Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Far East Daily Blog #10

September 22, 2014 On this final day of our Fall 2014 House of Bishops meeting, we began our day with Holy Eucharist. Though normally have been moving beyond our worship to describe the other events of the day, today I would like to comment upon the sermon preached by one of our HoB chaplains, The Rev. Canon Simon Batista. His text was the Luke (9:1-6) story which we generally know as the first or "limited" commission of the disciples. In a powerful and musing ( at times amusing) way Simon enthralled us with his description of what it meant for the disciples to be called out by Jesus to leave home to pursue the mission that Jesus gave them. What I heard Simon say to me was that Jesus calls me to be with you whether you are in Yokosuka, Japan; Anchorage, Alaska; Rammstein, Germany; Herlong, California; or Durham, North Carolina. The mission Jesus has given me is to leave home, pack light and go be with you, wherever you may be. Some of you have told me that it is so good that I will go to this extent to be with you. Let me be clear that though I appreciate these words of support, God has supplanted any air travel fatigue I may encounter with his marvelous grace and joy. I do love to be with you and to hear your stories of ministry and mission challenges. Most of you know that my greatest task is to make you as successful as possible. Then we moved into our "town hall" meeting. This is a setting in which each member of the HoB has the opportunity to share any small items of interest. Our topics of conversation included: a Haiti update, engagement with the Ebola crisis in Africa, the 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City, a review of our Church Pension Group fund investments, Diocese of Missouri involvement with the Ferguson crisis, personal messages of thanks for personal and pastoral support, Bishops United Against Gun Violence, and immigration problems for people of color entering Great Britain for religious work. Our reality is that the bishops of TEC are involved in mission within an incredibly vast expanse of settings. Then we heard from Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operations Officer of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, about the work of DFMS. The last event of the morning was our business session. At this session we discussed various and sundry salient changes that are pertinent to the members of the HoB and to TEC at large. Finally we received three resolutions that would express the mind of the HoB. Two of the three were approved: a resolution that supported the Archbishop of Hong Kong during a time of political and social transition, and the other in support and commendation of our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori. Finally, we accepted the resignation of Bishop Jim Curry, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Connecticut. This will be my last blog entry in this series. Tonight we will have a closing community dinner at which we will hail new members of the HoB and give our farewells to those who are departing for either retirement of other venues. Then tomorrow most of us will go to the airport to either fly back to our homes or to engage in pre-arranged travel to some other locations in Asia. As you know, on the way to Taipei, Taiwan Carolyn and I stopped over in Japan for 7th Fleet command visit with Cam and Paulette Fish. Hence, we will be traveling back to the states - a trip that will take almost 20 hours of air travel. We have had a special time in Taipei. Not only have we learned about the culture and how the Christian faith is being shared, we met many, many wonderful people. At the end of the day, these experiences of meeting people are the events that stay with us. We have been blessed! +Jay

