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Publish Date: 13 December 2020

Archbishop Paul Kwong reviews 40 years of ministry

The Most Revd Dr Paul Kwong, Archbishop of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (HKSKH), plays many roles in the HKSKH and the Anglican Communion as he is also the Chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the Primate of Hong Kong and the Bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong Island. All these titles come with many important responsibilities in the Church and society. Having served the Church for forty years, Archbishop Kwong, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday, is retiring on 31 December 2020. At an interview with Echo, Archbishop Kwong looked back on his years as a clergyman of the Church, recounted his memorable moments and shared his feelings about the overall situation in the territory and the Church, especially about the impacts of recent social events and the pandemic.

Archbishop Kwong said, “My ministry was closely related to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. I was ordained to the diaconate in 1982 and to priesthood in 1983. It was about a decade before the handover of Hong Kong to China, where the British and the Chinese governments argued furiously over the future of Hong Kong at the Sino-British talks. Just before the end of the 1980s there was a mass social movement in 1989. During that period, I witnessed a lot of Hong Kong people growing doubtful about their futures after the handover. Many of my colleagues and parishioners decided to emigrate. All these posed a great challenge to me and had great impacts on me.”

He admitted that he was young back then and felt helpless in the face of the many social issues.

“Fortunately the Anglican Church has a robust system, under which colleagues value our unity. Our fellowship enables all of us, clergy and bishops, to face difficulties together. We discuss and share our views. Although not all views are the same, we support one another,” he said.
A decade in Yuen Long

He continued, “I was assigned to St Matthias’ Church in Yuen Long in 1986 and remained there for ten years. It was like a paradise. I felt removed from the instability of the society and could concentrate myself on nurturing the local parishioners. Yet, we all understood at that time that Hong Kong’s return to China was inevitable. Many people believed that once China took over the sovereignty of Hong Kong, it would persecute Christians and destroy churches, so they had to prepare for the worst for 1997. However, HKSKH did not share this view. We believed that God would protect Hong Kong. That meant Hong Kong would continue to run smoothly after the handover and the Church could continue to worship God and serve the people. At that time, Bishop Peter Kwong always reminded us that we had to serve God irrespective of the handover. Because of his reminder, all clergy dedicated themselves to their parish ministry. In fact, we then played very minor roles in the handover of the territory to China. We could only listen, and glimpse into our futures from news reports without participating in any way to steer our future. We could only respond to our calling to the best of our abilities.”

Archbishop Kwong recalled that although the people of Hong Kong feared the handover prior to 1997, their reactions were relatively rational.

“Some people left Hong Kong because they were uncertain about the future of the territory. It was beyond imagination that the ‘occupation movement’ in 2014 and the ‘anti-extradition legislation movement’ in 2019 would be so tense, impulsive, and emotional, and causing such polarization in our society. I am deeply disturbed by this situation,” he said.

He lamented that the biggest challenge facing Hong Kong in recent years was the politicization of everything. Noting that politics has been escalated to such a level now that it surpasses everything, even faith, Archbishop Kwong said, “I think many people now judge and define the depths of others’ faith from a political angle. This is really unbelievable. I’m convinced that God transcends everything and politics could not be above God and the Gospel. However, the current trend in the society is a powerful force. It has caused divisions and confrontations. How can we turn this social mentality around? I don’t think it would be easy and it would take a long time to resolve.

“Discussing politics is never a problem, but such discussions cannot be groundless and irrational, nor can they be based on hearsay, superficial understanding, or sophistry. Otherwise, political discussions can do great harm to the society,” he said.

Right from the beginning, churches, schools and social services are the trinity of the ministry of HKSKH. As the years go by, social services have become more professionalized, and the mode of schooling has also changed. These changes resulted in the separation of the ministries but have not changed the fact that the trinity of ministry is closely connected. A fourth-generation Anglican, Archbishop Kwong pushed the introduction of three provincial policy papers during his tenure – the Education Policy Paper, the Social Service Policy Paper, and the Church Policy Paper. The three policy papers are important indicators to reassert the identity and role of HKSKH.

Nurturing people

“I grew up as an Anglican, and my impression of HKSKH is an ‘active’ church. When I was a child, I saw priests working hard to develop their ministry. I believe that this was mainly related to the then social conditions in Hong Kong,” Archbishop Kwong said.

“At the end of the Second World War, everything was to be rebuilt. The Church’s role in rebuilding Hong Kong in the 1950s and the 1960s was an active and important one. The civil war in China caused an on-going influx of refugees into the city. In response to the situation, the Church kept expanding its education and social services. Such expansions needed clergy to be ‘hands-on doers’. When the demands for priests of ‘doer’ type were great, it naturally resulted in fewer ‘thinkers’ among the clergy,” he said.

