The Grand Opening of the brand new Advent Church Center @ St. John’s University, Taiwan! 聖約翰科技大學 長齡生命關懷中心 落成感恩禮拜 YES!

Thanks be to God ~ YES!  And this is it ~ our brand new Advent Church Center in the sun yesterday!

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Thanks be to hundreds of people who contributed their money, time and resources ~ YES!

And thanks be to everyone who came along to participate in the grand opening events ~ note the plural, we’ve had 2, yes TWO grand openings, one for the church and community on Sunday June 5….

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and one for St. John’s University (SJU) yesterday, Tuesday June 7….

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And guess what?  There’s another grand opening celebration still being planned, for the SJU alumni, who’ve been part of the project since the beginning and contributed so generously. We are well and truly celebrated-out, thanks be to Almighty God!

Seven years!  Yes, the whole project has taken seven years from start to finish.  Seven years is quite a Biblical number, worthy of many a sermon.  Suffice it to say, it’s a great accomplishment.  God is so good, YES YES YES!

From the Ground-Breaking Ceremony on January 23, 2014 to the opening ceremonies this week, a few photos of what has happened in the meantime….

An amazing transformation eh?!

Bishop James C. L. Wong was the founder of St. John’s University, and the official SJU name of Advent Church is actually ‘Bishop James C. L. Wong Memorial Chapel’.  The official Chinese name for the new Advent Church Center is 長齡生命關懷中心, which translates as something like ‘Chang-Ling Life-Caring Center’ (Chang-Ling 長齡 was Bishop Wong’s given name).

But ‘Chang-Ling Life-Caring Center’ is a bit of a mouthful and, well, it’s not actually very clear from the English what its purpose really is.  In fact, most people just refer to the new building as the ‘Fu-Tang’ 副堂, which is like ‘Church Hall’. But it’s more than a church hall, as it also has a lower floor with classrooms and a music room, more in fact like a church center. These are the smaller rooms on the lower floor, with the kitchen on the upper floor, and there’s also a baby-changing room still being fixed up….

In January 2009, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, SJU Chaplain and Advent Church Rector, sent out a letter sharing his vision and inviting people to become a 1/900th part of building a new church center for Advent Church. He wrote that we had run out of space for our church, campus, community and outreach activities, and really needed a new building.  He had calculated that if 900 people each gave NT$ 20,000 (about US$ 620 / GB£ 430), then we could raise NT$ 18 million (US$ 558,000 / GB£ 386,000), which was the estimated cost of construction.

Now after 7 long years of prayer and 7 long years of fundraising, with many delays and frustrations, then price increases and more necessary fundraising, the building has finally been completed, to the glory of God.  Much of the hard work has been the responsibility of Rev. Lennon Chang, supported by Bishop of Taiwan David J. H. Lai, SJU Chair of Trustees Dr. Cecilia Koo, and SJU President Chen Jean-Lien.  Hundreds of people have been involved in the whole project.  Amazing teamwork!

And the final total cost of construction is of course no longer only NT$ 18 million. Due to long delays, it has risen to NT$ 30 million (US$ 930,000 / GB£ 644,000)!  Plus of course lots more money for the interior fittings and equipment, all being overseen by Mr. Huang, one of our church members ~ he is just amazing, so talented and artistic, with a real eye for quality and excellence, but this is a whole other fundraising project ~ and still ongoing!

All of this story was shared very movingly on Sunday afternoon by Rev. Lennon Chang at the Thanksgiving Service, held in Advent Church.  His testimony is wonderful, and his memory of all the donors, donations, costs, dates, facts and figures involved is incredible!

IMG_6871Lennon gave special thanks to all our invited VIP guests, starting with Jasmine Yu, who is in charge of our neighbouring junior high school branch, he said she was the first one to respond to his 1/900th letter with her own contribution, so she was a great encouragement to us all – ‘n here’s the 2 of us on the right!

He also thanked Professor Tsai 蔡芳文, CEO of nearby Shuang-Lien Elderly Center (and associate professor of SJU), and his wife.  Shuang-Lien have entered into partnership with SJU and Advent Church to work with elderly people living in our local community, using the new church center as a base.  Here’s Prof. Tsai and his wife, smiling away as always!

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And Mr. Tsai Yeh-Wei 蔡葉偉, formerly Mayor of Tamsui, now New Taipei City Councilor, and his wife, who have been supportive of this project from the very beginning, were also warmly welcomed.  Here they are below, in a row of distinguished VIPs!

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We were particularly delighted to welcome Professor Peter Herchang Ay 艾和昌 and his wife Gloria to the service.  He is the newly appointed President of St. John’s University, due to take up his post officially on August 1, on the retirement of our current president, Chen Jean-Lien after 8 years at the helm.   Here they are, Prof. Ay in the yellow tie, his wife Gloria, Jasmine Yu and in the foreground is a very happy Prof. Tsai (‘Old Tsai’, SJU Professor, whose daughter was married in Advent Church only last weekend – the first time we used the new church center for an official event!)

