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Taiwan Episcopal Church Diocesan Convention ’23 台灣聖公會第63屆教區年議會

St. Luke’s Church, Hualien, on Taiwan’s scenic east coast, was this year’s setting for the Diocese of Taiwan’s annual convention and workshop, held from May 9-12, and what a setting it was!  Of course, the scenery in Hualien is spectacular, with mountains, sea and sky in abundance, but the warmth of the welcome we received from the vicar, Rev. Antony F. W. Liang and his wife, Anita, plus diocesan seminarian / postulant Mr. Shawn Y. H. Wang 王彥軒, brothers and delegates Mr. Yang Jie and Mr. Yang Ming (pictured below), and all the church members was just as moving.  Thank you to everyone at St. Luke’s Church!

Mr. Yang Jie and Mr. Yang Ming

Under the guidance of the Bishop of Taiwan, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, the clergy and church members of St. Luke’s Church spent months in preparation, including the clearing out and complete renovation of the large church basement below the church, so that we could use that space – their hard work and attention to detail was much appreciated by us all! 

St. Luke’s Church, Hualien

Bishop Chang invited former Methodist Bishop Kwan-Wah Pong to lead a workshop for us all on Wednesday May 10, so he and his wife also joined us in Hualien.  Bishop Pong is already well-known in the diocese due to his involvement in the Methodist Graduate School of Theology, where he currently works, and as bishop, he was one of the signatories to a historic agreement of cooperation signed with our diocesan Trinity School for Christian Ministry (TSCM) in November 2021 (see that report here). This is Bishop Pong (left) with the TSCM dean, David Chee (right)…

Bishop Chang also invited the Asia Pacific Partnership Officer for The Episcopal Church, Rev. Canon Bruce Woodcock to join us for the week; this was Bruce’s first visit to Taiwan since Bishop Chang’s consecration in February 2020, delayed due to the pandemic. 

Bishop Chang with Rev. Canon Bruce Woodcock

Bruce arrived on Monday May 8 from New York and I met him at Taoyuan Airport. Waiting at the airport means there’s plenty of time for taking photos of all the quirky animals on display as well as watching the plane arrive from the observation deck. Ah yes, a big welcome to Bruce and all our visitors!

On Tuesday May 9, many of us from the Taipei area met at 7:30 am in Taipei Main Station, and set off for the 2-hour-plus train journey to Hualien, part of which runs down the east coast, passing Hualien’s famous Taroko Gorge on the way. 

On arrival at St. Luke’s Church, we were warmly welcomed with coffee and then an opening service in the newly-renovated church basement, led by Rev. Antony Liang…

Then followed big excitement as we set off for our outing to visit Taroko Gorge. Such a great way to see the scenery and catch up with all our old friends on the way! The day was cloudy which only added to the atmosphere at Taroko Gorge.  What a stunning place!

On the way back, we visited Qixingtan Beach….

And after dinner, so eventually we got to the hotel where we stayed for 3 nights, with its amazing views and garden. And yes we did have one free evening for swimming in that lovely pool!…

On Wednesday May 10, over 70 of us gathered at St. Luke’s Church for a diocesan workshop, held in the basement, and led by Bishop Pong on the theme of “Opportunities for Traditional Churches in Modern Day Society”.  Many said they found it really helpful and interesting, and Bishop Chang in his sermon at the opening service of the convention the following day spoke of how inspired he was listening to Bishop Pong’s lectures and sharing his experiences.  Some clergy said how much they learned about the importance of discipleship training for their church members, and another said he really appreciated hearing Bishop Pong emphasize how our faith is not dead, but living – and even though the ancient liturgies and practices of the church can sometimes seem so out of place and irrelevant in our modern world, yet they are deeply meaningful, life-giving and can lead us closer to Almighty God.  Another spoke of how he was moved to hear Bishop Pong talking about the Third Order of monastic life for lay people, and how following a disciplined rule of life can be beneficial for those who have become Christians from a similarly devout and disciplined Buddhist background but who often find it hard to adapt to being a Christian in daily life. 

Also during the break in the afternoon of the workshop, Ms. Chu Ju-zi 朱菊枝 from St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung arranged for us to try her special sweet nian-gao – it was very delicious, and all cooked on site!

Among the 70 of us gathered in Hualien for the workshop, there is no doubt that the most popular person there was none other than baby Enoch, son of our seminarian, Yu-Lin 鄭喻璘 and her husband, San-Yuan. He was hugged and cuddled and oohed and aahed over by everyone, he posed for more photos than anyone else, and added a great deal of joy to the workshop proceedings!

We finished the workshop with a very beautiful and moving Taizé service, very special indeed.

On Thursday May 9, it was the official start of the annual diocesan convention. Some of those attending only the workshop had already left, and new people had come specifically for the convention, particularly those who couldn’t take more than 2 days off work.  We had 94 people at the convention, and the event started with registration by QR code and then the Opening Service at St. Luke’s Church.

This is now the beginning of Bishop Chang’s 4th year as bishop, and according to his plan for his 7 years of ministry (until he reaches mandatory retirement at 72), years 1 and 2 were years of preparation, including the renovation of church buildings and training of church members etc, ready for the ‘action years’, which started last year and onwards.  On being asked to summarize Bishop Chang’s sermon at the opening service in just a few words, one person said, ‘Action Year!’, and yes, it’s a good summary!  Bishop Chang emphasized in his sermon our diocesan vision and development plan to expand our ministry, to reach out into new areas and establish churches.  He encouraged the church members to complain less and reach out more, pushing the clergy out of their offices into the community for outreach and encouraging the clergy to take the church members with them.  As part of the vision and plan to eventually expand into our own province, he explained the need for there to be 3 dioceses in Taiwan in order for this to happen.  To further this process, our 2 current deaneries of north and south Taiwan will in the future become 3 deaneries, with the addition of a central deanery.  This motion was later passed at the annual convention.  Bishop Chang also shared the good news about St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi, which has been preparing for many years to be upgraded to a parish but has been delayed by slower-than-expected growth of the congregation due to the pandemic. Now, at this convention, this proposal has also been passed.  Thanks be to God!

