Ancestor Memorial Liturgy, welcoming Canon Peter Ng and listening to Joanna Fu’s wonderful Organ Music @ St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei!

Yes, a special day at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei yesterday ~ and in all our churches too!

For the Taiwan Episcopal Church, the Sunday before Chinese New Year’s Eve is celebrated every year with a special liturgy to honour the ancestors.  The liturgy takes place within the main Sunday service, usually at the end, with prayers and readings, and there’s a table for everyone to place lighted candles.  At the cathedral, the table is placed in the main entrance on the left side, and everyone lights their candle as they enter the church.  The red cards on the table list the names of all the people being remembered that day.  In other churches, the table is in the main part of the church, or near the front, and people light the candles on the way back to their seats after receiving communion.

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The desire for some sort of Ancestor Memorial Liturgy was really initiated by our beloved Canon Chancellor, Professor Herbert H. P. Ma many years ago, partly in response to his father, who for a long time would not commit himself to the Christian faith. Professor Ma’s father, Ma Shou-Hwa 馬壽華 (1893-1977) was one of the very first judges of the newly-formed Republic of China (1912 onwards), and was also well-known for his great talent as a calligrapher and painter, especially portraying bamboo. His work includes the set of 2 Chinese calligraphy vertical couplets and the horizontal one around the door above – all words appropriate for the Ancestor Memorial Liturgy.  An extract from an article in our diocesan Friendship Magazine in 2014 about Professor Ma, describing life after his marriage in 1957, says, as follows:

“Although Professor and Mrs. Ma and the children were active in St. John’s Cathedral, his parents were not. For his father, the major obstacle continued to be ancestor worship, and yet Professor Ma himself felt no conflict. At an ecumenical conference on this subject, he discussed with the participants how the Christian faith and Chinese tradition could be reconciled. He also published articles on this subject, and later instigated the Ancestor Memorial Liturgy for the Taiwan Episcopal Church. In the articles, he wrote that our ancestors are human beings, and when they die, they are still human beings, not gods. There is only one Almighty God, and we need to separate our ancestors from the divine. We can still pay our respects to our ancestors without regarding them as gods. After much thought, Professor Ma’s father accepted his explanation, and henceforth adopted an attitude of respect rather than worship of his ancestors. Having resolved this issue, his parents were now ready to be baptized and became Christians”.

So, yesterday was THE day, and off I went to St. John’s Cathedral, hoping to experience the Ancestor Memorial Liturgy, and also see Chancellor Herbert Ma and his lovely wife, Mrs. Aline Ma. YES!  Here they are lighting their candles…

A warm welcome is always guaranteed from everyone at the cathedral, Rev. Elizabeth Wei and her husband, Rev. Peter Chen, Rev. Michael Liou and his wife Grace, Rev. Ching-Yi Tsai, plus all the church members and many old friends, including Na Mama originally from Advent Church – all so lovely!  Bishop Lai was also at the service yesterday, as was Mrs. Lily Lai. They had just arrived back from Japan the night before, after a trip with Good Shepherd Kindergarten teachers and staff.

Also just flown in the night before was our good friend, Canon Peter Ng, Asia-Pacific Officer for the Episcopal Church, based in New York.  It was Peter who had organized for the St. John’s Cathedral’s organist, Ms. Joanna Fu 傅麗萍, to spend 3 months on a church placement in Anglican Liturgical Music at the Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel, Los Angeles, California, under Rector Rev. Gary Bradley, and Associate Rector, Rev. Ada Wong-Nagata. Ada is a good friend of us all in Taiwan, and plays a big part in EAM, Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries.  The placement was from September 1 to November 29, 2015, and this is the first time Peter had been able to meet Joanna since then and to see the fruits of her placement.  Me too.  Her playing was fantastic!

In Taiwan there is no formal training school or college for church organists, and most professional organists in Taiwan have trained overseas. Joanna graduated in Church Music from Taiwan Theological College (run by the Presbyterian Church), and says that although she learned a lot about church music at the college, she had no opportunity to learn traditional Anglican liturgical music, and never really learned how to use a pipe organ to its fullest extent. Until a few years ago, St. John’s Cathedral had only an electronic organ for use in worship; now it has a beautiful new pipe organ. Joanna thought that her training and experience were really insufficient to make the most of the new pipe organ, so Rev. Michael Liou contacted Canon Peter Ng to see if there was an opportunity for Joanna to spend some time in the USA to develop her organ skills and learn some new ones.

And so off to LA she went!  Here’s Joanna, Rev. Michael Liou (left) and Canon Peter Ng (right) together yesterday after the service….

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The organist at the Church of Our Saviour is Canon Phil Smith, and he kindly gave Joanna twice-weekly organ lessons for all the 3 months, plus she had plenty of time to practice, take part in choir practice and services, as well as visit lots of other Episcopal Churches in the LA area to experience other kinds of worship, such as evensong and compline.  So a really successful church placement, and it was wonderful to hear such beautiful music yesterday.  In fact, Rev. Michael Liou kept giving me the thumbs up every time Joanna started playing!  Here she is in the following photos, practicing with the choir before the service, then playing throughout, and Peter bringing us warm greetings from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and friends in the Episcopal Church – and translated by Mr. Winston Yu.

Hope you notice Joanna’s very special and very gold ‘organ shoes’ in the photos above – aren’t they beautiful?!

A great morning, with lovely people ~ and a very meaningful service!

And after the service?  Well Professor Ma and his wife kindly invited me for lunch, then in the afternoon I tried to keep up with a very energetic Mrs. Ma and her daughter, Gabrielle (and what seemed like the whole of Taipei!) as we went around the Jianguo Flower Market buying flowers for Chinese New Year – wow, so very very beautiful, and so very very busy ~ but hey, that’s a whole other story, ha ha!

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