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Prof. Ay (‘Ay’ is pronounced like ‘eye’) is an alumnus of this school in the days when it was St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT). He graduated in 1986, and then went on for his M.Sc at North Carolina State University in 1990, followed by his PhD at the University of Michigan in 1994. He is currently Professor at the National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences and his specialty is solar-powered cars.  Just how cool is that eh?!  He’s a leading expert in Taiwan on this subject, and a team leader on the Apollo Solar Car Team ~ check out their facebook page here, which is where I found this photo of their team and their car.  Prof. Ay is the one on the front right, with his wife behind him. Pretty amazing car eh? And a very handsome team too of course!

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One of the phrases we hear often in SJU is 以生命影響生命, the words of Bishop James C. L. Wong.  We now have the full version of the phrase decorating the wall of one of the classrooms on the lower floor of the new church center: 以基督得勝的生命影響生命…..

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以生命影響生命 is quoted by Prof. Ay on a card he has produced on which he shares a little of his vision for St. John’s University.  But just how to translate this phrase 以生命影響生命? Fortunately Andrew Chang, former president of SJSMIT and one of our church members (currently in the USA) has come to our rescue, and tells me that a literal translation could be ‘Use Life to Impact Lives’, an interpretative translation could be ‘Devoting Life to Transforming Lives’ and probably Bishop Wong’s real full meaning would be more like ‘Transforming Lives through the Life of Christ’.

The words in Chinese from Isaiah 40: 28-31 are also on a glass mirror plaque in the main entrance to the new church center – it’s difficult to photograph due to the reflection, but so beautiful.  ‘They will soar on wings like eagles’ is very appropriate given that the shape of the new building from the road resembles the wings of an eagle, the symbol of St. John, so of course highly relevant to St. John’s University.  Also in the main entrance is the main dedication plaque….

Prof. Ay also quotes the words on his card (around the diamond on the right side below) of Bishop John C. T. Chien, Bishop of Taiwan 1988-2000, who wrote these words about the purpose of a Christian university, as follows:

IMG_7260強調身心靈的全人教育, 介紹教會的信仰, 培育高瞻遠矚的世界觀, 建立人生正確的價值觀’

Andrew Chang has also kindly translated these words as:

‘To emphasize a holistic education in body, mind and spirit
To introduce the Christian faith
To cultivate a world view with a bold and broad vision
To establish a just and right value system in life’

It was so nice that Bishop Chien’s widow, Grace, who has recently moved to Shuang-Lien Center, was able to join us at the service – and of course lovely for Prof. Ay to meet such a special lady!

There were many other VIPs at the service, too many to mention by name, and also VIPs from many of our other churches in northern Taiwan.  6 lovely ladies came from St. James’ Church, Taichung, they actually made a weekend of it, led by my good friend, Ah-Guan, who stayed with me overnight, and 5 of them spent Sunday afternoon at my house drinking coffee between services. They were also at Advent Church for the morning service, here they are with Bishop Lai and Mrs. Lai, plus Mrs Grace Chien.

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A large group also came from Good Shepherd Church, Shilin, Taipei, including our special friend, Mrs. Chao, who worked here in our SJU Chaplaincy office until her retirement 18 months ago, she spent a total of over 40 years working at the school (she’s in blue in the middle, with her lovely mother in front)….

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We also had many from St. John’s Cathedral, plus some from Christ Church, also our furthest traveled church members, Mr. Di and his wife from St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung, and Belinda Fang from St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung…. and maybe many more who I’ve missed, sorry!

And lots of clergy and friends from all over the area.  Ah, we were all so happy!

Our beloved Canon Chancellor, Professor Herbert H. P. Ma and his wife, Mrs. Aline Ma honored us all with their presence. Professor Ma is also a trustee of SJU, and has played a very significant role in the development of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, which was referred to by Bishop Lai in his sermon.  Here they are with Prof. Peter Ay and his wife….

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The Thanksgiving Service started at 4:00pm, and was held in Advent Church, led by Bishop Lai, along with Rev. Lennon Chang and Rev. Wu Shing-Shiang.  About 200 people came in total!  All received gifts of Advent Church T-shirts.  The church was full, a lovely service. There was incense, which was mostly contained within the main body of the church – which gives the photos a smoky look, and which, well, kind of led me to find refuge outside along with other fresh-air-seekers, baby-minders and cellphone answer-ers, hence many photos taken from the main entrance looking in!

During the final hymn we all processed out and round the back of the church to the new church center. After a prayer of blessing and dedication from Bishop Lai, our harvest-drumming group performed 2 welcome songs on arrival, which of course were fantastic. Then a group photo, taken by me from my perch on the balcony (ascent up a vertical ladder, not for the faint-hearted) along with the drumming teacher, who was conducting their performance from on high.  Then a buffet dinner and lots of smiles and chat.  This is Bishop Lai leading the grace before the meal….

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By 7:30pm, most people were ready to leave, but as always, the last ones to go were our dearly beloved Tan Mama and Tan Baba, who may be in their mid-90’s, but no way are they going to miss a good party!  Tan Mama had a kind of stroke in early January and is now confined to a wheelchair, but she is still wearing different coloured socks, and her smile when Tan Baba tried to kiss her was just wonderful. They are just so delightful!

