Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Anything but the Truth

We have had to deal with the alleged historical fact that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had a daughter by her, which was nurtured in France, and established a royal blood-line now we are faced with a new alleged historical fact. This time the claim is both that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, had a son by her, and was buried together with them in Jerusalem and also that the tomb has been found. First, we had a novelist, Dan Brown, claiming his fiction was fact. Now we have a filmmaker, James Cameron of Titanic fame, claiming the same about his contradictory claim.

After all, Dan Brown and James Cameron can’t both be right. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what Dan Brown thinks of what James Cameron is saying? Wouldn’t it have been even more interesting if both claims had been made at the same time? But they wouldn’t want that to happen, would they? Each would have cancelled the other out.

There will be plenty on this story in the press both for and against it. What interests me is the way people prefer to believe almost anything about Jesus than what the Gospels claim for him. I find this encouraging to a point. It shows that people do find the Gospels challenging and their fear of that challenge is itself an indication of its truthfulness.

Paul wrote that the message of the Cross is foolishness to them that are perishing. Sadly, it means they will follow any foolishness to escape it

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Personal Journey Present Challenges: 1. The Problem of Baptism

Well I am now back in action after a very full two weeks. I may not have been blogging for the past couple of weeks, but I have been giving it some thought. I think that it might be interesting to write about some of the challenges I am facing at the moment both in my ministry and more generally. I would be very interetsed to hear your reactions and opinions.

Personal Journey Present Challenges: 1. The Problem of Baptism

Readers of this blog may remember me writing earlier on in this series about baptism and the problems I had with infant baptism when I first became a Christian. The Christians I associated with took a very dim view of babies being baptized. How could they have faith? And baptism was about us consciously professing our faith. There were even more problems with non-Christians getting their children baptized as no-one involved had faith. At least with Christians the parents had faith. For a while this issue of infant baptism kept me from committing to Anglicanism.

While at LBC, I came to the conclusion that there was a reasonable argument for Christians being able to baptize their children and that at the very least it was a valid position for Christians to take. In any case the vast majority of Christians believed just that. The alternative: ‘believers only baptism’ sounded very pure, but it created problems of its own. When is someone old enough? And are we really saying that believers’ children are effectively pagans until they get baptized?

So I adopted the mainline position. All of which is fine, except that in the CofE, the vast majority of requests for baptism come from people outside the Church. For centuries, the Church has encouraged people to bring their children for baptism. This was all well and good when people had a strong connection with the Church, but with the collapse of Christendom in the West, this connection often simply does not exist. The problem is that a parent’s right to have their child baptized in the parish church does still exist and many want to avail themselves of it for all sorts of reasons. Many people seek baptism to do with custom and social convention, but many also because of a desire simply to express thanks for the child and to have a naming ceremony.

This has created a crisis of conscience for many Anglicans. They just do not feel happy people making vows that it is obvious that they don’t mean or intend to keep. Some Vicars have tried to obstruct people who come for baptism if they are not church members. Others have offered a different ceremony that they feel is more honest. The problem is that many of those coming for baptism want baptism itself and resent being thwarted in their desire.

When I went to Moreton, we were overwhelmed with the numbers seeking baptism for their children. The services were a joke with people wanting to get it done as quickly as possible so they could get off to the party that was being held afterwards. We went down the route of making it more difficult for people, but it wasn’t really facing up to the problem. At the end of the day, we were turning people away who, however tenuously, were coming to Church.

At Bedford, working in a secular context in the College, I met people who had been turned away by their local parish Church. They had taken it very personally and bore a real grudge against the Church because of it. What is more, they often felt that it was their child that had been rejected. This may be illogical, but this is not about logic and the hurt went very deep.

So when I went to Banchory, I adopted a completely open policy and avoided putting any obstacles in people’s way. We tried to be as welcoming as possible in the hope that people who may not have previously have come to Church would now. This did happen in a number of cases, although by no means all. Nevertheless, being open and welcoming seemed a better place to be and fitted with what we were trying to do in terms of mission. Given the emphasis we were placing on Sunday School and attracting families, refusing baptism seemed totally impossible. We insisted that baptism must take place during the morning service so at least we got the family to Church, but that was the only condition - if you can call it a condition.

When I came to Hong Kong I came with this approach to baptism. Christ Church had the same approach and both never refused baptism and always conducted it within the morning service. However whereas in Banchory relatively speaking weren’t that many baptisms, at Christ Church the numbers coming for baptism were huge so that sometimes as many as 22 baptisms were performed in the morning service. Maybe once in a while this would be ok, but it was happening with amazing frequency.

