Stories of Winding Down

Taiwan Independent

Char has gone to America to spend more than a month with her parents. I’m alone (independent) in Taiwan for a while. Just me and the cat. Hopefully he’ll survive my indifference to his species.


June 14 What is a Church Member?

Part of church ministry in the 21st century is online presence. Many churches have poorly designed or lazily maintained web pages, which can be years out of date and particularly uninformative. It’s rather amazing, because almost every church prints an up to date bulletin every week.  Setting that aside,  in the class I taught about platform skills (the platform being the place in the church where the pulpit stands) last term, we spent a week talking about how we look on camera, specifically how we may look on a web page video that is intended forthe Frequently Asked Questions section of a church website. For the mid-term examination I assigned everyone to create a 1-to-3 minute video, taking on the character of the pastor of “Happy Jesus Presbyterian Church”, and answering the question “How do I become a member of Happy Jesus Presbyterian Church?”  


I was amazed at the ignorance of the students regarding the rudimentary nature of church membership. Some introduced people “how to believe in Jesus.”  Others took the viewpoint, “Just come, and you’ll be part of us.”  When we shared the videos in class I thought I was pretty clear that church membership was not just “being part of the crowd” and loving each other.  I wanted instructions. But, since everyone had learned things about being on camera, making their own videos, lighting, camera angles, sound quality and etc., everyone passed.  


For the final I assigned creation of a portfolio based on things we had studied about creative sermon structure AND the submission of two videos, one of which was a re-boot of the midterm. Everyone had a chance to show their work on the 14th, get peer feedback, and consider whether or not they would make adjustments before the final due date on the 20th. When we watched the videos about church membership, I was again astonished. The students did a better job with the picture quality and such, but once again failed to address what it means to be a church member. In the end, they explained to me that the term I used for “church member” lacked the important descriptive adjective, “Communicant.” Had I said that, they’d have recited the rules.  Right.  


June 14 Talking to Children in Church

In church in Taiwan, children rarely relate to the pastor at all. I wanted my students to consider what it might mean to do a Children’s sermon, as is not uncommon in North America, and we spent a class session on that on June 7. Part of their final exam portfolio was to do one on camera using a prop. Everyone did something. All but one used props. But only one did a real “children’s sermon”. The others told bible stories. It was the only thing they could imagine doing. Trouble is, the stories they chose (Noah, David & Goliath, the 3 servants with different talents) were far beyond the attention span of a 3-year-old.  

Next semester I will teach a 2-unit graduate level course devoted to Children’s sermons. 10 people have already signed up. I’m hoping for good things.


June 16 The Final Word

It was the last Friday of the term, so the last time the college met for morning prayers. Dr. Lin Chuan-fen, who had led the social work program for over a decade, was in the pulpit. It was her last time. She has now officially retired.

Dr. Lin has class. Though she is deeply disappointed that her drive for the last 10 years to have the college create a social work program that would be accredited by the government (the current program is not accredited), she didn’t get it. The board and president decided on getting accredited for graduate studies in Theology instead. But Dr. Lin spoke to the community with thanksgiving for the 40 years she has served the school and of the expected sadness that it is to leave. Not a word of disappointment from the pulpit. It has been a privilege to serve with her.


June 16 The Final Final

Char interviews each of her more-than-200 students twice each semester, and those weeks are BUSY!  This term the interviews started on Friday the 9th, took in hours on Saturday the 10th, and didn’t finish until Friday the 16th. BUT, they were all done, and the only thing Char had to do was give everybody final exam scores, then average all sorts of little quizzes and other things into final marks for the semester.  The math takes a week. Too many students means too many numbers.


June 17 The Man Who Teaches Me

There’s a guy I’ve never met, greeted or even waved to. I don’t know if he’s noticed me at all, but he has taught me some things about myself in recent weeks.     I am at Dongning Presbyterian Church at least three times every week. On Saturday evenings for Recorder practice, on Sunday morning for worship, and on Sunday afternoons to lead English church. If I leave by the back gate I go through an alley for about 20 meters, then make a sharp right for another 15 to get to the road home. It’s at that sharp right turn that I see the guy.

