Anglican Lutheran Coordinating Committee meets in the city where East, West, North and South meet

Protesters outside St John’s cathedral, Hong Kong. Photo: Neil Vigers/Anglican Communion Office
Protesters outside St John’s cathedral, Hong Kong. Photo: Neil Vigers/Anglican Communion Office

Rev. Anne Burghardt

Hong Kong: a vibrant city where East, West, South and North meet; a city with seemingly unlimited financial resources that celebrates—some might even say worships—consumerism; a city that every evening at 8 pm illuminates its famous skyline with an impressive light and music show; a city that never sleeps and where the colorful logos of multinational corporations sparkle like jewels from the rooftop of every skyscraper; a city that is home to over seven million people, ten to fifteen percent of whom are Christians; a city that of late has seen what is arguably the first genuine movement for freedom on Chinese soil, known as the Umbrella Movement.

Hong Kong: venue of the second meeting of the Anglican-Lutheran International Coordinating Committee (ALICC), 19—25 November 2015. The ALICC meeting’s main tasks were to map existing relations between Anglicans and Lutherans worldwide, ranging from formal agreements to relief and development partnerships as well as partnerships between theological schools; discuss the understanding of God’s mission by both communions both internally and ecumenically; and continue to develop joint materials on the LWF’s main theme of the Reformation Anniversary in 2017, “Liberated by God’s Grace.”

On Sunday, 23 November, the committee, comprising eleven members from all continents, had the privilege to experience two, very different worship services. Martinson Memorial Lutheran Church, where the group attended the Sunday Eucharist service, is located in an apartment on the second floor of a skyscraper situated in the middle of a busy business area. The congregation belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong, a church that traditionally has had close connections to refugees who fled to Hong Kong after the Communist party had come to power in the aftermath of World War II. The welcome was warm and the sermon had been especially translated for the group.

On Sunday afternoon, the group had the honor to participate in the consecration of the Revd Canon Dr Timothy Chi-pei Kwok as Bishop of Eastern Kowloon at St John’s Cathedral. The Anglican Church was established in Hong Kong in the mid-nineteenth century under British colonial rule and used to enjoy a privileged position. Therefore, the Anglican cathedral cannot be compared to the tiny house church the group had visited in the morning. A long procession of consecrating and visiting bishops, clergy and choir, solemnly entered the cathedral, passing by a tiny group of peaceful, slightly shame-faced demonstrators of the Umbrella Movement. This loose political movement was created spontaneously during the Hong Kong protests of 2014. Its name derives from the recognition of the umbrella as a symbol of defiance and resistance against the Hong Kong government after China's Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) announced its proposed electoral reform.

The recent protests in Hong Kong have raised serious questions as to how the church should react to the current situation. Should the church(es) choose a side? What does speaking prophetically mean in today’s situation? How far should the authorities be respected? How are the ideologies of consumerism and Communism to be dealt with? How can the church remain true to the faith, rooted in different confessions and traditions, while trying to accommodate to this reality? While the churches still struggle with these and other related questions, one thing is certain, namely that challenging times lie ahead of the church(es) in Hong Kong.

Rev. Anne Burghardt is program secretary for ecumenical relations in the Department for Theology and Public Witness at the Lutheran World Federation

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.