China’s ‘great visionary’ Bishop K. H. Ting dies at 97

Bishop K. H. Ting and Bishop David Lai of Taiwan during a meeting in November 2006. ENS Photo/Matthew Davies

[Episcopal News Service] K. H. Ting, an Anglican bishop prior to China’s Cultural Revolution and a pioneer in the country’s post-denominational era, died on Nov. 22 in Nanjing aged 97.

Ting has been described as “an outstanding patriotic religious leader” and “a well-known social activist.”

The Rev. Canon Winfred B. Vergara, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for Asiamerica Ministries, described Ting as “larger than life in the history of contemporary Christianity in Asia.”

Vergara said that Ting, who he’d met on two trips to China, “will be greatly missed not only by China but by Asia-America and the entire ecumenical world … May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”

Ting was an Anglican bishop in the 1940s and 1950s. He served as mission secretary for the Canadian Student Christian Movement and subsequently studied at New York’s Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary.

After moving back to China in the 1950s, Ting served as chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches in China and president of the China Christian Council. He was vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference from 1989–2008.

(The China Christian Council and Three-Self Patriotic Movement form the official, government-sanctioned Protestant church in China. [“Three-Self” stands for self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.] TSPM serves as a liaison between churches and government, while CCC focuses on church affairs.)

Describing Ting as a “great visionary,” the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary general of the World Council of Churches expressed admiration for his commitment to reconciliation between church and society, Christians and non-Christians in China.

Ting worked closely with the leadership of the WCC in its formative years and was a staff member of the World Student Christian Federation in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ting’s contribution to the re-emergence of church life and opening of the church to the outside world in the 1980s and 1990s is widely recognized, a WCC press release said.

With the creation of the China Christian Council, Tveit said, Ting has “contributed immensely to raise the profile of the Chinese church,” and made it possible that the “church in China re-entered into WCC fellowship after four decades of absence in the global ecumenical movement.”

“Bishop Ting played an important role in ensuring that Chinese Christianity continues to survive and grow even under the communist regime,” Tveit added.

Comments

  1. Christopher Lo says:

    Bishop Ting was the last surviving Anglican Bishop of Chekiang from the old Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui (Chinese: 中華聖公會), the Anglican-Episcopal Church in China.

    As a young adult in the 1980s, I recall hearing Bishop Ting preach in St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in Sydney, Australia. Back in those days, the fact that Bishop Ting was allowed to preach in the hallowed halls of the bastion center of Anglican Evangelicals raised a few eyebrows. Quite a few Sydney Evangelicals and Anglican Church League members considered Bishop Ting’s “support” of the “official government sanctioned church” in China with a great deal of suspicion and skepticism. Sydney Evangelicals are happier supporting pastors from the “house church” movement.

    In contrast to the quiet grumbling from some of the Sydney Evangelicals, I recall the enthusiasm shown by the late Head Deaconess Mary M. Andrews in welcoming Bishop Ting to Sydney. In post World War II period, encouraged by her mentor, Archbishop Howard West Kilvinton Mowll (1890–1958) [Assistant Bishop 1922, and then Bishop from 1926-1933 of Hua Hsi Diocese {West China Mission} and Archbishop of Sydney from 1933-1958], Deaconess Andrews had served courageously and famously as a Missionary in China for a world-wide evangelical Anglican organization, the Church Missionary Society. Mary Andrew’s willingness to stand by Bishop Ting on his visit to Sydney, therefore gave a great deal of credibility to the bishop’s leadership of the Three Self Patriotic Movement and the “official” church in modern China.

    As Canon Vergara said in the above article, may this great saint of God, Bishop Ting, rest-in-peace and rise-in-glory. I can only imagine them, Ting, Mowll, and Andrews, comparing notes in Heaven of how God, despite so much obstacle through the ages, had grown His church in China, planted in 635 A.D. by A-lo-pen, a monk and bishop from the Nestorian Church of Mesopotamia, who had arrived in Chang-ma, the then capital of China and gained acceptance from the Emperor Taizong. This emperor eventually even paid for the building of churches.

    Although the Church founded by A-lo-pen from the Christian West survived two and a half centuries and died out at the end of the Tang Dynasty, God raised up others, like Bishop Ting to bring “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

    Rest in Peace, Bishop Ting.

  2. In 1990, Bp. William Burrill (then of the Diocese of Rochester), Kay Burrill, Dr. Henry (“Pete”) French, and I (then the newly minted rector of St Mark’s, Penn Yan), went to China to begin establishing a relationship between the Shanghai Christian Council and the Diocese of Rochester. Bishop Ting, when we met him, told us that we were the first mainline denomination that had been permitted to form a companion relationship since the People’s Republic of China was formed. The relationship came about because Bp Burrill and Bp Ting had met at a World Council of Churches meeting and the stars aligned.