If, instead of making the turn, I went straight, I’d run into him. He stands at the rear entrance to a large banquet hall restaurant, and seems to either direct occasional traffic up and down a parking ramp or monitor the ice machines. I can’t tell. I’ve never actually seen him DO much.

I discovered, though, that he’s been teaching me things. I had taken a negative attitude regarding him, and I didn’t know why. It turns out that first, he’s soft and flabby, his belly hangs over his belt. Second, he smokes, and third he holds his cigarette in a rather “effete” way.  NONE of these things is wrong. NONE of these things says anything negative about him. But I had formed an opinion of him based on them.

I’ve gotta work on myself, and I’m grateful for the lesson he taught, and continues to teach, me.


June 18 Donggang

Sometime in April the Taiwan Church Press, where I worked from 2000 through 2003, contacted me asking whether I’d be available to do fund-raising for them in July. That means going to churches and preaching. I agreed, and the assignments began flowing in. July 9, 16 and 30, plus June 18 and August 13. I can use the same sermon every time, so it’s not as if I’ll be struggling to come up with new things to say.  I discovered in the 18th, though, that the travel is what’s going to kill me. Only two of the 5 assignments are anywhere near home. On the 18th I was 60 miles away in a fishing port where the church has been present since 1872. They had two services, the first of which started at 8AM, so I had to be on the road by 6. All went well. They use the “OLD” (1964) hymnal, which I dislike, and even for that the accompanist at the first service couldn’t play the songs I chose. By the second service, I knew my sermon better, (and after preaching a modified version of it that afternoon in English, knew it even better. It’s posted at the blog under the title, Welcoming Wanderers.) Now that I’ve experienced the distance travel part of going out preaching, I’m regretting having agreed to so much of it.

June 20  Should I Volunteer to play the Organ?

End of term worship at Tainan Theological College was on the afternoon of the 20th, followed by a banquet. As I translated for the preacher, I began considering volunteering to be the accompanist, using the chapel pipe organ, once or twice next semester.  I haven’t the foggiest idea of how to actually play a pipe organ, but the preacher on the 20th, who has a Doctor of Musical Arts (Performance) in Pipe Organ, has no idea what to do in a pulpit. I figure it would be fair exchange.


June 21  Graduation

Tainan Theological College’s graduation was held on Wednesday morning. Faculty and graduating students, suitably robed, gathered for a photo in the college quad at 8:10AM. As soon as that was over I ditched my robe in my office and hightailed it to the assembly hall, where graduation would start at 9:00. I translated the entire thing, which lasted over two hours. Was so exhausted afterwards that I skipped lunch and took a long, deep, nap.

Late in the afternoon I went back to the office and retrieved my robe and regalia. On the way home I met the college president, who, noting that I’ll be retiring next year, invited me to give the sermon at graduation. We’ll see if he remembers that in 12 months’ time.


June 22  Grades Sent

During the week between the 16th and 23rd Char only went to the university one time, to check on last minute changes in students’ statuses (stati?). She was able to have all of her final marks reported online, printed, stamped and ready for posting the morning of the 23rd. Congratulations. Job well done!


June 24  Char’s Departure

Char has been spending part of every summer for the past 5 or 6 years in Michigan with her parents. This year is the same, with a little difference. She left on Saturday evening, taking a non-stop flight to Chicago, and to spend 47 days away. This year is longer because her folks are moving from the house where they’ve lived for the past 30 years to a senior community closer to their eldest daughter, Mary (and coincidentally in the town to which the two of us will retire next year).

The move is all booked. The boxes are packed, the closets sorted, and the house is sold. Char is there to accompany and help with the settling in. This is NOT exactly a vacation, but Holland, MI is much cooler than Tainan, Taiwan. So it should be a break.


June 25  Scott Joplin in Church

The recorder group that I’m part of played a few pieces in church on Sunday, serving as the choir. The group is actually a combined set of ensembles…. The kids on soprano recorders, the adults on altos, and playing simple things. The junior and senior high youth play all 4 parts and do more difficult things.  Sometimes we all play together, but this week the youth had toe postlude, which was “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin. As I listened to them, I remembered Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “The Sting” way back in the 70s.  Never thought of ragtime music as church music.  Learned something.


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