Far East Daily Blog #9

September 22, 2014 Today we continued our discussions of the theological context of what it means to be Christian in the countries, provinces and dioceses in the Far East. Our first context speaker was the Rt. Rev. Nathaniel Uematsu of The Anglican Church in Japan, or Nippon-Sei ko kai (or NSKK), Diocese of Tohoku. The Christian population in Japan is <1%. Japan was closed to Christian missionaries until 1863. Bishop Nathaniel told of the experience of going into the homes of parishioners and finding Christian symbols alongside a statue of Buddha. A major part of their recent ecclesiastical history has to do with the post-WWII era when the country experienced democratization, demilitarization and the demise of emperor worship. In the midst of this opportunity the NSKK began to grow and evolve. One of their first tasks was to affirm NSKK responsibilities for their country's actions during WWII and, the initiation of both their confession to God and an apology to the people of Asia and the Pacific. Today the NSKK struggles to have a significant cadre of educated priests to lead the congregations. Additionally, the NSKK continues to discern its role to pursue peace and reconciliation. To many in this body, the US military presence in Japan is troublesome. Next we heard from the Rt. Rev. Paul Kim of the Anglican Church of Korea. Like the NSKK, the period following WWII was a time of intense expansion. The Korean Peninsula has been divided for over 60 years. This great divide has been very painful to not only the families on both sides of the 38th Parallel division of North and South Korea, but also has been painful to the Christian church. The possibility of war has an overwhelmingly powerful ever-present reality in the two Koreas. The people of the church are committed to the transformation of Korea and know that the road to peace must be traveled in the absence of force and in the presence of peace-making forgiveness and reconciliation. Our final Episcopal primate was the Most Rev. Edward Malecdan of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. The ECP, founded through mission of PECUSA/TEC in 1901 through the action of the General Convention of that year in Los Angeles. At that it became a missionary diocese of PECUSA/TEC. Only since 1991 has the ECP begun to become independent from TEC. The year 1991 was a important year for ECP when it began to develop its own mission strategies and priorities as it experienced economic independence. According to Bishop Ed, many of the Filipinos did not want to cut this dependency tie. Finally, in 2005 they completely severed the economic umbilical cord when they decided that such would be necessary if ever they were to assume full self-responsibility for their mission. Even though their population is the 4th poorest in the hemisphere, this entity of the Christian church is beginning to develop and grow. Economic indicators reveal that the Filipino economy is experiencing the fastest growth in all of S.E. Asia. Against this background of independence and growth, they know that they must deal with the overwhelming abject poverty, ecological disasters, and war with radical Muslims and Communist insurgents. The remainder of the day was devoted to three particular foci: the Task Force to Reimagine the Episcopal Church (TREC), the Task Force for the Study of Marriage and the election of our next presiding bishop. Let me say a few words about each one of these important topics. TREC has been put together in response to a resolution of the General Convention of 2012 with a task to reimagine TEC: both how it is structured and how it does its work. Four of our bishops have worked very hard on this project and are nearing the finish line which is the place at which they will prepare resolutions to be presented to the General Convention of 2015 that meets in Salt Lake City next summer. For a fuller look at their work go to http://reimaginetec.org. The Task Force for the Study of Marriage, also put together in response to the General Convention 2012, has been engaged in the study of Christian marriage from every possible perspective. After the study was presented we were asked to discuss their preliminary work at our small table groups. To be quite honest, I do not spend a great deal of my time focused upon marriage. Like most of you, I have performed my share of marriages. Like most of you, I have gone through with the pre-marital work and for time to time wondered if the couple whose relationship I was about to bless would even be living in the same state or even country one year hence; so much for my belief in the fidelity of enduring love. However, most of my table-mates and I surprised ourselves when we came down solidly to say at least two particular things about marriage. The first was that work we do with couples is an evangelical opportunity when we may nearly have the undivided of both parties. We out to exploit that opportunity. In addition we said that we believe in marriage. That is, we believe that marriage is a good thing in that it brings two people into the most intimate of relationships, which, when engaged in for the right reasons, can be a solid building block for the larger social community and certainly of the Christian community. The final presentation was from the Presiding Bishop Nomination Committee. Next summer at the General Convention we will elect a new Presiding Bishop. Our much beloved Katharine Jefferts Schori will have served 9 full years as our PB, the canonical limit of time any bishop can serve as our primate. Currently nominations are actively being sought. On the 31st of October the nominations will close. Then at the spring House of Bishops meeting at Kanuga Conference Center, Hendersonville, NC the slate will be announced. There is not a great deal more than can be said about the process right now. Between the end of October and the next House of Bishops meeting, all of the vetting and interviews will have to take place in order to determine who will be on the final list. Stand by. +Jay