    That trip to China was formative (as well as amazing). Thanks to Bp Ting’s desire to help us understand the church in China, we were taken to a number of churches, meeting points, and preaching stations well beyond the precincts of the seminary in Nanjing and the “official” meetings with the TSM and the CPPCC. We were privileged, thanks to Bp Ting’s influence, to see the work of the Amity Foundation (the first western-linked eleemosynary group in China after the PRC) in helping girl orphans and disabled children to live and thrive, and to meet the Catholic (but no longer Roman Catholic) bishop of Shanghai, Aloysius Jin.

    Our tiny church in Penn Yan formed a companion relation with the Shanghai Community Church–at least eight times our size. The Shanghai Community Church was then served by the deep Christian bishop Shen Yi-fan, who might well have been Bp Ting’s successor in so many ways had he not died too soon. As a result of the companion relation, the Rev. Elyn MacInis (then from Nanjing) was ordained by Bp Burrill at St Mark’s, and Wu Deci, then the dean of one of the Chinese Protestant primary seminaries, visited and preached there.

    In addition to his vision for reuniting the Christian church in China with the West, I remember Bp Ting’s kindness and his hospitality. On that first visit, Bp Ting and his wife, Siu May, had invited Bp Burrill and Kay (and, with them, Pete French and me) to dinner at their home in Nanjing. Such an invitation was extraordinary–foreigners were customarily entertained in restaurants. On the day of the dinner, Bp Burrill and Kay both came down with “China tummy” and were too ill to go. Pete and I were expecting that the dinner would be graciously cancelled–but no. Bp Ting and his wife, and their son and his wife, took us into their home and gave us a wonderful evening, and the most delicious food I have ever eaten in anyone’s home, before or since. Bp Ting and his family answered our questions, asked us many in return, and made us truly welcome. I kept thinking of the stature of the man, and being astounded, and grateful, that he would be so good to us. In addition to all the laudable things he and his wife did on the world stage, and in addition to the persecutions they suffered for their faith, I want to witness to their rock-solid Christian kindness, the epitome of Hebrews 13:2: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” We were no angels, of course. But Bp Ting behaved to us as though we were.

    May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

    Patricia Hanen
    Rector, New Life Episcopal Church
    Uniontown, Ohio

    • Christopher Lo says:

      Dear Mother Patricia,

      I have such fond memories of a wonderful luncheon in your home in Tiffin OH in 1996. We had just read Morning Prayer for Advent IV at St. Paul’s Episcopal, Bellevue OH. The morning office was led by the then Rector, the Rev. Elizabeth Kelley, you had preached, and I was the organist!

      After the service, you kindly prepared a delicious meal which you had kindly prepared for the three of us, plus Mother Elizabeth’s husband, the Rev. Dr. Ray Person. After the meal, while we “boys” cleared the table, you and Mother Elizabeth went about sewing “instant costumes” for the 6:00 p.m. Nativity Play for characters who were yet to be chosen to play their part in the Manger Scene.

      By the end of Midnight Mass, we were all tired and weary, but by then, the snow had fallen outside St. Paul’s Church. As we drove out of the church’s front entrance headed for Blufton, with the surrounding fields and church buildings covered in snow, the words of “Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm, All is Bright” resonated in my mind.

      I am delighted to know that you too share a cherished memory of Bishop Ting.

      A Blessed Advent to you.

      Chris.

  3. Douglas Cockbill says:

    Dear Editor:

    I read with interest the paean of praise on the death of Bishop Ting of China, including international acclaim for his work. It should be pointed out that he is viewed quite differently by some Christians in China, particularly those who have chosen not to cooperate with the Government of China. In fact, several times I have made mention of his name to underground Chinese Christians who react with horror at the mention of Bishop Ting’s name! whether rightly or wrongly I do not know, but their conception of him is that he accommodated our faith to the government too readily, and adapted his theology to suit government policy. He was considered a traitor by some of them.

    None of us who has lived exclusively in a free country can fully understand the pressures on brother Christians in a country like China, but it should be reported that so many have suffered and some have died for their faith in Christ, and Bishop Ting was not among those who did .

    Yours truly,

    Rev’d. Douglas Cockbill

  4. Hamilton S. Wacnang says:

    I condemn in strongest terms Rev’d Douglas Cockbill’s unsubstantiated accusation on Bishop Ting. Such comments serve only to create hatred among us Asian Anglicans- Episcopalians while we endeavor to spread the good news in China and the rest of Asia. I think that Rev’d Cockbill is the traitor in God’s vineyard as instead of praying for the soul of a brother in the ministry, he (Rev’d Cockbill) defamed Bishop Ting and blackened his reputation. Bishop Ting, may your soul rest in peace. Our heavenly Father will surely greet you, ” Ni Hao Ma” for your part in sharing God’s salvation to the Chinese people. Mabuhay ka!

  5. Mark S. Sisk says:

    I believe that Rev’d Cockbill is incorrect in his assertion that Bp. Ting did not suffer for his faith as a Christian. In fact, during the Cultural Revolution he was sent to the countryside to work in the fields. He was brought back when his ability as a translator was recognized. I will always remember him telling me how he and other Christians would gather in secret to try and remember the Bible after their destruction by the Red Guard.
    As to the orthodoxy of his faith, one has only to read his writings to see the solid content of his teaching.
    I count it a singular privilege to have known him.

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