And so ~ the photos from Sunday afternoon, starting with Tan Baba posing for me outside the new Advent Church Center, and ending with Tan Mama’s pink and green socks!

And so to Tuesday morning, and the Grand Opening Celebration for trustees, faculty, staff and students of St. John’s University ~ in the form of a short opening service, consecration, dedication and blessing, plus official unveiling of the dedication plaques. The guest of honour was of course Dr. Cecilia Koo 辜嚴倬雲, chair of SJU Board of Trustees since 1973, and without whom the whole project could not have gone ahead.  She has shown her own personal support through her generous donations and has led the trustees in supporting the project in a big way.  We are very grateful to her.

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IMG_7599We also welcomed Mr. Mai, Chair of the Board of Tamshui First Credit Bank, friends from the bank, and the bank choir (all beautifully dressed in pink and black).  They sang at the unveiling of their plaque on the lower floor, led by our wonderful music teacher, Mrs Wang and accompanied by Yu-Lin from our SJU Chaplaincy staff on her flute.  It was great!  The plaque is in memory of Mr. Mai’s late father, Mr. Mai Chun-Fu 麥春福 (1924-2004), who was also chair of the bank, as well as being a presidential national policy adviser. Many years ago he donated a piece of family land which forms part of the SJU campus today. The bank and university have a very close relationship, and the bank has also made a generous donation to the church center project, and the music room is named in Mr. Mai’s honor.

We also welcomed our good friends from St. James’ Church, Taichung, Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and his wife, MaryJo, and it turned out that many years ago when Charles was accountant here at SJSMIT, he had known Mr. Mai Chun-Fu very well!  Here is Charles, Lennon and Mr. Mai along with the plaque…

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We were also honored to welcome CEO Prof. Tsai and a large group from Shuang-Lien Elderly Center, members of the foundation who are working in association with SJU and Advent Church.  We also welcomed the architect of the church center, members of the SJU Alumni Association, Bishop Lai, the principal of the local elementary school and SJU faculty, staff and students ~ and our own SJU Student Fellowship Choir sang.

The ceremony started at 11:30 am with Bishop Lai knocking on the outside door, the unveiling of the dedication plaque inside, a short service of dedication, and some words from both SJU President Chen Jean-Lien and Dr. Cecilia Koo, and then a group photo ~ then we all descended to the lower floor for the second unveiling and dedication, choir and blessing ~ all followed by lunch and chat!

Ah yes, a great day, thanks be to Almighty God!

And down to the lower floor….

And finally, the official introduction, written by Rev. Lennon Chang, about this beautiful big cross that hangs on the main wall of the inside of the new church center….

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Advent Church Center is built on this site, right next to the south side of Advent Church, on a piece of land which was originally a green area of trees and plants, with lots of shade and full of life.  The Groundbreaking Service was held on January 23, 2014, and work immediately started on clearing the trees.  Most of the trees were planted many years ago and their natural life was already drawing to a close.  Among them was a tall 30-year-old Acacia Tree (‘Acacia Confusa’), known in Chinese as 相思 (‘Xiangsi’).  The acacia tree trunk was cut into pieces and delivered to the office of Rt. Rev. David J. H. Lai, Bishop of Taiwan, for him to paint with Bible verses using Chinese calligraphy.  One piece of wood was over 2 meters long and suitable to make a bench, but after a period of prayer and reflection, Bishop Lai felt moved instead to offer this long piece to make a cross, for display in a high central position in the church center.  Mr. Liu, Pang-Chuan (劉邦全) of Joseph Woodworks (若瑟木器) in Hsinchu was invited to use the wood to make into a cross.  On Thursday March 3, 2016, Mr. Liu delivered the finished cross to the Advent Church Center and set it in place.  On Sunday March 6, 2016, the Third Sunday of Lent, after the main Sunday service in Advent Church, Bishop Lai led all the church members to the church center and offered a prayer of blessing over the cross.

This cross is a witness to St. John’s University, Advent Church and the local community, reminding us all of the redeeming grace offered to us through Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection.  It also reminds us how Christ leads each one of his followers in humility and obedience, and with strength and courage to walk in his light and truth, moving forwards in his wonderful grace!

In accordance with SJU policy and procedures, Rev. Lennon Chang will retire as SJU chaplain on July 31, but he will continue as Advent Church rector (non-stipendiary) and with his involvement in the SJU Alumni Association, which will mean that he can devote much more time to developing the outreach and community ministry of the new Advent IMG_6863Church Center.  He’s also busy planning the alumni celebration event, they too will have a dedication plaque for the main hall downstairs.

Thanks be to God for Lennon’s leadership and vision, and please pray for his future ministry, and for him and his family. His little grandson came to the Thanksgiving Service on Sunday and loved the harvest drums ~ he’s so cute!

Ah yes, seven years of prayer, fundraising and hard work, thanks be to God, is now accomplished.  But of course, this is not the end, but only a new beginning.  We have much to be thankful for, and much prayer and hard work ahead of us as we start to use the new church center for all sorts of church and community outreach programs.  May Almighty God guide us and help us to use the building to his glory and in the extension of his kingdom.  Amen, Amen, Amen!

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