Monday, September 22, 2014

Far East Daily Blog #9

September 21, 2014 On this Lord's Day, the bishops and spouses had the opportunity to go to any of three different congregations. Carolyn and I chose to attend worship at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Taipei. This congregation is led by the Rev. Lily Chang, parish rector, and consists of Chinese, Taiwanese and English speaking people. The service, interestingly enough, is in all three languages. How, you might ask? Believe it or not it is very possible to do this through saying parts of the service in any of the languages, but rarely all three. The preacher was the Rt. Rev. Richard Chang, resigned (from the Diocese of Hawaii) and retired. Bishop Chang's sermon was one of the longer parts of the service because each time he spoke several sentences in English, a woman from the choir translated his words in to Chinese (Mandarin). After the service we had a delightful congregational meal that had been prepared by the women of the church. Regarding the mission of Good Shepherd Church, the the leaders are very clear that their primary reason for existence is to make Christians, not Anglicans or Episcopalians. The denominational affiliation is always secondary to the task of discipleship. We learned this during a Q&A session with the Rev. Ms. Chang. It was both refreshing and comforting to hear this, especially when I know that most of the priests who serve in the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries episcopate are also dedicated to the primary task of making disciples of Christ. After returning to the Grand Hotel, bishops and spouses spent an hour or so in conversational small groups discussing our Taipei and greater Taiwan trip highlights. Interestingly enough one of the most common themes was appreciation the missional goal of making Christians in this overwhelmingly non-Christian population. Thinking about this, as I read the prognostications of futurist social scientists, someday this could the state of the USA. If so, rather than fear that possibility, we might want to think in terms of embrace. The church in Taiwan may be an example for us. Every indication is that the Taiwanese Church here is both healthy and growing. In fact, there may be something to be said in favor of being in the minority. Some of us believe that the early church in Palestine was its healthiest when it was a distinct minority. The last event of the evening was something that happens at every House of Bishops meeting, a "fireside chat" with the Presiding Bishop. Though these conversations are always permanently embargoed, I hasten to say that invariably this this conversation one of the highlights of the entire meeting. Once again, as a bishop of the church, I have to be present in order to participate. +Jay

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Far East Daily Blog #8

September 20, 2014 The majority of this day was devoted to the experience of the sights and sounds of the Taiwanese culture. One again the bishops and spouses were divided into several groups and went to different destinations. Carolyn and I went with the group that went to the Yilan National Center for Traditional Arts. After a 1 1/2 hour bus ride we experienced such things as historic and contemporary music and dance. During the performance interludes we were able to spend time with native Taiwan artists whose creative skills ranged from the design of jewelry and clothing to making musical instruments. As has been the case in any number of our outing the visit concluded with a meal consisting of a wide variety of Chinese foods. In the evening after we returned to the hotel we attended an instructional tea service ceremony that was conducted by Bishop David Lai. Though perhaps we thought we knew something about tea and the service of same, we were quickly disabused of that notion. For over two hours we learned about the selection and care of tea pots, varieties of Chinese tea, how to make the tea and then how it is to be served. Finally we got to taste a number of different tea varieties. As persons whose initial basic concept of tea was that it comes in a small white bag and has the word "Lipton" affixed to a tab of paper at the end of a short string, we were in for a great surprise. While some of the tea was strong enough to put the tea-drinker at the position of "attention," still other types were exceedingly smooth. At the completion of the day Carolyn and I were musing upon how a person can learn a new culture, which was what Taiwan was to us. One of our conclusions was that a central part of culture learning is to partake of the local food and to take note of the customs of how the food is to be served. Having eaten food all over Asia, I thought the process to learn their food would be very simple. In fact, we have had to learn a whole new way to eat, be served and serve others. In addition to musing on the Taiwanese variety of Chinese food, I spent time thinking about the basic kindness of the people of the country. In particular, I began to think about the kindness of the Christian people we encountered each day. To put their hospitality into perspective, I believe these Taiwanese people know that as a minority group comprising only 3-5% of the overall population, these Christians know that their ability to effectively bear witness to the love of God in Christ will be enabled through initial acts of graceful kindness. Now that is something that we would do well to learn! +Jay

