Critics point to stagnation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 May, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 May, 1995, 12:00am

THE Anglican Church in Hong Kong has had a troubled decade, with parishioner numbers showing hardly any growth and some church members saying there is rising disunity among the clergy.

While some senior church members rejected the claims of clergy disunity and maintained that the future provided a good opportunity for growth, others saw the danger of stagnation in the local church mission.

Instituted by the Letters Patent in 1849, the local diocese has a historic link with the Church of England, making it the dominant group among the Protestant denominations in Hong Kong.

But over the past decade, the diocese's efforts to attract new blood have proved far from satisfactory, with the number of registered baptised parishioners staying at about 24,000, or only about 10 per cent of the size of the local Catholic community. While there are 35 diocesan parishes here, the average Sunday attendance numbers about 5,300 and the tally on the electoral roll adds up to close to only 7,500. Officially, the lack of growth in congregation numbers is said to be caused by emigration, but some church members think otherwise.

The Reverend Fung Chi-wood said: 'The question of 1997 is not the key reason for the declining trend. It is more a question of spiritual problems. Solidarity among the clergy is very weak and there isn't enough co-operation. The clerics are breaking up into small factions and the parishes are only minding their own business.

'This is not right as team spirit is very important in the Church. Nor is it right that the church leadership should dictate all business.' The problem with the local Anglican Church now was that there was no room for dissenting voices, he said.

'It is the Anglican Church's tradition to advocate democracy but this spirit isn't found here.' A member of the synod's House of Laity, Chan Ka-wai, also said there were different factions among the clergy.

'The results of the recent elections of area bishops reflect a split in the diocese's central leadership,' he said.

Held on April 9, the election of two area bishops for the East Kowloon and West Kowloon districts failed to return any candidates as none managed to secure a two-thirds majority in both the House of Clergy and the House of Laity.

The only clergyman securing a two-thirds majority in the House of Laity, the Venerable Louis Tsui Tsan-sang, failed to gain enough support from fellow clergymen after 10 rounds of voting. In the last four rounds, 50 per cent of the clergy consistently opted to abstain.

Citing the formation of the province as an example, Mr Chan said there had been a lack of consensus on this subject and the problem did not arise from laymen, instead it was the clerics who failed to reach a consensus.

He believed that this could be a reflection of the conflict among the various factions of the clergy.

To Mr Chan, the problem with the existing diocese is a lack of openness, thus generating suspicions among church members. For instance, the details and procedures for the election of area bishops could be made more open but the church leadership's failure to volunteer information had instilled suspicion.

'There should be more accountability and transparency in the diocese,' he said.

The near-zero growth in the number of parishioners and stagnation in the church mission were the result of a lack of direction.

'In recent years, we've hardly seen the Church expressing concern about social affairs and little work is done on evangelism,' Mr Chan said.

Moses Cheng Mo-chi, a member of the Province Commission given the task of studying the province plan, rejected suggestions there was a split among the clergy.

'I don't see any split within the church, perhaps there are people who have yet to deeply feel the guidance of the Holy Spirit,' he said.

Noting criticism of the nomination committee for the elections which he chaired, Mr Cheng said the nominations were made on the basis of individual ability, leadership and acceptability to parishioners.

He also said that there was adequate transparency and accountability in the local diocese although there would always be room for improvement.