Tuesday, March 13, 2007

St. John's Cathedral: The 160th Anniversary

This past Sunday we all needed to be in Central (downtown Hong Kong) for a number of reasons, including Tori’s very exciting ballet rehearsal "on a real stage". We took advantage of being in Central to attend St. John’s Cathedral, which is affiliated with St. Stephan’s, our much smaller church on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Previously, we have only known St. John’s by its location which is very near to the US Consulate, on the same road and down a block. Sitting in the large cathedral space, which is shaped like a cross, had us all a little awe struck. Then we start recognizing people including someone who regularly gives sermons at St. Stephan’s and is actually the Dean of St. John’s. Someone Phil works with (and oddly enough someone we knew in Maryland through his wife, a children’s librarian) sings in the choir. We then settled down more comfortably to hear a fascinating history told in three part vignettes, 1851-1900, 1901-1950, and 1951-2007 in honor of St. John’s 160th anniversary.
I can’t say I remember much but roughly, St. John’s opened March 11, 1849. The Anglican Church was based in Macau (a nearby island) at the time. (with an Episcopalian church in Shanghai at the same time). Funds were raised and the church built in the Early English and Decorated Gothic style. The cathedral is now the second oldest building in Hong Kong and is situated on freehold land, unlike most of Hong Kong’s land which is leased. The cathedral first served the troops situated here and seating within the church based on military rank.
The middle period of the cathedral’s history followed the events of World War II. The Japanese invaded Hong Kong on December 8, 1941 and the British surrendered on Christmas Day 1941. Foreign nationals of Allied countries were imprisoned, including the Dean of St. John’s and his wife. During the war years, St. John’s was turned into a community hall for Japanese soldiers and much of the interior destroyed. Church services resumed on September 9, 1945, which was known then and now as Liberation Sunday.
The current period of church history involves many interesting roll-outs of its welfare work and increased integration with China. The Diocese of Hong Kong now goes by its Chinese name Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui and the first Chinese Dean was appointed at St. John’s in 2005. Services are held in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and maybe a few other languages as well.
Walking around on the grounds of the cathedral, it really is an oasis of space and peace. Immediately outside the gates are thousands of people walking on a very narrow sidewalk of a very busy street. We were actually trying to join the throng on the sidewalk when someone locked the gate. This would then force us, but namely the kids, to walk an extra 20 minutes or so in the rain around the block. Just then the Archbishop came out and opened the gate in order to drive out. I tried to thank him for the Sunday service. He clearly thought I meant the gate. I didn’t clarify. Both were good.


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