I at once took the decision that I was not going to conduct baptisms in the morning service, but immediately after it in the hope that this would preserve the link with morning worship while not disrupting it in the way it was being disrupted. The congregation breathed a big sigh of relief and those seeking baptism rather liked it as well. It made it easier for them.

The problem occurs because people perceive there to be an advantage in having their child baptized when it comes to gaining admission to the schools. Indeed, there is some advantage although not nearly so great as people think. Whatever, parents are prepared to lie and say anything that is required of them in order to secure baptism. They will attend Church for the period and then leave as soon as they have got what they want. I must confess to being at a total loss to know what to do about this. The present situation is not satisfactory, but I can see problems with all the alternatives.

What to do?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hello Everyone

And welcome to all those who have stumbled across me for the first time in the past couple of weeks! I am now back and will post tomorrow. I have been giving some thought to how to tackle this the next stage in the journey. And as this is where I am at, I am going to ask for your help because as you will see, I am not entirely sure in which direction I should go!

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Apology for Temporary Absence

I am sorry not to have posted for a few days. It is Chinese New Year coming up so I am going to be taking some time off to travel and visit family. Chinese New Year really is huge in this part of the world. I will try to post from time to time, but it all depends on being able to get internet access. Whatever I should be back to normal at the end of the month.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Personal Journey 28: A Short History of Christ Church

Here is a short historical introduction to Christ Church. I realise that the geographical details may not mean a lot to everyone and I probably should have posted this a bit earlier. It is a little out of sequence, but I hope it is of some interest!

Personal Journey 28: A Short History of Christ Church

The beginnings of Christ Church are quite unusual. Many people, even in Christ Church, don’t realize that Christ Church is a rebirth of another Church, Saint Peter’s, West Point on Hong Kong Isalnd. Two dates are especially significant: September 2, 1933 and October 29, 1938.

St Peter’s Church had been built in 1872 as a mission Church for seamen. It was supported in its work by large shipping companies. Their support for this work stopped after the first world war. Furthermore, as many of the congregation had moved to Kowloon Tong on the Kowloon peninsula, the decision was made to open a Church in Kowloon Tong and to close St Peter’s. A Church house was acquired at 3 Duke Street. Worship at St Peter’s stopped in August, 1933 and the Church House was hallowed by Bishop R O Hall on Saturday, September 2, 1933. Worship took place in a large room in the house. The altar and furnishings were those of St Peter’s. At this stage, the Church was known as the Kowloon Tong Anglican Church.

Subsequently, the decision was made to build a Church. The site of the present Church was chosen in January, 1936 and with government assistance a Church was built. The Consecration Service was held on October 29, 1938 and the Kowloon Tong Anglican Church became Christ Church! The Church bell came from St Peter’s. It is rung before every service and at the moment of consecration during the Eucharist.

The date, of course, is significant. Every year Christ Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King in a special way. Prior to 1970, the feast of Christ the King was observed on the last Sunday in October. However, the reformed calendar approved by the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church that took effect in that year changed the date to the last Sunday before the next liturgical year's Advent begins (Advent marking the start of the liturgical year). Other Churches have followed this change.

Christ Church will celebrate its 75th Anniversary as a worshipping community in Kowloon Tong in 2008!

From the beginning, Christ Church has been comitted to the education of children. In fact, a Sunday School was opened before the Church. Many of the original congregation had close links with DBS, a relationship that continues to this day. In October, 1950 a primary school was opened. Built on Church land, the Dioceesan Preparatory School quickly established itself and its reputation. A redevelopment of DPS in Febraury, 1971 saw two more schools coming to the present site, Christ Church Kindergarten and Mary Rose. Mary Rose was opened to provide education for children with special needs and was named after the wife of a former Vicar of the Church. When Bishop Hall Jubilee School was opened, Christ Church was to have an association with this School as well. Although involvement with education has not been without its problems, it remains a major part of the work of Christ Church and one that it takes very seriously.

The building itself has become a major landmark. On December 7, 1941, shortly after it was built, worship ceased in the building as a consequence of the Japanese invasion. The Church was used as a stable for Japanese horses during the occupation. Originally Waterloo Road was a quiet road leading nowhere. Now it is a major route to the New Territories and to China itself. A building nearly 70 years old requires constant care and attention. The congregation have just completed major renovation work to the exterior of the building. It is our hope that it will not only be a landmark, but the home of Anglican worship in Kowloon Tong for many years to come!