While pointing out that he introduced the three policy papers because he wanted priests and parishioners to reflect on why the Church must promote the trinity of ministries, Archbishop Kwong added, “As time passes, people tend to forget about their original aspirations and the rationale behind these ministries. Using social service as an example, I want to stress that each era has its own special needs; therefore social service units have to provide services to meet the contemporary demands. Why do we have to sponsor schools? Why do we have to build churches? Is it because we just like to keep up with the Joneses? Or is it like running a convenience store at every corner of the streets in our neighbourhood? The three policy papers would help us reflect upon the identity and mission of the Church.”

Archbishop Kwong stressed that he has always wanted to elevate HKSKH from a Church of “doers” to a Church that not only knows how to do things, but also how to think. He said, “Our Church could only become mature if she knows how to ‘think’ and to ‘do’ at the same time. When I became Archbishop, I took up the tasks that Archbishop Emeritus Peter Kwong had started, which was nurturing talents, and allocating more resources into Ming Hua Theological College to train clerics. We have also published many books and established an archive to collect and curate historical documents. All these help our parishioners and clerics to think about and understand our Church. By understanding what kind of Church that ours is, they can think about faith and analyze social discourses from different angles. I have organized an annual clergy conference where renowned scholars and clerics are invited to give presentations to broaden the horizons of our clerics.

Talented people don’t just fall from the sky, and people are not born with their skills. That is why I always emphasize the nurturing of people. Where do we start to nurture our people? From the parishes, of course. That is also why Ming Hua Theological College has developed many courses to promote theological education among the laity in recent years.”

In reality, nurturing programmes for the laity have indirectly enhanced the faithful’s sense of identity and enabled them to value their roles as Anglicans. Archbishop Kwong hopes that the clergy and parishioners will always remember their identities as Anglicans and cherish the heritages of the Church because “it is all the graces of God.”

It is obvious that Archbishop Kwong took a gradual approach to implement his blueprint of Church development. The purpose of stepping up the nurturing of clerics and the faithful, which simultaneously reinforces their Anglican identity, is to reaffirm the Church’s mission of evangelization. He said, “It is just like what the Revd Canon Lee Shiu Keung said, a healthy Church is an outreaching Church. How could we evangelize, if our parishioners did not have a clear and strong Anglican identity and were poorly nurtured?”

Many parishioners might be curious about how Archbishop Kwong planned to spend his retirement and transit to the next phase of his life. Archbishop Kwong said he believes that his retirement life will not differ much from how he leads his life at present.

“Although I am retiring from my office as the Archbishop, I am still an ordained minister. As long as the Church provides me with a permit, I can still participate in liturgy and worships,” he said.

Archbishop Kwong said he is suited to both active and quiet activities but he did not like to be tied down by too many restrictions. Therefore, after retirement he is looking forward to spending more time on what he enjoys. As far as his personal life is concerned, Archbishop Kwong said, “I would continue to play ball games and swim. It is important to exercise to keep fit when one gets older. Other than that, I would also like to spend more time on reading because there are many books I have yet to finish! I was too busy with work in the past, and when I retire, I will have more time to watch great films in the cinema.”

In fact, Archbishop Kwong is expected to be present at the Lambeth Conference in 2022 in his capacity as Chairman of the ACC, an office he is holding until 2023. He is also the Dean of the Priory of Hong Kong of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. He remains a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference until 2022.

He believes he will get used to retirement. He explained, “The Diocese of Hong Kong Island agreed to continue to lease me the current apartment I’m living in, so I don’t have to move. When a person gets older, it’s more difficult to adjust to a new environment. Fortunately Bishop Andrew Chan, Archbishop elect of HKSKH, also has agreed to provide me with a temporary office in the Provincial Office so that I do not have to face great changes in my workplace and accommodation. Another great thing about retiring is that I don’t have to deal with the many social engagements anymore!”

Archbishop Kwong continued, “I have always wanted to take part in curating historical documents in the Sheng Kung Hui Archives and review the 170 years of history of our Church. I also want to teach a course or two at Ming Hua Theological College. If such opportunities present themselves in the future, I will have to read more books and archival documents. This is the only way to learn as I teach!”

This wish is a statement of Archbishop Kwong’s strong commitment of the Church in nurturing members of the Church and in fostering the clergy and the laity of the Church to treasure and appreciate the Anglican tradition and identity.

(© 教聲/ ECHO 版權所有)  



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