By Neva Rae Fox
The Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan has created an educational path for clergy and lay leadership that eliminates the requirement of traveling overseas or attending the seminary of another Christian denomination.
Taiwan, at nearly 14,000 square miles and with a population of more than 23 million people, is home to the only overseas diocese of the Episcopal Church located in Asia. It comprises 15 congregations with about 1,200 members, eight kindergartens, and St. John’s University, the successor institution to St. John’s University, Shanghai.
SJU’s former chaplain, the Rt. Rev. Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, was consecrated as Bishop of Taiwan in February 2020. He immediately set about reestablishing and developing Trinity Hall, where he had done all his theological training in the 1990s under the Rev. Canon David Chee.
Chee, recently retired from the Diocese of Los Angeles, has now returned home to Taiwan. The timing was perfect.
“It was natural for me to turn to my former teacher, David Chee, and invite him to take on the role of dean, and to use his expertise and enthusiasm to develop Trinity Hall,” Chang said.
Chang chairs both TSCM and the SJU Board of Trustees, and is working to build links between them.
Showing its support and commitment, in June the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council provided $30,000 to TSCM for mission support, as well as education and training resources.
In the latest development, TSCM is partnering with Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in Berkeley, California, to provide cultural and educational exchange opportunities, hopefully beginning in 2022.
Having a relationship with a seminary is not new. Trinity Hall had an exchange agreement with St. Andrew’s Episcopal Seminary in Manila. It has recently sent a student to Virginia Theological Seminary.
Ecumenically, TSCM celebrated the inauguration of a partnership with the Methodist Graduate School of Theology, Taipei, on October 30, allowing students from both institutions to benefit from studying together on each other’s courses, with transferable credits.
Chee explained that the key goals of TSCM are clergy training, continuing education, and Anglican studies. It offers three degrees: Diploma in Theology, Diploma in Practical Theology, and Master of Divinity. All courses are primarily held in Mandarin Chinese, which ensures that they are accessible to people at all levels.
Classes may be accessed in three ways: the traditional weekday in-person classroom; online (mostly evenings); and overnight retreat-style classes.
Previously, classes at Trinity Hall were available only to those in the greater Taipei area. Now, thanks to online options, Chee says, “We are reaching out to the entire diocese, also attracting people from other denominations and even some international participation.
“In a mission to provide lifelong learning, study credits received have no time limit, and may be gradually accumulated to receive the award of a diploma or degree.”
In anticipation of deeper collaboration with SJU, TSCM complies with all the requirements of public colleges and teaching standards set by the Ministry of Education in Taiwan.
It’s been a long road to this point in Taiwan’s theological offerings.
“The story has to begin with us being a small diocese, and when and where we train clergy,” Chee said. “That was a problem in the 1980s.”
At that time, clergy candidates had long been sent to the Presbyterian Tainan Theological College, and each student received supplemental courses in Anglican studies at Trinity Hall. Trinity Hall continued to fill the “Anglican gap,” even as the diocese started sending students to the Roman Catholic Seminary at Fu-Jen University, Taipei, during the 1990s.
In the last decade, the diocese was invited by the Archbishop of Hong Kong to send seminarians to Ming Hua Theological College, where classes are held mostly in English and Cantonese.
Pandemic restrictions have added impetus to the speedy development of TSCM. “Given the rapidly changing world and complex situation of present times, we feel it better to train our clergy here,” Chee said.
Looking 10 years into the future, “I see us as a part of a consortium that is not geographically located in one spot, and that addresses current and social issues too,” Chee said. “Using the best resources that we have, and being most optimistic, I hope our relationship with CDSP will mature into something great.”
Why all this effort? “Education is always learning today for the future,” Chee said.
“Our long-term vision is to grow our diocese to eventually become a province of three dioceses,” Chang said. “For that to be achieved, we need churches, clergy, and lay leaders who are theologically and spiritually mature, active in outreach, enthusiastic to share their faith and engage with society. We look forward to seeing how TSCM can support the Church to meet the future.”