. This is us delivering the packages last week – it was pouring with rain!
When the rain stops, then we’re out and about! Cycled on the You-Bike into the sunrise, past the northern tip of Taiwan lighthouse, and around the northern coast to Yehliu Geopark. It’s full of stunning rock formations, most famously The Queen’s Head, which is having its neck gradually eroded by the wind and salty air…
Yesterday, my friend Chien kindly invited us to visit Juming Museum, featuring the sculptures and artwork of Juming 朱銘, a nice trip to say goodbye to each other as I leave for the UK soon. You need good weather for that place, but not too hot – and the day was perfect!
So a big thank you to everyone here in Taiwan for your blessings ~ and to you all for all your prayers and support!
And finally, as related to my CMS Link Letter above, check out this video from the CMS website, it’s really good!
The latest edition of our diocesan Friendship Magazine, June 2022, is just published online, and the printed version will be coming out soon. I’m the editor of this publication, so please read ~ and pray for us! It contains news of all our 15 churches, photos, updates, and articles. We really appreciate all your support. Thank you!
Yes, we’re looking forward to it already, next year’s diocesan convention on Taiwan’s scenic east coast ~ St. Luke’s Church, Hualien here we come! We’ve just had this year’s convention online, for the first time ever, preceded by a day’s workshop held in person at the cathedral. We loved seeing everyone there but it was only a day, so here’s to next year!
Many years ago, we had a visiting bishop who came to speak at our diocesan convention / synod here in Taiwan. He described his experiences of visiting diocesan conventions elsewhere. In England, he said, where such events are called synods, they’re held mostly in a single day, usually in some cold and draughty church hall, with the wind and rain howling around outside. Coffee may be served, but there’ll be no lunch on offer – you have to bring your own – all of which is considered quite normal. In complete contrast, he described his experience visiting the USA, where such events are called conventions, and which often meet over 2 days in a 5-star luxury hotel with all meals provided, and all hotel amenities available for use; all at great expense to the church – but also considered quite normal.
And then he came to Taiwan, where we fit somewhere in-between – and he loved it! The friendly welcomes, the atmosphere, the dedication of our church members in attending such events. Our churches take it in turns to host the event. Many of our church members like to combine attending the convention with a visit to, say, relatives nearby or to some tourist attractions ~ but staying in a nice hotel, seeing all our friends again is the main reason why everyone is willing to come. The Taiwan Episcopal Church is after all much like a large family, everyone knows each other, and many are even related to each other or grew up together. The actual meetings – the reports, elections etc may be necessary but, well, let’s face it, they can be a bit of an endurance test. It was during the online meetings at our convention last week that I remembered that visiting bishop and his experiences in England, USA and Taiwan, and wondered to myself if online is the way to go for future conventions (I hope not!) – or just how do we get the balance right?!
Anyway, aware that people need to be encouraged to attend such events, often held far away – but also aware of the costs and the negative image of church funds being spent on extravagant hotels, so Taiwan’s convention is usually held at a hotel that is mostly 3 or 4 (or occasionally even 5) stars, but one where we’ve managed to get a large discount through our church members. The costs are further reduced by holding the opening service and initial meetings in the local church hosting the event. This year it should have been the turn of St. Luke’s Church, Hualien. Seeing as we were going so far, so our bishop, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang also decided to organize a ‘workshop’ for the day before the actual convention started, intended for our clergy and church members involved in youth and community outreach.
Then along came Taiwan’s latest and by far the biggest Covid surge so far. A month ago, cases started going up on a huge scale. With most people vaccinated, so the government has changed track from a zero-covid policy with lots of restrictions, to allowing normal daily life to continue on as much as possible. They’re trying to keep hospital beds available for only the most serious of cases by allowing home quarantine for everyone else. Apart from facemasks and quarantine rules for confirmed cases and their close contacts, Taiwan’s central government is no longer imposing strict rules and regulations on society as a whole, so it is up to individuals and institutions to make their own decisions. Numbers are now up to over 40,000 new cases per day and rising, and the virus is everywhere. During last week’s convention, two of our clergy had tested positive, and two others were in home quarantine due to their children’s contact with confirmed Covid cases. We face an uncertain time ahead as the country tries to gradually open up its borders while at the same time dealing with a major surge in cases. Fortunately, a few weeks ago, as the cases started to rise, Bishop Chang announced that the diocesan convention would be moved online, starting Thursday evening May 5 and lasting all day Friday, May 6, though the workshop would be held in person on Wednesday, May 4 at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei for those able to attend.