Christ Church is a both local and global in outlook. Although English-speaking Christ Church has always been locally rooted. This is particularly true since 1997 with the majority of the congregation being ethnically Chinese. Neveretheless, Christ Church has also always had an international feel with many expatriates joining the Church while they live in Hong Kong. Many other members have been educated or have worked abroad.

Our present Vicar, the Reverend Ross Royden, comes originally from the UK and has been with us since September, 2000.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Personal Journey 27: Some Reflections on Hong Kong

I don't want to bore you by writing too much about my impressions of Hong Kong. I know many of you have your own impressions! But it may at least give some context to these more recent blogs if I indicate how I feel about and see things!

We are all getting ready for Chinese New Year at the moment. This is bigger here than Christmas and people take several days off much as many take time off at Christmas and New Year in the UK.

Chinese New Year is relatively late this year, but the shops are now in full swing. It will be the Year of the Pig next year.

I'll post again, all being well, on Thursday.

Personal Journey 27: Some Reflections on Hong Kong

I had thought that I would find the move to Hong Kong itself harder and stranger than I did. In fact, it was much easier than I had expected. I immediately liked Hong Kong and the people. I can completely understand why Chris Patten liked it so much when he was here.

I live in Kowloon Tong, which is a district on the Kowloon peninsula just before you go through the Lion Rock tunnel to get to the New Territories. Paul Theroux wrote a book called Kowloon Tong that describes Hong Kong just after the hand-over to China. Reviewers have not been that positive about it, but I found it describes Hong Kong exactly as it was when I arrived. Thanks, however, to China’s ever-increasing growth and importance, it has changed much since.

The hardest thing I found about Hong Kong when I arrived was coping with the heat. It is hard to describe how hot it feels with the humidity and pollution as well. I had found Bedford hot, and loved the coolness of the north-east of Scotland. In the summer in Hong Kong, the heat really can be energy sapping if you are not used to it and are not able to stay in air-conditioned buildings.

One expat said to me that every summer he decided he had had enough and was going back to the UK, then the winter came, and he decided that it wasn’t so bad after all! It really is lovely here at the moment!

Having endured colonial rule, the local Chinese are well-used to having us foreigners around, and know how to deal with us. There is some justified resentment that the expats expect better contracts than the locals, and over the years have been given them. On the whole everyone manages to cope with one another in public, whatever may be said or felt in private. Travelling in Hong Kong is easy. It is such a small place and the public transport system is second to none. The roads are not fun and congest easily, but the MTR (the underground) more than compensates.

Hong Kong is really built up with population estimates of up to 8 million. I have seen significant changes in my short time here. When I first arrived, I used to say that even if I couldn’t talk my way around Hong Kong, I could read my way. Everything was in Chinese and English – the two official languages. Then one day on the MTR, I realised that the advertising posters were only in Chinese! I asked a friend who worked for the MTR about it. They confirmed that it was a deliberate change in policy to reflect the reality of Hong Kong.

Another change is the degree to which Hong Kong is looking to China. I think this was inevitable, but SARS sealed it. SARS hit us in the Winter of 2002. The first case was that of a doctor from the mainland on the 9th floor of the Metropole Hotel just down the road from where I live. In fact, I had been there for a function just before the story broke! You may remember the pictures of people going around with masks on and schools and public buildings being closed. I thought people had gone mad, but there was genuine widespread panic. Children were shut up indoors for fear of them catching it if they went out. The economy was hit and morale was very low. I think Christians could have reacted a bit more positively. I was actually asked to suspend communion because of the risk of infection.

I saw this as a real test. In the first place, I didn’t see what the risk was. I know of no clergyman who has ever caught anything through the chalice! More importantly, if the Eucharist is as important as we say it is, how can we just cancel it? I took the attitude that if people were that worried, then they should either just receive the wafer or not receive at all. Disappointingly, many just stayed away from Church altogether.

Once SARS was over, the challenge was to get the economy moving again. This coincided with increased tourism from the mainland and an awareness of the importance of China economically. Hong Kong people do not miss opportunities to make money and many professionals now work both in Hong Kong and on the mainland. Certainly local businesses have expanded into China, and Hong Kong looks increasingly towards the mainland. It is ironic that what once was feared is now welcomed and embraced.

