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Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong
Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Anglican
Episcopal Church, Diocese
of Hong Kong Island.
They worship at the George C. Tso Memorial Chapel, a dazzling
white French colonial building atop a hillock overlooking the
university buildings and the sea. The chapel was originally
part of a sanatorium built by the Missions Etrangères
de Paris in the mid 1870s. The sanatorium operated until 1974,
at which time it was sold to the University of Hong Hong and
fell into neglect. The chapel was restored between 2003-2006,
with a major effort undertaken to round up the original altar,
reredos, doors, windows, statuary and other appointments from
various storage spots – an effort which is still in progress.
The Jackie Chan Foundation donated some of the funds for the
restoration, and there is a Jackie Chan studio onsite (although
no kung fu was in evidence the day I visited). The chapel is
small – much smaller inside than you might expect from the outside
and pictures on the church webpage! It is narrow but lofty and
has a lovely acoustic. There is an apse at the east and an organ
gallery at the west. The glass and richly painted floor tiles
give the neo-Gothic building a very Gallic atmosphere.
This is one of only a handful of English-speaking churches on
Hong Kong Island. They conduct a Sunday school and midweek fellowship
group. They also celebrate a sung eucharist each Sunday, subject
to cancellation whenever the threat of a "black rainstorm"
looms (the very heavy rains, with flooding and landslides, that
plague Hong Kong in late spring and summer). The chapel is also
used by the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, whose studios
and classrooms occupy the bulk of the old sanatorium.
Pok Fu Lam is a green and hilly residential district favoured
by expatriates, many of whom work at the university. It was
the site of Hong Hong's first reservoir as well as a dairy farm
that was a major supplier of milk and beef to the former colony.
The old milking sheds can still be seen on the district's grassy
slopes. Pok Fu Lam is also the site of Queen Mary Hospital,
one of Hong Kong's major medical centres.
Guest preacher and celebrant was the Revd Jenny Nam, principal
of St Stephen's Girls' College.
The date & time:
Sunday, 23 August 2009, 10.15am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Mostly full, although the building is not huge. The congregation
were a mix of western and Chinese mainly western with
an apparently broad range of nationalities (English, Dutch,
Did anyone welcome you
One of a team of three welcomers handed out the service sheet
and hymn book with a warm "hello." I was asked twice
during the peace whether I was new and where I was from. All
very hospitable indeed.
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pews were unpadded but comfortable enough. I had
a nave seat with a clear view of the proceedings. The two small
side aisles had discreet flat screen TVs showing the chancel.
This seemed perhaps a bit overdone in such a small building,
but at least everyone could see what was going on.
How would you describe the pre-service
Initially, a perfectly reverential quiet with some gentle chatter.
Nearer the start, a few children started running and clattering
about, which did disrupt the mood a little, but people seemed
relaxed about this.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning, everybody. Thank you for waiting. Let's sing
our first hymn, number 509." (I was unaware that we had been
waiting at all.)
What books did the congregation use during the
We sang from Church Hymnary, Fourth Edition, and I
think I saw a few New Revised Standard Version Bibles around
the chapel. There was also a well-thumbed photocopied booklet
of the order of service.
What musical instruments
An organ above us in the gallery, presumably electronic as there
were no visible pipes. I am guessing the organist, a stand-in over the summer holiday, was sight-reading the hymns, as they were slightly less
steady than his superb rendering of the recessional, a toccata
by the French contemporary of Claude Debussy, Leon Boëllmann.
Did anything distract
The wireless microphone used during the sermon created an awful
booming effect that made the preacher’s voice quite difficult
to hear. The children were generally beautifully behaved, but
there was a fair din in the corridor outside that made hearing
the preacher even harder. The service sheet explained that Sunday
school was shut for summer, so this is probably not usually
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
A good solid middle-of-the-road Anglican service, but with the
odd dash of low ("Be Still for the Presence of the Lord"
and "What a Friend we have in Jesus" were among the
otherwise stalwart hymns). Liturgy was Common Worship at its
most inclusive, non-threatening and short. In place of the creed
we had the "We believe and trust in him" affirmations,
which always seem a bit perfunctory to me.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
7 The Revd Jenny Nam's style was clearly that of a school
headmistress. She exchanged some light-hearted banter with the
congregation, leavened with dense dollops of theology every
couple of minutes or so. "Audience participation"
is not really to my taste, but it was appropriate for a family
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
What's for breakfast: pancakes, dog meat, or the body and blood
of Christ? Jesus' disciples were won over when Jesus fed 5,000
people with only a few loaves and fishes. But then Jesus told
them to eat his body and drink his blood, and some of them were
repelled. He might as well have been telling us to eat dog meat (which, the preacher confessed, she herself had once tried –
I suspect she lost a listener or two there). Those who elected
to stay with Jesus would face persecution and death. With the
invitation to eucharist, Jesus challenges us to follow him.
Which part of the service was like being in
The building stole the show a bit: the blue and red light from
the windows falling on the cool clay tiles was a delight. The
organ voluntary was also a very pleasant surprise.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The setting of the Gloria was dreadful – it didn’t appear to
scan at all and everyone seemed to be having issues with it.
Even after three or four repetitions I had no clue how it went.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No problem whatsoever – I was very quickly picked up by a couple
of regulars and had a very friendly chat over coffee and cake.
How would you describe the after-service
On the downside. the coffee itself was self-service and very
tricky to get hold of without making a dreadful mess. The milk
cartons were those horrid little tetra-paks with straws which
create a siphon and spray everywhere when handled by idiots
(your Mystery Worshipper, in this case). Massively on the upside
were the homemade biscuits and chocolate cakes, which were absolutely
delicious and had obviously been lovingly prepared. Long after
leaving, I realised I had cake smeared all over my face.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 The choice of English-speaking Anglo-Episcopalian churches
on Hong Kong Island is surprisingly limited, but I'd go back
to Emmanuel even if I had hundreds of churches to choose from.
A gorgeous building, friendly types and good cake.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes – very much. The peace took a full four minutes, as seemingly
everyone milled around shaking hands or occasionally respectfully
embracing. (This complies with Pewgin’s Law: the length of the
peace is inversely proportional to the number of congregants.)
The welcome was warm without being excessive. All perfectly
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I should say the wonderful welcome, but I keep remembering the
beautiful light in the chapel.
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