House of Bishops begins historic meeting in Taiwan

Members learn about church in Asian context

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Sep 17, 2014
Bishops attending the Episcopal Church House of Bishops meeting in Taipei, Taiwan pose for a group photo on Sept. 17 outside the historic Grand Hotel, site of the meeting. It was 97 degrees at the time of the photo session, which considering the 50 percent humidity, felt like 109. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ Episcopal News Service

Bishops attending the Episcopal Church House of Bishops meeting in Taipei, Taiwan pose for a group photo on Sept. 17 outside the historic Grand Hotel, site of the meeting. It was 97 degrees at the time of the photo session, which considering the 50 percent humidity, felt like 109. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Taipei, Taiwan] In a historic year for the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Taiwan, the House of Bishops has come to this city to “learn of greenness in different pastures,” in Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s words.

The theme of the Sept. 17-23 fall Taiwan meeting is “expanding the apostolic imagination” and the bishops will explore the mission and ministry of the Diocese of Taiwan. In addition, bishops and others from the Anglican Church in Hong Kong, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines and Korea will discuss with the house the theological context and mission challenges their provinces face.

After the meeting ends a number of bishops are heading to Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines or Korea to continue learning about the mission and ministry of the Anglican Churches there.

The Diocese of Taiwan is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The bishops agreed to meet here at Taiwan Bishop David Jung-Hsin Lai’s invitation.

Diocese of Taiwan Bishop David Jung-Hsin Lai says he worked for eight years to bring an Episcopal Church House of Bishops meeting to his diocese. The meeting began Sept. 17 and runs until Sept. 23. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ Episcopal News Service

Diocese of Taiwan Bishop David Jung-Hsin Lai says he worked for eight years to bring an Episcopal Church House of Bishops meeting to his diocese. The meeting began Sept. 17 and runs until Sept. 23. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ Episcopal News Service

During the house’s opening session on Sept. 17, Lai thanked the bishops, many of whom had traveled as much as 24 hours to get to Taipei, for making the effort to come, saying that his six-year-old dream of having the House of Bishops come to his diocese had come true.

“You come here to share, to learn, to strengthen your wisdom and knowledge,” he said.

The entire diocese has prayed at 9 p.m. every day for 40 days for the success of the House of Bishops meeting, according to Lai.

He acknowledged that many of the bishops were feeling jet-lagged after their travels and he jokingly told them that now they know how he has felt at every House of Bishops meeting since his election in 2000.

Jefferts Schori had said during a news conference at the end of the last House of Bishops meeting in March that Lai’s invitation “seemed like a remarkable opportunity for the bishops in this church to learn something about the Asian context in which the church has relationships, and also increasingly from which other parts of the Episcopal Church are receiving migrants.”

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou welcomes the Episcopal Church House of Bishops Sept. 17 to his country during a reception at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ Episcopal News Service

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou welcomes the Episcopal Church House of Bishops Sept. 17 to his country during a reception at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ Episcopal News Service

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou told a reception on the evening of Sept. 17 (local time) that Chinese tradition marks time in 60 year periods and thus the Diocese of Taiwan has completed one cycle and is embarking on a new one “that foretells an unlimited future.”

“So the Episcopal Church couldn’t have picked a better year to hold a House of Bishops in Taiwan,” he said. “Your choice shows the importance you place upon your congregations here and upon my country. For this, I am grateful.”

Ma said he wanted to express personally his “deepest respect and thanks” for the way that the Episcopal Church has “actively preached the gospel” through service to its communities both in Taiwan and around the world.

The Taiwanese president then outlined his efforts toward turning his country into a peacemaking nation and one known for providing international humanitarian aid rather than receiving it, based on the biblical call to love your neighbor as yourself.

The House of Bishops’ opening Eucharist earlier in the day marked the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen. Jefferts Schori noted in her sermon that Hildegard used the concept of viriditas and its sense of the fecundity of the earth and the soul to teach people about the “blazing fire of creativity at the heart of God.” The presiding bishop likened viriditas to Jesus’ call to abundant life.

Where, she asked the bishops, do they encounter viriditas and “what creative ferment engages and transforms you?”

“This Episcopal Church is in the throes of creative ferment, yearning to find a new congruence that will discover emerging light in new soil and refreshed growth in the plantings of former years,” she said. “Our gathering here will offer opportunities to learn of greenness in different pastures and, God willing, to transform us to discover abundance and possibility in more familiar ones.”

