By Mark Michael

The Dean of Hong Kong’s Cathedral, Matthias Der, was elected as coadjutor to Archbishop Paul Kwong by the synod of the Diocese of Hong Kong Island on November 21. Kwong has announced that he will retire at the end of 2020. Der has served as dean of Saint John’s Cathedral, the largest Anglican church in Hong Kong, since 2012. He will likely be consecrated in the spring of 2020.

According to Sue Careless of The Anglican Planet, Der spent much of his youth in Taiwan, where his father served as priest in the Episcopal Church’s small diocese there. He was educated at a boarding school in Hawaii and trained for the ministry at Wycliffe College, Toronto. Der was ordained in the Diocese of Toronto in 1990, and he planted a Chinese-language Anglican church, St. Christopher’s, serving as the incumbent for twenty years. His brother, Philip Der, currently leads the congregation, which worships in two sites in Toronto’s Northern suburbs.

A press release of the Anglican Church of Hong Kong describes Der as “passionate about nurturing disciples, and making the Christian faith relevant to people’s lives and is actively sharing the gospel, doing pastoral work and guiding the outreach ministry in ways that are relevant to the society.”

In addition to being Bishop of Hong Kong Island, Kwong is also archbishop and primate of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, the Anglican Church in Hong Kong, a province containing three dioceses. The other dioceses are Eastern and Western Kowloon, on the mainland. The island of Macao is a missionary area of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui.

Der will succeed Kwong as bishop diocesan, but selection of the next primate will be made by a vote of the provincial synod. Since the province was established in 1998, the primates have always also been bishops of Hong Kong Island.

While Kwong earned theological degrees in the United States, all of his ministry has been in Hong Kong. Der, on the other hand, ministered in Canada for two decades after being educated in Hawaii and Toronto, and was raised in a church founded by Chinese Anglicans who fled the mainland after the Communist takeover in 1949. A November Christianity Today article noted that Chinese diaspora congregations in North America have been very reluctant to speak out about the Hong Kong protests because congregants often have highly divergent views about the legitimacy of their claims and the trustworthiness of the Beijing government. It remains to be seen whether Der will be more supportive of the pro-democracy forces than Kwong has been in a city that continues to be wracked by clashes between protesters and police.

Anglican leaders in Hong Kong have been relatively quiet since protests began nearly six months ago over the Extradition Bill proposed by the Hong Kong Authority. Most public statements from the church’s bishops have urged patience and cooperation. Archbishop Kwong serves as a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee, the Beijing-based Chinese government’s legislative advisory body.

An article in the Sunday Examiner, the city’s Catholic newspaper, discussed the church’s September decision to cut its ties with Chung Chi College of Divinity, which has encouraged the protest movement. The action is perceived by many, it said, as a sign of the church’s pro-Beijing orientation. Cristiano Tai Lok-hei, a member of a recently founded Anglican student group called St. Francis Action, told the Examiner: “Archbishop Kwong was appointed a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference member by Beijing, so his political stand must be pro-Beijing for sure.”

In an August 8 pastoral letter, the church’s bishops warned of the dangers of “a confrontational approach in response to political issues.” They added, “We might stand on opposite sides, and feel animosity or even hatred towards those with different views. When this happens, we have to be extremely careful, because our hearts might have fallen into the control of the ‘evil one.’ We need to remember that benevolent thoughts come from God while wicked intentions originate in the ‘evil one,’ Satan.”

Hong Kong-based American professor Dave Hall criticized the Anglican Church’s lack of response to the crisis in a September 10 letter to The South China Morning Post, the city’s major English-language paper. Hall said he had been rebuffed in his efforts to speak with Dean Der and other staff at St. John’s Cathedral about the issues. He noted that the Anglican Church’s relative silence stood in contrast to “the Catholic and evangelical churches [who] have proactively assisted and ministered to the people of Hong Kong in these trying times.”

The church’s three bishops did issue a statement on November 18 expressing “deep concern” about a standoff then in progress between protesters and police at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “We sincerely wish that the crisis may be settled peacefully through efforts from all sides. We further appeal to all stakeholders to exercise self-control, so that the crisis may be resolved without violence, but with reason, empathy and legitimacy.” Police took over the campus on November 29 after an two week siege, arresting over 1,100 protesters and injuring 280.