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Far East Daily Blog #7

September 19, 2014 After an opening Eucharist, our focus for the day began to unfold: the theological context of Taiwan,Hong Kong and Pakistan - three geographical locations of prominent Anglican/Episcopal Church presence in the Far East. By the way, the Eucharist began with the singing of "Eternal Father" which mightily inspired me! TAIWAN The Rt. Rev. Peter Lai, Bishop of Taiwan began with a presentation of the history and ministry of the Diocese of Taiwan. The Diocese began in the late 1950s as a ministry to US military personnel and members of their families. I can only imagine that this involved a cooperative relationship between military chaplains and on-the-ground missionaries. Representatives of the Episcopal Church (then the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America) were the initiators of this missionary effort. Understandably, today, the leaders of TEC continue to experience and live out our connections with the Diocese of Taiwan as a province of our church. However, the first actual diocesan synod was not held until 1969. The first bishop was James L. Wang, who was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and then ratified by this initial diocesan synod. Those of you who are reading the daily entries of this blog series will know that yesterday I named Bishop Wang as the founding influence for St. John's University in Taipei. Upon reflection, it is obvious to me that the Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan was born out of the background of the political, social and religious tension that came to fruition in mainland China during the first two decades after the completion of World War II. When Christian people came from Shanghai to Taiwan, their Christian faith was reborn in the Diocese of Taiwan. Though very little has been said about this background tension, it is an inescapable part of their history. Bishop David told us that Christianity is a minority religion in Taiwan that exists alongside the majority lunar-based ancestor-worship religious traditions (i.e. Buddhism and Taoism). Describing how Christians live alongside the other religions of Taiwan, Bishop David said, "I always tell my church members that they should not keep silence in the face of the lunar-based religions - otherwise you will appear to agree with them. Don't argue, but tell the story of the Lord Jesus... Also, you have to know your faith if you are going to share your faith." HONG KONG Next we heard from the Rev. Peter Koon and Mr. Gareth Jones. The Rev. Mr. Koon is a member of the staff for the Archbishop of Hong Kong. He described for us the current political struggles between a group of Protestant Christian community organizers and the government of the Peoples Republic of China. The Christian organizers have been engaged in street protests that are much akin to the "Occupy Movement " that we have seen in the U.S. and some other countries. The Hong Kong Anglican Church and the Archbishop seemingly are in a very delicate position wherein they enjoy the benefits of being allowed to live out their Christian Faith, at the same time they are aware that there may be some political changes that need to be made in Hong Kong. Mr. Jones, who is associated with the Anglican theological college in Hong Kong, spoke about their processes of formation for aspiring priests. My major conclusion from his presentation was their recognition that the spiritual formation of aspirants is every bit as important as their academic preparation. Currently, they are - as are most graduate theological schools in the U.S. - attempting to find the correct balance. PAKISTAN Finally, we were inspired by an old friend of this episcopacy, the Rt. Rev. Samuel Azariah, Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church of Pakistan. Though I easily I could devote several pages to what Bishop Sam said to us, there are two points that stand out to me. The first is that in the midst of their minority context (a population that is 98.5% Muslim and 1.5% Christian) they are trying to live out their lives as faithful Christians who and at the same time find ways to be respectful of moderate Muslims. The bishop said that the hope of the church is young people, improving our relationships with Muslim people, but only in the context of relationships as equal sisters and brothers. Bishop Sam's second point of interest was that he wanted to develop a new paradigm of how they understand the gospel so as to expand their apostolic witness. Perhaps this idea was best stated when he said, "Our apostolic witness should not have denominational and geographical limitations." This last point had quite an impact upon me, and in the plenary discussion I initiated a question about how he understood this concept. In short his explanation described to me a near perfect analogy between his status as a minority Christian and the context of all the federal chaplains I serve. The common point is that the apostolic mission can only be achieved when we tear down our denominational and faith community barriers and boundaries. That which separates us will be the inhibitor for all when it comes to the achievement of the apostolic mission of Gospel proclamation. +Jay