Tourism from the mainland has made a big difference. Many in China have become rich overnight and come to Hong Kong with wads of cash to spend. They see Hong Kong as a shoppers’ paradise, which it is if you have the money to spend. Many in Hong Kong are very fashion and image conscious with all the European fashion houses more than represented in the upmarket malls. I always know I am back in Hong Kong by the number of Louis Vuitton handbags - real or imitation - there are around. Both are very popular.

Hong Kong is adapting to this growing link with the mainland. Again, most symbolic was the introduction of announcements in Mandarin alongside Cantonese and English on the MTR. I should explain that in Hong Kong, the Chinese dialect spoken is Cantonese. On the mainland, Mandarin, known here as Putonghua, is the official language. In business and the shops, Mandarin is now essential. The schools are slowly catching up with the reality on the ground. My suspicion is that in 20 years Putonghua will be the main language in Hong Kong as well as on the mainland, but not everyone agrees!

All this may give the impression that Hong Kong is a very international city and in many ways it is. It is a thriving centre for finance and tourism and an economic hub for the region. The airport is easily the best in the world. And communication systems are fast and efficient. But Hong Kong is also very much a Chinese city. This was played down when China was closed to the west and the British ruled, but it was always there. It is something that people like me need to remember for, despite appearances to the contrary, both the culture and attitudes are very different.

Many expatriates instinctively sense this, which is perhaps why they form such a distinctive community here. Furthermore, there is a greater suspicion of us than I think many of us realize. Of course, it is all very polite and friendly on the surface, but beneath there is greater mutual distrust than we care to admit to. I have to say that the way some expatriates can patronize the locals doesn’t help, and it must have been truly awful if you were Chinese under the British, but it certainly creates a challenge when you are a British expatriate Vicar of a Chinese Church!

On a personal level, I have had to cope not only with the stresses and strains of the schools and adapting to a new culture, but also to great upheaval in my own personal life. It would not be fair on the others concerned if I wrote too much about it. It has, though, been an eventful 7 years!

Positively, in 2004 I married Winnie. Winnie is Chinese and grew up in Hong Kong before studying in England both for A-levels in sixth form and then for her first degree in law at university. She followed this with postgraduate study for her Masters degree in law in New York before working as a lawyer on Wall Street. After the birth of her two daughters, she moved back here and qualified as a teacher, teaching in the Church Kindergarten. She and her family were, and are, very involved in Christ Church. Amongst other things, Winnie is the Church organist and her father, the Church treasurer!

We were married here in Hong Kong. I will always be grateful to the congregation for the love, warmth, and support they have showed us. The fact that Winnie speaks all three languages, has a local and international background, grew up at Christ Church, and has such strong links in the community means she is more than able to keep me from going off into an expatriate world of my own!

I have written about how I have had to deal with the crisis in the Schools, - a subject I will return to - of the need to adapt to a different culture, and of changes in my own life. Next I will write more about Christ Church itself.

On Thursday, I will begin by posting a very short history I have written.

Monday, February 05, 2007

New Book by Emerging Church Leaders

Zondervan have an interesting sample of a new book on the Emerging Church. It is written by some of the leaders of the movement with each of their responses to what the other writes. The sample is by Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

See http://www.zondervan.com/media/samples/pdf/0310271355_samptxt.pdf

It includes this quote:

'Whereas speculation is the human attempt to comprehend God, revelation is God’s communication to humanity with clarity that is otherwise impossible. The object of that revelation is the sixty-six books of Scripture.'

I agree with much that Mark has to say, and I have to say that he is much more effective than I am in communicating with popular culture, but this would be at the heart of my disagreement with him. Surely the object of God's revelation is Christ, not the Bible. This does not mean that the Bible is unimportant, not at all, but that the role of the Bible is to witness to Christ and to help us understand him more.

I think this is more than a difference in emphasis. Maybe Mark and the others tackle it elsewhere in the book. I shall get it and see!

Happy Monday! I will post again tomorrow.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Breaking News: Bishop Paul Kwong is the New Archbishop!

It is 1.00am and I am just back from the election of our new Archbishop. A strange process, but the good news is that we have a new Archbishop. He is the newly enthroned Bishop of Hong Kong Island! Bishop Paul is a wonderful man and this is great news for Hong Kong. God bless you in your ministry, Bishop Paul.

Sunday services and a wedding tomorrow. I wish I knew why we had to wait until 9.00pm on a Saturday night to begin voting when everyone present has a busy day today. But I can even forgive such bad planning when it gives such a positive outcome.

Have a good Sunday!

