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December 2021
Issue No. 309

Bishop Der expresses concerns about parish development at Diocesan Synod

(© 教聲/ ECHO) 

The Diocese of Hong Kong Island held its twelfth diocesan synod with the theme “living out God’s mission in challenging times” on 6 and 7 November 2021 at St James’ Church. The synod passed a resolution, held an adjournment discussion on the theme and elected committee members for the new term.

In following the tradition, the synod opened with a Eucharist. This was the first time the Rt Revd Matthias Der took part in the synod as the chairperson of the diocesan synod after his assuming the see of Hong Kong Island. This synod was also the first meeting held after the diocese’s constitution and canons had been amended to expand lay membership; the number of members increased from seventy-odd in the last synod to 102 in the current one.

In his opening speech, Bishop Der pointed out that the diocesan synod meeting was the beginning of a new page of the Diocese of Hong Kong Island. He hoped that with the expanded diocesan synod, more people could participate in the development of the diocese and inform the diocesan synod of the needs of the parishes as well as the concerns of the local communities. He also mentioned the recent changes in Hong Kong society, in which many Hong Kong people faced various situations, such as the emigration wave, livelihood and economic hardships, etc. The Church, he said, also faced the problem of succession in lay leadership and the losing of young parishioners. Bishop Der thanked everyone for serving the Church passionately, and hoped that all would be continually filled with the Holy Spirit and move forward with a mission so that the Church would be transformed into an oasis in people’s lives.

Bishop Der said that although the Diocese of Hong Kong Island did not stop developing in the past decade, the increase in the numbers of registered parishioners and of regular participants at services were far lower than the growth in the number of people baptized and confirmed. He said that he understood the complexity of the reasons behind the slow growth in the number of parishioners, especially since 2019 and 2020 were two extraordinary years. Bishop Der had visited different parishes in the past ten months to learn from first-hand experience about the situations of each parish. He understood that both the clergy and the parishioners tried their utmost to evangelize and that they also worked regularly with schools and social service units. However, he said, the overall situation remained far from ideal. Bishop Der believed that further observations and thinking about how to proceed in the future were necessary.

Hope for the return of young parishioners

There were a few important points that Bishop Der would like the diocesan synod members to concern about: first, the diocese needed to facilitate actual growth in parishes and mission churches more strategically; second, improvement in the fiscal situation of each parish; and third, how to respond to the loss of young parishioners and enable young people to see the love and care that the Church had for them, and understand that the Church was the home to return to.

Bishop Der said that the diocese would soon establish a committee to promote quality and quantity growth of each parish and review discipleship training, increase in the number of parishioners and, stewardship. In addition to the establishment of the new committee, the diocese had rolled out in May the Parish Development Grant scheme to provide funding for parishes and mission churches to develop their ministries, as well as set up two ministry development committees in response to the growth of Hong Kong Island East and Tung Chung. Bishop Der hoped that everyone, from the diocese to each parish, and from the bishop to all clergy and parishioners, would join hands to work for the better development of the Church.

At the beginning of the synod meetings, Bishop Der appointed Dr Moses Cheng as the parliamentarian; Mr Wilson Mok as the chair of the first session, and Mr Joey Fan as the chair of the second session. Mr Chow Siu-ngok, chancellor of the Diocese of Eastern Kowloon, was invited to be the scrutineer of the election.

Passing a motion to be proposed to the General Synod

After hearing reports from each committee, the diocesan synod debated the only motion in this synod. Moved by St Peter’s Church, North Point, it proposed that “the synod of the diocese of Hong Kong Island shall move a motion in the General Synod that Canon 26 of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui be amended, so that the election of vestry members of the parish is held once every two years instead of once a year, and the tenure of office for a vestry member is two calendar years instead of one calendar year.”