And so it was that most of us gathered last Wednesday at St. John’s Cathedral. The workshop was actually a day of worship, sharing, teaching and prayer, led by the Rev. Ian Liao 廖文華牧師, pastor in charge of Truth Church, Taipei, 基督教台北真道教會, a large, growing and very lively church in Wanhua, one of Taipei’s poorest areas and oldest red-light districts. Bishop Chang had invited him to come to share the experiences of their church in community outreach and youth ministry. He was specifically asked to share not just their successes, but also their failures, and what they had learned from their ministry that could help us. It turned out that Rev. Liao had studied for several years in the UK at Cambridge University, and while there had worshiped in a lively Anglican Church, so he was very familiar with our style of worship and liturgy. Living in Cambridge had clearly made a big impression on him, especially being surrounded by so many magnificent church buildings which had only a few elderly church members, or were even closed down completely and converted to bars and restaurants. He had also done a lot of research into our Episcopal churches in Taiwan, going on prayer walks circling around some of them and checking out nearby schools, colleges and other suitable places for outreach. In fact, their church used to be located very near our cathedral, but they had opted to buy a new building in Wanhua to better serve the people there. He was very well-placed to challenge us all about our outreach ministry.
This was the first time I had seen this kind of ministry event organized by the diocese as part of our diocesan convention and held in our cathedral. Rev. Liao had brought the leadership team from his church, who led the worship, and during the prayer times, they moved around praying with different people. It was very moving to see so many of our clergy and lay members respond to Rev. Liao’s call – and the moving of the Holy Spirit – to go to the front to receive prayer for their own children, those whose children no longer go to church or who have made choices in their careers or relationships which put them at odds with their parents. It was also very moving to see so many respond to Rev. Liao’s call to come forward to commit themselves to ministry among different groups of people, and later he specifically called several clergy and their spouses to the front to pray for them, sharing as led by the Holy Spirit.
On Friday morning, Rev. Liao appeared by video to give the opening sermon of the diocesan convention. It was a really excellent and very challenging sermon, and plans are already in hand here in Advent Church to show it to our vestry committee and church leaders too. He preached from Ezekiel 47, ‘the river from the temple’ and he talked about how the living water comes from the temple then spreads out from there. As we long for the living water of the Holy Spirit to fill our churches, so the living water will then pour out onto our local communities, bringing blessings to all. With this longing in our hearts and filled with the Holy Spirit, so we need to start out walking, and we will see God’s anointing on our ministry as we go. The deeper we go into our local communities, the deeper into the living water we will go, until, just as in Ezekiel’s vision, it covers our ankles, then knees, and shoulders, until we are swimming in this living water of the Holy Spirit.
In Ez. 47:8, the water flows to the Dead Sea and the salty water becomes fresh – so as we move out from our churches, lives around us will be changed and relationships restored. Their church has a ministry in Ximending helping children with their studies in after-school classes and giving them evening meals, thus helping families, as well as improving results for local schools, so local people no longer need to send their children to schools outside the area to get better results. In Ez. 47:10, ‘fish of every kind’ will fill the rivers and sea – so our churches will be filled with people of every kind, every age & background, rich & poor, indigenous and every ethnic group. Wanhua was ground-zero for last year’s Covid surge, and their “Church Can Help” project helped deliver relief packages to 4,000 families during Level 3 Covid Restrictions, and some have started to come to church. In Ez. 47: 12, the trees will bear fruit every month and the leaves will not wither, and their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing – so God’s blessings are ongoing every month, but he blesses us not to make us proud of our achievements, but for us to continue to bless others. That’s a brief summary!
In his sermon at the opening service on Thursday evening, Bishop Chang reviewed and commented on some of the lessons learned at the previous day’s workshop, and encouraged and exhorted all the clergy to spend less time in their church offices – and get out into the community, doing outreach and sharing the Gospel!
The opening service was held at St. John’s Cathedral, we watched it online. After the service finished, Rev. David Chee presented a graduation certificate to Vivian Meng-Rung Kuo, our first graduate of the Trinity School for Christian Ministry (TSCM), our newly-established diocesan theological college. Congratulations to her and to all at TSCM!
And so to the start of the diocesan convention online. The idea was that each church would host the online event for their own clergy and delegates, so everybody gathered at their respective churches – all that is except for those who were in Covid quarantine, who stayed home.
So what did I learn? Firstly, an online diocesan convention using zoom takes much longer than a meeting in person, especially elections for the different committees. This was done by scanning the QR codes, and although it mostly went smoothly, it seemed to go on and on! Normally our meetings run not just to time, but often finish early, but by lunchtime on Friday, we were running about an hour late. The fun thing was to check out all the different people and churches and how they were doing things there. Some had their group sitting very close in full view – they provided quite a lot of entertainment as they forgot the camera was so close, while others, like us here at Advent Church had ours set well back, so we could even walk around and nobody would notice.
