By Mark Michael
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Chan, senior among the leaders of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui’s three dioceses, was elected Archbishop of Hong Kong and the province’s next primate by the provincial synod on October 18. Chan, 58, will continue to serve as Bishop of Western Kowloon after he succeeds the current archbishop, Paul Kwong, who will retire early in 2021.
An institutional leader with decades of experience, Chan was largely educated in the UK. While a signatory to several joint statements about Hong Kong’s violent clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police over the now fully imposed Security Law, Chan has kept quiet about the subject for months. A report in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post says he is “generally regarded as a mild-tempered clergyman, without displaying any outwardly political allegiances.”
Chan was a signatory to a pastoral letter that expressed tentative support for the protests shortly after they broke out in April 2019, “We are pleased with the innocent heart of most youth, who are willing to stand up for their ideals, to fight for the freedom that they cherish, and to face with courage against external threats,” the letter read. It also urged Hong Kong’s government to take the students’ concerns seriously, describing their narrow focus on legal questions as “likely to lead to stubbornness, partiality and bias.”
When protests turned violent in August 2019, the bishops issued a pastoral letter that called for peace, stating, “In these times, we all need to pray to God for mercy and forgive one another. When conflicts arise between us, people from both sides need to respect the other party, listen, communicate, and build mutual trust.”
A final letter on the subject, issued on November 24, 2019 after months of violent suppression, criticized the protesters as impatient and short-sighted. “When we cannot see a way forward, and when the situation deteriorates, we tend to seek shortcuts to reach our goals. And so, we make use of force, vigilante justice, threats, violence, and domination to resolve problems, resulting in more chaos and conflict. But the above-mentioned methods cannot recover kindness, because they trap us in a vicious cycle of sin, turning Hong Kong into a land of hatred, bitterness and piteous cries.”
“Although we will remain in a difficult situation in the immediate future, we should remember that besides being citizens of earth, we are also citizens of heaven. As citizens of heaven, our ultimate calling is to bring heaven to earth. Only in this way may we attain true prosperity, peace, democracy, and freedom for Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s current archbishop, Paul Kwong, wrote a sharply-worded defense of the Security Law to the Church Times shortly after it took effect in late June. He criticized British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of “anti-China bias” and said that the law, which allows those accused of breaking Hong Kong laws to be extradited to the mainland for trial, “is necessary for our well-being”
“Many critics do not accept the fact that we are part of China,” Archbishop Kwong wrote. “They only emphasize two systems, not one country. I cherish our Hong Kong freedoms — in particular, the freedom of religion and way of life — as much as anyone, and I don’t think this law will change any of that. I am also proud to be living in China.”
Archbishop-elect Chan, a Hong Kong native, earned a degree in education in Newcastle before beginning his studies for the ministry at Salisbury and Wells Theological College. After his ordination, he served several parishes in Hong Kong, returning to the UK to earn a masters’ degree in pastoral theology from Heythrop College, near London.
He worked closely with former Hong Kong Archbishop Peter Kwong to establish the province’s administrative structure in the late 1990’s, and was both diocesan and provincial secretary, as well as a liaison for the church to the wider Anglican Communion. He was the first Chinese dean of historic St. John’s Cathedral in central Hong Kong and has served as Bishop of Western Kowloon since 2011. He was made an honorary canon of Salisbury Cathedral in 2012 in recognition for his work in strengthening the relationship between the two dioceses.
The Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (also known as the Anglican Church of Hong Kong) was established as an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion in 1998, a year after the former colony was handed over to the People’s Republic of China by the British government. The thirty-odd parishes of the former Diocese of Hong Kong were then divided into three dioceses, the requisite number for obtaining provincial status. One diocese is on Hong Kong Island and two others, Eastern and Western Kowloon divide the former colony’s mainland territory. The province also has a mission presence in Macau, a neighboring autonomous area that was a Portuguese colony until 1999, when it was transferred to China. The province has approximately 30,000 communicants.