Sunday, January 28, 2007

Personal Journey 24: To Hong Kong via Jerusalem

I hope you are having a good weekend! I have just finished taking a wedding so I am quite pleased that I have managed to post as I have to be soemwhere else very soon!

I will be back on Tuesday!

Personal Journey 24: To Hong Kong via Jerusalem

I knew that Hong Kong had many challenges waiting for me. Some of them I had already been contacted about. There wasn’t going to be much settling in time. A holiday before going seemed a reasonable idea. It was one of the first where I hadn’t had to worry about organizing cover while I was away and one of the last! I decided to fly to Hong Kong through Israel. El Al offered cheap fares if you flew via Tel Aviv and allowed a few days for a stopover. I am sorry if it sounds sentimental, but I wanted to commit my future ministry to God from the place where what I believed all began.

Summer, 2000 was a time of hope in Israel. It looked like a peace deal was on the table that went further than any ever thought possible. Israel had conceded much and there was genuine optimism on both sides. I would be the first to criticize the way Israel has behaved, but I find it hard to understand why Yasser Arafat found it necessary to scupper this deal. Within weeks of me having been in Israel talking of the prospect of peace with taxi drivers, Israel and the Palestinians were fighting one another again. Tragic!

As you will all know Hong Kong itself used be a British colony. It was handed back to China in 1997. Before that the British had been here in force and many were still here. The British had left their mark on the place, and I found there was still much goodwill (on the surface at least) to the British. Three years on and it was still possible to see what life had been like. What is more many wanted to talk about it and tell stories. There was much nostalgia amongst many for the old days. One day I will do a series of posts on Hong Kong. For now let it be said that I came at a time when Hong Kong was going through a period of transition.

There had been much anxiety before the handover as to what Chinese rule would mean. Tiananmen Square and the protests there in 1989 still cast a shadow over Hong Kong. I think some expected the Red Army to be marching through Central. Well that hadn’t happened and indeed much had gone on as before! China, in fact, had showed much understanding and restraint. There were still those who went on about the need for democracy, but this was a separate argument. It is worth remembering that freedom and democracy are not the same thing. Democracy is a western style voting system. Hong Kong may not have democracy in that sense, but it certainly has freedom.

The Anglican Church had benefited from Hong Kong being a colony under British rule and had been a Church of England Diocese. After the handover, the Anglican Church in Hong Kong set Hong Kong up as a separate province within Anglicanism. It is the smallest with just three Bishops, but it is lively and active. There was and is, however, a real separation between the Chinese and the English-speaking church. The two do mix and are all part of the Hong Kong Sheung Kung Hui as the Province is called, but the English speaking church also have their own arrangement.

There are three English speaking Anglican Churches in Hong Kong. St John’s the Cathedral, St Andrew’s, and Christ Church. The Cathedral is more formal, St Andrew’s is charismatic and evangelical, and Christ Church is, well I was going to say in the middle, but that doesn’t quite get it! In many ways, it is like Banchory when I left it. It is a mix of churchmanship, with the Eucharist as the main service (thankfully every Sunday), a modern English language Eucharist, and a Catholic approach. The music and hymns are mostly traditional. I often reflected during my first year that I had got to where I had wanted to be when I was in Banchory in terms of worship by moving to China. A move that was easier than it would have been to move liturgies!

Christ Church had seen many expatriates leave as the handover approached and more have left since. Christ Church has always been the most locally rooted of the three Anglican Churches in Hong Kong. I will post a little of the history next. Nevertheless, at one time the congregation was about 50% locals and 50%expatriates. This has dropped to, I would estimate, 80% Chinese and 20% expatriate now.

Before I came, there had been talk in the Diocese of appointing a Chinese Vicar. This had been vigorously resisted by the Church itself not least by the Chinese members. The language used in the church is English although informally people do speak to one another in Cantonese, the local dialect. This is a bit of a problem because while many of our congregation speak in English for many it is very much a second language. This makes communication very difficult at times. Email has been a godsend for while people can’t always converse in English, they can write in it.

While many Chinese speak excellent English, we still attract many who don’t, and to explain that I now have to talk about the biggest problem that I encountered on coming here: the schools.

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