More later.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Personal Journey 26: Trying to Bring Order Out of Chaos

I am sorry not to have blogged earlier, but this week has been quite pressurizing and time has just vanished. I am also conscious of the sensitivity of the unfortunate episode that I am about to relate.

Tonight the Anglican Church in Hong Kong is going to elect a new Archbishop. Each of the three Bishops is eligible. I don't think any of us have any idea what the outcome is going to be. I will tell you all about it next week.

Have a good weekend.

Personal Journey 26: Trying to Bring Order Out of Chaos

The Diocesan Preparatory School, known as DPS, had been a popular, successful primary School with strong links with the Diocesan Boys' School, known as DBS, a highly successful secondary Church School. DBS was also heavily involved in the running of DPS itself and the ties between the two went back many years. Many in the Church had attended both schools and there was a strong sense of loyalty and closeness between all three. Then, in the 1990s, a serious row broke out between the Church and the then headteacher of DPS. DBS sided with the headteacher. The headteacher herself was popular with staff and parents. The outcome of this row was that the headteacher resigned.

This was bad enough, but then a new headteacher was appointed, one who was not able to gain the support of the parents or the staff. They remained loyal to the former headteacher. The press got involved and a campaign was begun to get rid of the new headteacher. Next many of the teachers threatened a mass resignation. A threat they went on to carry out. Those who resigned all had to be replaced. This meant that a stable, experienced teaching body went to being the exact reverse overnight. The parents normally very quiet and uninvolved were in uproar with meetings happening all over the place.

The Press had a field day. A once proud and successful School was brought to its knees. Then to make matters even worse, DBS announced that it was going to build a new Primary School and end the relationship with DPS. What is more, the headteacher who had resigned from DPS with whom the Church had had a bitter dispute, was made the consultant for building and setting up the new School.

It was at this point that I arrived as the Vicar of Christ Church and Chairman of the Council of DPS.

There is more much more to this story and I have deliberately gone easy of the precise details of the story. Suffice it to say that it is a story of intrigue, betrayal, deception, lies, conspiracy, and more. I intend, however, to say no more for now, and I have no wish to attribute blame. Nevertheless, I was plunged into it from the start and from the moment I arrived people were lobbying to get me on their side and the press were constantly ringing for statements.

To make matters worse, if that was possible, serious allegations had been made concerning staff at the Church Kindergarten by a member of the Church and the School governing body. The Kindergarten itself had strong links with Diocesan Schools. It was a total mess. There was no choice, but to get involved.

My first goal was to get us out of the Press and to try to reassure the parents that whatever had gone on in the past, we would do our best to put things right. I was fortunate in that I was able to establish good relationships with one or two of the parents who had been leading the protests. I knew it was essential to have their trust. Furthermore, I insisted that all enquiries from the Press were referred to me and that no-one else was allowed to talk to them. This was in an attempt to stop people giving conflicting briefings.

It became very clear that there was a conspiracy to discredit and remove the new headteacher. Despite everything, people still wanted their boys to go to the School while the relationship with DBS remained in place. This meant the battle for places at the School was fierce and whoever could influence admission had a lot - and I mean a lot - of power. I have to be very careful here, but I don’t think it is any secret that anyone with influence was open to bribes or favours. The new headteacher whatever people may have thought about him was straight and honest. Hence in my opinion, part the reason for the almost hysterical desire to get rid of him.

People repeatedly said he was no good at his job. While I didn’t think he was the best choice as headteacher of DPS, the fact was that he had been appointed and had served his probation. My opinion was that it was impossible for anyone to know how good or bad he was because he hadn’t been given a chance and that Christian charity and fairness, let alone the Law, demanded that he was. Consequently, I recommended that due process be followed. We would give him time and support and then conduct a proper independent appraisal and evaluation. This suggestion won the day

I also wanted to build bridges between people who had felt let down and rejected by the Church. I had some limited success, but a tremendous amount of damage had been done and the relationship with DBS could never be the same again. I am sad that people who were in positions of influence on both sides of the divide did not do more. I am also afraid that the wounds went very deep indeed and people were badly scarred.

It doesn’t matter how much you seek reconciliation or try to be a peacemaker, if that’s not what people want, there is not whole lot you can do about it.

I have summarised things all too much, but I want to give the feel of what the atmosphere was like when I came and how all consuming it was. My overwhelming emotion was one of deep sadness that something that had been beautiful and had meant so much to so many people had been utterly destroyed and degraded bringing shame on the Church and both Schools.