At the beginning of November, I travelled with Bishop Michael to Taiwan. This trip, marking the second decade of the partnership agreement between our dioceses, was designed to look ahead and to plan a new series of joint projects together. In 2009, Bishop David Lai invited youth delegates at Diocesan Synod to visit Taiwan and one of the purposes of this trip was to start bringing that vision to reality!
We began our visit at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei for the signing of the new partnership agreement. I had been warned that Taiwanese services are a little longer than their Canadian counterparts. I soon discovered why. After the sermon a crowd quickly formed up at the altar. It appeared they were waiting for a blessing, but it transpired that they were actually there to be baptized. And then, just when that excitement died down, another crowd formed around the bishops. These were candidates for confirmation. It was a great lead-in to the signing ceremony itself, which Bishop Michael remarked has a weekly significance in both dioceses as we pray for each other’s parishes in our regular prayer cycles.
(Image: Reverend Leonard Chang the Chaplain of St. John's University with Phil)
After church we went to lunch with Tina, the daughter of Dean Samuel Lin. Tina spoke about how many
of her friends found conversing in English a challenge, as there are few fluent English-speakers in Taiwanese schools. She had an advantage, having spent a summer in Vancouver at a language school a few years before. We also compared notes about the typical lifestyles of Taiwanese and Canadian high-schoolers. There were a lot of points of crossover, from the importance of achievement being felt right throughout the system, to the multitude of extracurricular activities all vying for time and attention. And, yes, Taiwanese choirs don’t just sing Taiwanese songs. They also sing Mamma Mia.
The next stage of our journey was to join clergy at their retreat in the southern city of Kaoishung. We joined fourteen clergy from around Taiwan for a series of very lively sessions, discussions and question and answer periods. Some of the sessions were conducted solely in Mandarin (which gave the English-speaking contingent the chance to explore some of the local sights) but many were carefully translated by some of the bilingual speakers at the retreat. What was interesting to me was how familiar a lot of the questions and discussions were. How do we engage congregations in worship? How can we adapt liturgy to speak to those who have never connected with it?
This was also true when I led a discussion about youth ministry. I asked the Taiwanese clergy to tell me what life is like for young people in Taiwan. There were some good observations, but also a lot of trepidation and silence. I let them know that’s often the same response I get in Canada! It’s okay to admit we may not know certain groups of people in our congregations very well — our challenge is to go and spend time with them and begin to understand the world how they see it. It was an encouraging discussion. It created an atmosphere where we were able to swap ideas for a youth visit in 2011. This exchange of ideas was from the perspective of youth ministry rather than just what we, the adults, might want to see happen.
After the clergy conference and a return to Taipei by High Speed Rail (having never been to Japan, this was my first experience of the legendary bullet trains) I visited St. John’s University to meet with the faculty and the Episcopal church chaplaincy to continue to develop a project for 2011. We talked about how we could build upon the last visit of Canadian youth to Taiwan back in 2002, and how we could take advantage of developments in the university since that time. What we came up with was an exciting idea to partner with existing students in the English language department at the university, helping them to improve their confidence in English through a week of activities and conversation with visiting Canadians. Then, we would stay with them and help them to lead a week of activities for prospective students. A chance not just to visit and share our experiences, but also to help each other to lead others!
It was a fascinating, exciting visit and hopefully just the beginning for even more exciting work with the Diocese of Taiwan in the future!
Image: Lanterns on the ceiling of a Buddhist temple in downtown Taipei