World Council of Churches - Feature
Contact: + 41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 firstname.lastname@example.org For immediate release - 28/11/2006 12:20:54 PM
AN "ALL-YEAR-ROUND AND ALL-DAY-LONG CHURCH": THE TEK-TUNG CONGREGATION
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Founded in 1932 as a traditional rural church, the Tek-Tung congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan is anything but traditional today.
Led by a clergy couple, the congregation, which had declined in membership and vitality in the 1960s due to the impact of industrialization in the area and the resulting migration of members to the city, as well as to a lack of pastoral leadership, has been transformed into what Rev. Dr Chang Hau-Sheng has characterized as an "all-year-round and all-day-long church".
"What we were facing when we arrived here was the typical decline of churches in rural Taiwan - declining memberships, financial strain, weakening of spiritual life, and a lack of vision for mission in the local community," Chang explained to a World Council of Churches' (WCC) delegation visiting Taiwan on 23-26 November.
The approach taken by the Changs was to first seek a spiritual revival within the membership of the congregation, and then to discern a vision for mission through an improved relationship between the church and the community. The third step was to engage all the members of the congregation in an ambitious renovation of the church building itself, and to step out in faith by constructing a multi-purpose educational and community centre.
"Although the failing farming economy still threatened the development of this church, the spiritual growth and new life surpassed all the difficulties. In the past, it was a church that existed for survival, but today it is driven by mission and service. In the past, it was a church centred on the growth and care of its members, but today it serves the community. In the past, it was a solitary church, but today it unites with other community churches for service of the whole community," said Chang.
The Tek-Tung church of today has established a children's library, as the community itself did not have this resource available, and has taken it to the people of the community by organizing a mobile service.
The congregation has an outdoor Sunday school programme, which meets in a creative outdoor worship space complete with liturgical centre and an amazing tree house, built just adjacent to the sanctuary. It offers camping experiences for children, cares for the mentally and physically challenged, and promotes artistic and cultural activities for the community as a whole.
With a special focus on young adults, the congregation has negotiated with the local schools to operate a "drop-out ministry" for troubled youth who have not been able to continue their education in the traditional school settings. "We approach learning in a different way here by helping each young person to identify their own special gifts, so that they can be happier with themselves," said Chang.
The congregation also has an after-school programme for children of single parents and a "digital opportunity centre for rural areas" that offers free training and use of computers for youth and elders alike. It is also actively engaged in supporting the "Agape Shelter Factory," which trains those who are physically and mentally challenged to develop skills leading to potential employment or income supplements.
Chang was also quick to point out that through his experience at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, he learned of the benefits of building ecumenical partnerships and team ministries and of the potential of cooperating with other denominations. He has put that learning into practice at Tek-Tung by linking with 11 other area rural churches to share resources and mutually strengthen their respective ministries.
His engagement with pastors from different regions of Asia at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute led him to learn about the enormous need for clean water in Laos. He and four other area PCT pastors recently teamed up to visit that country, and began a clean water project in partnership with local pastors.
"Fifteen years ago, the elders at Tek-Tung felt that God had given up on this church. But God took this church, which had separated itself from the community, and led it into relationships with the community and other partnerships that have totally transformed our ministry," said Chang. "Our motto now is 'serve the people as we serve God'."
"I am very much struck by how you are using the experience you and your colleagues have had at Bossey for strengthening fellowship and ecumenical networking," general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia told Chang in response to what the delegation heard at Tek-Tung Church.
He also praised the "frontier ministries" that the church is developing to address the "real challenges life presents human beings". Kobia encouraged Chang and his fellow pastors to get in contact with the WCC's "Ecumenical Water Network".
Love in action: Joyce House for 'differently abled' persons
Some forty years ago, Joyce McMillan, a trained nurse, arrived in Taiwan from San Francisco, USA, as part of a short-term medical team to address special needs of children suffering from polio. Today, 93-year old "Granny McMillan" is still in the Changhua area of Taiwan, where her pioneering efforts have resulted in the development of two model residential facilities serving those with multiple physical and severe mental handicaps. There is also a wing for elders suffering from Alzheimers.
The WCC delegation visited "Joyce House", about fifteen kilometres down the road from Tek Tung Presbyterian Church. There, 240 people with serious disabilities are served by a staff of 140. Scores of volunteers from local churches and the surrounding communities provide assistance.
"This is a story that can't be forgotten as you see how lives are transformed," Kobia said. "Any community or country can be judged on their greatness by how well they care for 'the least of these' - all those who are 'differently abled'. Joyce House is indeed the incarnation of love in action."
The ecumenical delegation accompanying the WCC general secretary in his 23-26 November visit to Taiwan was composed of Rev. Dr Tyrone Pitts (WCC central committee member, general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, USA); Rev. Dr Seong-Won Park (WCC central committee member, from the Presbyterian Church of Korea, South Korea); Rev. Fr Gabriel Papanicolaou (ecumenical officer of the Church of Greece); Dr Mathews George Chunakara (WCC Asia secretary); and, as a communications consultant to the delegation, Rev. Deborah DeWinter (WCC programme executive for the United States).
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The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.