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

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