My gleanings from the fall House of Bishops meeting in Taiwan, 2014
By the Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh
VIII Episcopal Bishop in Rochester
As we come to the end of our meeting, I have been struck by several things during this sojourn as/to the House of Bishops in Taiwan. The typhoon downgraded to a tropical storm was a disruption for many; there was some loss of life in the Philippines and Taiwan. Our prayers surround those affected due to the vulnerability of their residential spaces.
It has been sad to hear of a few members in our body who look down on this venture and characterize it as wasteful. Philosophically, I think any incarnational expression can seem wasteful unless the scale and economy takes into consideration the mutual enlargement of worldview for everyone in the encounter. The Church pushes me to enlarge my worldview beyond my parochial realities. From congregation to District/Deanery to Diocese, Province to the Church-Wide Episcopal Church in seventeen nations to the Anglican Communion to the holy catholic Church, the church ripples out, connecting us to larger understandings of “self” in relationship to the “other.” Encountering the “other” in their world or worlds helps us expand our own worldview. It is not an either/or relationship, but one that values both the particular while helping us to transcend and connect with the universal. I am very grateful that the Diocese of Rochester has been prayerfully encouraging my participation in this House of Bishops meeting in Taiwan. I find that when my mind and heart are open, I end up being transformed and humbled. Someone wisely said that the mind is like a parachute, it works best when it is open. Coming to Taiwan has opened my mind a little more. Let me tell you why I think coming to Taiwan has been priceless from my perspective.
First, I have been reminded of a little flock of Episcopalians who have chosen joy in Christ over despair. Since their founding in 1954, they have had to deal with clarifying their identity. The Church has chosen joy and its finest expression, hospitality. Bishop David Lai, his spouse Lilly, and the saints of the Diocese went above and beyond their resources to extend the warmth of Christian hospitality to us. There is nothing more attractive in a Christian than joy that overflows into hospitality. The Taiwanese Church embraced us with their hospitality in their demeanor, their mindfulness, and generosity of spirit. How wonderful it is when Christian love is genuinely shared! Along with several other bishops and spouses I had the privilege of worshiping at their elegant St. John’s Cathedral. Worship was profoundly moving. While I noticed that their hymnody was mostly translation of hymns from the western world and wanted to get into the weeds of colonial mindset etc., but I was quickly struck by the holy passion with which these faithful saints sang and worshiped God. At one point in the liturgy when we were singing the Gloria, they in Chinese and we in English, I felt something of the sublime and was overwhelmed with a welling up from within of the goodness we share in Christ Jesus transcending language, ethnicity and culture. Every human being has the capacity to look at life for its joys instead of wallowing in despair. This little flock has made a clear choice to embrace their joy in Christ over the despair around things that don’t define our Christian identity at its core. I pray that they never lose this priority. They have much to teach the Church in the North.
Second, I noticed that the Episcopalians in Taiwan have chosen a movement toward their common goal over distractions. In other words, they seem to be clear that the main thing is to follow Christ faithfully in their work, school, play, and worship. While visiting St. John’s University, one of our Colleges and Universities in the Anglican Communion (CUAC), I met a young man, Eric Chen, who took the day off from work to come back to his alma mater to greet a few visiting bishops and spouses. Eric is an entrepreneur and in his words, wanted us to know that he “became a follower of Christ while studying at St. John’s University” and that it had made the biggest difference in his life and purpose. This small Diocese with eighteen congregations, a few chapels and several house churches, is constantly planting churches not only in Taiwan, but in neighboring Philippines, as well. Their main thing is following Jesus and they are not apologetic about this. It impacts all their decisions. How refreshing is that?!
Thirdly, I see these faithful Episcopalians in a country with a population of about 24 million embracing reality and rejecting blame. How easy would it be for them to blame the Dutch, the Spanish, the Japanese, and the Chinese for the many histories of annexation! How easy would it be to get entangled in the blame game around the politics of language when Chinese and not Taiwanese is the main language! I am not suggesting that they don’t question any of this. I believe they do. However, I find this faithful flock of Christ’s followers teaching me not to blame and get stuck, ironically giving more power to those who dominate or dominated in the past.
Finally, I have gleaned that the gift of faith in Christ is keenly engaged by the faithful not only in Taiwan, but also by those in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Pakistan. We had Primates from most of these nations give voice to this deep and abiding faith. It causes them as minorities in their own cultural contexts to keep calm and do something good for Christ’s sake! I am humbled by the witness of the Churches in Asia and it does make me wonder how willing the Churches in the global North are to learn from these faithful brothers and sisters. I hope our coming to Asia was an encouragement to the faithful and proves to be a deterrent to those who persecute Christians, knowing that they belong to a bigger body that is not shy or afraid to show up. Xie xie , which is the Chinese expression of thanks, for your steadfast faithfulness to follow Christ. I am inspired to do my part even more compassionately, sacrificially and boldly.