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori leads a prayer Sept. 17 during a reception at the end of the opening day of the Episcopal Church House of Bishops meeting in Taipei. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, center, addressed the reception. Bishop David Jung-Hsin Lai, right, and the Diocese of Taiwan is hosting the Sept. 17-23 meeting. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ Episcopal News Service

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori leads a prayer Sept. 17 during a reception at the end of the opening day of the Episcopal Church House of Bishops meeting in Taipei. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, center, addressed the reception. Bishop David Jung-Hsin Lai, right, and the Diocese of Taiwan is hosting the Sept. 17-23 meeting. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ Episcopal News Service

History of Anglican and Episcopal Churches on Taiwan
Anglicanism has been on the island of Taiwan since at least 1895 after the island was ceded to the Empire of Japan at the end of the First Sino-Japanese war.

From then until 1945, when Japan was defeated in World War II, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church in Japan) built churches in Taiwan and held services for its Japanese citizens. Taiwan was part of the NSKK’s Diocese of Osaka. The nationalist government confiscated most of those buildings after the Japanese left and gave them to other denomination.

Episcopal Church chaplains came to serve American military personnel that were based here after the Japanese surrender. As the Episcopal Church grew, it came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Honolulu (later the Diocese of Hawaii). The church also took pastoral care of the former Chinese Anglican Church members who had come to Taiwan from Mainland China in 1949 with Chinese Nationalists who left in after the Chinese Communist Party defeated the Nationalist army.

From 1954 to 1960, the Episcopal Church in Taiwan was under the supervision of Honolulu Bishop Harry S. Kennedy as part of the pastoral care of American Armed Forces in the Pacific.

Kennedy remained the bishop-in-charge and Honolulu Bishop Suffragan Charles P. Gilson became bishop-in-residence in Taiwan in 1961 when the island became a missionary diocese after the NSKK handed over ministry here to the Episcopal Church.

In 1988, the diocese achieved full diocesan status. Episcopalians in Taiwan renewed their Anglican connection with Japan in 2005 when the diocese entered into a companion relationship with the NSKK Diocese of Osaka.

The Diocese of Taiwan exists in country of 23.34 million people, less than 5 percent of who call themselves Christian, according to the diocese’s Friendship Magazine. The diocese has a history of “gradual inculturation and integration” moving from a membership of Mainland China Anglicans and American military personnel to one with more Taiwanese people.

The diocese has gained members in the 10 years ending in 2012 (the latest year for which figures are available here. The diocese had 1,176 members in that year compared to 975 in 2002, according to this report, and Friendship Magazine says it now serves roughly 2,000 members. The average Sunday attendance in 2012 throughout the diocese’s 16 congregations was 687.

The diocese also includes St. John’s University with an enrollment of slightly more than 6,000, eight parish kindergartens and a number of outreach centers.

The Episcopal Church includes worshiping communities in 17 countries, including the United States, Micronesia (Guam and Saipan), Taiwan, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands (both U.S. and British), Puerto Rico and, by way of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria.

Also on the bishops’ agenda
On Sept. 18, the bishops will divide themselves among Church of the Good Shepherd in Taipei, St. James Church in Taichung, Trinity & St. Stephen’s churches in Keelung and St. John’s University in Tam Sui. On Sunday, Sept. 21, bishops and their spouses and partners, and others present for the meeting will worship at either Church of the Good Shepherd and St. John’s Cathedral in Taipei or Advent Church in Tam Sui. They will return to Taipei in the late afternoon for a session aimed at processing their experiences.

The evening of Sept. 21 will also include a closed “fireside chat,” meant for the presiding bishop and the bishops alone.

While in Taipei, the bishops are also scheduled to receive briefings on the work of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, which recently released a letter to the church outlining the structural changes it will recommend to the 2015 meeting of General Convention. Bishop members of the A050 Task Force on the Study of Marriage and the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop will also discuss the work of those groups to date. The latter briefing will be held in closed session, according to the meeting schedule.

The bishops also plan a “town hall”-style session with the presiding bishop and a formal business session on Sept. 23.

The meeting is taking place at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. Some bishops are blogging from the meeting about their visit to Taiwan. Others are tweeting during the meeting using #HOBFall14. Those tweets can be read here.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


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Comments (13)

  1. Livingston Prescott Humboldt IV says:

    We accuse members of Congress of going on expensive junkets. And this one for the bishops is costing how much? Despite all the PR jargon, it sounds like a huge expenditure of money that could have been far better spent in other ways. There are lots of “green pastures” needing attention back here in the good old U.S.

  2. Brad Howard says:

    This meeting is encouraging. In my opinion, there are tremendous opportunities for Anglicanism in Asia. The Anglican middle path may help people in the region to discern their way through otherwise seemingly intractable difficulties.