Friday, September 19, 2014

Far East Daily Blog #6

September 18, 2014 Today members of the HoB and their spouses were divided into four different groups to go on field-trip excursions to visit important functional entities of the Diocese of Taiwan. The group to which Carolyn and I were assigned boarded a bus this morning to make the 45 minute trek to St. John's University in Taipei. Let me tell you something about St. John's University. Founded in Mainland China in 1879 in Shanghai, development of the university was spearheaded by American Bishop Samuel Issac Joseph Schereshewsky who had arrived there in 1845. With colleges in the humanities, engineering, and medicine, the institution constantly grew to the point of being a major influence in Shanghai. However, with the revolution that began after WWII in 1949 the new government leaders were less than sympathetic to its founding faith-based principles. Consequently St. John’s was closed in 1952 and combined with another existing institution. During the next decade some of the staff and faculty moved to Taipei, Taiwan and envisioned a new start for the school in the Republic of China. Through the support and inspiration of Bishop James Wang, the first full fledged bishop of the Diocese of Taiwan, blueprints were drawn up, and construction was begun. With Bishop Wang’s encouragement TEC became financially involved. In 1970, just subsequent to Bishop Wang’s death, the University was reopened in Taipei. Ultimately accredited by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the University has produced graduates who have brought significant prominence to the institution. Not only do their graduates include a president of the Republic of China, but also world renown architect I.M. Pei. Last night when Republic of China President Ma Ying-jeou spoke to us he stated that one of his four major strategic goals was economic and technological development. It was obvious to all of us that St. John’s University is producing graduates who can and will help him to achieve that goal. Now thinking about what we experienced today at St. John’s it occurred to me that though this university was founded by forward-thinking leaders of the Diocese of Taiwan and TEC, over 50 years later what should be the role of the church in the education of people at this school? I believe that this question is every bit as applicable for academies in the United States as it is min the Far East. Should we be using the university as a place to form young women and men into mature Christian adults, and if so, how can we do that? Though St. John’s University has a beautiful chapel at the very center of its campus and a full-time Episcopal priest/chaplain, all of the religious formation and instruction is optional. Short of thinking that I know more about young adult ministry than the staff, faculty, and chaplain of St. John’s, is there a better way to accomplish these goals? +Jay

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Far East Daily Blog #5

September 17, 2014 Today was the "official" first day of the House of Bishops meeting in Taipei, Taiwan. As is our usual custom, we began with the opening Eucharist at which at which Presiding Bishop Katharine (Jefferts Schori) was the celebrant and preacher. Since this was the feast of Hildegard of Bingen, Abbess and Mystic (1179), Bishop Katharine's sermon was based upon the historic place of women in the church as they have increasingly been placed in positions of leadership. A central part of her message was that it was not always easy, but that women of fortitude such as Hildegard were the forerunners of those who lead today. After a photo shoot to take pictures of the bishops and spouses, and lunch, the bishops engaged in their first executive session to check in with one another. Let me describe a bit of how this is done. Every three years the bishops at the General Convention the bishops are assigned to table groups of 8-9 bishops. The bishop will stay in his/her table group for the next three years. For all purposes, this is our small group, reference group and extended family. Today in this our extended family we spent time updating one another on the professional and personal events of our lives. While certainly each six-months at these semi-annual meetings I hear stories of successes and achievements, additionally I hear expressions of heart felt statements of family needs. It is humbling, just humbling. Reflecting upon the table group, I have been asking myself a central question: Why would I, as a member of the House of Bishops, want to travel through 13 time zones and half the way around to the globe to be at this meeting? I can think of several reasons not to attend. Had I not attended this meeting my annual budget would have not been decremented for the trip. The time away would have been negated. I could have kept up better with my daily tasks such as real-time correspondence with you. So why would (Carolyn and) I make this trip? The answer is elusively simple. I needed to make this trip to fulfill my ordination vows to participate in the counsels of the church. Additionally, there is another reason, which possibly trumps the first reason. I attend these HoB meetings to represent you and to insure that always your bishops diocesan are reminded of your sacrificial service for the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ. In short, the only way these two tasks can be accomplished is through my attendance at the HoB meetings with my colleague bishops. The evening ended in grand style with a semi-formal a welcome reception hosted by the Diocese of Taiwan. Much to our great surprise, Bishop David Lai, the bishop diocesan, had invited the president of the Republic of China to be the central speaker. I had been told ahead of time that the Mayor of Taipei might be with us. However, we were somewhat stunned to have President Ma Ying-jeou with us. For reasons that many of you, especially our Armed Forces chaplains, will understand, this is a particularly sensitive time in Taiwan. Currently US Pacific Command is engaged with operational units in a huge annual exercise known as Operation Valiant Shield. It is my understanding that a major purpose of this operation is to send a message to the Peoples Republic of China that the United States stands by and will defend the Republic of China/Taiwan and its democratic principles. I have it on good authority that this region of the world, to include the Taiwanese Straights, may be the most sensitive military and political area of the world. According to the "Taipei Times" newspaper, earlier in the day President Ma had been at sea aboard a Perry-class Taiwan Navy frigate to view parts of the maritime operation components. This has been a big day for both the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church and for the Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan. +Jay