Introducing the motion, the Revd Lam Chun-wai, the vicar of St Peter’s, said that the preparation of the election of vestry members was a time- and human resources-consuming process. He said that parishes that were still counting votes and processing the lists of registered parishioners and vestry candidates manually had to spend even more time. Besides, vestry members elected to new positions would require time to adjust while team heads, who were constrained by the one-year term, were reluctant to make long-term plans. All of these affected the development of a parish. Therefore, he wished that the tenure of office of vestry members be extended from one year to two. If the motion passed, the matter would be raised by the diocese in the General Synod for discussion.

Since the motion was of immediate concern to all parishes, many diocesan synod members actively shared their views. Some members thought that a one-year term for vestry members and team leaders affected parishes and believed that a two-year term would give parish ministries more continuity. Some suggested that the time and human resources saved from preparing for the election could be used on other evangelizing ministries. On the contrary, some synod members found that the preparation process for elections was an expression of fellowship because it involved parishioners working together.

Some synod members raised questions about technical difficulties, for example, whether extending the tenure of vestry members would affect the terms of diocesan and general synods, and whether a review on the three-tier synodical structure should be conducted. Some questioned whether an extended term would also affect the eligibility for the role of senior active members of a vestry and the role of permanent advisors of a parish. Others wondered how a church should handle the remainder of the two-year tenure of a vestry member if and when he/she decided to emigrate. The motion was passed with fifty ayes and forty-two nays.

On the second day of the diocesan synod meeting on 7 November, the diocese invited the Revd Canon Thomas Pang and the Revd Jason Leung from St Paul’s Church, the Revd Ip Kam-fai from St Stephen’s Church, and the Revd Stephen Hung from the Church of the Ascension to talk about their experiences of promoting youth, school, and parish ministries; running the Alpha courses; and the development of ministries in Tung Chung. The Revd Tsui Yuk-fan also shared his reflections on Romans 12:1–21 followed by a discussion with synod members.

Earlier on, the diocese had devised three mission priorities for the future growth of the diocese, namely, enabling people to discern and respond to God’s calling in faith, walking with people in love and caring for people in need, and inspiring hope and instilling peace. During the adjournment discussion, synod members split into small groups to reflect on and discuss these three mission priorities. Although arrangements were made for each group to appoint a representative to report its discussion, because of the time constraint, all groups could only submit a report in writing for the diocese to review.

Youth observer Roger Lo expressed his gratitude to the diocese for inviting young people to participate in the synod meetings and allowing them to learn and prepare themselves for serving their parishes and the diocese as vestry or diocesan synod members. He also praised the synod members for their serious discussions and hoped that the participation of youth observers could contribute to the diocese by introducing new ideas.

Concluding the synod, Bishop Der said that he was encouraged by the two-day meetings and believed that after the motion debate, listening to reports on various ministries, participating in elections and group discussions, the synod members would all feel the rekindling of their inner passion. He hoped that the participants could become ambassadors for the diocese to share the fruits and missions gathered from the diocesan synod with their own parish’s vestry in reviewing the parish’s future development path, in contemplating the parish’s mission and direction, and in becoming a force to support the clergy. Bishop Der also expressed his wish of having more opportunities to meet the members and his willingness to discuss and share in missions and ministries with them. He stressed that he hoped the three mission priorities for the future growth of the diocese’s ministry would help each parish establish a direction to facilitate their own ministry.

There was a commissioning towards the end of the synod. Bishop Der asked the synod members if they were willing to give up all to God and to dedicate their hearts and energy to facilitate the different ministries of the Church in building Christ’s body, to follow the constitution and canons of the diocese, to fulfil their mission as stewards under the leadership of their bishop, and commit to seeking a communal spirit among their parishes and mission churches to be witneses to Christ and glorify God. When singing hymns, the synod members put stickers printed with “called to blossom, support one another, light up the way” on their seat neighbours as a reminder of their mutual support.


(© 教聲/ ECHO) 

<The above article was published in "Echo" Issue No. 309. Please click here>


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