  3. Tony Price says:

    This is the first time that Episcopal Church bishops have visited Taiwan as a group, and their presence should help Bishop Lai immensely with evangelism on the island. My family and I lived in Taipei 1981-86 and worshipped at Good Shepherd Church. Our daughter was married there, one son was born there and another died there, so Taiwan has important memories for us. We are very proud that our former rector John Chien became the first native-born bishop of Taiwan. Once known to the West as Formosa, the Republic of China on Taiwan has been a staunch ally of the United States in spite of being ‘de-recognized’ in 1979 as the price for US diplomatic relations with mainland China (the Peoples Republic). I hope by the time their visit is over that the Episcopal Bishops come to appreciate our far-flung Episcopal lands, and this bastion of Chinese culture in particular. I personally predict that the visit will change the lives of many of them.

  4. Selena Smith says:

    I am glad to hear that the bishops are meeting away from the mainland. I pray that the nominees for
    Presiding Bishop will come from and have a sense of greenness in other lands without being green (naive) themselves.

  5. Dianne Aid says:

    Perhaps this meeting can open additional pathways for grassroots engagement of membership of the global Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.

  6. Jerry Drino says:

    When I was Ex. Dir. of the Office of InterCultural Ministry Development of Province 8 it was important to remind members of the Province of the rich heritage and ministry and mission initiatives that came from Taiwan. Province 8 exists in 11 time zones; add the additional 3 of TEC and you see how far and rich the ministries of over a 100 languages and cultures that make up the partnerships for mission and ministry that shape us as a global Church.

    1. Tony Price says:

      Jerry, TEC goes on eastward into several time zones of the Caribbean and Europe too! Those are mostly part of Province 2. Thanks for your post – your point is well made.

  7. So no one in the Episcopal Church has heard of the word “videoconference?” I just hope that the bishops don’t issue any pious declarations about what “we” need to do to alleviate “climate change.”

  8. Carl Carlozzi says:

    Let’s waste money sending bishops on a vacation by calling it a conference! This is nuts. If the bishops are so intent on spending money, why not pay the utility bills of our poorest parishioners and have the bishops teleconference each other. We’re a declining and dying denomination, what a moronic way to spend our money!

  9. Ke Chiang Hsieh says:

    I am glad that the House of Bishops (HoB) of The Episcopal Church (ECUSA) has its meeting in Taiwan, the diocese of which belongs to Province 8. It is vital that our leaders – ECUSA is not a local congregational faith community, but a church led by a body of apostolic successors – to understand the peculiar cultural and social environment of each diocese within their jurisdiction – this is the catholic aspect of ECUSA. The abundance gained by the HoB through their person-to-person interactions with the locals, from the President of the Republic of China down to the parishioners is invaluable. (Best things in life cannot be measured by money!) I sincerely hope that this meeting will enrich and enable ECUSA – mostly residing in the USA, but her most populous dioceses being that of Haiti – to live the Gospel in serving the humanity she encounters everywhere.

    The Diocese of Taiwan being a part of ECUSA is an historical and political consequence of World War II and the war between the Chinese Communists and the Chinese Nationalists. Had the Nationalists won, the Diocese of Taiwan would belong to Zhong Hua Seng Kong Hui (中華聖公會 or The Chinese Holy Catholic Church; 聖公會 appears in the name of both the Japanese and Korean Anglican Church, only pronounced differently), which existed before WWII. The Chinese Church benefited immensely from missionaries like late Bishop Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky in the late 19th Century, who translated the Bible into Chinese and founded St. John’s University in Shanghai, which produced greats like architect I.M. Pei. But history turned out to be otherwise and apparently none of her bishops retreated to Taiwan, hence, The Anglican Church there has to be restarted by the American Church. The St. John’s University in Taiwan is the named after the university in Shanghai. Soon after their rule over the Chinese mainland, the Communists re-organized all Christian churches into the Patriotic Catholic Church and the Three-self Church (once figure-headed by the Anglican Bishop of Nanjing), both under the direct supervision of the Communist government.

    I am glad that ECUSA re-established the Episcopal Church in Taiwan and that she values it sufficiently by having her HoB meeting there after 60 years. Let’s keep ECUSA holy, catholic and apostolic!

  10. Dorothy Leland says:

    I think it is wonderful and appropriate that the House of Bishops is meeting in Taiwan. Taiwan is, after all, a diocese in province VIII of the Episcopal Church of the USA. We must not forget nor neglect parts of our church simply because they are geographically far from most of us. We want our church to be strong and faithful to Christ’s word. We need to be sure that everyone is included.

  11. Richard Bidwell says:

    It is probably a good thing that they went — but I can’t really wrap my head around the cost involved. We hear a lot about stewardship. I wonder if this was a wise use of our resources.

  12. Mark Hatch says:

    Global understanding is invaluable and I applaud it. But it is a shame that essentially no grants, aid or financial support exists for parish clergy (i.e. non Bishops) to undertake such travels, such ministry, such discovery. These wonderful experiences and opportunities are only available to the very select few. This makes me sad.

Comments are closed.