September 21, 2014
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am currently attending the Fall House of Bishops' Meeting, which this year is being held in Taipei, Taiwan. You might be wondering - "Why Taiwan?" If so, you are not alone. That is a question that was asked by many people, to include a large number of bishops. As you may or may not be aware, Taiwan is one of ten overseas dioceses (not counting the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe), that are officially part of The Episcopal Church. It is, in fact, the most distant of all the overseas dioceses (a 20.5 hour plain ride from Albany).
Most House of Bishops' Meetings are held in one of the U.S. dioceses for convenience and cost reasons, however, occasionally a House of Bishops' meeting will be held in one of the overseas dioceses as a means of honoring them and sharing the travel burdens experienced by our overseas bishops. Taiwan was chosen this year in honor and recognition of the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Taiwan in 1954. Episcopal laymen serving in the U.S. military and stationed in Taiwan were among the first to ask the Episcopal Church to establish a missionary presence in Taiwan. For the past 60 years, The Episcopal Church in the United States has been a major supporter of the Diocese of Taiwan and its ministry not only to Americans in the region, but most importantly to the Asian people. According to the Bishop of Taiwan, the Rt. Rev. David Lai, "In the Chinese culture, 60 years is a very significant landmark event," and for that reason, he was especially pleased that the House of Bishops could come at this time, marking its first ever House of Bishops' meeting in Asia.
One of the greatest obstacles to spreading the Gospel in Taiwan is the strong negative response from Buddhists' family members. Individuals who leave Buddhism to become Christians often do so at the risk of losing their families by being totally rejected or cut off from their family and former life. Honoring ancestors during special prayer and food ceremonies in the Buddhist temple is very important within Buddhism. Elderly parents are concerned that if their children become Christians (especially their sons) there will be no one to go to the temple and offer prayers and ceremonial food on their behalf and that of their ancestors after they are dead. While it may seem strange to us, it is very important to them.
One of Bishop David Lai's motives for inviting the House of Bishops to come to Taiwan was to help better expose bishops (most of whom had never been to Asia) to the Asian culture, religion, lifestyle and society in order that we might be better able to do ministry and share the Gospel to the growing number of Asian people living in the United States. So far the trip has been very informative and enlightening. In addition to meeting, visiting and worshipping with the people and clergy of four different parishes in Taiwan, we have also received or will be receiving briefings from bishops and representatives from Hong Kong, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines to learn about and have a greater appreciation of the societal and theological contexts and unique mission challenges found in each of those countries.
So far the visit and House of Bishops' Meeting is going very well. As you might imagine, the climate is quite different from that of upstate New York. The temperature each day has been in the upper 90's and on at least one occasion hit 103 degrees with very high humidity. Needless to say, I haven't needed the light jacket that I brought with me. What started out as Typhoon Fung-Wong (now downgraded to a tropical storm) hit the Taipei area last night and is still going on as I write to you. Although we have had some high winds and rain, it has not been as severe in this area as in other parts of the country, where at least one person was killed and several others were injured. According to the newspaper, it should start clearing up later this afternoon.
The House of Bishops' Meeting concludes Tuesday evening and I will begin the journey back to Albany on Wednesday morning, arriving late that night (September 24th - Taiwan is 12 hours ahead of New York). In our remaining time here, besides learning more about ministry challenges and opportunities in the countries mentioned above, we are also scheduled to receive committee briefings on the following topics: The Restructuring of The Episcopal Church (TREC), the Task Force on Marriage, the Presiding Bishop Nominating Committee Report, and various other business items leading up to General Convention which meets this coming summer in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I would ask your prayers for the remainder of the House of Bishops' Meeting and for safe travel on Wednesday. I would also ask your prayers for Bishop Lai and the people and Diocese of Taiwan. They have been wonderful hosts and are a blessing to the wider Church. Please know you are all in my prayers.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
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