Personal Journey 22: Transition
We are now approaching my time here in Hong Kong. I am sorry if it has taken longer than was interesting!
Personal Journey 22: Transition
I can describe the events of the transition from my time at Banchory to here reasonably well, but I am conscious that in approaching my ministry here in Hong Kong I am beginning to reflect on something, which is still going on and developing. It is harder, I think, to be clear about the meaning and significance of something of which you are still a part. Distance lends perspective! In talking about Hong Kong, then, I am reflecting on my ministry here so far and, inevitably, these reflections are somewhat more provisional in character than what has gone on before.
In 1997, apart from going to Oban for the meeting of the General Synod and to Iona to commemorate the death of St Columba, I was also visited by my parents in Banchory. One afternoon, we went to visit one of my church wardens, also a dear friend, Stanley Wilkinson. Stanley was from Liverpool. He was an accomplished architect and had worked in Hong Kong. Together we watched the handover of Hong Kong on television.
A former governor of Hong Kong, Lord Wilson, was an occasional member of my congregation having a house in the area. On top of that, a member of the government who negotiated the handover, was in the choir. This may give the impression that I knew something about Hong Kong. I didn’t. I knew next to nothing about it except that it was being handed back to China and Chris Patten was the governor.
I need to explain that I had not been a great traveller. Apart from anything else, I had always been happy going on holiday to Scotland, when I did not live there, and when I did, I used mainly to go south to visit family. In many ways, I was resistant to going ‘abroad’. I don’t know why, because now I think I must have been mad not to have travelled more. I think I reacted a little against the’ I am going travelling to find myself’ brigade, but I never really felt the need or desire.
The British are also full of paradoxes. Now that I have travelled quite a lot, I have been able to see firsthand just how extensive the British Empire was. And yet, at the same time, the British are very insular as can be seen by the resistance at present to immigration and what is perceived as foreign culture. Many of us who were born when I was born did not travel much outside of the UK when we were young, even though we still had an imperial understanding of the world. True, this was changing with the advent of cheap package holidays, but the British on holiday tended to do what they did when they had Empire and that is to impose their culture on wherever they went. Now it’s predominantly the Americans who do it, but we British were at it first!
As a matter of interest, I had felt much the same about going to Israel. I was brought up in a theological culture that was pro-Zionist, seeing the foundation of the State of Israel as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecies. Many Christians I knew had been on pilgrimage there and there had been several opportunities when I, too, could have gone, but hadn’t taken them. I disliked the way that tour companies marketed it to Christians as going on a pilgrimage when it was transparently a package holiday. I also found it rather cynical that clergy got to go free if they persuaded 15 people or more to go with them from their congregation.
However, two very good friends, a married couple in the Church, very much thought I should go, particularly since I was a clergyman. He was a longstanding member of the congregation and she an Israeli. John had found regular visits to Israel to see his wife’s family very significant and tried to encourage me to go. I was more than a little resistant. Eventually, though, they both persuaded me. I am including this here partly because I don’t know quite where else to put it and because it was a very important moment in my life. I would now say that I don’t know how anyone can ever study the Bible and Church history without going to Israel. I have been back many times. It’s in my blood. It does that to you.
At LBC, we had always been challenged to think seriously about serving abroad as missionaries. In the 1970s, there was still a missionary culture amongst Christians. Now I think we are unsure about it all. Personally, I had never felt I should serve abroad, seeing my calling as being within the UK. Indeed, it had been a big thing moving out of England to go to minister in Scotland. So what made me apply for this post in Hong Kong? Essentially, it was the position itself, which I shall describe in the next post.
In retrospect, though, the earlier move to Scotland had been to cross a psychological rubicon. I had seen that not only was there life outside of the Church of England, but that there was more life outside of it. I also began to see that the Anglican Church was far bigger than the Church of England. It meant, too, that I was more focused on the work than on the place. I now believe firmly that if it is the right position, the place really does not matter, whatever we may feel about it on a human level.
Mind you if anyone wants to offer me a job in Israel, I promise I will seriously think about it!