At the end of the service, presentations were made to the three seminarians graduating this year from our diocesan Trinity School for Christian Ministry (TSCM).  On hand to make the presentations of certificates were the retiring TSCM dean, Rev. Canon David Chee, and the new dean, Tim Pan, who was dressed resplendently in his beautiful academic gown of blue and green!

RetiringTSCM dean, David Chee (left) and new TSCM dean, Tim Pan (right)

Ms. Christina Hai 海小燕 and Mr. Alex Tso 左心泰 (who have both done theological training elsewhere) each received a Diploma in Practical Theology…

And Mr. Shawn Wang 王彥軒 received his Master of Divinity, the first person to ever graduate with a TSCM MDiv degree.  Congratulations to TSCM and all three graduates!

After the Opening Service, group photos and lunch, there was a small graduation party for the TSCM graduates….

And a celebratory toast to Alex Tso…

Then we said goodbye to St. Luke’s Church and set off back to the hotel for the start of our official convention meetings.   The whole event was magnificently led by our convention secretary, Mr. Timothy Liu 劉宜頌 along with Ms. Lisa Huei-Ling Hsu 許惠苓, the diocesan office manager.  They both worked so hard to make this convention a success, and everything went so smoothly!

Mr. Timothy Liu and Ms. Lisa Hsu

Mr. Yang 楊景儂 who has held the diocesan secretary role for many years also came along with his wife, they have so much valuable experience and offer helpful advice.  Here they are with former chair of the standing committee, Mr. Richard Hu….

The diocesan treasurer, Ms. May Shu-Chun Hsu 許淑羣, came with 2 of the diocesan finance staff, Huei-Yu 王蕙玉and Huei-Ying 許惠瓔 to present the financial report.  I’m not the only one to have noticed that of the 4 finance and admin girls working in the diocesan office, 3 of them have the same sound for the first character of their names, Huei-Yu, Huei-Ying and Huei-Ling. The sound ‘Huei’ in Chinese also means to be able to do something, so we always joke that between them, everything will always get done!

Diocesan treasurer, Ms Hsu (centre) with diocesan finance staff, Huei-Ying (left) and Huei-Yu (right)

Special thanks to our diocesan chancellor, Ms. Amy Chin 金文悅 and her husband, Mr. Gary Tseng 曾國烈, chair of the diocesan standing committee, who both worked so hard throughout the convention. Mr. Tseng is pictured here with baby Enoch, ah they got on so well!…

Thanks also to Mr. Yun-Hung Di 狄運亨, chair of the diocesan evergreen (seniors) committee, who came with his wife..

And Ms. Su-Er Yang 楊淑娥, chair of the ECW, Episcopal Church Women – we sat next to each other for the meetings…

Also Mr. Jin-Lung Huang 黃錦隆, chair of the diocesan property management committee, and his wife, who soon became known as our most photogenic couple!..   

And Mr. Wei-Jun 魏 駿, who takes over as the new person in charge of the diocesan Youth and Training Committee. 

And many others, too many to mention by name!

The afternoon and evening (see photos above) were taken up with the church reports, each church being given 10 minutes to share their progress report on their 1-, 3- and 5-year plans.  The highlight was this short video prepared by the Diocesan Youth and Training Committee to welcome people to the Taiwan Episcopal Church. Actually, it was filmed and produced by Vicky Tze-Wei, my former colleague in the St. John’s University Chaplaincy.  It’s really good – and all set to music, so you don’t need to worry if you can’t understand Chinese!  Please do check it out here….

On Friday May 12, at the morning session of the convention meetings, Bishop Chang spoke about the 15-year diocesan development plan for establishing new churches, based on proposals already made 25 years ago, and how the churches and areas would be distributed into the future deaneries and dioceses.  He also applauded the courage of Rev. Simon Tsou and St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi as they upgrade to become a parish.  Both these motions were passed, and the plan is that next year’s convention will be held at St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi, to celebrate their becoming a parish and also their 60th anniversary.  The second part of the meeting consisted of the election of new members of the Standing Committee (all done by QR code – and so quickly completed!) – and we finished with lunch and the train journey back to Taipei. 

Our final photo was originally just with the young people of the diocese, but as more and more people wanted to join the group, so we welcomed everyone, young or old!

It was also particularly lovely to welcome some of the St. Luke’s Church members to the final lunch, including Mr. Chien Hong-Ren and his wife, he is the younger brother of our former Bishop John C. T. Chien, and long-time member of St. Luke’s Church, Hualien. 

Baby Enoch had spent the actual convention away from the meetings with his father, but we were all pleased he came to see us for the meals and to say goodbye. He is just so lovely!

And this is Huei-Ling collecting up all the name bags ready to re-use for next year’s convention in Chiayi!

Grateful thanks to Rev. Antony Liang and all those at St. Luke’s Church, Hualien for their wonderful hospitality. This is Antony, his son, and diocesan intern, Mu-chi, recovering with a bit of shoulder massage! Thanks also to Bishop Chang, his wife, Hannah, all at the diocesan office, and everyone for such a successful convention. And most of all, thanks be to Almighty God! And see you all next year at St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi!

PS: The pose of the day must go to Anna and the 3 lovely dogs, taken at the back of St. Luke’s Church – aren’t they all so lovely?!

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!