On Friday afternoon, after all the formalities of the convention were over, each of our 15 churches had 10 minutes to do a presentation. This was really interesting, and each church presented a detailed vision and action plan for the next 1, 3 and 5 years. Our clergy tell me that this has been a really good exercise, sitting down with their vestry committee and praying and planning for the future. Most used PowerPoint to do their presentations. In my humble opinion, our Advent Church PowerPoint was the most beautiful, and our rector’s talk the most concise. We’re grateful to our chaplaincy team – to Yi-Ting for putting the PowerPoint together, and to Tzi-Wei , who was actually in the diocesan office all that day taking care of the zoom arrangements. We did have a bit of a PowerPoint (PK) competition with Christ Church, who have Yu-Lin, one of our former chaplaincy team based there, well-known for her design skills – and theirs was looking very stunning too, but Advent Church was, well, definitely the best! But Christ Church did win hands down on the yummy-looking snacks provided to their delegates, which were in full view of their camera. Ha ha, it’s the small things that matter! It so happened that all their group of 6 were wearing blue, so they looked really well-coordinated. St. Paul’s Church also had snacks available, we could see 2 bowls of fruit, including a plate of bright red tomatoes. Looked good! But the prize for overall colour coordination goes to St. Mark’s Church, who had large bright green divider boards set up to separate their meeting room from the actual church, and with these as a backdrop, so their PowerPoint also used that same bright green colour, and 2 of their delegates were dressed in bright green too – ah, l loved it! You can see them in these photos, check out the bright green!
And so ended our diocesan convention 2022, giving thanks to God that everything went smoothly, and to the diocese for all the arrangements made. St. Luke’s Church, Hualien had also prepared well for this convention, but then put all their arrangements on hold, so the plans are that this same time next year to actually hold the convention in person there on Taiwan’s scenic east coast. YES!
Please pray for the 18 clergy and 15 churches in the Diocese of Taiwan, that all will be filled with the living water of the Holy Spirit, and that we can all get out of our church offices and into our local communities to share the Gospel, bringing living water and changing lives!
Every year, we take a group photo at our diocesan convention, but it wasn’t possible this year. But we do have a group photo of our 18 clergy, taken during Holy Week at St. James’ Church….
Please also pray for Taiwan as we face this major Covid surge in the next few months. Although most people over the age of 12 are vaccinated, there are a large number of elderly people who decided against it, and many are now confined to their homes – they are a major concern. Our churches are facing many challenges not knowing what’s ahead, and whether services, activities, summer camps etc can go ahead or will need to be canceled or rearranged online. Your prayers are much appreciated. Thank you!
Easter Greetings to you all, if a little late! Christ is risen, alleluia!
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!
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.
Escaping from Taipei’s endless rain and cold, and in search of some sun, warmth and blue skies, so we just spent this past week driving down Taiwan’s east coast. Beautiful! Yes, sun, warmth and blue skies, all so much appreciated. My 3 friends, Xiu-Chin, Ah-Guan and her daughter Ya-Ling arrived here on Monday from Taichung and Tainan ~ first stop was to visit Rev. Philip Jung-Long Ho and his wife Shiao-Lan, recently retired back here to Sanzhi from Grace Church, Tainan. So wonderful to see them again!
We set off from Taipei on Tuesday and headed east to Yilan, staying in the famous hot spring town of Jiaoxi. Most interesting is the waterfall and RC church at nearby Wufengqi 五峰旗….
The story behind the church is that some 40 years ago, a group of hikers got lost in the mountains nearby and prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. She appeared to them in a vision and guided them down the mountain to safety. The church is beautiful, especially with the red lanterns for New Year and the pink cherry blossom…
We left Jiaoxi heading south to Hualien, stopping at the cliffs….
In Hualien, we visited Rev. Joseph Ray-En Ho (son of Rev. Philip Ho), his wife Pei-Yin and children, who are based at St. Luke’s Church…
His daughter carries a specially-made cross for some of the services, and was so happy to dress up for a photo with us!
We were staying at Ji-an, just outside Hualien, where the early morning scenery was just what we needed after all of Taipei’s endless rain!
We visited Liyu Lake, and watched the inflatable ducks and fountains performing to music…
We visited the local sites, passing by the famous Hualien Starbucks – in the shipping containers…
On Friday, we drove south from Hualien along the coast to Taitung, Taiwan’s most scenic coastal route, crossing the Tropic of Cancer on the way….
The east coast beaches are beautiful!
In Taitung, we stayed at a guest house right near the old sugar factory which is reinventing itself as a big art and cultural space…