A few weeks ago the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan celebrated its 150th anniversary on Easter Sunday. (The kick off was several months back.) The Easter celebration was actually just one piece in a yearlong sequence of celebrations, but this was the main event. (There’s another major event later in the year in the south.) On Easter, some fifteen thousand people gathered in Linkou for a three-hour worship service. During the rest of the week we’ve had a variety of events and anniversaries.
That week, there were actually four things happening together: (1) Easter, (2) the 150th, (3) Clear and Bright Festival and Children’s Day (two national holidays), and the annual General Assembly. This also coincided for us with Emily’s quick return to the US for her defense, so it was probably also the busiest week of the year (see also: taxes due, midterms, a visit with a church youth group, some writing deadlines).
PCT at 150
These events have been a blessing to the church, even as they are a time for reflection for the life of the church. The long worship service on Sunday had amazing music and meaningful reflection, but there has also been some after-the-fact discussion of the Church’s identity, including things like language (this GA has been more “Taiwanese” than most recent ones), ethnicity (to what degree should minorities accommodate majority preferences?), and representation (PCT has a one-third rule for women on committees but in practice it isn’t always followed). Response to the 150th has been 99% positive, but I’m also grateful for the discussions about the future of PCT. I’m also sometimes nostalgic for “committees on representation.” Several times this week I heard people say “it should be X because that’s what the majority of people speak/do/like.”
The 150th has also marked off several areas for growth, study, or development. The best publicized has been the One-Leads-One campaign, but there’s also been the creation of a new historical center, and a host of other projects. My hope is that the PCT can be both backwards looking (in the best sense) and also forward looking. Periods like this offer intense opportunities for review/planning.
The Missionary Tradition
For me, one blessing of the week has been the chance to get to see a range of current and former mission workers. The PCUSA contingent this time was:
Dr. Ed Senner is the mission worker with the longest tenure for Taiwan, having arrived in 1960 and served for more than three decades. One visitor was married in the Taiwan Seminary chapel. Both Faith Bradley and Anne Broom had multiple terms of service and could give some snapshots of mission work over the year. I hadn’t realized that Dr. Senner had done around nine months of archiving over a several year spread, so it was nice to meet him in person and hopefully I’ll be able to locate and use some of his records.
Guests and Visitors
A coup was to have the Board of Pensions (BoP) president, Frank Spencer, here. A BoP Board Member, Mark Lu, helped facilitate the visit and has been a source of information sharing on finances between the churches. I enjoyed talking with Frank and his wife, Melanie, who also has extensive experience in the medical world. I was able to spend a half-day with them and enjoyed sharing what Taiwan is like with them. Both of my parents, Emily and I all are in the BoP plan, so obviously we have some interest in its overall health. I think PCUSA’s pension plan is generally recognized as perhaps the best established and most sustainable in the ecumenical Protestant world (BoP’s tricentennial is coming up in a few years). In Taiwan, my sense is that attitudes towards saving, retirement, and work culture are different. This time we didn’t have any formal discussions, but my hope is that we might increase the flow of information between the churches.
Another blessing for me this time was to get to know David Shinn better. David’s a member of the General Assembly Mission Agency’s executive committee. He came to Taiwan in October as part of the bilateral conversation between PCUSA and PCT. This time I learned that when David went to the US in the 1980s he’d been invited to the church where my parents were pastors and remembers the time fondly. When I was in elementary school and he was in junior high, we were probably at times in the same Sunday School class. I also saw Shun-Chi Wang, who’d visited us several times before and has brought PCUSA delegations through. It was a nice opportunity to connect to others. Finally, we saw Stuart Vogel, a pastor-scholar from New Zealand who writes in some of the same areas I do. It was a really great time.
PCUSA’s moderator is to come to Taiwan for the October gathering, so we really feel grateful this year to have the chance to connect to people from “back home.” Our first years in Taiwan we felt a little on our own (some people from Outreach Foundation came through, and so did Shun-Chi, but otherwise we were a bit off the map). Between the gathering last fall and the visits for the 150th we’re feeling more in the middle of things. We’re also thankful to be downtown now, so that we can host events and visitors much more easily. It will be nice to attend the October gathering and meet more people there.