Communion Matters XVI

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The opposite of communion is, I suppose, the sense that we have of our need of it, or its lack.  We know the Church is really one and catholic (which means ‘whole’) though we experience these ‘aspirationally’ and ‘Christologically’ (as found in Him and not yet us).  So we might say that a dimension of communion is precisely our own present incompleteness.

This is particularly true of us insofar as we have never claimed that we are in fact, in ourselves, the whole of the Church or even the true Church. Rather Anglicanism has claimed it is truly a Church. And furthermore it has, from the time of the Reformation on, had a sense that of longing for a restored unity. Don’t get me wrong: there is in our history plenty of polemics, and even some regrettable persecution. But, like a person with the sensation of a phantom limb, we can feel that loss of communion with the larger catholic fellowship, and more specifically Rome. From the sixteenth century on we have had a fascination with the Christian East, our ancient cousins from the earliest Christian centuries. And there have been, in recent centuries, a series of efforts to restore visible communion with other Reformation Church. We can point to successful efforts in India, for example (though there was a failed one in east Africa) in the twentieth century. We are now in full communion with the Lutheran Church (though our conversation with Rome has stalled).  Some scholars wonder if we are not in a season in which ecumenical efforts need to be more ‘bottom up.’ Others debate whether common ministry is a better launch pad than reconciled doctrine. C.S.Lewis thought that the place to start is with what he called ‘mere Christianity,’ the basic doctrines the most share.

But the important thing is that we Anglicans have considered their own incompleteness as  part of our vocation. The most articulate spokesman for this was the late Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, in whose famous The Gospel in the Christian Church , a reconciliation of evangelical and catholic elements in our tradition, went so far as to say that Anglicans could imagine that their own hoped for future as the surrender of its own separateness into a reconciled Church. While there is no prospect of this on the horizon, at the very least the vision of incompleteness should challenge the notion that we are a self-sufficient enterprise somehow in competition with other denominations. And it may be that, in the challenges that lie ahead for the Churches in our time, by the ‘left hand of God’ the imperative of the ecumenical, of communion across denominations, driven by the vocation of incompleteness, will come to greater prominence once more.

Communion Matters: From Diocese of Hong Kong

Throughout my years of international travel, many people were surprised to hear that I was from Hong Kong, China. “There are Christians in China?”, they asked.  Christianity was introduced to China by the East Syrian Church in the 7th Century, with little success.  The Jesuits arrived in the 16th Century, but it was not until the 19th century when the Protestant missionaries came, that Christianity was spread widely in China.    

The first Anglican presence in Hong Kong was in 1843, when The Rev. Vincent Stanton, a British Church Missionary Society missionary, arrived as the first colonial chaplain under British rule.  In 1849, Hong Kong became the see of the Diocese of Victoria, which consisted of Hong Kong, China and Japan.  In the late 1800’s, missionaries from the USA, Canada, and the UK arrived, and several Anglican/Episcopal dioceses were established across China.  Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui, (the literal translation is Holy Catholic Church in China), the national body of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, was established in 1912.

The Hong Kong branch existed under various jurisdictions over the past 170 years.  In 1998, our church became a Province within the Anglican Communion, the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui.  There are three dioceses, plus the missionary area of Macau.  It consists of a total of 50 parishes and mission churches, 130 schools, and more than 400 social service units, serving the population of almost 8 million in the two cities of Hong Kong and Macau.  Although Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui is the smallest province in the worldwide Anglican Communion, we have played an active part in the international stage.  Hong Kong hosted the Anglican Consultative Conference (ACC) in 2002 and then again in 2019.  Our immediate past Primate Archbishop Paul Kwong was elected the Chair of the ACC in 2016, a position he will continue to hold until 2023.  Our Provincial Music Director, Felix Yeung, has been named the Music Director for the Lambeth Conference, which is scheduled to be held in July 2022.

While the Christian population in Hong Kong is still a minority, only 16% of the general population, much smaller than the Buddhists and the Taoists, yet the church plays an influential role.  Through a strong partnership between the parishes, schools, and welfare services run by the Anglican Church, we demonstrate and proclaim Christ’s presence and love in a tangible way.  Thanks to the dedication of many faithful parishioners and professional workers, the Anglican Church saw a 35% growth in church membership over the past 15 years.  In 2016, the General Synod named “intentional discipleship” as a key area of focus.  Since then, many nurture programs were launched, including diocesan-wide programs for Lent, Easter, and Advent.  When COVID arrived, leading to the suspension of public worship services, numerous online new ministries began. One of them is a daily 8-minute audio reflection on Bible passages, delivered through social media, which have been met with great enthusiasm. 

In recent years, just like many other places around the world, the community of Hong Kong has become increasingly polarized.  Strong tensions between political camps, disparity between the haves and haves not, and the deep-seated generational differences on social and political issues, have all led to an intense antagonism within our community.  Faced with such challenges, the church makes an effort to reach out to different sectors for dialogue, and promote the need for reconciliation.  As a diocese, we have studied Culture of God by The Revd Nadim Nassar, and From Fragmentation to Wholeness in the Realm of Life by Fr Thomas Kwan, to learn about the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation.  For Lent this year, we are studying the book, The Way of Love: Turn, written by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Hong Kong is currently going through its biggest crisis since COVID started two years ago. Your prayers will be much appreciated as we persevere through this ordeal. May God continue to use the church in Hong Kong to witness the power and love of Christ in this moment of crisis! May God’s healing power be upon all those around the world who are ill, and with God’s help, may the world be a transformed place when this crisis is over! When international travel resumes, we welcome you to visit us and strengthen our bonds of affection within the Anglian Communion.    

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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.

Amen.

GRS